Many people suffer from
obsessive-compulsive disorder, known as OCD. One way it is expressed is through
never-ending uncertainty about the satisfactory completion of tasks. Those with
OCD are prone to repeatedly washing their hands due to concern of germs. For
those who are Halacha observant, OCD can be especially severe since Halacha is
demanding and detailed. Observant Jews with OCD may be unable to complete
Brachos or Tefillos since they are in doubt as to whether they pronounced the
words properly, which will make them recite the text repeatedly. Pesach
preparations can be extremely stressful for those with OCD when they are
cleaning for Chametz.
Typically treating OCD involves “exposure and response prevention” where the
patient is trained not to respond compulsively to the situation that causes
obsessive thoughts. So for one who is observant, it can mean not to repeat the
Bracha or Tefilla text even if he knows he recited it improperly.
The Torah addresses not going
overboard. The Mishna says אין חוששין שמא גררה חולדה מבית לבית
וממקום למקום דאם כן מחצר לחצר ומעיר לעיר אין לדבר סוף,
we aren’t concerned that a weasel may have dragged Chametz from house to house
or place to place, because if so, then let us be concerned from courtyard to
courtyard and city to city. There would then be no end to the matter. We must
realize that לא ניתנה תורה למלאכי השרת, the Torah wasn’t given
to the ministering angels.
We are expected to be human, not perfect.
Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski
related that one who suffers from OCD may not necessarily be reassured by the
opinion of Halachic Authorities. One woman with OCD threw out three sets of
dishes because she couldn’t accept the Rav's ruling that the dishes were
perfectly Kosher, saying, “The Rav didn’t understand my question.”
A boy named Yosef was admired
by many boys in his Yeshiva since he Davened such a long Shemoneh Esrei,
intensely engaged in Tefilla. However, his Rebbe knew the truth: Instead of
davening with kavana, most of Yosef’s time in Shemoneh Esrei was spent
agonizing over the possibility that he missed or mispronounced a word,
compelling him to carefully repeat words and phrases over and over. Yosef was
engaged in a torturous battle with himself. He sought the advice of his Rebbe,
who tried to assure him not to worry. One time, his Rebbe told him, “I
guarantee that you won’t be held accountable for missing a word of Tefilla. I
promise that I will take you out of Gehinnom. Stop worrying!" Yosef
continued to worry, but he was afraid to bring it up anymore with his Rebbe. As
a result, he suffered in silence. This surely isn’t what the Torah wants as the
Torah is דרכיה דרכי נעם וכל נתיבתיה שלום, its ways are ways of pleasantness and all
of its pathways are peace.
The question has been asked
if restoring mental health is a good enough cause to knowingly allow one with
OCD to fail to observe Mitzvos? For example, can a therapist train a patient
not to repeat Brachos even when the patient is sure he missed a word? Can one
with OCD continue Shema if he mispronounced or omitted some of the text? This
question was addressed by the Steipler
(1899-1985) who wrote that the patient should be instructed to Daven from a
Siddur and not to go back to recite any text that he fears may have been
recited incorrectly or skipped. It is clear that according to Halacha one isn’t
obligated to do more. The Steipler also says that a rabbi shouldn’t explain to
one with OCD why he ruled it is permitted. Just say it without a reason.
Otherwise, the person with OCD will counteract the ruling.
This question was also posed
to R’ Asher Wiess
who ruled that the OCD patient
must follow his therapist’s instructions for overcoming his disorder even at
the expense of observing Mitzvos. He writes that man’s primary obligation is to
do everything that is necessary for him to cure his illness, and to this end he
is allowed even to violate the Torah’s commandments.
R’ Wiess says that Halacha
absolves one from fulfilling a Mitzva when this is necessary to avoid illness.
Just as one isn’t required to pay more than 1/5 of his assets in order to
fulfill a Mitzva,
one is similarly not required to subject himself to physical harm or
debilitation for the sake of a Mitzva. So if a person suffers from a
debilitating mental illness, and his mental health professional determines that
his recovery requires suspending Mitzva observance, then the patient should
comply as long as he is only neglecting the observance of Mitzvas Asei (affirmative
commands) and not transgressing prohibitions. This is permissible for the sake
of restoring his mental health.
R’ Wiess later says it would also be permitted even if the treatment for OCD
requires transgressing a Torah violation.
This is because since without recovering from his disorder, an OCD patient who
can’t complete Brachos or Tefillos
will likely never have the ability to properly fulfill these requirements. It
is therefore preferable to have him knowingly suspend his observance of these
Mitzvos for the purpose of treatment,
which will enable him to fulfill them properly throughout the rest of his life.
merited to learn under the tutelage of R’ Mordechai Friedlander Ztz”l for close
to five years. He received Semicha from R’ Zalman Nechemia Goldberg. Rabbi Alt
has written on numerous topics for various websites and publications. He lives
with his wife and family in a suburb of Yerushalayim where he studies, writes
and teaches. The author is passionate about teaching Jews of all levels of