The spread of the Zika virus, suspected of causing microcephaly in fetuses, has led a rabbi in Rio De Janeiro to state that the need to fight the disease overrides religious prohibitions against killing bugs on the Sabbath.
“Mothers must take all measures against Zika, such as applying repellent,” Rabbi Yehoshua Goldman, the chief Chabad envoy in Rio, told JTA. “The mosquito can be killed even on Shabbat, for it threatens life.”
The virus is even causing some Jews to dress more modestly, although not due to religious concerns. JTA cited Milena Rozenbrah, a Jewish mother in Rio who has recently taken to dressing in pants and long sleeves when she leaves home, despite the high temperatures.
Rozenbrah is concerned about Aedes aegypti, the mosquito that transmits the feared Zika virus.
Like the rest of Brazil’s population, the country’s 120,000-member Jewish community is not immune to the panic surrounding the virus. Rozenbrah “persuaded other mothers at her son’s Jewish day school to buy a gallon of the best mosquito repellent on the market and have the teacher apply a generous layer twice a day.”
“We have crossed out of our family routine going to the Botanical Gardens and all green areas,” Rozenbrah told JTA. “We have anti-mosquito scented vaporizers all over our house and we avoid going out early in the morning or late in the afternoon, the most dangerous periods with more mosquitoes. Also, we keep the air conditioners on almost 24/7, which has made our electricity bill skyrocket.”
While the worst-hit areas of Brazil are in the northeastern part of the country, Rio, where about one-third of Brazil’s Jews live, has also been affected. During the Carnival holidays last month, some Jewish families gave up their traditional excursions to the mountain refuge of Teresopolis, where the Zika threat is believed to be greater, staying instead in Rio, which has better medical resources, according to the report.
One of the most prominent obstetricians in the Rio Jewish community, Janine Cynamon, whose office is in Copacabana, has been advising her older patients not to wait to get pregnant. But for younger patients, she recommends delaying pregnancy or freezing embryos until a vaccine for Zika is available.
“Our religion does not forbid contraception,” Cynamon said. “Therefore, I have been advising young hopeful mothers not to get pregnant before April [when the risk of mosquito transmission is highest].”
In neighboring Ipanema, Dr. Betty Moszkowicz, a pediatrician, is less convinced that Zika poses a risk to the unborn.
“I don’t recommend postponing pregnancy,” Moszkowicz told the Jewish news outlet. “The association between Zika and microcephaly is still very controversial and I am personally not convinced.”