Talmud study leaves Charedi men three times more likely to be nearsighted

A new study found that Charedi men wear glasses at a much higher rate than the general population


Grand Rabbi of Pinsk-Karlin (Hasidic dynasty) and his followers seen during a visit at the Rashbi gravesite in Meron, near Tzfat, September 22, 2022. Photo by David Cohen/Flash90 *** Local Caption *** ??? ?? ???? ????? ????? ????? ?????

Nearsightedness among strictly Orthodox men is very likely the result of reading religious texts, experts have found.

This is because Charedi men spend lots of time reading texts with small letters that are close together, like in the Talmud and the commentary of Rashi. “This seems to impact reading habits, which in turn have an impact on eyesight,” according to Professor Ariela Gordon Shaag, author of the latest study.

Wearing glasses among Charedi men is far more prevalent than in the general population. A 2019 study found that 30 percent of secular Israeli men are shortsighted and among Charedi men in the sample, the figure rose to 82%.

The study concluded: “Male adolescents in the ultra-Orthodox educational system have higher odds of having myopia and high myopia. These findings suggest that study styles that involve intensive reading and other near-work activities (those done at a short working distance) play a role in the development of myopia and warrant consideration of prevention strategies.”

Professor Shaag found orthodox men tend to position themselves closer to texts than others, as a result of their shortsightedness.

In the study, men aged 18 to 33 were monitored in how closely they angled themselves to a page or tablet when reading and writing. Half of those chosen were Charedim and half were not.

Haredim read at a distance of 37 centimetres from the page, 4.5 centimetres closer than non-Charedim. For writing and tablet use, they positioned themselves on average 3.5 centimetres closer.

“It may seem like a small difference but it’s actually significant,” Shaag said. “This is an exciting finding in the sense it’s actually the first time we have objectively uncovered a difference in the way that Haredi males make use of their sight differently than others.”

However, high myopia within the Orthodox community could also result from Charedi men spending more time indoors than the general population. The US National Library of Medicine found genetics, long years of schooling and little time outdoors can lead to myopia. Professor Shaag hopes that in future she can explore the possible impact of time spent outdoors.

Whilst research shows that people who are shortsighted do not tend to read closer than others, further investigation is needed to confirm a cause-and-effect relationship between reading habits and eyesight.

Shaag said that if a causative relationship between close reading and shortsightedness is confirmed, it could lead to practical recommendations, like enlarging religious texts or offering them on tablets where text size can be increased.

Indeed, if Charedi women show more moderate levels of shortsightedness than male counterparts, this will strengthen the research as women are less involved in religious study and so spend less time reading the texts.

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