The importance of Centrist Orthodoxy: a case study in genetic screening

I was surprised and then annoyed with myself for not adequately appreciating the differences between Charedi Orthodoxy and Centrist (or Modern) Orthodoxy, in practical terms. Often, we try to understand the difference between these groups through slogans: eg. תורה לשמה and תורה עם דרך ארץ and תורה ומדע. In particular, when one identifies with Centrist Orthodox, unless they also have a deeper understanding of its approach to Yahadus, it can easily become a club or vehicle for those who promote left-wing, more compromising, approaches to Halacha,  or regrettably, boundaries outside of accepted Halacha.

Sadly, first steps are often after the fact. Individuals first assume an approach to Jewish Life and then identify themselves as Centrist (or Modern) Orthodox because they perceive more opportunity to mould that philosophy to accommodate their behaviours. Subsequent attempts to study Hirschian תורה עם דרך ארץ (a virulently anti-Zionist approach) or תורה ומדע (as described by Rabbi Dr Norman Lamm) are forays seeking to ascribe post facto legitimacy to existing behaviours and beliefs, some of which may well fall outside the Orthodox boundaries. There is much more to Centrist Orthodoxy than that, however. A failure to respect the solid foundations upon which Centrist Orthodoxy stands, is also an unfortunate, regrettable, hallmark of those who are identified with the right-wing.

It’s often easy to lose track of the importance of Centrist Orthodoxy because of the complex Weltanschauung it weaves and the friction it must deal with due to Centrist Orthodoxy not being an isolationist approach. Indeed, as a result, many who were Centrist become more Charedi, because the latter is actually simpler on the surface and perceived to be ‘more religious’. A seriously grounded and informed Centrist Orthodox Jew, however, is just as likely to have more fidelity to Halacha than a Charedi Jew! I won’t expand on this point in general terms; it’s pointless. Instead, I will reflect on a  burning issue which is being actively discussed. Through this issue, it is possible to discern an important difference in approach of Centrist versus Charedi, and, in my view, the superiority of the Centrist view is clearly manifest.

The Charedi community, influenced by a פסק from Rav Moshe Feinstein ז׳ל about testing for genetic markers, gave birth to the laudable and groundbreaking organisation Dor Yeshorim. The premise of Dor Yeshorim is not medical. Its aim is to

  1. construct and maintain a panel of genetic tests such that, based on Rabbinical advice, if two people are recessive carriers of a gene on that panel, they would be advised not to court each other.
  2. test two people, each of whom is identified by a secret unique number, and give a binary answer of yes or no, in respect of whether they may court each other (as defined by the particular panel of tests).

There have been two great achievements by Dor Yeshorim.

  1. Dor Yeshorim have been almost singularly responsible for removing certain genetic diseases from Jewish people. An example that is cited is Tay Sachs disease. I do believe this is true of the USA, however, in Israel there were and perhaps still are people who are ready to “roll the dice” and go out without knowing if they carry a deadly disease (this could be described as a misdirected exercise in תמים תהיה עם ה׳ אלוקך. [In this vein, when Rav Gavriel Holtzberg הי׳׳ד confided that his first son had Tay Sachs, I asked him whether he and his wife had been tested prior to marriage. Unfortunately, they had not. Their two eldest boys passed away miserably רחמנא ליצלן in a home for terminally ill children in Israel. The third son, the highly celebrated miracle Moshe Holtzberg, is a story in of itself and this post isn’t the place to discuss it. The point being though that (in my estimation) the more Charedi a couple is (unless they are Chassidim and their Rebbe has made a גזירה) the more likely they are to be חסידים שוטים and rely on תמים תהיה עם ה׳ אלקיך and שומר פתאים ה׳ and take easily avoidable and unecessary mortal risks, as Dor Yeshorim has demonstrated to date.
  2. Dor Yeshorim has managed to protect the privacy of couples, one or both of whom are carriers, and in this way engineered a much safer Shidduch environment. Indeed, if one loses their identification number, they will need be re-tested all over again. Since the testing regime is entirely anonymous, Dor Yeshorim cannot connect a person with their test results, were they to misplace their identification number.

How does Dor Yeshorim decide what to test? Their website claims

Dor Yeshorim’s panel of tests therefore currently screens for debilitating and recessive genetic diseases most commonly occurring within the Jewish community. These specific tests have been painstakingly researched and chosen based on their frequency and severity of symptoms. The decision to add a disease to the Dor Yeshorim panel of tests is not a simple one. We are forever mindful of our mission to ensure healthy families. At the same time, we must employ a balanced approach to adding a test to the panel; just because a test exists for the disease, does not mean it warrants screening.

The issue of what can and should be tested has hotted up, of late. There are apparently some 39 life-threatening Ashkenazic diseases, (the number 39 and its connected to מלקות is chilling) made up of hundreds of mutations. Dor Yeshorim has chosen to focus on some 14 diseases. Since the diseases are life-threatening, one might assume that Dor Yeshorim has made the halachic call to screen for all 39. It should be noted, and this is important, that it is no more expensive for a testing laboratory to scan and report on 200 versus 39 versus 14. Therefore, there ought be no argument of cost vis-à-vis less prevalent carriers of disease. In the Dor Yeshorim system, nobody knows which of the two (or both) is positive for any particular marker. In addition, the set of tests is determined by Dor Yeshorim in consultation with its Poskim. The reality is that Dor Yeshorim has not extended to many more markers even though this ought be cost neutral. A result of Dor Yeshorim’s stance is that there is a new agency, known as JScreen.

JScreen looks at some 200+ diseases. The list is here.

The question now becomes, should one prefer JScreen as this is medically and scientifically a more expansive panel that will show up less prevalent diseases? Note, even if a disease is very rare, for example there is only a 1/10000 probability that a person is carrying the disease, then, for both the male and female to both be carriers, the chance of that occurring is, therefore, 1/100000000 (= 1/10000 squared=0.0001), nevertheless, it is a  25% chance! that the couple’s offspring will have the disease! This probability is constant and does not relate to the prevalence of the disease, and importantly does not impinge on the “Shidduch Crisis” because the chance of both people being carriers is 0.0001! I fear that some Poskim are simply not aware of the statistics and have an arcane notion that the more one tests the greater the effect on the Shidduch Crisis. This is not the case. Indeed, if a disease is incredibly remote (say one in a million probablity), but horribly destructive,  then

the chance of a prospective couple going on a Shidduch date both carrying this rare gene, is 0.000000000001 !!!

Should anyone be afraid that this will cut them out of Shidduchim? Not in my mind.

With the above in mind, I was listening to a fascinating podcast hosted by the impressive Rabbi Dovid Lichtenstein on this exact topic.

Rabbi Lichtenstein invited two world-famous Poskim to be live on his podcast. The first was מורי ורבי HaRav Hershel Schachter שליט׳׳א and the second was HaRav Binyamin Forst שליט׳׳א. Rav Schachter was gently firm and stated that there really ought to be no reason we aren’t finding out whatever we can to prevent a calumny. (It should be noted that it is estimated that couples who have a seriously ill child, have a 50% divorce rate, due to the incredible and inevitable pressure on a marriage).  In Rav Schachter’s eyes, it is the plain Halacha in Shulchan Aruch אבן העזר, סימן ב which determines practice:

לֹא יִשָּׂא אָדָם אִשָּׁה לֹא מִמִּשְׁפַּחַת מְצֹרָעִין וְלֹא מִמִּשְׁפַּחַת נִכְפִּין, וְהוּא שֶׁהֻחְזַק שָׁלֹשׁ פְּעָמִים שֶׁיָּבוֹאוּ בְּנֵיהֶם לִידֵי כָּךְ:

A man shouldn’t marry a women from a leprous family nor from a nekafim. If a family has three instances the next children will have the presumption of being this way.

Rav Hershel Schachter שליט׳׳א

Seemingly, the only counter-argument is that we should be careful not to ‘play God’ and if we use medical research to such an extent, it could be viewed as “interfering” with creation. (We do interfere with creation  though—we’ve basically eradicated Polio … is that a bad thing!?)

Rav Forst, who is a widely accepted Charedi Posek in the United States, was not happy about using JScreen over Dor Yeshorim, and advised that he cannot understand why one should look for such uncommon diseases, and that we should have more faith in Hashem. He goes as far as stating (I assume that he didn’t know Rav Schachter had been on before him) that no respectable Posek would suggest that couples undertake a larger panel of tests, per JScreen. Indeed, not only Rav Schachter but also Rav Dr. J. David Bleich are strongly in favour of wider testing. It could be argued that R’ Moshe Feinstein ז׳ל would also have agreed with that stance. Critically, I am not sure whether Rabbi Forst knew the מציאות that if the male and female carry the remote disease, that there is always a constant 25% chance (one in four!) that a child will inherit it.

This is a poignant example which amplifies a difference between Centrist Orthodoxy and Charedi Judaism. The Charedi approach appears to be reluctantly using Science as an ingredient in a kosher Jewish existence. When they do engage with Science, they are careful to limit this so that uncommon cases are not tested. There is a latent Charedi feeling (הרגש) that too much science implies that God is lessened in the equation of השגחה. Accordingly, they quote the verse of תמים תהיה עם ה׳ אלוקיך. It is important to be über pure in one’s relationship with God, and testing for “remote” diseases expresses a lack of faith in God’s choices and a lack of Bitachon!

Rav Binyamin Forst שליט׳׳א

Rav Schachter, however, uses the poignant example of a blind person who is playing near the seashore and is easily swept into the water. If we can see: that is, Science is able to help us, then there is no excuse to make oneself ‘blind’ and ignore what is easily found out. Rav Schachter is not challenged by Science. In his worldview, the Doctor has been given the Torah right to heal. Yes, they do interfere with the progression of illness! Furthermore, a Doctor who does not use the best medicine of his or her time is grossly negligent. Rav Schachter sees the advice of Tannaim in the Gemora in respect of Medicine, and the same applies to the Rambam, as being the best medicine of that time. We don’t follow that today! We also continue to follow the best medicine of our time. That is the Halachic imperative.

This chasm between the reality of medical-cum-scientific endeavour and the feeling that it is external to our Torah mandated Halacha (because its source is secular) is an important and critical distinction between Centrist (or Modern) Orthodoxy and Charedi versions of Orthodoxy.

Reb Moshe, himself, was never a predictable “all is forbidden” style Posek. This is one of the things that made him so very great. Reb Moshe would often rule in a lenient way and buttress his argument with prime sources, as opposed to later Acharonim. He is described as having ‘broad shoulders’. Consider this: even though Reb Moshe, for example, was stringent on himself not to use milk which was produced under the regulation of a Government, he had such milk at home, and his family partook of it. Indeed, his son Reb Dovid, who is a prominent Posek, still does. Reb Moshe was certainly not a ‘standard’ Charedi Posek. On this matter, Reb Moshe in a responsum on Tay Sachs balances these opposing concepts in his discussion about genetic testing before marriage (Igros Moshe EH 4:10). First, he writes, since the probability of both spouses being carriers is minute it may be included in the precept of “תמים תהיה according to Rashi, which instructs us not to delve into the future. However, he then writes, since the test is easily available and if an inflicted child is born it is devastating, the public should be educated about their options! Reb Moshe was the real deal, a truly great Posek, without fear or favour, and with a sensitive social understanding.

We close noting that Rabbi Forst advocates that women not test themselves for the BRCA gene, a gene associated  רחמנא ליצלן to breast and ovarian cancer, until they are 40+. The illness is not dependent on a husband. Rabbi Forst argues that the knowledge serves no real purpose since the women can have surgery at 40+ and remove the chances of cancer. I am not sure I understand. The surgery is radical and not at all easy for a woman. Rabbi Forst comes across as if it’s another (routine) surgery (Tonsilectomy?). Secondly, I would have thought that if we can aid medical and scientific research by attempting treatments on people before they are 40 (after finding out through a test) then we should do so! Imagine if they come up with a simpler treatment via some injection of specially designed stem cells. Would we not be involved in that from day 1? As I understand it, there is a higher incidence of problematic BRCA genes in Jewish people. Indeed, Rabbi Bleich suggests that we should, if possible, find out as much as we can by testing at birth. Of course, we do now test at birth, but only for those illnesses that can be treated.

In summary: one in four ought never be שומר פתאים ה׳ and the importance of Halacha engaging with the quality Science we have available, is critical!

Prayers for Malka Leifer

If you haven’t read ‘she’s free to go’ in Israel until she gets better.

I’m waiting for the Adass Israel community to call for a day of prayer, so that Leifer, accused of 72 accounts of pedophilia gets better sooner so that her continued existence in this sick mental state subsides and the daily profanation of God’s name doesn’t continue to recur.

Does anybody want to take betting odds that this prayer day won’t occur and that it didn’t occur on the last prayer-filled event last week at the Hungarian Ultra Orthodox Haredi establishment in Melbourne? 

I will bet her name wasn’t even mentioned in a prayer for a Refuah Shelema.

Let justice take its path.

If she God forbids, lures a victim, now that she is free to roam, I’d be applying to have her institutionalised in an asylum with appropriate mental care.

Interesting article—Working does not contradict Torah

[Hat tip Kracower]

Yehuda Meshi Zahav

ZAKA chairman Yehuda Meshi Zahav describes sparingly and with restraint the things he and thousands of his volunteers at ZAKA do. ZAKA is a haredi (ultra-Orthodox Jewish) organization that rescues, identifies, and traces Jewish disaster victims in Israel and all over the world under sometimes virtually impossible conditions. Such a mission requires love of one’s fellow man, great empathy, faith, and a belief that good will come of it. It requires Zahav, a man with impeccable curly white payess (sidecurls).

Two months ago, following a four-year struggle, ZAKA won recognition as an official UN consultant and observer. The eventual decision was taken unanimously by a special UN committee composed of representatives of 19 countries, including Iran, Sudan, Venezuela, Cuba, Turkey, China, Russia, Pakistan, Uruguay, Burundi, Greece, the US, and Israel.

“Globes”: Did Iran and Pakistan also vote in favor?

Zahav: “There was no opposition, not even one country. We sent our representative, who met with every one of the committee members. The Iranians asked us if the report that ZAKA treats Jews first and Arabs later at terrorist events was true. We said that they hadn’t read it correctly. We treat the victim first, and then the murderer, regardless of nationality. They realized this, and voted in favor.”

About-face: From extremist haredi operations officer to national hero

Once upon a time, Zahav was the operations officer of the Eda Haredit extremist haredi group. He led demonstrations against Sabbath desecration, burnt Israeli flags, fasted and wore mourning clothes on Israel Independence Day, illegally removed dead bodies from the Abu Kabir Forensic Institute to prevent autopsies from being performed and put mice into the pathologists’ rooms, and sneaked onto archeological sites in order to prevent archeological excavations. Since then, however, Zahav has been honored by being asked to light a torch on Mt. Herzl while calling aloud in a clear voice, “For the glory of the state of Israel.” His grandfather, Rabbi Yosef Sheinberger, the mythological leader of the Eda Haredit and a fanatical opponent of the founding of Israel, refused to speak with Zahav for the last four years of his life. For Sheinberger, what Zahav did was a desecration of God’s name.

The change in Zahav began on July 6, 1989, when a terrorist blew up a bus on the 405 route from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. It happened on a road in front of the Telz-Stone yeshiva (Jewish religious seminary) in Neva Ilan. Zahav and his friends wanted to see what was happening, “and then, when the dismembered bodies were laid out before my eyes, when the sirens were echoing among the smoky fragments of the bus, when the bloodstained clothes were scattered over the area, when entire families were broken and erased in an instant, I realized that the quarrels between us were meaningless. The type of skullcap you wear and the kind of clothes you wear pale in comparison with the real war we’re faced with. The Arab enemy doesn’t distinguish between the blood of a haredi, a secular person, and someone who’s modern Orthodox. We’re all connected. There’s no right or left. Everyone’s pain is the same. That was the moment when I crossed the lines and abandoned the ideology of haredi Judaism,” he later said, just before lighting the torch in honor of the ZAKA volunteers in 2003.

“Since then,” he says today, “I have been repenting. I put my efforts in the right place.” That also includes severe criticism of the leaders of the community he is identified with. “I didn’t see the haredi leaders with the bereaved families,” he said during one of the IDF campaigns in the Gaza Strip. “There were 20,000 people at the funeral, but I didn’t see black clothes there. There might have been haredim here or there, but when we want to, we can fill any place with black clothes.”

….

To read the full article click globes.

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news – www.globes-online.com – on April 27, 2016

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2016

I mucked up with HaGomel

A few weeks ago I had a lucky if nor miraculous escape in a car accident. It didn’t involve any drivers or pedestrians. I had just turned the corner from outside our house, and was driving at about 30Kmh. The next thing I knew, I was bleeding and facing one of those big four-wheel drives with a huge external bumper bar parked on the opposite side of the road.

I couldn’t work out how I had gotten from one side of the road to the other and then head on into the parked car. You don’t want to hear the gory details (broken ankle in two places, ribs, sternum etc) but I worked out that my absent-mindedness with blood pressure tablets (a genetic predisposition which is fully in check) was responsible for me taking extra doses to the extent that my higher blood pressure reading was 80 at the time of the accident.

Anyway, I’m Baruch Hashem fine, relatively speaking and am thankful that this didn’t occur a few hundred meters down the road where I would have been on a main street.

There were no humans in the street after the accident, and I pulled my phone out, followed by calling my wife, Hatzola and the rest is history.

During the first two weeks I had this incredible itch to thank God for letting me survive such an ordeal. Finally on Thursday, I was able to get on my transport device and go to the Shule around the corner for Shachris to bench Gomel. My mind wasn’t quite right. I’d put on my Tefillin before my Tallis 🙂 and hadn’t thought it through, but I had such thanks that I wanted to give, I felt compelled to go and Bench HaGomel.

The issue though is that HaGomel is pronounced (certainly for internal injuries) when a person is fully healed (see Mishna Berura Siman 219:1). The Steipler Gaon in Orchos Rabbeinu, p 91, questions bone breakage as requiring HaGomel. My understanding is that he’s talking about a broken arm or leg from some “standard” style injury/fall that was never life threatening.

So what is the definition of fully healed. My ankle is in a cast, and all being well after 6 weeks if the bones knit well (it was the major bone) I imagine that they will put me in a moon boot or similar for another 6 weeks.

Am I “healed” once the cast is removed, with the rest being convalescence or am I not fully healed until I am walking around unaided by any device.

I asked Mori V’Rabbi R’ Hershel Schachter, who replied that one certainly does not make HaGomel until after the cast is removed. In respect of a moon boot or any other device designed to repatriate, he said that there is no Hagdoro (delineation) and one should do so when they feel that recovered.

So, in my enthusiasm to thank God for what was really a private miracle, I think I overstepped the boundary and probably made a Brocho Levatolo unless there is some Rishon or Acharon who holds you may. If that’s my greatest sin, I’ll take it!

Interesting to note that when one says HaGomel, many people forget to say Amen, before they answer Mi Shegmalcha  … Do you?

No need to wish me a Refuah Shelemah. I assume you do so 🙂

I broke the TALUS

The AJN attack on Orthodox opinion

The AJN is perfectly entitled to have views. These are widely considered anti–religious for many years by many. In fact, each year we ask ourselves why we buy it.

Whatever the case may be, the AJN needs to acknowledge that nobody contends that homosexuality is an illness. It is a preference, call it a predilection. I don’t have it, so I can’t claim any expertise nor am I a therapist of any sort. The preference itself, as is well-known by the AJN is not considered sinful according to Torah Judaism (I don’t conclude man-made reformations of Judaism here as they are of minor interest if any). People are born with predilections. There is the nature vs nurture conundrum which is far from settled. Acting on the preference and performing the homosexual act is described as sinful by the Torah and Codifiers. There can be no argument about that fact in any form of Orthodoxy. Reformers have their own religion.

Now, many if not the vast majority of those professionals who see homosexuals professionally claim that the predilection is life long and cannot be altered. That may well be. There isn’t Science here, and extrapolation into the future is tenuous at best. Maimonides knew about predilections long ago.

The best counter case to nature, as quoted by arguably the most respected psychiatrist in the USA, Professor Abraham Twersky, and many others is the identical twin conundrum which has been studied extensively. All known biological markers were exactly the same, and yet one twin had a predilection and the other did not. There is currently no theory able to explain that. There is a minority view, and yes it is a minority (Dr Elon Karten comes to mind) that claims they have techniques which allow predilection change to materialise. Like Climate Skeptics they are attacked regularly. I’m not an expert, but as a Scientist, one would be a fool to think that in ten years time, our knowledge of these things will still be static. Accordingly, if Rabbi Telsner or anyone else subscribes to the view that predilection modification could occur, they do not deserve to be pilloried in the disrespectful tone of the AJN.

Pedophillia is also at least a predilection. Perhaps we will discover it is more likely a disease that is incurable except by using drastic means to make sure that those who seem to “enjoy” such things are simply incapable of (re)offending. In the meanwhile, one witnesses judges themselves releasing pedophiles back into the public after serving sentences, as if law makers believe they will be “safe” to society once  so released. Is that true? Evidence would suggest that re-offending is (too) common and perhaps techniques for rehabilitation are simply inadequate and not practical at this time.

Now, if Rabbi Telsner were to subscribe to an opinion that people with predilections can have them modified (and this could extend to those with life long fetishes), one can disagree, but one should not excoriate him in the way of the AJN, as a matter arising out of the Royal Commission.

Rav Schachter of the Modern Orthodox Yeshiva University always said that a “stock” Rosh Yeshivah or Rosh Kollel in general should not be a Posek (decisor) of Halacha because they sit in a cloistered environment and are often/mostly oblivious to the nuances of science and other disciplines. This was certainly the case in Lithuania where most Rabbi’s were not Halachic Decisors. There were some exceptions such as the Vilna Gaon and the Chazon Ish, but the late and great Chacham Ovadya Yosef did not consider the Chazon Ish a Posek of repute, because he sat cloistered and didn’t face the people, so to speak.

Either Rabbi Telsner has read some minority opinions or has been informed of such by some of his constituents. This can mean that the AJN, seeing itself to present current knowledge on such topics can disagree with the minority opinion, but it does not give then a license to excoriate a Rabbi for agreeing to such a minority opinion.

The last time I looked there were no Nobel Prize winners writing for the AJN, and aside from the occasional community brouhaha most of the news is stale, and unenlightening. Indeed we may have also recently witnessed an alleged breach of journalistic ethics which has allegedly resulted in a staff member being suspended initially. The mere fact that we are exposed to the weekly whining letters of Messrs Burd and Herzog, and others is bad enough. One could almost write their letter before reading it. I think the AJN do good things but there is room for improvement in some of its approaches. Yes, I know it’s good for selling papers, but Oilom Goilom believes everything.

The “what do you think” section is statistically unsound, and really just a copy of journalistic practice in low-level papers, like the Herald Sun and others. Is it going to make one iota of a difference if I know what the local butcher thinks of Bibi’s chances?

I’m digressing.

Back to the issue at hand. The AJN may not have liked elements of evidence tendered. As such, it should carefully analyse such in a calm and sanguine way. The majority of Rabbis are traumatised by the Royal Commission, and my sense is that things will never return to the situation before in respect to how they react if they are God forbid confronted with such information. We aren’t Catholics, and don’t have a box where one admits their sins and the Priest, Lehavdil, absolves the sin, says a few hail mary’s sends the perpetrator on their way and will never breach confidence.

It’s also not about Chabad. Don’t people read the internet? Modern Orthodox Rabbi Barry Freundel has pleaded guilty to secretly videoing some 57 women at the Mikva with secret cameras. Is he sick? Undoubtedly. Can he be rehabilitated? I don’t know. He will serve jail time. Does this paint all Rabbis as fetish-laden? Of course not.

Contrast this issue to the one about the “interfaith dialogue” we graphically saw and where Rabbi Ralph Genende as usual gushed forward with platitudes about how useful they were. Let’s look at the evidence AJN. What has ever changed because of these meetings. They were forbidden according to the scion of Modern Orthodoxy, Rabbi Yosef Dov Halevi Soltoveitchik for reasons which were absolutely sound then, and even more sound now. If it was a meeting to bring religions together to have a joint charity drive for the homeless,  or similar that’s fine. If it was about showing our religion to them and theirs to ours, what’s the point? Tolerance can be achieved without any interfaith dialogue as long as nobody considers us as monkeys behind trees that have to be killed. Was I blind, or did the AJN not notice that there was no muslim representative in the picture at that “feel good” meeting, or did I miss something.

Anyway, to make it clear, I usually do not agree with Rabbi Telsner but on some matters I don’t think he deserves the anti-religious excoriation meted out to him.

AJN and especially Rabbi Ralph Genende of the moderate left wing: check this out for a reality check while you read the Chazal quoted by Rashi הלכה עשיו שונה ליעקב. (Whiteout anyone?)

I’d love to hear the AJN and/or Rabbi Ralph’s commentary on this, or better still have his interfaith group muslim representative condemn this presentation from February 13th in Copenhagen as abominable in the extreme in the Western and Muslim Press.

Congratulations to Hatzollah Melbourne

When people are at their greatest need, these responders, many from the normally secluded Adass community, are available 24 hours a day 7 days a week. They do a magnificent job and all-not just Hungarian Charedim-should support the cause.

I think they can improve their annual dinner format, but I have expressed those views privately.


חזק ואמץ

may you sit idly with no call outs!

Are we unique in crime stats?

There are and will always be bad eggs within any group, be it chassidic or otherwise. I do not know if anyone has done a statistical analysis of crime amongst orthodox people to see if they are in fact under the normal number occurrences of such things, with statistical reliability. I’d be surprised if they were not.

In that vein, I was sent this (hat tip DS) from the New York Post. It had been published in Ivrit earlier in an Israeli forum.

High holy days, indeed!
A crew of Hasidic Jews from Crown Heights who dreamed of fancy Hawaiian getaways tried to score 50 pounds of potent pot from an FBI agent posing as a Texas drug dealer, according to court papers.
Wearing traditional yarmulkes and tzitzits, Boruch “Barry” Rapoport, 47, Moshe “Mony” Horenshtein, 27, and Menachem Jacobson, 30, were all arraigned in Brooklyn federal court on Wednesday and will have their cases transferred to Texas to face drug raps there.
Rapoport, who is married with kids and lives on public assistance, met an agent posing as a El Paso drug honcho in April and said he needed a staggering 50 pounds of pot a week, according to a criminal complaint.
The leery Lubavitcher asked that he be kept away from the marijuana trove because he and his cohorts “won’t be going to Hawaii for many years” if they were ever busted with the haul, according to court papers.
“Rapoport stated that he didn’t want to be in the same room as the ‘s–t,’ ” the complaint states.
Rapoport also demanded that they use the code words “alfalfa” and “vegetables” for marijuana.
The undercover told Rapoport that his marijuana mountain was located in El Paso and that he would have to have it transported by truck to Brooklyn.
The two agreed to have the pot delivered to a warehouse on Atlantic and Nostrand avenues on Tuesday and that they would close the deal the next day, according to court papers.
Rapoport met the undercover at a Brooklyn hotel to hand over the cash on Wednesday while Horenshtein and Jacobson arrived at the warehouse to inspect the pot and talk business, court papers state.
Jacobson, whose bail was posted by Hunter College Chabad Rabbi Boruch Jacobson, was pleased that the weed was high quality because “you can’t sell that Mexican stuff around here,” according to the complaint.
“Jacobson then stated that he knew about ‘hydro’ and the requirements for growing it because he was asked to grow some before,” the suit states.
Horenshtein, who plays in a Hasidic music band, handed over $3,000 to the agent to cover transport costs and selected two marijuana bricks as samples before the agents pounced. Rapoport — who pays $108 in rent for his subsidized $1,400 apartment — produced $95,000 in cash to pay for the pot before he was arrested.
All three men were released on $500,000 bond and will appear in court in Texas federal court on Sept. 26.
Horenshtein’s bail was posted by members of the powerful Rubashkin family of Crown Heights.
The clan owns a host of businesses — including the a massive kosher-food outfit — and is heavily influential in the Lubavitch community.
Horenshtein’s attorney, Zaki Tamir, did not return a call for comment. Jacobson’s lawyer, Albert Dayan, declined to comment.

חמירא סכנתא מאיסורא

I was alerted to this post (hat tib NB) from the brilliant Rabbi Slifkin. Mori V’Rabbi R’ Hershel Schachter contends that there is a חיוב to consult the experts in healthcare before even attempting to make halachic pronouncements on issues. One can see this partially in the evolution of R’ Moshe’s Psakim on Cigarette Smoking. They progressed from a lack of direct evidence to שומר פתאים השם to a full blown איסור to commence or continue as agreed by modern Poskim today based on current scientifically proven medical knowledge. There is, in my estimation an anarchist element in the attempts to discredit inoculation. It beggars belief that גדולים as mentioned by Rabbi Slifkin should take a dangerous and scientifically dubious lax view toward inoculation. I do not begin to understand it. In addition to being plainly against רוב מנין and רוב בנין of expert medical advice, it is at least a מסייע לדבר עבירה to wantonly expose other children to disease. I simply do not understand these alleged Psokim. I say, alleged, because there is a tendency to misquote Rabonim. Why R’ Shmuel Kaminetsky would say such a thing is something I do not begin to understand. I hope he is being badly misunderstood and/or misquoted.

Here is the piece from Rabbi Slifkin.

Following the previous discussion of how some people deny the potentially fatal risks involved in metzizah b’peh, I was sad to see a new report about another way in which certain frum people endanger the wellbeing and lives of their (and our) children. The Baltimore Jewish Times reports (p. 1, 2) on the phenomenon of people who refuse to vaccinate their children. It was depressing to see that no less a figure than Rav Shmuel Kamenetzky, the most moderate and least anti-rationalist Gadol B’Torah in the charedi world, is supporting these people:
According to Dr. Linda Grossman, bureau director for clinical services at the Baltimore County Department of Health, independent schools that operate under Maryland laws have the same policy. She says that some Jewish day school parents claim religious exemptions to avoid vaccinating their children.
“I’m not aware though of any religious reasons not to vaccinate in Judaism,” she said. Beginning this fall, two additional vaccines are being phased in statewide. Kindergarteners will now be required to receive an additional dose of the chicken pox vaccine, and seventh-grade students must receive the vaccine against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis as well as one dose of a vaccine against meningitis.

“There are far worse consequences to not vaccinating as compared with vaccinating,” said Grossman, reiterating her hope that parents do not claim religious exemptions to avoid vaccinating their children.
R.B. encountered significant difficulties when she claimed a religious exemption at a local boys’ day school. Before her son began school, she contacted someone at the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, as well as the state attorney general’s office, to inquire about Maryland’s laws regarding religious exemptions.
“They said that the school could not refuse to accept a religious exemption,” she related. “But then school started and the nurse called. She said the school didn’t accept religious exemptions. I told her they had to accept them so she said I would have to speak with the principal.”
R.B. reached out to Rabbi Shmuel Kamenetzky, founder and dean of the Talmudical Academy of Philadelphia, whose wife, Temi, speaks out against vaccinating children. The rabbi wrote a letter on R.B.’s behalf, leading to her son’s principal relenting and apologizing.
When reached by phone, both Kamenetzkys confirmed their belief that vaccinations, not the diseases they prevent, are harmful.
“There is a doctor in Chicago who doesn’t vaccinate any of his patients and they have no problem at all,” said the rabbi. “I see vaccinations as the problem. It’s a hoax. Even the Salk vaccine [against polio] is a hoax. It is just big business.”
Kamenetzky says he follows the lead of Israeli Rabbi Shmaryahu Yosef Chaim Kanievsky, who rules that schools “have no right to prevent unvaccinated kids from coming to school.”

Normally, I don’t mind if people have views that run counter to modern science. It doesn’t really affect or bother me that Rav Chaim Kanievsky says that Jews and non-Jews have a different number of teeth. But in the case of inoculation, it’s everyone else’s children who are put at risk.

Well it bothers me because they do have the same number of teeth, and it does bother me that established Science is discarded by “a doctor in Chicago”. I’m clearly not smart enough or knowledgeable enough to understand these views. The Worlds health organisations are enough of a Sanhedrin on such matters for some Rabbinic leaders, allegedly.

Rabbi Shmuel Kaminetsky

Beit Raphael: An act of Chessed from Adina and R’ Shimon Allen

I sit next to Shimon Allen at Yeshivah Shule, in Melbourne Australia. I have done so for many years, as has my father. We’ve developed a rapport and he teases me about the fact that my wife doesn’t offer Griven (a heart attack causing, cholesterol laden morass of congealed and fried chicken fat, which happens to be delicious (think of it as real chicken bisli). I’ve mentioned it before. I point out that whilst he has herring on occasion, his isn’t the real McCoy because there aren’t copious lashings of Tzibelle (onion). We also share our “delight” that when invited to modernishe houses, they serve copious amounts of rabbit food, and one is expected to force a smile through the mountains of lettuce leaves, broccoli, pine nuts and every meshugass they find at the vegetable shop. Yes, they are “healthy for you” but when was the last time that you felt “full” one hour after such a meal? Why do our bodies require this gas-forming roughage. Is this Oneg Shabbos, let alone Kavod Shabbos? Sometimes I feel the right response is “Moo” while eating, as opposed to a hearty greps after a good choolent, washed down by some Bromfen, and followed by an antacid (pareve of course) and two cholesterol tablets.

Enough of the mirth.

Erev Shabbos, and my father took gravely ill due to a series of life threatening blood infections. I rushed from work to be at his bed side, as were my siblings and all our children. I was still in my work clothes, and asked many to say Tehillim, while I did so myself. We rang R’ Shimon and his wife, and immediately the key to their apartment across the road was made available to us. After davening Mincha and then Kabolas Shabbos, my stomache reminded me that I had not had anything all day other than a single cup of coffee. Baruch Hashem, I asked my incredible wife to organise 24 Vurst Sandwiches so that team Balbin, Leibler and Waller would not go hungry. Diana and Yirmi Loebenstein, for whom my parents are like a second set of parents (they live across the road and are very close) brought a stack of Schnitzels and some Challah etc. My own incredible wife even managed to buy little electric incandescent lights and relying on (at least) R’ Chaim Ozer, we made brachos over the licht.

Words cannot describe the effort that Adina and R’ Shimon have put into the unit directly across the road from Cabrini. Every last thing was available. The fridge was stocked a plenty. There was wurst, and drinks, and beer and nash, you name it, it was there. It was on the bottom floor. The key had already been made into a shabbos belt. There was a Shabbos light next to the beds. I can go on and on. None of us should ever need to use such a facility, but it gave us a dose of menuchas hanefesh and meant my father had more support than he could ever have dreamed about. It was also a rather hot day, and yet we didn’t feel any heat. We only felt true warmth.

Baruch Hashem, my father is slowly but surely improving, albeit slightly, each day.

Shaul Zelig HaCohen Ben Toba Frimet, may he have a Refuah Shelema B’Karov.

All the grandchildren brought sleeping bags, and were able to sleep in the lounge room. It was amazing, really. I’ll stop here because Shimon and Adina will be angry that I have written the above anyway and mentioned them explicitly.

That they are able to use their financial resources and care for the community in such a way is simply inspirational. I’m sure that in Gan Eden, their teacher and mentor, R’ Zalman Serbryansky is alerting HaKadosh Baruch Hu to their Mitzvah and is lobbying for appropriate Brachos to come their way.

Shimon and Adina Allen are pleased to advise of the opening of Malvern Beit Rafael Hospital Accommodation.

All members of the community are welcome to avail themselves of this fully furnished apartment which is situated close to Cabrini Hospital, whilst they have family members receiving treatment at the hospital.

A pantry stocked with kosher non-perishables and a fridge/ freezer containing kosher meals will be at your disposal.

Beit Rafael continues to offer accommodation at North Melbourne assisting families with loved ones receiving treatment at the Royal Children’s Hospital,

Royal Melbourne Hospital and the Royal Women’s Hospital.

Please enter the contact numbers into your telephone:

0421 408 522 – Shabbat: 0421 327 859

Beit Raphael

The attack on Bris Milah and Halacha (Part 2)

In a previous  post, I presented my views on the Metziza B’Feh controversy. I see that the Rabbinic Council of America (RCA) have just issued a statement. I couldn’t agree more with their statement, and it entirely reflects my views.

 

“Many Jewish legal authorities have ruled that direct oral suction is not an integral part of the circumcision ritual, and therefore advocate the use of a sterile tube to preclude any risk of infection. The RCA has gone on record as accepting the position of those authorities. Nevertheless, the RCA respects the convictions and sensitivities of those in the Orthodox Jewish community who disagree with this ruling and joins in their deep concern about government regulation of religious practices. The RCA urges these groups to voluntarily develop procedures to effectively prevent the unintended spread of infection.

 

“The RCA supports the recent call of the Agudath Israel of America to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the New York Health Department that, instead of unilaterally imposing regulations, they collaborate with Orthodox Jewish leadership to develop protocols to address health concerns.

 

“Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, the RCA President, summarized his organization’s position. ‘The act of circumcision is a precious and cherished ritual for the Jewish community, one which initiates our sons into the religious covenant. The RCA maintains that parents should use methods, in strict conformity with Jewish law, which enable them to hand down our religious legacy to a new generation safely and appropriately.’”

 

CPAP Machines on Shabbos/Yom Tov

Medical research into sleep apnea and what it can be responsible for is established and continuing to develop. Sleep apnea can cause:

  • Heart arrhythmias
  • Heart failure
  • High blood pressure
  • Stroke
  • Depression
  • Hyperactivity

The use of CPAP (or these days APAP machines) is now widespread and the relief that the devices provide is real, including:

  • Restoration of normal sleep patterns.
  • Greater alertness and less daytime sleepiness.
  • Less anxiety and depression and better mood.
  • Improvements in work productivity.
  • Better concentration and memory.
  • Patients’ bed partners also report improvement in their own sleep when their mates use CPAP, even though objective sleep tests showed no real difference in the partners’ sleep quality.

Current machines are turned on by pressing a button and then “wait” for you to start breathing. Once you breathe, air is pumped into you (at a pre-set measured level depending on whether you are moderately or severely impaired) and this keeps a flap open so that the air you breathe during the night is unobstructed. The obstruction is also one cause of snoring. The machines are relatively quiet.  Some machines build up to the required pressure gradually. There is an LCD or LED style readout on the machine that is activated once it is turned on. There is no “visible” fire/filament. Some patients also use a humidifier which is attached to the machine. This warms and wets the pumped air in patients who are unable to breathe through their nose, and whose mouths become dry and irritated as a result.

Can these machines be used on Shabbos/Yom Tov? Let’s note first that the accepted opinion is that of R’ Shlomo Zalman Auerbach ז’ל that Electricity is forbidden מדרבנן unless there is flame involved (or filament, as opposed to incandescence). The Chazon Ish isn’t disregarded, but his opinion that all electricity is forbidden דאורייתא is not followed when it comes to medical issues.

What about the status of the patient? Is he (most patients are men 40+) a חולה at the time he is using the machine? What type of חולה is he? Is he a חולה שיש בו סכנה or שאין בו סכנה?   Is he considered “sick all over”, that is חולה של כל הגוף? Perhaps he is a ספק סכנה? The answer to these questions will probably depend on the severity of the apnea. For example, it might be questionable if the patient was only “mild” as opposed to moderate or severe. On such matters, one needs to consult with experts, that is, Doctors. Preferably, one should see a Sleep Physician.

Using a shabbos clock doesn’t really help. It can’t turn on the machine. Furthermore, many machines turn off automatically anyway if left on.

I am pretty sure that if you asked a Brisker Posek, they would tell you that there was no שאלה and to go ahead and use it. There is a tradition from R’ Chaim Volozhiner through to R’ Chaim Brisker, the Griz and the Rav, that the Brisker way is to be מחמיר when it comes to looking after health and avoiding illness. There are many stories told in this regard. One that comes to mind was R’ Chaim making his eldest son R’ Moshe Soloveitchik (the father of the Rav) absolutely swear that he would never ever be מחמיר on issues of סכנת נפשות or ספק סכנת נפשות. Only after R’ Moshe did that, was he given permission from his father to take up his first Rabbonus.

There have been a few articles written on this topic. R’ Moshe Heineman (who was close to R’ Moshe Feinstein) from the Star K, is lenient, see here. See the opinion of R’ Halperin and R’ Prof. Abraham over here and here who are also lenient.

One is required to turn on the machine with a שינוי (change) to minimise any infraction. [I also think one could consider getting two people to turn it on together].

I rang R’ Hershel Schachter to ask his opinion. He stated that if there is no choice but to use such a machine, then what can one do. He quoted the שולחן ערוך of the Baal HaTanya  who is lenient in Dinim of a חולה and said that this opinion is defended by the אגלי טל from Sochatchow (the Kotzker Rebbe’s son-in-law). He also suggested turning it on with a Shinui.

Some might argue that “what is one night” although this year we know it can be three nights as it is this evening. It seems that the Poskim are wary about interrupting medical treatment and consider such interruptions as contributing cumulatively to the danger (סכנה).

I haven’t considered the issue of the humidifier and whether it boils the water to יד סולדת and if there are ramifications thereby.

Does anyone out there know of other Psakim?

Disclaimer: The above is not L’Halacha and not L’Maaseh. Ask your own Rabbi for advice if you have an issue.

Walking between two women/men

In an earlier post, I remained בצריך עיון without an adequate understanding of how a certain bad spirit רוח רעה could cease to be a concern for the Rambam and Shulchan Aruch, Ramo and others, and yet become an issue again over the last 200 years. I wondered whether the particular manifestation of רוח רעה might have disappeared for a period of time, and if so, how and why later poskim decided that the cause of such harm had returned. Alternatively, perhaps from a bland rational stance, an increase in צרות and bad happenings to Jews caused Poskim to re-examine possible causes and re-introduce once discarded so-called הלכות.

Onto the matter at hand: there are two places in Shas which discuss whether (amongst a range of other things) a male/female is permitted to pass between two females/males: one is in Horayos, and the other in Pesachim. The source in Horayos describes the practice less in terms of being forbidden, but more in terms of the action as being a “cause of forgetting” one’s Torah learning. In other words, passing between two women has (or potentially has?) the effect that it can cause the male/female to forget what they have learned. Is this like the prohibition of unpeeled eggs overnight , another instance of a particular metaphysical effect that is beyond our physical discernment, and that we would be well advised to stay away from? To be sure, the Gemora also lists a series of “antidotes” in the sense that these promote a heightening of one’s ability to remember what they have learned. The antidotes include consumption of particular food stuff. I think that my own inability to remember things that used to roll off my tongue is simply due to me not doing חזרה revision. I have a tendency to read things that I have never studied, rather than things that I once had studied. That’s probably the academic in me. Here is a list of items designed to help ones memory.

1. Eating bread baked on coals (and all the more so, the coals themselves);
2. Eating a scrambled egg without salt;
3. Frequent consumption of olive oil;
4. Frequently drinking wine and smelling spices;
5. Drinking water left over from kneading a dough;
i. Some say, also sticking one’s finger in salt and using that finger to eat.

One side of me is tempted to adopt the approach of R’ Schachter on the issue of eating Fish and Meat together. R’ Schachter contends that not eating fish and meat together was the “best medicine of the time” but that we are enjoined to follow the best medicine of our time. Accordingly, that is the reason why many Poskim do not consider there to be any issue today in eating fish and meat together. In our case of walking between to humans of the same gender, could it be argued that the list of 5 (from Horayos 13b) constituted the best medical advice of the time (given the primitive understanding of medicine back then) and that in our day, we should only follow evidence-based, and medically sound treatment?

The items which stymie one’s ability to function well in their Torah (only?) learning, the Gemora lists:

1. Passing under the reins of a camel, and all the more so under a camel itself;
2. Passing between two camels; passing between two women; and a woman who passes between two men (causes difficulties for the men);
3. Passing where one can smell a carcass; passing under a bridge which has not had water under it for 40 days;
4. Eating bread that was not fully baked; eating the froth that accumulates on the spoon used to stir cooking meat; drinking from a stream that passes through a cemetery;
5. Looking at the face of a corpse;
i. Some say, also reading what is written on a tombstone.

I haven’t done the due research to find out if it was commonplace for medics in those times to also include non physiological causes, but I suspect that it was indeed common.

Interestingly and strikingly, it would appear that the Rambam and Shulchan Aruch, again decided not to include the advice that one should not walk between two women/men. I am sure that there are Acharonim that discuss the reasons for this. I regret to say that I haven’t done adequate research. I understand that Rav Aviner does indeed permit it in his גן נעול.  Rav Aviner’s “right hand man” contacted me to clarify that Rav Aviner asks the same question as I do in his גן נעול and remains בצריך עיון but he doesn’t permit the practice להלכה except using well known leniencies. Unfortunately, being Erev Pesach, I was unable to procure a copy of the relevant pages in גן נעול.

It was with interest then, that I was reading on Shabbos, the newly published Piskei Halacha of R’ Yisroel Belsky who together with R’ Schachter are the senior poskim of the OU (may R’ Belsky continue with a Refuah Shelema). In this book it states:

Most poskim maintain that women may perform actions that cause forgetfulness of Torah (Shemiras HaGuf V’Hanefesh pages 98-99). Practically speaking, though they should l’chatchillah be stringent (R’ Belsky).

The halacha of not walking between two women applies whether a man is walking between two women that are stationary (R’ Belsky, Minchas Yitzchak 10:68:3) or if a man walks between two walking women. Certain poskim question whether this issue applies to one walking between non-jewish women (Maharsham 4:148). Practically speaking one should be stringent (R’ Beslsky, Shmiras HaGuf VeHanefesh 111:9, Beis Baruch 1:39).

One should not walk between his wife and his daughter (R’ Belsky, Shmiras HaGuf VeHanefesh page 33. Refer to Shevet HaKehasi 2:325 who permits if the girls are under 12).

There is a misconception that one who eats the end piece of a loaf of bread is susceptible to forget his Tora knowledge. However, there is no real source for this minhag, and one is permitted to eat it (Orchos Rabeinu 3, page 104 states that the Steipler did not eat the end of the loaf).

It seems to me, that the problem exists only if the two women or men (or beasts!) are companions. Otherwise, no one could go anywhere, since there are enough men and women in the world that one is always passing between them?

The aforementioned stricture of a male/female passing between two females/males is brought in Kitzur Shulchan Aruch Siman 3:8 and the Chazon Ish is known to have been very careful with this (as quoted by R’ Kanievsky in Ta’ama D’Kra page 108 (6th edition)). So the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch mentions it, but the Rambam and main Shulchan Aruch ignore it. Do you understand that? I don’t.

The Magen Avraham סעיף קטן ג בשם כוונות also notes that one should not put on two clothing items together for the same reason. This is perhaps germane when one puts a hat on, together with the yarmulka inside the hat. In Rivevos Efrayim from Memphis, Tennessee (ח”ח סימן רצא) R’ Greenblatt was asked whether a man who is walking with his wife in the street (on his right) and then passes another woman to the man’s left, if the man is transgressing. He answers that this is okay, because the Gemara talks about two stam women, not a woman and a wife! I’m not sure whether this is a Litvish piece of hermeneutics which seeks to avoid an uncomfortable issue, or not. The Ben Ish Chai שנה ב’ (פרשת פינחס אות יז) qualifies this general Halacha to when the three people (man and two women or woman and two men) are in a straight line, and when there is less than four Amos between them.

Is this Halacha similar to the eggs overnight or meat and fish issue? Is this a Halacha that stems from medical advice, or is it one that derives from metaphysical considerations, such as Shedim or Spirits? If it is the latter, then I ask again, why the Rambam and Shulchan Aruch didn’t include it. The latter, R’ Yosef Caro certainly was deeply steeped in Kaballah as is well-known. Today is also the Mechaber’s Yohr Tzeit. May he have a Lichdige Gan Eden.

The Sefer Leket Yosher (d. 1490) who was a Talmid of the Terumas Hadeshen perhaps enlightens us on the general issue. He states

עיין בשער המצות (ס׳ וילך) וז״ל: צריך לזהר במאד מאד שלא לאכול שום לב בהמה וחיה ועוף, חכלית שרש התקשרות נפש הבהמית, ואם יאכלהו האדם מחקשר בו נפש הבהמית ההיא לגמרי, והיצה״ר מתקשר בו. ומטע״ז ג״כ ארז״ל שהאוכל לב בהמה גורם לו שכחה וטפשות הלב. עכ״ל.

Incredible stuff. He states that eating the heart of an animal (one of the other things one should not do for the same reason) is dangerous because one is effectively eating the soul (life source) of the animal, and as such he eats the source of גשמיות and יצר הרע, the Animal Soul or the Nefesh Habehamis. It seems to me to show that this is not a medical piece of advice (at least for this item) but a more metaphysical/kaballistic piece of advice. Note also, quite interestingly and perplexingly for those who forbid these things, that the Ramoh in Yoreh Deah at the end of Siman 11, says explicitly about Shochtim (who generally must be more punctilious with Mitzvos than the rest of us)

“And it is customary to eat from the heart”

On that note, I’ll sign off and wish everyone a Freilich’n and Kosher’n Pesach … חג שמח

Gender segregation in psychological or psychiatric treatment

The question is not a new one. If one needs to undergo an extended and deep treatment regime, where there is much fundamental discussion about one’s life circumstances and all the confidential issues surrounding such, is it permitted to see a therapist of the opposite gender.

Some poskim will not permit any gender if the medical provider is an “apikorus” or not religiously inclined, as they fear that the treatment may well eventually involve the religious patient being influenced to unburden themselves from the yoke of Torah and Mitzvos. I have witnessed this therapy being applied to another individual. Such therapies sometimes assume that if a patient’s life circumstances have brought them into a spiralling and uncontrolled level of descent, that one must rebuild afresh and cast away all and every vestige of the former life to avoid these. This can mean ceasing to adhere to a religion-based lifestyle and/or cutting oneself off from the familial environment.

On the matter of gender separation, other Poskim contend that since there is a tendency, and indeed a need, to unload all of one’s deepest secrets and intimate feelings, it is best not to do so with a medical therapist of the opposite gender, as this may place both people in a position where they are sexually vulnerable. Such an opinion was recently published by R’ Yitzchak Zilbershtein, an expert in Halachic Medical Ethics,

R' Zilbershtein

and the Posek for the Ma’aynei Hayeshua hospital in Bnei Brak. R’ Zilbershtein is a son-in-law of R’ Elyashiv, grandson of the saintly R’ Aryeh Levin ז’ל, and brother-in-law of the famed R’ Chaim Kanievsky.

The ruling was countersigned by eminent Poskim, including R’ Ovadya Yosef, R’ Yisrael Belski, R’ Vosner and R’ Karelitz.  It concludes with the observation that if there is a clinical need to engage someone of the opposite gender because of their expertise, one should first ask the Rabbi of the Hospital. Presumably, the Rabbi of the hospital will be in a position to reflect on the medical therapist in question and whether there is a risk of a developing intimacy versus the immediate need of the patient.

It can be expected that many will howl with derision about such a Psak, as it suggests that there is professional compromise at play. On the other hand, it can also be viewed as a sensible suggestion because it engenders הרחקה, a distance between situations that may be likely to involve deep intimacy of thought. At the end of the day, it would, in my opinion, be wrong to compromise on the efficacy of treatment and possible cure on account of gender issues. I am presupposing that the “best” person for some treatment, or even the person who has a record of great success might be of the opposite gender.

החכם עיניו בראשו

“The wise man has eyes in their head”, and acts accordingly. For the masses, especially in B’nei Brak where gender separation is extensive and where seeking  a psychologist or psychiatrist (and not a Rabbi) to deal with one’s innate problems is rarer, this is a Psak that will hopefully encourage people to seek a medically qualified therapist.

Having recently read a book by a religious psychologist whose domain of expertise is Child Molestation, it was interesting to note that in most cases it was he who discovered that molestation had occurred. Parents usually have no idea. This is especially so in a frum community where feelings are taboo and extreme conformance is a way of life. It was only because parents sought professional help for “strange behaviour” that he discovered the tell-tale signs of molestation. Let’s hope that this Psak encourages the religious community to also deal with the myriad of psychological ailments and propensities that our generation is facing by referring these to experts.