Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Charedi World

2 Tammuz 5760 - July 5, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Slanted Reporting: Using a Scientific Study to Attack Modest Dress

by N. Katzin

Last week, the Israeli media reported a surprising "scientific discovery:" modest dress is dangerous to your health. "Women who dress modestly are liable to suffer from osteoporosis," the Yediot Acharonot daily screamed. Its competitor, Ma'ariv was not far behind, although its headline wasn't quite as sensational. The crucial information appeared only in the article itself, which read: "Chareidi or Moslem women who dress modestly even in the sunny summer months are liable to suffer from various difficult medical problems." The only problem was that this was not the finding of the medical research, but the willful interpretation and extrapolation of the medical reporters.

According to the reports, health hazards ensuing from a lack of Vitamin D due to non-exposure to the summer sun -- supposedly as a result of tsnius -- were discovered in a study conducted by Dr. Tsofia Ish Shalom, director of Haifa's Rambam Hospital's Unit for Bone and Calcium Metabolism. Findings of the study were presented at an international convention in Switzerland. The conclusion was that chareidi and other women should take frequent tests of the level of Vitamin D in their bodies.

Someone unfamiliar with the nuances of incitement might think that this was simply an objective report of medical research. It is startling to discover the extent to which levels of incitement have risen and this report is a good example of demagoguery at its best. The incitement -- well-concealed between the lines -- was intended to achieve an aim which is clear to our readers, but not to the regular readership of those daily papers. The aura of a medical study makes it sound convincing.

If we may venture a wild guess, the source of the problem is that the Israeli media has a complex. At the beginning of every summer there is "Skin Awareness Week" to tell the public to minimize its exposure to the sun in order to reduce the danger of skin cancer. These warnings against sun exposure remind everyone of the obvious fact that modest dress serves as protection against skin cancer. The proven fact that the incidence of this disease is relatively lower in the chareidi community has been mentioned a number of times in the Yated Ne'eman medical column. It isn't surprising that this irritates the secular population. It actually hurts them to the point that they search high and low for material with which to counterattack.

That is how the sensational skin disease called the "davener's syndrome" suffered by yeshiva students who sway during their prayer and study came into being. That is also how the report that Bnei Brak children are shorter and skinnier then their secular counterparts was born, as well as this despicable lie about the hazards of tsnius.

The original study, reported in the medical column of the Hebrew Yated Ne'eman about three weeks ago, dealt only with pelvic fractures among the elderly and found: "Seventy- three percent of those hospitalized due to pelvic fractures are elderly people suffering from Vitamin D deficiency."

The reason is twofold: The ability of the elderly to manufacture the vitamin is low. In addition, the elderly population usually doesn't get enough exposure to sun, a crucial need for the manufacture of vitamin D in the body.

Dr. Tsofia Ish Shalom, director of the Unit for Bone and Calcium Metabolism in Rambam Hospital, tells Yated Ne'eman: "Previous studies have pointed to a link between a Vitamin D deficiency and fractures. Within our study we examined patients hospitalized in orthopedic departments with pelvic fractures. We discovered that 73 percent of them suffer from a low level of vitamin D. Fifty percent of the elderly patients suffered from an extreme or complete Vitamin D lack.

"Since Vitamin D is the sun vitamin, barely found in foods, one who is exposed to too little sun is liable to suffer from a lack of this vitamin.

"In my opinion, due to a decrease in the ability to manufacture Vitamin D and lack of exposure to the sun, the elderly population suffers from a lack of vitamin D, just like babies. However, it is surely wrong to recommend increased exposure to the sun, because of its own hazards due to the dangerous effects of its rays including the possibility of skin cancer. A lack of Vitamin D can be easily treated at low cost by oral administration of the vitamin. It is important to conduct additional studies in order to ascertain if it is possible to prevent some cases of osteoporosis and bone fractures by administration of a vitamin supplement."

In response to our question, Dr. Ish Shalom adds, "The newspapers were excited about the report and asked if someone dressing modestly would suffer from a lack of Vitamin D. I told them that this was a possibility. A study among young Moslem women from Saudi Arabia who walk around with their faces covered indicated that they lacked Vitamin D. No such study, however, was made on young women in Israel [whose faces are not covered]. I was quite angry about the headlines, but that is not under our control.

"The only thing that is certain is that those who dress modestly are more protected against skin cancer than those who do not."

Those are the objective facts. The rest was added by the journalists.

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