Friday, April 27, 2012

Forgiveness and Trust

Remembering Chana Weinberg

Rebbetzin Chana Weinberg: strongly condems any form of abuse
Rebbetzin Chana Weinberg: strongly condems any form of abuse
Chana Weinberg passed away on January 23 2012 at the age of 85.  She was known for her advocacy work with Jewish women who were survivors of domestic violence.

After my experiences of living in the orthodox world for over a decade, I am aware I'm going to catch some flack for what I'm about to write -- yet I feel it's important to say.  Just like anyone else, Chana Weinberg was human and made mistakes.  She was also an extremely powerful and influential woman in the Baltimore Jewish community. Not only was she the daughter of rabbi Yitzchok Ruderman, who was one of the founders of Ner Israel Rabbinical College, she was also the wife of rabbi Yaakov Weinberg whose brother, rabbi Noah Weinberg was the founder and director of Aish HaTorah

Chana Weinberg passed away on January 23 2012 at the age of 85.  She was known for her advocacy work with Jewish women who were survivors of domestic violence.

After my experiences of living in the orthodox world for over a decade, I am aware I'm going to catch some flack for what I'm about to write -- yet I feel it's important to say.  Just like anyone else, Chana Weinberg was human and made mistakes.  She was also an extremely powerful and influential woman in the Baltimore Jewish community. Not only was she the daughter of rabbi Yitzchok Ruderman, who was one of the founders of Ner Israel Rabbinical College, she was also the wife of rabbi Yaakov Weinberg whose brother, rabbi Noah Weinberg was the founder and director of Aish HaTorah.

Chana Weinberg was someone who I once met, after the Vaad of Baltimore issued a statement regarding sexual abuse.  Chana was loved by so many that it is difficult to write about the other side of her.  The truth is that both she and her husband caused so much harm to those who were allegedly molested by her son, rabbi Matis Weinberg, by doing nothing and allegedly covering up the crimes.
The first allegations made against Matis were made back when he was around sixteen years old.  He allegedly was the leader of a gang of boys who went around molesting other boys on the campus of Ner Israel.  His parents response was to send him away.

In the 1980's his family arranged for him to be the Rosh Yeshiva (dean), of a high school in Santa Clara, CA.  The school had been thriving until the fall of 1983 when students began to come out with allegations that they had been both physically and sexually abused by rabbi Matis Weinberg, and that he had cult like practices.  Within a few months after the disclosures Yeshivat Kerem shut down.  The status quo back in the 1980s is not very much different then today.  No police reports were made, instead the rabbonim handled these types of allegations internally and as quickly and quietly as possible.  The yeshiva's closing was perceived as the result of financial difficulty.

The agreement was made that Matis would never teach at a yeshiva again, yet in 2003, new allegations of sexual misconduct were made again against Rabbi Matis Weinberg.  This time in Israel. As a result Yeshiva University terminated Yeshivat Derech Etz Chaim's affiliation with the S. Daniel Abraham Joint Israel Program after discovering "compelling evidence" that a rabbi integrally associated with the yeshiva has a history of allegedly sexually abusing and engaging in cult-like behavior with his students.

According to the New York Jewish week's article, "Panel To Hear Charges Against Prominent Rabbi", "Rabbi Weinberg noted that while he was physically demonstrative to his students, often hugging them, it was never in a sexual way.  "I don't get a hard-on" from such encounters," asserted the rabbi, who is married and has a large family."

Upon further investigation of the happenings of the 1980s one can see that right after the allegations of sexual offense Rabbi Yaakov Weinberg and Rebbetzin Chana Weinberg felt the need to protect their images.  It was around that time that Rabbi Weinberg got involved as the Jewish legal advisor for the organization "Jews for Judaism", which is an anti cult / anti-missionary group and Rebbetzin Weinberg started her crusade in assisting battered women, with the organization “CHANA”.

As a result of the allegations made against Matis Weinberg back in the 1980s he was banished from the campus of Ner Israel and relocated to Israel to be closer to his uncle Noah.  Over the years there were rumors, yet could never be substantiated, that Matis Weinberg received a stipend to stay away from the campus.  According to reliable sources rav Weinberg was rarely seen publicly at family events.

When the 2003 allegations of sexual misconduct were made public along with Matis Weinberg's past history of alleged child molestation back in the 80's, his mother (Chana Weinberg) and sister, Dr. Aviva Weisbord spoke with Phil Jacobs, who at the time was the editor of the Baltimore Jewish Times.  In his article "Condemning Abuse: Weinberg family takes action to protect victims of abuse," Chana Weinberg was quoted as saying "We strongly condemn any and all abuse by anybody against anybody at any time in any place in any form."  Aviva stated, The Weinberg’s, along with the rabbis, plan to produce a central phone number that can be used by those who feel victimized so that cases can be heard and investigated. "The idea is to protect people and to make them feel they can come forward".

At the time a spokesperson from The Awareness Center pointed out that there are inherent problems with the approach of dealing with allegations of sexual abuse suggested by the Weinberg’s. We are firm believers that in any community (including the observant world), when an individual suspects child abuse and/or neglect, they should be mandated to call child abuse hot-lines in their community immediately. This will insure that evidence does not become contaminated.

Calling law enforcement officials is the only way to be sure that there are no cover-ups or biases. This is one way to insure that individuals do not investigate allegations against friends, colleagues, and/or family members). Child Protection workers are highly skilled, highly trained professionals who know how to collect forensic evidence to determine if a case is valid and/or if there is enough evidence to press criminal charges. Child Protection workers know how to do forensic victim-sensitive interviews with victims of all ages (without accidentally asking leading questions).

It makes sense that various Jewish community may want to develop some sort of liaison relationship with the child protection agency in their area. This is one way to insure that the workers have an understanding of our cultural differences For the sake of our children, we need to use the systems that are in place.

It's too bad that over the years that Rebbetzin Weinberg and other officials at Ner Israel were unable to do the right thing when it came to protecting children on their campus and throughout the orthodox community in Baltimore.

Statistics on Childhood Sexual Abuse in Jewish Communities

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The problem with Charlie: Brooklyn DA enabling Jewish sex offenders?

 Charles Hynes, Brooklyn's District Attorney

by Vicki Polin
Examiner - April 26, 2012

Over the last several weeks it’s been made public that the Brooklyn District Attorney, Charles Hynes, has given alleged sex offenders who are orthodox Jews exemptions when it comes to not naming individuals who might have molested Jewish children.

Hynes reasoning for the non-disclosure is that the orthodox community is of a “tight-knit and insular” nature, even though he is violating the Freedom of Information law in New York.  
Charles Hynes seems to be forgetting that in America there is a separation between church and state and that pedophila has no religion.

Just look back at recent history and the case of Warren Jeffs, who is a past president of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Later-Day Saints.  Jeffs group too was a tight-knit and insular community, and even so Jeffs was named publicly prior to his conviction after sexually assaulting young girls in his his polygamous community.  Because of constitutional law, there were no special exceptions made.

Over the last several weeks it’s been made public that the Brooklyn District Attorney, Charles Hynes, has given alleged sex offenders who are orthodox Jews exemptions when it comes to not naming individuals who might have molested Jewish children.

Hynes reasoning for the non-disclosure is that the orthodox community is of a “tight-knit and insular” nature, even though he is violating the Freedom of Information law in New York.  
Charles Hynes seems to be forgetting that in America there is a separation between church and state and that pedophila has no religion.

Just look back at recent history and the case of Warren Jeffs, who is a past president of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Later-Day Saints.  Jeffs group too was a tight-knit and insular community, and even so Jeffs was named publicly prior to his conviction after sexually assaulting young girls in his his polygamous community.  Because of constitutional law, there were no special exceptions made.
Another tight-knit and insular community which has issues with sexual abuse is the Amish.  Once again there were no exemptions made in keeping the identities of their alleged sexual predators names there private.

Over the years there have been many claims of corruption made against Charles Hynes and his office in Brooklyn when it comes to sex crimes.  

A few years ago Charles Hynes office set up the Kol Tzedek Hotline  which  was supposed to bridge the gap between the Jewish and secular worlds.  Instead it appears that it was just one more example in which a select group of orthodox rabbis had access for controlling which cases were prosecuted.
According a recent Jewish Week article, “Abuse cases dates suggest the Brooklyn DA is cooking up numbers for Kol Tzedek Hotline“ -- At least eight sex abuse cases identified by the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office as Kol Tzedek cases were actually reported years before the advent of the confidential hotline, The Jewish Week has learned. This information calls into question the reliability of the statistics the DA has used to tout the success of the hotline.”

In statements made to the media Charles Hynes reported that out of 90 reports through their hotline there have been 14 convictions.  According to the Jewish Week several of these convictions were made prior to the creation of Kol Tzedek.  When The Jewish week asked why cases that were reported before the advent of Kol Tzedek are now considered a part of it, DA spokesman Jerry Schmetterer told The Jewish Week that the DA “made them part of Kol Tzedek.”  When asked to clarify by what criteria that decision was made, Schmetterer replied that he had “no further comment.”

Assemblyman Dov Hikind suggests that Charles Hynes's policy is motivated by political pressure from powerful rabbis. "Why he will not release information that other district attorneys release readily to the public because it is in the public interest, I just don’t get that . . . I do believe that Charles Hynes is playing politics with children’s lives."

According to the article “Hikind Supoenaed on Sex - Abuse Information”, written by Hella Winston of the New York Jewish Week  “State Assembly member Dov Hikind was subpoenaed back in 2008 to provide testimony and files he has compiled about rabbis and yeshiva employees who have allegedly sexually abused children under their charge, and rabbinic leaders who may have protected the abusers.”

According to reports Hikind had said he assembled detailed dossiers on “hundreds” of such cases. But he said he would “go to jail for 10 years” rather than reveal the names of the alleged victims, whom he has guaranteed anonymity.

At the time Hikind caught a lot of flack after stating on a radio show “that he has worked with a chasidic man who has come to him acknowledging he has repeatedly molested children, and confesses to one incident as recently as two months ago.” At the time Hikind said he has gotten the man into therapy with a “top person in the field” and has declined to disclose his name or tell law enforcement authorities about what he knows.

Hikind claimed that he was not a mandated reporter, even though he is a New York State Assembly member.

According to Shmyra Rosenberg, author of the FailedMessiah blog, back in November of 2011 in a closed meeting meant only for pulpit rabbis, Agudah security evicted anyone not pre-approved to attend. Then Agudath Israel of America's General Counsel told the handpicked audience how to deal with claims of child sex abuse in a way that skirts mandatory reporting law. And he claimed the Brooklyn DA, Charles Hynes, personally approved.

A few weeks ago of the state of New York clarified the mandated reporting law in which it states that rabbis, guidance counselor, teachers, social workers, school nurses, administrators and or other staff members who work or teach in Jewish schools can no longer falsely claim exemption from reporting suspicions of child abuse to the police or child protective services.  They also stated that it is illegal to contact a rabbi first to obtain permission to report.  This was a major victory for orthodox children.  This is the first time in the history of the state of New York their civil rights are being protected and have a chance to grow up in an abuse free environment.  The problem is that children in Brooklyn, still have to contend with the shenanigans of Charles Hynes and his cronies.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Psychiatric drugs become talk of the ultra-Orthodox community

Psychiatric drugs become talk of the ultra-Orthodox community
Haaretz report exposing rabbi involvement in prescription of psychiatric drugs leads to people coming forward to tell their stories, some doubt anything will change.
By Yair Ettinger 
Haaretz - April 22, 2012 

The Gur Hasid trembled in pain as he spoke about a family gathering held at Purim. One daughter in the extended family, a married woman with children, attended the big holiday meal after a long period in which she had remained secluded in her home. "We were shocked," the man recalled. "At the beginning, we could barely identify her. This is a woman who has always been blessed with a lively, expressive personality, but now it looks like pills have finished her off. We met an apathetic woman who has a solemn, stony face; a woman who has had the life sucked out of her."

The man says the family has known for years that the woman has been "shelled," as he put it, with low dosage antidepressant and anti-anxiety medication prescribed by a psychiatrist to whom she was referred by rabbis and various Hasidic functionaries. But up to now, nobody in the extended family had witnessed firsthand the effects of this treatment.

"The sole reason why the woman was brought to a psychiatrist, against her will, was marital discord," the man explained. At first, she adamantly refused to take the pills prescribed her, but "she had no chance of persisting in this refusal, owing to the heavy pressure exerted on her by the rabbis."

The ultra-Orthodox man says the woman's husband belongs to a well-connected family in the Gur community, and so the man's family attached "responsibility" for the situation in the house to the woman, and demanded she receive medication. "She was told that the Gur Rebbe wants her to take medication, and that the pills would restore order to her home. Nobody knows whether the rebbe really said that, but this is what persuaded her."

As a result of the Haaretz report two weeks ago ("Rabbi's Little Helper," April 6 ) - about the conferral of psychiatric medication at the request of rabbis and Orthodox activists, for purposes described as "spiritual" rather than medical - a number of persons turned to Haaretz with their personal stories.

The Hasid from Bnei Brak presented his story as part of a trend of Orthodox referrals to private psychiatric clinics as a result of internal communal issues - typically family cases. Such referrals often override the patients' own desires; usually, he patient does not really understand the nature of the treatment. Psychiatrists and psychologists also approached the newspaper, and reported cases of unethical uses of medication.

For the patient's welfare

The "Rabbi's Little Helper" report featured testimony given by Orthodox, Hasidic Jews who claimed they were needlessly prescribed medication. They showed prescriptions for antidepressant and antianxiety pills prescribed for diseases they say they never had.

Prof. Omer Bonne, director of the psychiatric department at Hadassah University Hospital, Ein Karem, was interviewed in this initial report. Like other psychiatrists mentioned in the report who treat several Orthodox patients in private clinics, Prof. Bonne claimed that he operates on the basis of purely professional considerations, and strictly upholds medical ethics. Yet Prof. Bonne adopted what he called a professional position sanctioning the possibility of prescribing antidepressant pills from the SSRI family (most commonly used for the treatment of depression, anxiety disorders and some personality disorders ) for yeshiva students who masturbate excessively, or have sexual relations with other men, yet do not suffer from depression.

Bonne justified the use of these pills by pointing out that their side effects reduce sexual urges; he argued that such medication preempts possible destructive conflicts between the men and their surroundings, and the pills might also preempt conditions of depression.

A prominent psychiatrist cited in the report justified the use of lithium - medication ordinarily used for bipolar disorders - in certain cases where a man or woman suddenly decides to stop observing religious commandments, or to break up the family unit. The psychiatrist said that in some cases, such behavior derives from conditions such as mania.

Bonne and other psychiatrists confirmed that some of the patients come to clinics accompanied by rabbis or various "supervisors" associated with yeshivas. Sometimes, the religious pupils' families are not notified of these visits. The psychiatrists confirmed that the rabbis or supervisors are on hand when patients are examined.

The report caused a firestorm in the Haredi public and the medical profession. Prof. Avinoam Reches, chairman of the Israel Medical Association's ethics committee, said he is considering convening a panel meeting to discuss the report's findings. "The doctor's role is to serve the patient's interests exclusively, and not to promote the needs of a particularly social network," Prof. Reches said. "This holds true with the ultra-Orthodox network and its attempts to control an individual. There is here a clear infringement of the individual's right to autonomy and the nullification of free choice, not to mention the stifling of sexual urges which are, in my opinion, one of the main motivating forces of human behavior.

"This is basically a process in which rabbis - with the help of various loyal intermediaries - and, much to my regret, also physicians, use medication to fashion the desires and behavior of an individual so that he fits into a social framework," he continued. "I think that doctors who behave in this way violate medical ethics."

Prof. Moshe Kotler, chairman of the National Council for Mental Health and incoming chairman of the Israel Psychiatric Association, said he will soon initiate a professional discussion on this subject in both organizations. "This report was disturbing, and we will not overlook the findings it presents," Prof. Kotler said. "I'm not talking about the individual level, because we are not a tribunal, and I personally know Prof. Bonne and Prof. [Avi] Weizman [who were mentioned in the article]. These are outstanding professionals in every respect."

Prof. Kotler added: "We will discuss the central question of to whom a professional has to remain loyal. There is no question that his main obligation is toward the patient. We do not believe that psychiatry and psychiatric medication are designed to fashion behavioral traits endorsed by particular communities, or television programs, or anything else. That is our position. I can promise that if the need arises, we will formulate the appropriate guidelines on a professional position paper."                        

A key figure in this controversy, who has maintained a firm silence about its findings, is Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, a Gur Hasid. He adamantly refused to respond to the original article.

In the past, Litzman has gone on record as saying he would like to establish psychiatric departments that cater to the needs of the Haredi community. Haaretz has learned that the Health Ministry has authorized funding for 20 beds in a new psychiatric care wing that is to be built in Hadassah University Hospital, Ein Karem; male and female patients will be separated in the hospital wing. Prof. Bonne, who treats Haredi patients at his private clinic, directs the Ein Karem hospital's psychiatric department.

Gur responses

Though Litzman has kept quiet, a debate has raged in the Haredi community about the article - including individuals and groups in its Gur (or Ger ) Hasidic branches. Gur sources say the community's leader, the Admor of Gur, is deeply engaged with the report, but the sources add that no changes are likely to be adopted by the Saving the Generations Foundation - the internal Hasidic nonprofit that maintains connections with private psychiatrists on behalf of members of the Gur community.

Hasidic sources say that last week, toward the end of the Passover holiday - a time when thousands of Gur Hasids congregate around the Admor - the report about pill-taking dominated discussions. Rabbis tried to identify persons who used false names in the report, while other members of the community began to discuss the key ethical issues raised by it.

A popular ultra-Orthodox website, Behedrey Haredim, opened a discussion on the topic, but it was quickly closed. Another discussion, called Haaretz, remained posted on the site and described the report as a "purely anti-Semitic investigation" - this description provoked dozens of responses. Some respondents in the online forum described the report's findings as "urban legends."

Another discussion has been staged on the "Stop Here and Think" page, which can also be found on the Behedrey Haredim site. Some online posters claimed the prescription of psychiatric pills can be likened to blows delivered to a person in accord with a rabbinical court decision - citing cases when they say Jewish law permits such blows to be leveled, as in the case of a husband refusing to give a religious writ of divorce (a get ) to his ex-wife.

Big danger

It's uncertain whether such discussions will bring change, and some signs suggest nothing has really changed. A senior psychiatrist who directs a mental health center told Haaretz about a patient who approached him this week, after being treated by another reputable psychiatrist. The first psychiatrist reported that the patient came with his parents, and complained about "problems with the sacred" - meaning relations with other men.

According to the senior psychiatrist, the patient "is definitely not a homosexual, but he said in his yeshiva that something had happened to him. A yeshiva supervisor took him to a psychiatrist, without his parents' cognizance. A third party took care of the payment. This psychiatrist examined the young man, and prescribed anti-psychosis and antidepressant medication. The patient says that this psychiatrist did not tell him what the pills are for, but intimated that 'It will be very dangerous not to take the medicine.' The man took the pills for a month, but then quit. He felt that something was wrong, and so he came to me."

Asked how he knows that the first psychiatrist prescribed pills without any legitimate medical cause, the senior psychiatrist replies: "I examined the patient and he has no signs of psychosis or depression. It seems to me that this [first] psychiatrist was in contact with the persons who brought the patient to him, and prescribed pills without cause. I am stunned that people do that. The young man did not pay for the meeting with the psychiatrist, and everything happened with the parents' knowledge."

This week, senior psychiatrists addressed the question of why colleagues might prescribe antidepressant or antianxiety medication for symptoms that have nothing to do with depression or anxiety, and why they might oblige the demands of third parties. One stated that the "roots of evil" are the private clinics. Another opined that such psychiatrists "genuinely believe they are helping their patients by preempting various complications and reducing suffering."

Prof. Kotler, the only psychiatrist who agreed to be interviewed openly in this report, stated, "What we have here is an encounter between stigmas. There is in the Haredi community a stigma against referrals to mental health professionals; anyone who turns to a psychiatrist is stigmatized. On the other hand, there are stigmas against certain forms of behavior, traits that are accepted in other communities. All this creates a gray area, in terms of consciousness and awareness. I think the Haredi community is becoming more open toward receiving mental health care, yet stigmas about the subject remain very strong. So it must be established very clearly that pills are not a pickax used to dig around and explore; their sole purpose is to attend to a patient's suffering."       

Friday, April 13, 2012

Carole King talks about being in an abusive relationship

Carole King talks about being in an abusive relationship
Piers Morgan Tonight - April 13, 2012
Carole King on life in an abusive relationship: "The more shocking point...I stayed...and I married him"

The artist behind such classic #1 hits as "I Feel the Earth Move" and "It's Too Late," King is also the survivor of an abusive relationship, and tonight shares details of her third marriage, to Rick Evers:
"That is the point, that the line is or I would never be with someone like that, until I was," says the 70-year-old King. "But here’s the more shocking point, I suppose, it - to me it was shocking after the fact. I stayed. And I married him after I knew about this."
In 1971, King released her second solo album, entitled "Tapestry," which topped the U.S. chart for 15 straight weeks, selling 25 million copies worldwide. More than 40 years later, King has written her autobiography, "A Natural Woman: A Memoir," in which she opens up about the abuse, in hopes of inspiring others."

"The important thing to me was to write it, to be honest and to communicate to people out there that it’s - if you are someone who is in that situation, get help," she tells Piers Morgan. "Help is available."

Friday, April 06, 2012

Rabbi's little helper: Psychiatric drugs are frequently administered within the Haredi community at leaders' requests, in order to bring members in line with norms, say sources.

Rabbi's little helper

Forget 'Big Brother': Psychiatric drugs are frequently administered within the Haredi community at leaders' requests, in order to bring members in line with norms, say sources.
By Yair Ettinger
Haaretz - April 6, 2012

Psychiatric drugs are rife in Israel's ultra-Orthodox community, sources say,

This is not a reality show. It's a true story that's been going on for years. No one denies it, neither the psychiatrists nor their patients: Psychiatric drugs are being given to ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students, men, seminary girls and married women at the request of rabbis, yeshiva "supervisors" and marriage counselors. The furor that erupted recently after a psychiatrist prescribed pills to participants on the TV reality show "Big Brother" - apparently to help the production and not the patients - convinced some Haredi patients to come forward with prescriptions and documents attesting to a far broader practice.

Haaretz spoke to psychiatrists and others knowledgeable about psychiatric treatment in the Haredi community, and collected testimonies  from half-a-dozen patients and their families. About half of them are Haredi and the others have left the community. Each told a different  story, mentioning the names of senior psychiatrists, rabbis and community functionaries.

Last December, the Israel Psychiatric Association held a symposium titled "The Haredi Community as a Consumer of Mental-Health Services." Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, a Gur Hasid, was invited to speak, as were several psychiatrists who treat Haredi patients and well-known Haredi medical go-betweens (i.e., people who help mediate between patients and professional ).
Prof. Omer Bonne
Conference organizers included Prof. Omer Bonne, director of the psychiatry department at Hadassah University Hospital in Ein Karem, Jerusalem, who gave a talk about "Culture-dependent psychiatry in the Haredi community." Bonne, a highly esteemed veteran physician, praised that population's growing openness vis-a-vis the field, but made a few comments that caused some audience members to shift uneasily in their seats. For example, Bonne said that sometimes yeshiva students and married men should be given antidepressants even if they do not suffer from depression, because these drugs also suppress sex drive.

"Some behaviors put Haredim in conflict with their values and cause them mental problems, even to the point of depression," Bonne said. "My view concerning drug treatment in such cases has changed. For example, when I was young, idealistic and less experienced, whenever I had a case of homosexuality, masturbation - or, as Haredim put it, 'compulsiveness in sex' - I would say: 'Homosexuality is not a mental problem, masturbation is certainly not a mental problem or even a medical problem. I do not treat people who do not have a medical problem.'

"Over the years, I saw that people who do these 'awful' things suffer terribly because of the conflicts they create. Those urges, impulses or behaviors place them in conflict with their society, and then they become depressed. In these cases, I would indeed prescribe medicines that block these conditions."

The implication would seem to be that Prof. Bonne wants to prevent patients from experiencing mental conflict. In practice, treating such  cases ostensibly puts the patients back on the straight and narrow, in keeping with the interests of rabbis (who are often the ones pushing for psychiatric treatment ). Bonne acknowledges that this may be an exceptional approach, but others agree with it, too. "Currently, their society has no good solution for this," he says, referring to homosexual urges. His remarks suggest that prescription drugs are often the only way out.

Dual loyalties
Psychiatrists who treat yeshiva students are almost always consulted privately, as opposed to via the public health system. In certain cases the treatment is paid for by a rabbi, mashgiah (a supervisor who oversees educational and spiritual levels among students), or medical go-between. Psychiatrists interviewed for this article say the connections between the Haredi establishment and psychiatrists raise ethical questions, at the very least. As the Israel Medical Association states: "The physician shall safeguard the patient's privacy and medical confidentiality," and "he shall not take part in any action that compromises [the patient's] physical or mental integrity or human dignity."

One psychiatrist raises the possibility that his colleagues "could become emissaries of the Haredi establishment." Yet another noted that  the "pressure" from Haredi rabbis and functionaries leads some of his colleagues to develop "dual loyalty" - instead of remaining loyal to the patient alone, they see an opportunity to increase their patient load.

Psychiatrists say there are welcome trends as well: greater awareness and readiness to treat mental distress despite the stigmas (which exist among society at large ) and the possible adverse effect on matchmaking. This is partially due to advice columns on psychological problems within the Haredi media. One such column, which has run for years in the women's supplement of the veteran newspaper Hamodia, often encourages psychiatric drug use.

But psychiatric treatment is proliferating above all due to personal, discreet recommendations by rabbis, functionaries and yeshiva supervisors, or even by well-known leaders such as the Gerer Rebbe and the Amshinover Rebbe. They are thought to possess "understanding" of the psyche and they recommend psychiatrists whom they trust to people who come to consult with them about psychological problems.

Some seeking help have to pay for the treatment themselves. Others, though, get funding, and may not always know who is paying.

Rabbi Yosef Kuperberg
Years ago, the Ger Hasidic dynasty established a fund called Saving the Generations (Keren Hatzalat Dorot ) in order to help Hasidim offset fertility treatment costs. Over the years, the fund, which was created by Rabbi Yosef Kuperberg, a confidant of the Gerer Rebbe (Kuperberg is now also the chairman of the Agudat Israel Central Committee ), increasingly began helping Hasidim treat mental problems.

The fund periodically calls for donations, via mail or through Hamodia. One such letter stated that the fund engages in "finding relief and  cures for mental health problems and distress." The letter, which Haaretz saw at the time, added, "Nowadays extremely complicated problems can be solved via proper treatment. The fund's officials are in close touch with senior physicians and well-known professors. Based on their precise diagnosis, suitable medicines are administered as needed, producing no side effects, so that one can return to a healthy, happy daily life. Medicines and treatments in this painful sphere are extremely expensive, and the fund covers them for those who cannot afford them."

The Ger (or Gur ) sect, Israel's largest Hasidic group, with tens of thousands of followers in communities from the Galilee to the Negev, is exceptional even within the Haredi world for its conservatism, particularly regarding sexuality. The current Gerer Rebbe, Yaakov Aryeh  Alter, is known to ascribe importance to health matters, including mental health. It was under his leadership that the community developed systems for addressing this issue. Hasidim say drug treatment has been widespread within high-school yeshivas for years.

"The fool is worse than the wicked," says a married yeshiva student, referring to the founders of the Saving the Generations. The rebbe's emissaries often truly wish to help, "but because of their stupidity they trample souls upon souls, and I ask myself how aware they are of this," he says.

Haim (not his real name ) was a member of the Ger community for his first 23 years. Over that time, he was repeatedly treated by psychiatrists and prescribed medications. Three years ago, he divorced his wife and abandoned religion.

"Sometimes they [the supervisors or the teachers] want to help, but they don't know anything about psychology. Someone brought up the idea of medication, and it caught on like a gimmick. They love gimmicks."

A department head at a Jerusalem area psychiatric hospital that treats many Haredim says he's seen "normative youths at a small [high-school] yeshiva who have no disciplinary problems but were having difficulty with Gemara studies. Some psychiatrists have no problem prescribing Ritalin for them, often at the rabbis' request. This shocks me. The psychiatrist is becoming the ally of the rabbis instead of the patients. No one even considers that perhaps the kid is unsuited to study Gemara all day.

"Some boys are sent for medical treatment because they were caught doing something in the shower," he says, referring to physicians in general, not necessarily those mentioned in the article. "There is often no justification for this."

Another well-known psychiatrist said he used to get many calls from Haredi functionaries, but that they dropped off when he resisted what he called rabbis' "pressure" to prescribe particular drugs to Haredi youth and married men. "Perhaps they found other psychiatrists who prescribe medicines without asking too many questions," he says, adding that he takes a grave view of such behavior.

"The issue also exists in the army, where in many cases the expectation is that the physician will declare the patient healthy. Here, we sometimes find the opposite: over-diagnosis. If you say a person aspires to maintain a particular way of life, based on specific values, then you do what you can, including via medicine, to allow him to live up to those values. There is a problem on the part of psychiatrists, who are legally and ethically committed to help patients but in some cases become delegates of the Haredi establishment and their values. And this goes far beyond a handful of participants in 'Big Brother.'"

The "Big Brother" outcry centers around the allegation that a psychiatrist prescribed medication in keeping with the needs of the production staff, but not necessarily those of the patient. Dr. Ilan Rabinovich, the psychiatrist employed by the program, denies this categorically. In some cases, Israel's top clinics are sometimes mobilized to the Haredi cause, knowingly or unknowingly, via yeshiva heads who are thought to know something about psychiatry, community therapists and various go-betweens with no official position.

Prof. Bonne confirms that go-betweens, rather than the patients, are often the ones who contact the psychiatrist, and they also accompany the treatment process. "It's rare for educators [in other communities] to be so involved. Overall, I think this is positive, since these are people they trust. ... In most cases I think that the therapists, the rabbis, the teachers and the supervisors truly want what is best for the patient, and genuinely believe he is better off conforming with the system. But this is not always the case, and I do not prescribe medicine to everyone. It's not automatic."

False diagnosis

Haya (not her real name ), also a former member of the Ger community, left her family and religion by means of a bumpy road that included a psychiatric referral as soon as she sought to divorce her husband a few years ago. "The day I launched divorce proceedings in the Family Court, I was threatened that if I did not drop them by noon the following day, I would lose my children," she recalls.

"My father went to court with me to ensure I was dropping the case," she continues. "He told me he had something important to tell me, that he had been hiding something from me for months - that I was manic-depressive. My father played a major role in my life, and if he said so, I thought he must be right.

"I went to see a well-known psychiatrist in the center of the country. [Haya requested that his name not be published.] I believed he would save my life. I don't wish those feelings of helplessness on anyone. When I arrived, I saw a Hasidic man who apparently was paying my bill. It all became very fishy at that point. Maybe psychiatrists are also a type of victim: the go-betweens lie to them freely. I don't blame the psychiatrist, but the functionaries. They are the ones who control everyone."

Haya says she met with the psychiatrist once.

"He wrote 'needs follow-up.' After my divorce, I found an amazing female psychiatrist who saved my life. It took her half a year to persuade me I wasn't manic-depressive. That was critical. I'd thought that if I was mentally ill, I could not take responsibility for the children. I had to fight for my sanity and find psychiatrists who would help me. I am a strong person, but I wonder what happens to more  vulnerable, less knowledgeable women."

A senior psychiatrist who treats Haredim told Haaretz that some who take up a secular lifestyle overnight might be suffering from a manic condition.

"In these cases, people make decisions that are not level-headed, give in to their impulses and pursue an unrealistic image of the secular world. They think that if they become secular they will have intercourse with everything that moves. I prescribe lithium for people who are manic. In most cases it helps, and afterward they tell me, 'I lost my judgment.' If they are not manic and they really thought it through before becoming secular, the pill won't change that. The pill won't change your worldview."

Haim, who was raised in a Ger community in the north, says, "Some guys are full of pills. My little brother was given Ritalin from age 13 or maybe even earlier. My father didn't want to tell him what it was, so it wouldn't hurt his marriage prospects. Plus, since I hadn't wanted to take pills, he decided to trick my brother by telling him they were vitamins. My father has no schooling at all, but he and the teacher at  the heder determined the diagnosis and gave him pills. They were provided by the family doctor, who probably would have given my little  brother Prozac or oral contraceptives had my father asked."

Haim, now 26, is secular and independent, and maintains only loose ties with his family. He was given medications for nine years, beginning at age 14, even though he says it was never forced on him, unlike the cases of other people. He now believes he never needed the medicines, other than Ritalin for ADHD. The treatment was initiated by rabbis, yeshiva supervisors and his marriage counselor in Ashdod, who worked with him during his two years of married life.

Prof. Avi Weizman

Haim showed Haaretz documents and prescriptions revealing that he was treated by Dr. Ilan Rabinovich and by Profs. Omer Bonne and Avi Weizman.
Dr. Ilan Rabinovich
"I have had learning disorders and hyperactivity from infancy," he says. "When I was about 14, the yeshiva counselor told me, 'Let's do non-spiritual treatments, let's start seeing professionals.' That's how it started. The school supervisor got into drug treatment and really went for it. Within a year there were rumors that one out of every three students at the yeshiva was taking Ritalin or Prozac. Some of the  students, like me, requested an professional medical opinion. He would send us to a psychiatrist, who would provide a diagnosis, paid for by the children's parents.

"I know some students received hints that they would be thrown out of the yeshiva if they didn't take the pills. That is a very extreme measure. Unless you have sex at age 13, you won't be thrown out of a yeshiva. Maybe one person a year is thrown out. In this case they went full-force. Parents were pressured, too: The rabbi would call, the parents were persuaded. A few students, including me, threw the pills down the toilet. I was prescribed Ritalin, some of the others got Prozac. The overseer administered the Prozac personally."

Why Prozac? Did they have depression?

"How does depression manifest itself in a Haredi yeshiva? It's different there. Depression is everything that interferes with functioning. You don't wake up for prayers, say, and the supervisor asks you why you didn't get up - 'Maybe you should be thrown out of the yeshiva because you aren't religious enough?' The guy says he is religious but can't get up. So the supervisor realizes it's something mental, and the only things he knows are depression and attention deficit disorder."

Was Prozac given to students with sexual "problems," including homosexuality or masturbation?

"That is a constant rumor in the yeshivas - that students are being given pills that work like chemical castration. But I never encountered  that."

Sexual suppressant

At the psychiatrists' symposium, Prof. Bonne said explicitly that yeshiva students are prescribed SSRI-group antidepressants, including Prozac, Lustral, Cipralex and Seroxat, due to their sexual side effects: reducing urges and slowing ejaculation.

Bonne says antidepressants are used to avoid destructive conflicts that would make students depressed.

What is the purpose of the pharmacological treatment? Are you seeing to prevent a destructive conflict?

"To prevent depression," says Bonne.

Wouldn't it be better to advise the teen to leave the place causing him suffering? Maybe to stop being Haredi?

"I don't say, 'The Haredi system is problematic because it places people in conflicts that lead to depression.' Theoretically, I could say, 'Look what this system is doing.' I don't do that. I give people the information, and if they choose the path then I will prescribe them medicine."

Have you found this really helps people spare themselves the conflict?

"It does much more than that. It enables them to preserve their place, image and dignity within the system, to continue to maintain proper family and social relations, and to find a match and raise a family."

Haim says that after he was married, he asked his marriage counselor to set up a meeting with a psychiatrist.

"At the age of 21 I got into a certain conflict , and I wanted to suppress my sexual urge. After a year of marriage, when we were living in Ashdod, I got into a complicated conflict."

Haim approached Kuperberg, who referred him to Prof. Avi Weizman.

"Weizman conducted a professional diagnosis," Haim says. "He gave me pills to relax, not to suppress sexual instincts. ... I saw him three times. I found out that Ger sends people to Weizman. His waiting room is packed with Ger Hasidim."

Haim took antidepressants and anti-anxiety medication for the two years he was married. His wife received medication to treat compulsive disorders. "My wife didn't know I was taking pills, but I knew she was taking them. That's how it is in Ger. You don't tell."

Haim later visited Dr. Rabinovich. "My cousin took me. . My cousin didn't come because he was my cousin, but because he was trying to  promote himself within the psychiatry sphere. I saw Rabinovich with the go-between and Rabinovich gave the prescription and the forms to him, not me. I was sitting with him in the room, and he asked Rabinovich for the forms and was handed them.

"Rabinovich doesn't have the sensitivity to understand that I was Haredi," he continues. "I can't tell someone to leave. You don't do that. Haredim don't do that. Rabinovich might think I trust my cousin, but I don't. I would not want him to be involved, but he set up the appointment and he paid. I was dependent on him."

Haim adds, "Rabinovich made a professional diagnosis and wrote things. He wrote more or less the same as Weizman - anxiety, depression - and prescribed pills. So I take them in loads, because I want to solve my personal problems."

Haim's last psychiatric treatment was with Prof. Bonne, whom he visited with a senior Hasidic functionary from outside the Gur community. That person treated his ex-wife and gave her a steady supply of medicine, and he was the one who initiated the appointment with Bonne, says Haim.

"Through my wife, he suggested that I go to Dr. Bonne. He said he would come with me to Jerusalem. I respected him, because since he started treating my wife, I believed he would fix all my troubles. I met with the functionary and we took a taxi to Rehavia, Jerusalem. I didn't want him with me during the appointment, but he sat down in the room. After talking to him for a few minutes, the psychiatrist tells me, 'Wait outside, I want to exchange a few words with him,'" recalls Haim.

"When I came back in, Bonne asked me questions: How I define myself in religious terms, whether I consider myself religiously deviant. The functionary heard it all. I don't remember what I told him, but I wanted to get treatment, so I expressed my feelings more or less. Two weeks later, while I was at synagogue, [my wife's] parents came to our home and took her. They called me and said, 'We packed up and took our little girl. We want a divorce.' Just like that."

Haim feels that the meetings with Bonne and the functionary contributed to his divorce.

Bonne says he makes a point of receiving the patient's permission to have someone else present in the room.

Haim, what do you think is wrong here?

"They control you: how many children you have and when you sleep with your wife. They bring you to a psychiatrist and listen to the opinions. They are deeply ingrained in your personality, they hear what you tell the professional. They are involved in the process between you and the psychologist or the psychiatrist. They penetrate your psyche. We forgave them for telling us how to behave in the synagogue, or even at home. Here they're entering your inner self."

Where did it take you?

"I complained about heightened sex drive. In the Gur community it is strictly prohibited to enjoy sex, and my conscience was in overdrive  because of my desire for sex. You have sexual relations with your wife only twice a month. I felt guilty because I wanted more. I wanted to suppress that. They used it against me. I wanted to improve myself and I asked the system for help, and in turn it hurt my family. After that I stopped taking pills, divorced, moved and abandoned religion. Now everything is fine. I am not taking anything and I am doing well."

Schizophrenia pills for a better life

As opposed to Haim, Yaakov (not his real name ) decided to stay in the Ger community. He is unwilling to say why he was sent to Dr. Rabinovich.

"I am a normal person, very much so," he says. "I was sent to Ilan Rabinovich two and a half years ago because of a very specific story.                    

"I was sent by a spiritual counselor, a well-known person in the Hasidic world. I sat with Rabinovich and [the counselor] started to charm him, and in the end he prescribed pills. 'This will make your life better,' he told me.

"I never touched them. I went home, and since I'm a slightly rebellious Haredi with Internet access I looked on Google and read all I could about Ilan Rabinovich. I saw forums where patients wrote good or bad things about him. I saw the pills he gave me were intended to treat schizophrenia. I'd heard stories about Hasidim who had taken those kinds of pills, which destroyed their nervous system.

"When the rabbis and functionaries realized that I did not intend to take the pills, they declared me persona non grata. They didn't throw me out, but the institutions broke off all contact with me," he says.

"Secular people like to criticize Haredim over two issues: draft evasion and not working. I don't think these two issues justify hatred. The true story of the Haredi community is the trampling of human and property rights. It's incredibly suffocating. Some of the people handing  out pills in our community are true saints; most have good intentions and want to help. To really understand what's going on here, you have to know how the good is mixed with the bad, with the darkest things."

Countering stigmas

Rabbi Yosef Kuperberg, who founded Saving the Generations to help Haredim pay for fertility treatment and later mental health care, refused to respond to Haaretz, but an anonymous source at the foundation presented the rabbi’s views on psychiatric treatment. It’s crucial that someone accompany Haredi patients to meetings with psychiatrists due to cultural gaps: For many yeshiva students, this is their first time meeting someone outside the Haredi world, says the source.

“People may accompany the patient, who often is embarrassed to express himself,” says the source. “So people help him. The escorts should be praised. Wouldn’t you want someone to help you express yourself in an unpleasant situation?”

He adds, “We consistently encourage a person not to seek help alone, and we do not encourage parents to get involved. Generally patients exaggerate or underestimate an issue − it’s not that they’re lying; they’re distorting the picture. So it’s good when somebody more objective comes along. The doctor has no objective measure; you can’t make a [definitive] diagnosis in these cases. Assessments are made based on a story. So the truth needs to be heard.”

One of the foundation’s main purposes is to improve awareness of mental health services, and to counter the stigmas surrounding them, he says.

“There is a deeply embedded reluctance to psychiatric care,” says the source. “You can find aspirin in any home, but rarely Valium − why? The stigma calls Valium the ‘deputy’ of the angel of death. People may face pain much more severe than a headache or a toothache. The damage caused by not taking aspirin is negligible compared to the damage caused by stress.”

Are pills given to reduce sexual urges?

“The medical profession has answers to minor, moderate and very severe problems. There are solutions for those who suffer from urges and do not behave as they would like to behave.”

Are teens told the nature of the drugs they’re being given?

“Since the stigma against Valium is so strong, and it is even worse regarding more serious medications, instead of being helped by it, [Orthodox] youths curse it, denounce it.”

Do Ger Hasidim more frequently turn to psychiatrists? If so, why?

“To some degree, yes. It could be that the Gur leaders are a little more open, that they have broader vision, and that they want to help their people. That’s all there is to it. Opposition [to professional care] will erode: It could take two years, or five or 10 years, but in the end, we hope that anyone feeling abnormal stress, if he’s half-crazy, if he’s hitting people or if he is compulsive will seek help, just like people take aspirin for a headache. Compulsiveness is normal, but when it becomes harmful, why should a person suffer?”

Who funds psychiatric care for Hasidim who need it?

“Usually the families − who else? Saving the Generations helps people who can’t pay, but does not provide regular funding.”

Doctors respond

“Many patients, ultra-Orthodox and secular, come to me with a companion,” says Prof. Omer Bonne. “Sometimes it’s a family member, sometimes it’s someone else the patient trusts. At the start of each session I ask the patient whether he or she wants the other person to be present, and I always respect the patient’s decision. I’ve never forced a patient to have someone else in the room during an examination.

“Cultural norms are very important when diagnosing mental illness. The person mentioned in this article [the non-Gur functionary in Haim’s story], like other Haredi activists and family members, helps me come up with an initial assessment and then a diagnosis. He says he arranged the meeting and knew the family well, so I may have asked him − with Haim’s knowledge − for information.

“Haim claims his decision to see me was initiated by that person, that he considered him a ‘savior.’ Did [Haim] take a cab from Ashdod to  Jerusalem with him in order to come to the appointment alone? Did he intend to use his help for free? And if he really wanted to be examined alone, why didn’t he say that? I have never passed on medical information about a patient without his or her explicit consent ‏(aside from situations stipulated by the law‏), in this case or any other.”

Moshe Klughaft, Dr. Ilan Rabinovich’s media consultant, states: “Dr. Ilan Rabinovich, a leading psychiatrist who upholds the highest standards of care and runs Israel’s leading private psychiatric clinic, improves the quality of life of thousands of people a year. Dr. Rabinovich is proud of his work over the years with [Gerrer Rebbe confidant] Rabbi [Yosef] Kuperberg and other rabbis. These are top-caliber people who work day and night to help the public. Dr. Rabinovich has spearheaded a revolution over the past decade, not just among the secular but also among the ultra-Orthodox: He has helped do away with stigmas, stereotypes and fears about psychological and psychiatric care, and about how such treatment can profoundly change a patient’s life.

“The ultra-Orthodox are not treated differently than the secular. Dr. Rabinovich provides both communities with top-quality treatment, as if treating his own children. Since his work relates to mental health, Dr. Rabinovich will not disclose information about specific patients or  their treatment. Dr. Rabinovich refuses to exploit patients’ mental health in order to get his name into the newspaper.”

Prof. Avi Weizman says he is usually contacted initially by patients’ parents. “They direct the course of events, and they come to me,” he  says. He also confirms that many of his patients come escorted by a rabbi or a yeshiva supervisor. “I make sure that the escorts remain outside, unless the yeshiva student says, ‘I want the supervisor to sit with us.’”

Weizman denies prescribing medication to curb sexual impulses, “unless there is something compulsive. It is normal for people to masturbate, and I would never prescribe a drug for that.” The patient’s family usually pays for the treatment, he says.

“In 99 percent of the cases, the parents come with the child. All contacts are initiated by the parents. If nothing is needed, I do not provide treatment, but I do address situations where I feel the quality of life can be improved, suffering can be mitigated and feelings of failure can be countered,” he says. ‏       

Also see:  Psychiatric drugs become talk of the ultra-orthodox community