Monday, April 13, 2020

Coronavirus and Hasidic Jews

Spencer Platt Getty Images Source

Numerous news accounts report that some groups of Hasidic Jews, both in the US and in Israel, are flouting requests to wear face coverings in public and to practice social distancing. 

Perhaps the most shocking story: three Hasidic Jews are accused of sneezing, and, in some accounts, spitting, in the face of a Muslim American firefighter who was later diagnosed with covid-19. 

It's hard to understand this behavior. 

Some say the idea is that studying Torah guarantees God's protection against disease. Clearly that is not working. Reports are that five rabbis have died of covid-19 in Lakewood, NJ, alone. 

Of course Hasidic Jews are not the only ones defying social distancing guidelines, and paying a price in high infection rates. African Americans have also been described as doing so, as have some Christians. But this blog is devoted to Polish-Jewish relations, and how they are covered in the media. 

Read more about the firefighter here

New York Times coverage here

Forward coverage here

Daily Mail coverage here

Washington Post coverage here

NPR here here


  1. It's hard to understand this behavior.

    Not really, imho. Do you happed to know Barbara Engelking? Shr said once, on Polish television (I need to Stress one thing: Ive seen the whole broadcast: she is NOT quoting s.o!): "When a Pole died, this was a mere biological death, a death like a death. But, when a Jew died, this was a meeting with the Highest Being." Subtext: Poles have no souls, so their existence and suffering is as meaningless as the life of an NPC in a computergame.Imho, these people do clearly not consider i.e the abovementioned Muslim American firefighter as a real human being,on par with themselves. I have a somewhat crazy theory as well: Such behaviour generates anti-Jewish sentiment. Which, as a side-effect, keeps young Jews from assimilating into the broader society. Them again, if you dont want to assimilate- why just not go to Israel and use your ethnical enthusiasm to help build a great Jewish state there? I think this would benefit everyone, including Americans of Jewish faith who are mostly assimilated into the American nation.

    1. Hanna, can you provide any support for the Barbara Engelking quote?

  2. Hanna, I wrote to Barbara Engelking and she denies saying what you quote her as saying. Further, I was unable to find any reputable sources on the web supporting the quote.

    I have to conclude that the quote is false.

    1. Hello,

      I'm afraid that she did said something like that. During the interview in a tv station TVN24.

      She said: "Dla Polaków to była po prostu kwestia biologiczna, naturalna – śmierć jak śmierć, a dla Żydów to była tragedia, to było dramatyczne doświadczenie, to była metafizyka, to było spotkanie z Najwyższym"
      "For Poles it was simply a biological, natural issue - death like death, and for Jews it was a tragedy, it was a dramatic experience, it was metaphysics, it was a meeting with the Highest"

      Below is a link to that part of interview.

  3. Of course Engelking said no such thing. She's a serious scholar, not some tinpot scribbler with an anti-Polish axe to grind. Her name suggests, however, that she is Jewish (or part Jewish), and she's written articles about rural Poles who collaborated with the Germans during the war. That alone is sufficient reason for some to hate her, even to slander her.

    1. There Liron,

      I dont care what her name is. Here name could could be Mindla Goldberg, for all I care. I dislike her, because of her thinly veiled dislike for Polish national identity. I think saying something along the lines of (Thanks Lukasz for translating):

      "For Poles it was simply a biological, natural issue - death like death, and for Jews it was a tragedy, it was a dramatic experience, it was metaphysics, it was a meeting with the Highest"

      What she said robs me of my humanity. Ms. Engelking as well,but, apparently, she does not realize it. Just imagine, for 2 seconds,s.o would say that about black people. Or homosexuals. Or anyone, for that matter.
      (Btw, I have seen the whole broadcast because I was so very sure that she was quoting s.o else. Why I believed this? Because I hail from a very philosemitic, empathic family. She was not quoting anyone.)


Bieganski the Blog exists to further explore the themes of the book Bieganski the Brute Polak Stereotype, Its Role in Polish-Jewish Relations and American Popular Culture.
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