Multnomah County health officials are investigating two hepatitis A cases among workers at a pair of Portland Cup & Saucer Cafes.
The first of the cases was reported to the county health department on March 20, and the other was reported Monday, said county spokeswoman Julie Sullivan-Springhetti. Officials advise people who ate or drank at the cafes on specific dates in late March to contact their health care provider, she said.
Hepatitis A is a contagious liver disease usually spread when someone ingests the virus from drinks, food or other things contaminated by an infected person’s fecal matter, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It can be a mild sickness, lasting a few weeks, or be more severe and last several months, the CDC said.
Hepatitis A can cause fatigue, fever, vomiting and other ailments.
Sullivan-Springhetti said people who ate or drank at the cafe at 8237 North Denver St. from March 22 to March 29 should get in touch with their health care provider to see whether they need to get a vaccination or get other preventative care. People who did the same at the 3566 Southeast Hawthorne Blvd. cafe on March 22 or March 25 should also contact their health care provider, she said.
And anyone who ate or drank at the North Portland cafe between Feb. 22 and March 21 should ask their health care provider whether they have hepatitis A symptoms, Sullivan-Springhetti said in a news release.
“We consider the risk to be relatively low,” Dr. Jennifer Vines, Multnomah County deputy health officer, said in a statement. “But there are vaccines that can lower the risk of illness if given within two weeks of possible exposure.”
An Ohio girl is recovering after a rare complication from strep throat led to a dangerous infection, which required amputation of one leg.
Tessa Puma, 6, was diagnosed with necrotizing fasciitis, an infection by what is commonly called flesh-eating bacteria, which can spread quickly in the body. Her father, Matt Puma, said doctors believe the dangerous infection was caused by bacteria from her strep throat.
Tessa was diagnosed with strep throat earlier and took antibiotics. But when she was struck with the flu last week, her parents noticed she was complaining of pain in her arms and legs. They took her to two hospitals before doctors diagnosed an additional problem: necrotizing fasciitis.
“They did some more tests and confirmed she had the flu and saw she had some kind of infection,” Puma said. “She spent a couple of days in the hospital, and her leg got worse and worse.”
At one point, simply touching Tessa made her scream in pain. When doctors performed surgery to relieve swelling, they found extensive damage in her left leg as well as parts of her shoulder and back.
Necrotizing fasciitis can occur after bacteria from a strep or other bacterial infection migrates to the bloodstream and infects the fasciae, or membranes surrounding muscles and other internal organs, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The infection can kill tissue as it spreads, causing serious complications that can require amputation or result in death.
In Tessa’s case, doctors believe the strep bacteria migrated to her bloodstream, causing the dangerous infection. When doctors could no longer find a pulse in her leg, they concluded she likely had too much dead tissue. To help her heal, they amputated her left leg from the knee down.
Puma said the doctors told him, “If there was any kind of hope for her to live and survive, it’s going to be best to amputate her leg.”
Tessa is recovering at Akron Children’s Hospital but will need further surgery and additional portions of her left leg removed to help her survive. But her father said that she has a strong will and that he believes she will eventually return to what she loves: dancing.
“She’s very good-hearted,” Puma told ABC News. “Whenever she puts her mind to something, she’s very determined. This isn’t going to set her back to her goals.”
One in 10 pregnant U.S. women with confirmed Zika infection in 2016 had a baby with virus-related birth defects, federal health officials reported Tuesday.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last year received reports from 44 states of nearly 1,300 expecting mothers with possible Zika infection. In most cases, Zika was acquired during travel abroad to an area with active transmission of the mosquito-borne virus.
Lab tests confirmed Zika infection in 250 of the women. Of those, 24 completed their pregnancy with a fetus or baby that suffered birth defects linked to the virus, the CDC said.
The new report “confirms the now indisputable evidence that Zika has a great capacity to cause birth defects, especially in the first trimester,” said Dr. Amesh Adalja, an affiliated scholar with the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security in Baltimore.
“Among those pregnant women with confirmed Zika infection, 10 percent had fetal involvement — a substantial proportion,” said Adalja, who wasn’t involved in the study.
Infection in the first trimester posed the greatest risk, with 15 percent of confirmed cases having Zika-related birth defects, the report stated.
Zika infection during pregnancy has been most closely linked to microcephaly in developing fetuses, a condition in which the skull and brain are underdeveloped. It also can lead to a pattern of birth defects that includes brain abnormalities, vision problems, hearing loss and problems moving limbs.
The rate of birth defects found in confirmed Zika cases is more than 30 times higher than the rate of similar birth defects that occurred in the United States prior to the start of the Zika outbreak, study senior author Peggy Honein said at a Tuesday media briefing.
Honein is with the CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities.
The CDC report also revealed that many physicians aren’t carefully tracking pregnancies threatened by Zika.
About one-third of babies with possible Zika infection during pregnancy were not tested for the virus at birth, and only 1 in 4 received brain imaging after birth to check for possible defects, the report said.
Adalja called this “the most ominous finding in this report.”
“This illustrates the fact that, despite Zika awareness being high, there is still much clinical education that needs to occur for the U.S. to be able to effectively manage an outbreak,” Adalja said.
A New York City obstetrician-gynecologist agreed.
“The newest CDC release about Zika virus reveals the very high risk of the virus to pregnant women,” said Dr. Jennifer Wu of Lenox Hill Hospital. “Ongoing education of patients and providers is very important to monitoring infection and halting transmission.”
Babies with possible infection need testing and brain imaging after birth, Wu added. “Unfortunately, there has not been good follow-up of these patients,” she said.
The new report underscores the critical need for pregnant women to continue taking steps to prevent Zika virus exposure, CDC officials said. Although mosquito bites are the usual cause of Zika infection, transmission during sex occurs, too.
Pregnant women are urged to avoid travel to active transmission areas. And all women of childbearing age are encouraged to protect themselves against mosquito bites and to use condoms during sex with men who have recently returned from a Zika-affected area.
“Unfortunately, every mosquito bite carries a risk,” said acting CDC Director Dr. Anne Schuchat at the Tuesday briefing. “Don’t let this outbreak become your family’s heartbreak.”
The CDC continues to receive reports of 30 to 40 new Zika cases in pregnant women each week in the United States. “This devastating outbreak is far from over, and the consequences are heartbreaking,” Schuchat added.
The CDC drew its data from the U.S. Zika Pregnancy Registry, which tracks expectant mothers and infants with evidence of possible Zika infection. The registry includes data from all the states, the District of Columbia, and all U.S. territories except Puerto Rico, which has its own monitoring system.
Nearly 1,300 pregnant women with evidence of possible Zika infection were reported to the registry. Out of 1,000 pregnancies completed by the end of the year, more than 50 involved Zika-related birth defects.
Looking only at lab-confirmed cases of Zika infection, researchers found that about 1 in 10 pregnant women had a fetus or baby with birth defects.
WASHINGTON — House Republicans are scrambling to resurrect last month’s failed health care bill before a two-week congressional recess that starts Friday, and Vice President Pence has been shuttling back and forth from Capitol Hill as part of the negotiations.
Pence met Tuesday night with the heads of three groups within the Republican Party: the conservative Republican Study Committee, the hardline conservative House Freedom Caucus and the moderate Tuesday Group. According to lawmakers attending, the meeting was scheduled by Republican Study Committee Chairman Mark Walker, R-N.C. It was Pence’s second night in a row meeting with lawmakers on Capitol Hill. The vice president was accompanied by White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, who was a House Freedom Caucus member until joining the administration in January.
Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., canceled a vote last month on a bill to replace and replace Obamacare because there was not enough Republican support to pass it. Freedom Caucus members argued the bill did not go far enough in repealing the law, while moderates were concerned it would boost costs and reduce coverage, particularly for the elderly and the poor.
The meeting broke up a little before 11 p.m., after more than two hours, with no breakthrough.
“It was a very productive meeting, we’re making progress,” Walker told reporters. He said there was still no bill text and there were still substantive issues to work out before a bill could be drafted. Lawmakers plan to meet again on Wednesday.
Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., who chairs the conservative House Freedom Caucus, told reporters earlier Tuesday that Pence and top aides came to the group’s meeting Monday night and pitched a revised plan. Late Tuesday he agreed that the talks were making progress, but added, “I certainly was hopeful to see legislative text tonight and so not seeing it still leaves some unanswered questions.”
Meadows said there were no real discussions yet of delaying the upcoming recess, but “if we’re making real progress, then going home sends the wrong message.”
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., joined Tuesday’s discussion, but Ryan was not in the room.
According to Meadows, the White House is considering letting Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price give states the option to waive certain insurance requirements. Governors would be allowed to eliminate “essential health benefits” — the Obamacare requirement that insurance plans include things like maternity care and substance abuse coverage — as well as the requirement that insurers provide reasonably priced coverage to people with pre-existing health conditions.
Alabama Rep. Mo Brooks, a Freedom Caucus member who had opposed the bill, said after Monday’s meeting that if Pence’s proposed add was made, he’d support the legislation.
“After mtg with @VP, I’ll vote for the American Health Care Act if a States Rights’ amendment is added to the bill,” he tweeted Tuesday.
But most conservatives said they couldn’t commit to a deal until they see legislation.
The proposal is intended to get conservatives on board with the legislation. But it is not clear whether moderates will leave in the process.
Rep. Chris Collins, R-N.Y., is a member of the moderate Tuesday Group, but he’s also a close Trump ally and supported the previous version of the bill. On Monday, he went to the White House for a meeting with Pence and other top aides.
Collins said the state flexibility likely would not affect New York because, “In our state health commission we have the Cadillac of everything.” But he said he wasn’t sure whether the proposed changes to the bill would lose more votes than they attract.
“Well clearly that would be a plus to the Freedom Caucus and I would say clearly it would be of concern to the Tuesday Group,” Collins said. “Plus I’m not sure this is a done deal, either,” he added.
A Republican leadership aide cautioned that mollifying the Freedom Caucus loses votes from moderates and appeasing moderates loses Freedom Caucus votes. The aide — who was not authorized to publicly discuss ongoing negotiations — said that while everyone is trying to get a deal, nothing has yet changed in a way that would get the necessary increase in total Republican votes to pass the bill.
Because no Democrats are expected to vote for any Obamacare repeal bill, Republicans can only lose about 20 votes in their own party and still pass a bill.
WASHINGTON — She has been here before. After the 2012 attack on an American diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya, Susan E. Rice was at the center of conflict, her statements scrutinized and criticized. Now she finds herself back in the cross hairs as her handling of intelligence involving President Trump’s associates comes into question.
A longtime Democratic foreign policy official who served as President Barack Obama’s last national security adviser, Ms. Rice has become an inkblot test in the controversy over Russian meddling in last year’s election. Republicans see a partisan who mined intelligence reports to spy on Mr. Trump’s team. Democrats see a scapegoat tarred for doing her job and used as a distraction from an F.B.I. investigation into Mr. Trump’s associates.
At issue are her requests for the identities of Americans caught up in electronic surveillance of foreigners, as cited in reports provided to her by intelligence agencies: Americans who were affiliated with Mr. Trump. Ms. Rice went public in her own defense on television and Twitter on Tuesday, neither confirming nor disputing that she made such requests but arguing that any she might have made were proper and necessary, not part of political espionage against the Trump campaign.
“The allegation is that somehow the Obama administration officials utilized intelligence for political purposes,” Ms. Rice told the journalist Andrea Mitchell on MSNBC. “That’s absolutely false.”
Ms. Rice said she had sometimes asked for the names of Americans whose identities were redacted in her daily intelligence briefings in order to understand the context of what she was being told. The purpose, she said, was “to do our jobs,” but “absolutely not for any political purpose, to spy, expose, anything.”
She added that she had never made public the identities of any Trump associates mentioned in intelligence surveillance. “I leaked nothing to nobody and never have and never would,” Ms. Rice said.
Republicans have argued that “the real story,” as Mr. Trump put it, is not the F.B.I. investigation into contacts between his associates and Russia, but the conduct of the Obama administration. Mr. Trump said on Monday that he had been the target of a “crooked scheme” by Mr. Obama’s team, and he followed up on Tuesday by retweeting a link from the Drudge Report: “RICE ORDERED SPY DOCS ON TRUMP?”
Fellow Republicans seized on reports about Ms. Rice in the conservative news media. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky called the reports a “smoking gun” and said Ms. Rice should be subpoenaed to testify. Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said Congress should look into the reports.
Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas pointed to the dispute over Ms. Rice’s role in characterizing the 2012 attack on the diplomatic compound in Benghazi, which killed the American ambassador and three other American officials. “Susan Rice is the Typhoid Mary of the Obama administration foreign policy,” Mr. Cotton said on the Hugh Hewitt radio show. “Every time something went wrong, she seemed to turn up in the middle of it.”
Where Republicans detect scandal, Democrats see a smoke screen. Mr. Trump and his allies have been looking for indications of wrongdoing by Mr. Obama’s team for a month, since the president accused his predecessor of tapping telephones at Trump Tower during last year’s campaign. No evidence has publicly surfaced to substantiate that claim, and it has been widely dismissed. Having failed to prove the assertion, Mr. Trump and his allies have turned to Ms. Rice.
As the national security adviser, she received intelligence briefings six days a week. Last year, during the campaign, some of Mr. Trump’s associates were caught up in eavesdropping of foreign officials. When Americans who are not the target of a warrant are mentioned in reports about such surveillance, their identities are obscured, and they are typically referred to as U.S. Person One or U.S. Person Two.
But top officials, like the national security adviser, can ask the intelligence agencies to disclose the names, a process called unmasking. If the intelligence agencies agree, the briefer typically provides the identities orally.
Former national security officials have said that Ms. Rice was justified in asking for the names of Trump associates referred to in reports that intelligence agencies sent to her last year. The White House was concerned about attempts by the Russian government to interfere in the election, and she had an obvious need to be fully informed, they said.
Ms. Rice said Tuesday that the Russian meddling was a serious issue. “It was a grave concern to all of us in the national security team of the president and to the president himself,” she said. “We took this issue very seriously. We thought it was crucial to defend the integrity of our election process.”
She added, “For us not to try to understand it would be a dereliction of duty.”
Mr. Trump’s aides dismissed Ms. Rice’s comments. “Lyin’, leakin’ Susan Rice stammered through her soft ball interview with Dem PR person Andrea Mitchell,” Dan Scavino Jr., the White House social media director, wrote on Twitter.
Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, said Ms. Rice’s actions seemed to contradict her previous public comments.
After Representative Devin Nunes, the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, announced last month that he had seen reports indicating that Mr. Trump or his associates might have been “incidentally” swept up in the monitoring of foreigners, Ms. Rice told PBS: “I know nothing about this. I was surprised to see reports from Chairman Nunes on that count today.”
Mr. Spicer suggested that Ms. Rice had not been forthcoming. “She was the one who went out and said, quote, that she had nothing to do with this on a program a few weeks ago, and now you see more and more reports,” he told reporters.
“It’s not for me to decide who should testify or how they should do it,” Mr. Spicer added. “But I do think that there’s a sharp contrast between a few weeks ago, when she was very public in saying she, quote, didn’t have any clue what Chairman Nunes was talking about, and yet now, we’re finding out that she’s trying to figure out some kind of friendly way of discussing this.”
Ms. Rice responded on Twitter later in the day. “I said I did not know what reports Nunes was referring to when he spoke to the press,” she wrote. “I still do not.”
Yet again, the world is watching gut-wrenching images emerge from the site of a suspected chemical weapons attack in Syria.
Activists claim the Syrian government launched an airstrike on the town of Khan Sheikhoun in the country’s northwestern Idlib province. Scores of civilians, including many women and children, were reportedly killed.
Video footage surfaced on social media of small, frantic children being hosed off by rescuers in the hopes of washing away whatever lethal chemical agent had hit them. Other gruesome reports showed corpses hastily wrapped in blankets, victims with foam coming out of their mouths and a chilling scene of lifeless boys, their torsos bare, eyes open and limbs contorted in shock.
Supporters of the Syrian regime rejected any link to a chemical weapons strike. They claimed the reports were fabricated by terrorist groups in Idlib and suggested the fatalities were the result of an explosion at a supposed al-Qaeda chemical weapons factory. Russian authorities, whose warplanes are flying in support of the regime, said they had not conducted a strike in the area around the town. But the broader international reaction was vehement — and put the blame squarely on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
“Once again the Syrian regime will deny the evidence of its responsibility for this massacre,” French President François Hollande said in a statement.
“Bombing your own civilians with chemical weapons is unquestionably a war crime, and they must be held to account,” declared British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson.
The French and British ambassadors at the United Nations called for an emergency meeting of the Security Council, which will convene on Wednesday morning.
Such strikes are a regime tactic to further demoralize the flagging rebellion. “Assad calculates, reasonably, that military dynamics play in his favor. By using chemical weapons and other weapons, he is demonstrating the powerlessness of international actors,” said Emile Hokayem, a Middle East analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, to The Washington Post.
But in Washington, the Trump administration initially chose to blame its predecessor, another sign the White House is far more comfortable operating as if it’s still running an election campaign rather than the world’s only superpower.
“Today’s chemical attack in Syria against innocent people, including women and children, is reprehensible and cannot be ignored by the civilized world,” said White House press secretary Sean Spicer. “These heinous actions by the Bashar al-Assad regime are a consequence of the past administration’s weakness and irresolution.”
Spicer, speaking at a press briefing, added: “President Obama said in 2012 he would establish a red line against the use of chemical weapons and then did nothing. The United States stands with our allies across the globe to condemn this intolerable act.”
Doctors and activists in rebel-held areas have blamed the Syrian government for a sharp increase in chemical attacks since the end of last year. (The Washington Post)
The fact that Obama chose to back off from confronting the Assad regime, which allegedly used chemical weapons numerous times in the years since, will forever haunt the former president’s legacy. Much of the Washington foreign policy establishment has excoriated him for it. But Trump in 2013 — then a private citizen with the same itchy Twitter finger — was opposed to American intervention in Syria.
The irony is that Trump’s position on the Syrian conflict isn’t that far removed from Obama’s — although it’s more conspicuous in its indifference to the plight of Syrian refugees. The previous administration called for Assad’s departure, but it did little to actually push for regime change, fearing that any deeper involvement in the Syrian conflict would risk the sort of blowback and chaos that rocked Iraq after the 2003 U.S. invasion. Trump, meanwhile, has insisted on multiple occasions that he is not interested in nation-building in the Middle East or dictating regime change. His lieutenants indicated as recently as last week that the White House does not prioritize removing Assad from power.
“No one — not even President Obama, as far as I could tell — was satisfied with the Obama administration’s approach to the conflict in Syria,” wrote Andrew Exum, a former Obama-era Pentagon official, in the Atlantic. “But if you assembled all of the Obama administration’s critics in one room, they would not agree on an obvious alternative. The problem is wicked enough to confound easy solutions, and each policy alternative had strategic and moral deficiencies.”
Instead of being weighed down by the strategic headache of Syria — what Spicer described as “weakness and irresolution” — you get the impression that Trump has decided to brush it all aside in favor of aggressive posturing and a steady escalation of the military campaign against the Islamic State. It’s the kind of brazenness that may have deep costs — as seen in the scores of Iraqi civilians likely killed by a recent American airstrike in the city of Mosul.
“This president would be wise to remember what his predecessor knew: War is a very imperfect instrument of policy,” wrote Exum.
Later on Tuesday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson put out a more measured statement that singled out the “brutal, unabashed barbarism” of the Assad regime. It scolded Assad’s boosters, Russia and Iran, for not ensuring the regime’s “compliance” with a cease-fire they were supposed to guarantee and said they “bear great moral responsibility” for Syrian civilian deaths. This, as analysts noted, while scoring no political points at home, was more intelligent messaging in the face of a complex challenge. But for now, his boss seems content to ignore the complexity altogether.
The Gordon JCC in Nashville, Tenn., has been the target of bomb threats this year. (Courtesy of Gordon JCC)
(JTA) — A bipartisan letter by House members is calling for increased funding for a program that funds security for Jewish sites.
The letter, spearheaded by Reps. Bill Pascrell, D-N.J., and Dan Donovan, R-N.Y., and signed by 112 lawmakers, calls for more than doubling funding for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Nonprofit Security Grant Program, to $50 million a year from $20 million. It cites intelligence assessments finding the threat of “homegrown violent extremists, who draw inspiration from ISIL or other Sunni extremist organizations,” as well as bomb threats and anti-Semitic acts committed against Jewish community centers, schools, museums and synagogues.
A budget plan by President Donald Trump proposed rolling the funds for the program into broader federal emergency preparedness funds. The vast majority of funds have helped upgrade security at Jewish institutions.
The Orthodox Union lauded the letter.
“We commend the many legislators who are working to better protect our citizens and institutions, particularly as we witness this disturbing surge in attacks against our community,” O.U. President Mark Bane said in a Monday statement. “No one should have to fear for their safety when they go to school or attend religious services. The increased funding will help many more people feel secure as they go about their daily activities.”
The O.U. also praised a similar letter last month being circulated in the Senate.
Nearly 150 JCCs and other Jewish institutions received bomb threats and three Jewish cemeteries were vandalized this year. Nearly two weeks ago, an Israeli-American teen was arrested on suspicion of calling in more than 100 bomb threats.
Last month, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., slammed Trump’s budget proposal.
“At a time where perpetrators are terrorizing the Jewish community across the country, even here in New York, it makes no sense to slash FEMA’s Nonprofit Security Grant Program; we should be putting more money in terrorism prevention for at-risk non-profits, not less,” Schumer, the Jewish minority leader of the Senate, said in a statement to JTA.
(JTA) — Aryeh Lightstone, a longtime official in U.S. Orthodox Jewish organizations, will advise David Friedman, the just installed U.S. ambassador to Israel.
The Jerusalem Post reported Tuesday that the State Department confirmed that Lightstone, currently the regional director of the National Council of Synagogue Youth, an Orthodox Union affiliate, would have an advisory role at the embassy. It did not say in what capacity.
Lightstone also is a co-founder of Mekorot, an online Jewish education portal, and has served in rabbinic roles on Long Island. According to his biography on the Orthodox Union website, he has ties to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and to Ivanka Trump, President Donald Trump’s Jewish daughter who is advising her father in an unpaid position.
The Senate last month confirmed Friedman, a longtime lawyer to Trump, in a mostly party line vote. Friedman was controversial in part because of his deep philanthropic investment in the settlement movement and for his insulting broadsides targeting liberal Jews, for which he has offered regrets.
Jared Kushner at a congressional listening session with Republican lawmakers at the White House, Feb. 16, 2017. (Ron Sachs/Pool/Getty Images)
(JTA) — Jared Kushner had a friendly but secret meeting with Muslim Americans prior to the inauguration of his father-in-law, Donald Trump, but contacts diminished after the president banned entry to refugees and to travelers from seven Muslim majority countries.
“We thought discussing our nation’s founding values and freedom for Americans of all faiths was the responsible thing to do before Mr. Trump came to power,” Farhana Khera, the director of Muslim Advocates and one of five Muslim leaders at the meeting, told BuzzFeed, which on Tuesday broke the story of the early January get-together.
“It soon became clear, however, that unless Trump makes drastic changes and shows he’s committed to being a president for all Americans, engagement is not an effective tool at this stage,” Khera said.
In addition to the travel ban, which Trump put in place a week into his presidency but has been stayed by the courts, tensions between the Trump administration and Muslims were exacerbated by a visit to the White House by Brigitte Gabriel, who leads a group that has been described as Islamaphobic.
Kushner asked those in attendance for suggestions on smoothing relations between his father-in-law and Muslims, and even sought recommendations for a liaison to the Muslim community. (Trump has not named a liaison, nor has he named one to the Jewish community.)
BuzzFeed said that Kushner, who is Jewish and is an unpaid adviser tasked with an array of assignments, including advancing Middle East peace, remains the conduit for Muslim contacts with the administration. However, the online news site said that relations with the community have been consigned to a “severely restricted” backchannel.
There is one news story that has riled up just about everyone in Washington recently. And it has nothing to do with Russia, Jared Kushner or even President Donald Trump.
Nobody can stop talking about a recent Washington Post profile of Karen Pence, the wife of US Vice President Mike Pence. The profile describes Karen as deeply religious, always on the same page as her husband and very socially conservative.
But it’s one specific line that set social media alight: “In 2002, Mike Pence told the Hill that he never eats alone with a woman other than his wife and that he won’t attend events featuring alcohol without her by his side, either,” wrote Ashley Parker in the now-famous piece.
The Pences did not confirm if the practice is still in place, but it became quick fodder for satire and mockery, and many were angry at what they considered the outdated and damaging beliefs. Reactions quickly split into two camps – those who thought Pence should be admired for safeguarding his marriage, and those who saw him as unable to view women as full professional partners, as opposed to sex objects.
Writing for Time magazine, Glennon Doyle Melton said this idea “perpetuates religious and political ideologies based on false, dehumanizing ideologies about women.” She added: “He is perpetuating the patriarchal notion that women are either Mary, Jesus’ pure virgin Mother, or Eve, a temptress, a liability.”
But many commentators also pointed out the parallels between Pence’s purported rules and Jewish law, in particular the laws of yichud, “seclusion.”
At its basis, yichud proscribes an unrelated man or woman from being alone in a room together. A man eating a meal with a woman while seated in a restaurant or public space would be permitted under Halacha.
Jerusalem-based Rabbi Josh Yuter shared an explanation of the Talmudic laws of yichud with his close to 50,000 Twitter followers. Yuter, who is a member of the Rabbinical Council of America and the International Rabbinic Fellowship, wrote that aside from Jewish law, keeping this stringency “makes good pastoral and professional sense.” He added that the sages “are supposed to act in ways to preempt suspicion, be aware of society.”
Writing on the Jew in the City blog, Rabbi Jack Abramowitz of the Orthodox Union wrote, “Even if it’s not one’s personal practice, it’s a behavior that is not considered extremist or crazy,” noting a series of similar measures in Orthodox communities.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach said, “For secular society to mock this, with a 50% divorce rate and 50% adultery rate, simply has no credibility.” He did not cite sources for those statistics.
Boteach did note, however, that “in [J]ewish law, men and women who are not married are not allowed to be in a closed and private environment by themselves. Which does not mean that they can’t have lunch or dinner in an open environment.”
Some thinkers hit back at the outpouring of criticism directed toward the vice president.
Jonah Goldberg writing in National Review told a story about Dr. Abraham Twerski, approached in an airport and berated by a fellow Jew for being a narrow-minded hassidic rabbi. Twerski turned around and said – “You do realize that I’m Amish, don’t you?” and the man burst into apologies.
Goldberg used the story to note the presence of “a crude form of partisan bigotry” against religious Christians for behavior common among devout members of other religions.
But some Jewish voices had a more critical take on the Pences’ purported marital rules.
Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg, an author and spiritual leader who works for the Avodah NGO, criticized Pence for refusing “to be alone with his female colleagues even when they’re just trying to do their damn job.”
Judy Mandel, writing on the Jewish parenting site Kveller.com, said the vice president showed his “belief that women are inherently tempting, and not equals who can be met under platonic or business circumstances.”
And Phoebe Maltz Bovy, writing in the Forward’s “Sisterhood” blog, said that the answer is “to reduce the place of private dinners and alcohol in the workplace, not to preserve male executives’ marriages (or reputations) at the expense of women’s careers.”