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Airborne Against a Virus PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by Jeff Wagg   

Ben Goldacre over at badscience.net tweeted this today:

Airborne rabbis fight off swine flu: http://bit.ly/3wYMjt (I'm trying to figure out why they are on an airplane. Poor pilot)

Go ahead and watch the video... I'll wait patiently.

I've received a lot of criticism from both ends of the religious belief spectrum for suggesting that the "god question" is outside of practical skepticism. I stand by that claim. However, I can't help but believe that objectively, the BBC article and video demonstrates all that is wrong with religion.

Somehow, an entire plane full of educated men thinks that flying around over Israel, blowing horns and chanting, will protect the country from a virus. Oh, and by the way, they can't call it "Swine Flu" over there – swine are unclean, so they prefer the less-popular and more medical term of H1N1. Watch again if you didn't see the gentleman in the back, yelling into the plane's PA system. And take an even closer look at the guy in the blue shirt on the left. He's the only one doing something practical.

But let's step back for a second, and consider if this treatment actually worked. That would mean...

  • The god they're praying to requires people blow horns and chant, in the air, in order  to actually do something about a virus that he created in the first place. Fair enough, I guess.. he's god. He makes the rules. I read Job.

  • We could cure every illness on the planet just by following suit. Imagine the PA announcement as you taxied down the runway: "In the event of pandemic, a horn will fall from the compartment above you. Blow in a ritualistic manner. Bag may not inflate; but your mojo will reach its intended destination. Blow your own horn before helping others blow theirs."

  • The people on the plane only care about Israel. After all, if this treatment worked, why not fly over as many countries as possible?

  • Before planes were invented, rabbis would need to find another way to float in the air.

  • H1N1 is important enough to go to all this effort, but HIV, the common cold, and other viruses aren't.

And so on. Feel free to continue this list in the comments.

How this is any different from voodoo or swinging dead cats over one's head is not apparent to me. But we're asked to respect this behavior as being reasonable. I will respect the right to engage in these activities, and even to believe they might do something, but I can't respect the practice itself because it's contrary to everything I've experienced in the world. And I'm not going to. Do what you'd like, but if it's silly and counterproductive, I'm going to say so. You can change my mind by showing me evidence that I'm wrong, and I'll publicly apologize.

Besides, everyone already knows that Airborne is ineffective, don't they?

FOLLOWUP:

Swift contributor Barbara Mervine offers the following.. "If they're going to fly around up there, at least they could drop leaflets explaining how to cover your mouth and wash your hands."

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written by Alan3354, August 12, 2009
What Would Jesus Do?
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written by Caller X, August 12, 2009
written by Alan3354, August 12, 2009
What Would Jesus Do?



Who do you think started Swine Flu? Remember when the J-man cast out the demons and made them enter into the local swine population? You clearly don't know your Bibizzle.

Matt. 8:28-33
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A lot of good information here
written by doctoratlantis, August 12, 2009
Is this a tacit admission that prayer effectiveness increases with altitude? Why no Space Rabbis? Or International-Space-Synagogue (ISS)?

The preferential use of "H1N1" over "swine flu" may be non sequitur. If the populace have a cultural distaste for swine - seeing even the word as unclean - then this should not be surprising. And by embracing the other name they may, perhaps, be lessening the stigma for citizens who happen to get the disease in the extremely unlikely event that this Rabbinical "cootie-shield" doesn't hold.
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written by NewCoaster, August 12, 2009
I think the criticism you've received about religion in the last couple weeks is entirely unwarranted.
Instead of rabbis, substitute a group of Reiki masters adjusting the planes energy, and you'd have most of the people who visit JREF onside with skeptical criticism.

Religion does not get a free pass. I'm sorry if Hal Bidlack can't get past that.
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written by Alan3354, August 12, 2009
Is this a tacit admission that prayer effectiveness increases with altitude? Why no Space Rabbis? Or International-Space-Synagogue (ISS)?


That makes sense. God is in the heavens. People have been doing it wrong all these centuries, praying toward the ground. Jeez, how could we have been so stupid?
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@ doctoratlantis
written by StarTrekLivz, August 12, 2009
actually, doctoratlantis, that is exactly why the flu was dubbed "H1N1" -- because pork is held in such horror and contempt, they could not call it that, it implies a ritually impure contact even though no such thing happened.

Around here (Detroit, Michigan) it was briefly dubbed "Mexican" flu because a number of high school and college students contracted it there while on Spring Break, but as you can imagine the local community of Mexican descended people objected.


To the point of the article, I've noted that the Episcopal parish where I sing in the choir (this is for family reasons, and I do love to sing the classical music we do), there is a prayer list read during services of people with various and critical ailments: but the clergy recommend the patients continue with their medical treatment (preferably at University of Michigan teaching & research hospital), which I've long felt is a tacit admission that the deity, however or if one conceives of him/her/it, does not intervene ...
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written by beowulff, August 12, 2009
I read it as "airborne rabbits" at first. Somehow, it didn't make that much more sense when I read on and saw my mistake...
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Airborne rabbis - is there anything they can't do...
written by Fritriac, August 12, 2009
...i mean: Besides taking a special charter flight and blowing more unnecessary carbon dioxide in the air? Fool away some (whose?) money, which could be spent for e.g. development of new flu vaccines or better medical equipment, for that?

The poor pilot seems to come second to me. At least he has to earn his revenues.

Religion ... *sigh*
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written by LovleAnjel, August 12, 2009
So what would it say if that plane full of rabbis crashed?

Presumably they took a break for shabbos.
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As usual...
written by stifenlaso, August 12, 2009
the BBC article and video demonstrates all that is wrong with religion.


Because, as usual, "religion" = "this and nothing else". All religious people in the history of the world have been deluded, irrational and dangerously fanatic. Religion is nothing but a virus of the mind...

How sad.
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written by cdion321, August 12, 2009
Is it just me, or is there something autism-like about the way they rock back and forth. Funny (not funny)how the more religious people are, the more they resemble someone with a mental illness or developmental deficiency.
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H1N1
written by Noadi, August 12, 2009
No, the H1N1 was not called that because people don't like calling it swine flu. H1N1 follows the accepted form for identifying the serotypes of flu viruses. There are several strains of H1N1 already known before this strain cropped up. The issue was people wanting to refer to it in the media as 2009 H1N1 or some variation on that instead of Swine Flu not that the name was made up to replace Swine Flu.

Magic is magic whether it's couched in religion or not. These rabbis would be far more useful if instead of taking their plane ride they used their position as rabbi (which does have meaning as teacher) to inform members of their synagogues how to prevent spread of the flu.
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H1N1 Nomenclature
written by StarTrekLivz, August 12, 2009
Hello, Noadi: I spoke imprecisely, I apologise. The flu was designated as H1N1 as part of its formal name by researchers and experts on influenza, but in the popular press it was called Swine Flu. In the same way, the prior feared strain was dubbed Bird or Avian flu, and we've had strains designated in the popular press as Spanish Flu, Hong Kong Flu, the Swine Flu during the Ford administration, etc. The recent H1N1 flu, as I noted, was briefly dubbed in my area as Mexicsn flu since students on Spring Break contracted it and brought it back with them.

Hence, my point was that in Israel this particular strain of flu was called by the formal name because the popular name referenced a "treyf" animal.

As an aside, I also refer to the beast who shares (dominates?) my home not as a felis domesticus, but as "that d@mn cat." smilies/grin.gif
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written by Anatoli, August 12, 2009
I would just like to note, that there is a tradition in Judaism of swinging a dead CHICKEN above your head to atone for your sins.
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written by Mr. Science, August 12, 2009
While I'm pretty sure this was not the motive of the rabbis in question... IIRC, many in the press refer to it as H1N1 not because religious folks found pigs unclean, or even to follow the formal medical nomeclature, but because the name "swine flu" implied that you could avoid the virus by not eating pork products or slaughtering local pig populations (neither of which will work). Correct me if I'm wrong.

And I'm hoping that this thread somehow morphs into a Pigs in Space motif. smilies/smiley.gif
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Coptic Pigs in Space
written by StarTrekLivz, August 12, 2009
Sadly, Mr. Science, that happened in Egypt, when the Moslem majority used the (choose your name) flu as an excuse to slaughter all the pigs there (owned & eaten by the minority Christian population).

And I remember with great fondness the voyages of the Swine Trek, with Miss Piggy as first officer .....
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written by padego, August 12, 2009
I worked in Israel in the late 70s on a kibbutz who's major income was pork production, there was a line up every Saturday for this product. It should also be pointed out that the majority of the Rabbis on this flight appear to belong to the ultra orthodox sect which many Israelis disdain and look upon the same way as some of the ultra orthodox Christian sects are looked upon in North America....
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Resemblence
written by GusGus, August 12, 2009
Did anybody besides me notice a certain resemblance between the rabbis (and their friends) and someone we all know and love?

As an (admittedly non-practicing) Jew, I am embarassed by these folks' actions.

The rocking they are doing is customary among the ultra-orthodox, orthodox and right-wing conservative Jews while praying. It is referred to as "shukling."

The pollution produced by the flight probably contributes to respiratory problems and may actually (by a miniscule amount) produce more H1N1 because of irritated tissues being less able to fight off the infection.
.


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written by Willy K, August 12, 2009
Hey, those Rabbis are just doing the same thing that "psychics" do when they hit town, they give "free" readings to drum up some business. The less intellectually endowed believe that they are doing a public service! smilies/cry.gif
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written by Steel Rat, August 12, 2009
And we're supposed to respect religious beliefs? Respect this, you freakin' morons.
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written by daveg703, August 12, 2009
@Alan3354
That makes sense. God is in the heavens. People have been doing it wrong all these centuries, praying toward the ground. Jeez, how could we have been so stupid?

Correction: For all these centuries, people have been braying (!) from the ground- to God Above, not God below, raising their arms and eyes heavenward. The rabbis are the ones praying to the ground- for those dwelling there.
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An "Ortho-skeptic's" perspective
written by davidm, August 12, 2009
As an Orthodox Jew who takes a rationalist approach, I thought I'd comment on this. First off, in concept praying on a plane is really no different than doing it in a synagogue -- as far as supposed "efficacy" is concerned. Just that chartering a flight turns it into a spectacle. And while I don't subscribe to this kind superstitious behavior -- I will say a couple of things in their defense:

1) It may look frightening to watch them blowing horns and swaying, etc., but this is truly a case of benevolent intent. Their only desire is the eradication of a disease. As far as values go, there is "truth" and there is also "decency." I may get annoyed at mistakes in the area of truth (e.g. belief in superstitions), but if the result is decency I am willing to give some slack. (Which I would not give for indecency, whether it comes from a superstitious person or a skeptic.)

2) Religious Jews do not eschew the medical system. Everyone seeks proper medical care -- prayer is a cultural "supplement" done to express one's hope that such care is effective and results in healing.

A quick thought on how one might "pray" as a rational-religious Jew... The Hebrew word for pray is "l'hitpalel" -- it is in the reflexive. Meaning, prayer can be seen as working on oneself, a kind of meditative self-reflection.
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written by randi, August 12, 2009
I first read this news item as "rabbits" rather than "rabbis." That would have made much more sense, and made for a much quieter ambiance...
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written by Steel Rat, August 13, 2009
It may look frightening to watch them blowing horns and swaying, etc.,


It doesn't look frightening, it just looks silly.
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written by Avary, August 13, 2009
Airborne rabbis? Any relationship with the French flying rabbis? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fbOEDZPryak
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Virus
written by Plantar Fasciitis or Heel Spur, August 15, 2009
Is da pig floo is still on da loose? smilies/grin.gif

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Swine Flu in Hebrew
written by Grander, August 23, 2009
In ALL the popular media in Israel the "swine flu" is referred to as the "swine flu". Maybe the marginal ultra-orthodox religious press won't use the "dirty" word (I don't read it, so I can't be sure), but the rest of the people, even the moderately religious ones, use the "swine flu" definition quite fluently.

Having said that, the idea of an "airborne prayer" against a desease could be more amusing, if it wasn't so very sad..
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