An odd villain
by Jonathan Rosenblum
November 21, 2003
Every tragedy in Israel requires its instant villain, and certainly that of the infants who became severely ill or died of beriberi after using Remedia’s soy-based product does not lack for candidates: Humana, the German company that produced the product and eliminated vitamin B1 from the formula; Remedia, which may or may not have known of the change in formula and continued to market it with a label that it possessed B1; and the Ministry of Health, which failed to run any tests on the new product.
But surely the oddest choice of villains is hareidi mothers. Following a by now familiar pattern, the Remedia tragedy has been transformed into another proof that Torah observance and good parenting do not go together. Leading the charge is Avirama Golan in Ha’aretz, who singles out hareidi mothers as unwitting victims of their own naivete and consumerism.
"The formula is captivating, and bears the dazzling scent of modernity. And if first-class kashrut certification is added to all this, then what Jewess could withstand the pressure? Thousands of parents were enticed into buying the apparently deficient and dangerous kosher formula," Golan writes. She implies that chareidi mothers were more concerned over the quality of the kashrut certification than the health of their infants, as if there were a connection between the kashrut of the product and the danger posed.
But, of course, that is nonsense. There was nothing inherently dangerous about the product. Had it possessed vitamin B1, as advertised, there would have been no damage.
Nor did the absence of vitamin B1 have anything to do with kashrut, as rumored by anonymous officials in the Health Ministry in the early stages of the investigation. Thousands, if not tens of thousands, of kosher products containing vitamin B1 are marketed around the world. Most commercially used vitamin B1 is derived from vegetable products, and poses no kashrut issues. Finally, the Kashrut office of Rav Landau, which certifies Remedia, never requested the removal of vitamin B1 from the formula.
Golan also charges that chareidi woman preferred the soy-based Remedia product because they were concerned with Cholav Akum in the milk-based formulas. That claim too cannot bear even the most cursory scrutiny.
There are many much cheaper milk-based alternatives that bear a Cholav Yisrael certification. If there is any reason that chareidi women were willing to spend more on a more expensive soy-based formula, it stems from the importance that they place on thier children’s health. They heard from many different sources, including pediatricians, that soy formula is preferable to cow formula for woman who cannot nurse because of the lower incidence of allergic reactions from soy-based formulas.
Even the Jerusalem Post’s usually reliable health reporter weighed in with the information that chareidi woman prefer soy-based formulas to avoid any problem of mixing milk and meat. That too is absurd.
The infants affected appear to have been below the age of eating meat altogether. Moreover, Orthodox parents do not begin training their children to make even a symbolic separation between meat and milk until a much older age. As Rabbi Dr. Mordechai Halperin, the head of Institute of Science and Halacha and a gynecologist told the Jerusalem Post, infants have absolutely no obligation to keep kosher. They are defined by halacha as being `in danger’ and these rules are not relevant to them.
Nothing demonstrates more clearly the devotion of haredi parents to their children’s health than the rabbinic permission granted on Shabbat for loudspeakers to circulate through religious neighborhoods warning parents of the danger of the Remedia formula. Infants of religious families may have constituted a disproportionate percentage of the victims -- and even on this point I have seen no statistics – but it is obscene to turn religious mothers into one of the villains of the piece as well.
Related Topics: Chareidim and Their Critics
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