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Psychology/Psychiatry and Judaism & Eugenics


Rabbi Ari Shvat

Av 16, 5777
Is Psychology/Psychiatry antithetical to Torah teachings?? How is the mental health industry viewed in Israel? And do they teach about Eugenics and the Mental Hygiene Movement in the Israeli school system?
As a thinking religion and the People of the Book, Judaism deals a great deal with the “soul”, offering a variety of ways to spiritual, ethical, and behavioristic improvement for all, and accordingly, is significantly different than the soul or psyche that Freud was talking about. Nevertheless, if a person is in need of professional help, Rav Moshe Feinstein writes of the importance of seeing a religious psychologist who understands the mindset of the patient and his lifestyle, and won’t be influenced by his own worldview, e.g. I know of a religious person who was told by his psychologist that his problem is his “religious hang-ups”. I think our approach is not only logical but also “open” and democratic to legitimize and respect the beliefs of the patient. Eugenics went out with Nazi Germany and in general is seen as outdated and definitely not taught in schools in Israel. Regarding mental hygiene, just like in America, on the average, Jews go to psychologists more than others, but as above, the religious go less, for we see the Torah as the usual handbook for the normal soul and the gateway to happiness. In addition, unfortunately the haredi circles still have a stigma about the issue, and fear that word of psychological problems in the family might harm future “match-making” for the siblings. Again, obviously a suitable psychologist would be chosen.
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