Thursday, April 16, 2015

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How Jews Die in Israel

by Reb Akiva @ Mystical Paths

I read an article this week that sent me on a research mission.  The article stated, in the name of important rabbonim, that there is a “proliferation of maladies (machala) today” in Jewish communities.  Now I know plenty of people with maladies, have a few myself.  But is there a “proliferation” going on, or is this a case of anecdotal evidence without a basis in reality.

Here’s the relevant quote…

HaRav Yitzchok (redacted – I’m not trying to hold anyone up for scrutiny), shlita, in a powerful speech, emphasizes, “Since the time of the destruction of the Holy Temple, the dwelling place of the Divine presence (Shechina) is in our shuls (synagogues), in our study halls.”  Conversely, “If we disparage (are mezalzel in) the sanctity of shuls and study halls, we chase away the Shechina, we chase away our protection (shmira).”

Famously, the (historical sage) sought to discover the cause behind the pogroms of 1648 and 1649 (Tach v’Tat) and was informed in a divinely-inspired dream that the reason was because of people talking in shul during prayers.  As a result, he authored a special prayer for those who refrain from talking in the synagogue that is recited in many shuls.

HaRav S (redacted, not the same rav as above) similarly emphasizes that the root reason why the Holocaust took place was a disregard of the sanctity of shuls, of honoring Hashem.  The tragedies that result from a lack of k’vod shomayim apply not only on a national level, but also a personal level.  HaRav S cites Rav X, shlita, as saying, “Why is there such a proliferation of maladies (machala) today?  The reason is because people disparage the sanctity of shuls and people talk in davening. … If they would stop talking, the maladies would stop and all of a sudden it would leave us – if we would have the proper respect for davening.”

While it’s always good to keep everyone focused on proper behavior in synagogue and Torah study halls, and the occasional lecture about it doesn’t hurt, my first thought was “wait a minute, life expectancy is UP, as is general functioning into old age – is there a proliferation I’m not aware of?”  Let’s look at the statistics…

imageLife expectancy in Israel has been growing, and is the 4th highest IN THE WORLD.  Note that this INCLUDES war, terrorism, and Israel’s biggest problem – traffic accidents. 

Ok, but that doesn’t mean everyone isn’t suffering and being (successfully) treated for X horrible life threatening diseases.

First I had to look up causes of death in Israel, with a further narrowing of Jewish population deaths.  Here they are (source – Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics, latest figures 2012) :

#1 – Cancer, at 156 per 100,000  (1 Lung, 2 Colon, 3 Breast, 4 Pancreas)
#2 – Heart Disease or Stroke, at 147 per 100,000
#3 – #3 Pneumonia + Flu + Respiratory Diseases (not cancer), at 49 per 100,000

Well, the word “machala” is sometimes used as a slang for cancer, so maybe he meant cancer, which is statistically the #1 cause of death in Israel.  So we have to look at some historical statistics, is cancer increasing?

Cancer deaths in Israel (all citizens)…

1984 – 146/100,000
1989 – 122/100,000
1994 – 133/100,000
1997 – 145/100,000
2002 – 145/100,000
2007 – 139/100,000
2012 – 135/100,000

(Note the 2012 number is different from above.  My research found that’s because the first number was for Jews, the second number for the full Israeli population.  Interestingly it seems Eastern European Jews carry some genetic predispositions for cancer, so Arab Israeli cancer rates are LOWER than for Jewish Israelis, bringing the “for all Israel” rates lower for the multi-year statistics.)

Ok, we have a problem.  Cancer rates are FALLING in Israel.  So why does the rav quoted above think otherwise?

The answer seems to be… while cancer death rates have only fallen slightly OTHER causes of death have fallen significantly.  So it’s not that there’s an increase in cancer, it’s that there’s a decrease in everything else!  Baruch Hashem – Thank G-d!

So while I don’t know if there’s more talking in synagogue, and cell phone ringing was a problem for a while (it’s getting better), there’s not a proliferation of machala – but there is a reason it could seem so.

Let’s do a comparison, how are things in New York?  Causes of death in New York:

#1 Heart Disease or Stroke, 184 per 100,000  (higher than Israel)
#2 Cancer (1 Lung, 2 Colon, 3 Breast, 4 Pancreas), 159 per 100,000  (higher than Israel)
#3 Pneumonia + Flu + Respiratory Diseases (not cancer)

And finally, how are things in Jerusalem, a city in Israel with a higher population concentration of ultra-orthodox Jews?

- “From 2001 to 2005, the cancer diagnosis rate among men in Jerusalem consistently fell at about 17% below the national average, and 10% below average from 2006-2011.”


- “Israel has a high rate of breast cancer, one of the highest among Western nations with a death rate of 25 per 100,000.  The high rate is attributed to the “Jewish gene” – three mutations in the genes BRACA1 and BRACA2 – which raise the likelihood of breast cancer by 60 to 80 percent. These mutations are higher in Jewish Ashkenazi women, at a rate of 2.5 percent (as opposed to 0.3 percent among the general world population).”

So Jewish women should get appropriate checks regularly for breast cancer, all Jews should stop smoking, and should perform checks for colon cancer as they get older.  (Oy, I think I’m up for that.) 

That said, overall cancer rates are STILL lower in Israel than in the U.S., life expectancy is higher, and higher still WITHIN the religious Jewish communities.  Stop on by, the water’s fine and healthy for you!


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