Sunday, March 22, 2015


This is an awful story:
Seven siblings in an Orthodox Jewish family died in an overnight fire Saturday in Brooklyn that authorities said was caused by a hot plate left on because of prohibitions against cooking and operating electrical appliances during the Sabbath....

Fire officials said a preliminary investigation found that a pot that had been left on a hot plate overnight had overheated, setting off the blaze. Orthodox customs prohibit turning electrical appliances on or off, or lighting flames, during the Sabbath.
It's awful, but I notice I don't hear our right-wing friends triumphantly proclaiming that the family got what they deserved because of their religious practices.

Imagine if a family of Muslims in America suffered a similar fire because observing proper fire safety conflicted with their interpretation of Islam. You'd be able to hear the howls of outrage from Pam Geller and other Islamophobes from hundreds of miles away. But when this happens? Crickets. (Even though fires of this kind happen fairly often.)

I don't love the practice, though I understand its importance to Orthodox Jews. The risk was compounded in this case:
On Saturday, investigators found a smoke detector in the basement of the home at 3371 Bedford Avenue, near Avenue L, but had not found any on the first floor, where the fire started, or the second, where the family slept. They were still searching the debris.
Whatever you think about this practice, you won't hear a word of complaint about it from conservatives. Orthodox Jews' determination to sustain the practice won't be denounced. They're not Muslims, you see, so it's different, because, well, it just is.


Philo Vaihinger said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Philo Vaihinger said...

We each choose our own risks, except where we can't.

Sometimes insurance companies are OK with that, and sometimes not.

Sometimes our choices affect the risks faced by others.

Sometimes that strikes some people as an outrageous imposition.

Particularly when they would not have made the choices we did.

aimai said...

Even if your are Orthodox and don't want to turn anything on for the sabbath there are lots of other solutions than running a cheap hotplate until it breaks. And complying with other laws relating to safety (such as smoke detectors, fire escapes, or occupancy laws) are, of course, not at issue. They still have to be followed.

But all this is by the by. The real reason that a Muslim family would be excoriated but, in this instance, the Orthodox family won't is that everyone is always lookig for confirmation for their beliefs. When bad things happen to bad people (death comes to muslims, for example) it is always going to be asserted to be their own fault. And when bad things happen to people we imagine are jus tlike us, or on our side, or part of our tribe, we tend to find reasons that it is not their fault (just as we prefer to find our own misfortunes are not the result of some fault in us).

Roger said...

I don't get this. Why not just turn off the hot plate before the Sabbath?

Victor said...

Horrible story, indeed!

And yeah, if this had happened because of some Muslim custom, our Reich-Wingers would be going nuts.

And, as usual, aimia has a great take on this horrible tragedy, and about tribalism.

trnc said...

"Why not just turn off the hot plate before the Sabbath?"

The point is to have something on that they can cook with during the sabbath. I'm guessing the hot plate is thought to be less expensive to have on for an entire day.

petrilli said...

I worked Saturdays as an exterminator for years and have been in a lot of these homes. People leave their stoves on with exposed flames for the whole duration of shabbos. It's an odd and sometimes dangerous practice. Recently one friday evening a woman invited me, a total stranger, off the Brooklyn street into her home to turn off the light in her childrens' bedroom. The kids accidentally turned the lights on and it was forbidden in the house to turn them off. Shabbos Goy to the rescue! I was raised Roman Catholic pre 2nd Vatican council. We had a lot of weird rules to abide by too. It took me a long time to unlearn that shit.

Rugosa said...

There's much safer ways to have food on the Sabbath. Slow cookers, for example, are designed to operate for hours and most these days are programmable. Having been brought up as a pre-Vatican II catholic, I understand people's religious practices are important to them, but actually putting your family in danger for them doesn't seem like something god really would countenance.