Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Has Psychology created an oversensitivity to torment or discovered it?

Professor Marc Shapiro has again raised the issue which we have talked about in the past (March 2012)
4. In a recent post on his blog, R. Daniel Eidensohn refers to my comment in this post where I suggested that the lenient attitude towards pedophilia in much of right wing Orthodoxy is due to the fact that the real trauma of sexual abuse is not something that one can learn about in traditional Jewish sources but comes to us from psychology, and as such is suspect in those circles that see psychology as a “non-Jewish” discipline. Let me offer another example that illustrates how today we take sexual abuse much more seriously than in previous years. Here is a responsum no. 378 from R. Joseph Hayyim’s Torah li-Shemah. [...]

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However as I get further in my investigation of emotional abuse and rabbinic sources - it is becoming increasingly obvious that a much  more important issue is whether psychology has now revealed that which always existed but no one knew about it - or alternatively that psychology (and musar) have created a sensitivity and psychological vulnerability that didn't exist before. 

This is not only in the issue of child abuse - but chinuch where we see that beatings and shame have become to be viewed in our time as being wrong in the frum world.  We now focus on avoiding emotional abuse rather than toughness or discipline which is clear from Makkos 8 or Rav Dessler is the goal of chinuch.

This issue is relevant also for divorce. It seems clear that the Torah was not "sensitive" to the feelings of women. It would seem that the rabbinic laws such as Kesubos or Rabbeinu Gershon's decree not to force a divorce - were not because of concern for feelings but because concern for social stability that resulted by making divorce more difficult. Even the halacha of not to be hasty in divorcing your first wife because even the Altar sheds tears (Gittin 90b) - seems to be directed to social stability and not because of psychological trauma the wife suffers from divorce. There is no problem of being hasty for the second marriage. The halacha views the issue of hasty divorce of the first wife as one of betrayal of the commitment of the husband to a woman he married when they were teenagers - not because the wife is being discarded for a better cook or younger woman or that she will be devastated.

Update March 13
I am asking a very fundamental question. In order to explain the absence of the mention of trauma from abuse in the literature, I am suggesting that it is a result of the change of our psychological sensitivity which is the result in change in education and attitudes toward suffering.

I view the relatively recent development of the concept of empathy as support for my thesis.

An alternative is Dr. Shapiro's view that the absence simply indicates that society was unaware of the terrible consequences of abuse and trauma's of all sorts.

You are claiming that support for my hypothesis is merely an artifact of my defintions of terms. Perhaps - but I think it is much more fruitful to explore the question then to define it away.

There a story about a resident doctor talking to his supervisor. The superivsor asked him for a diagnosis of a difficult case. The resident proudly rattles off an obscure explanation which seemed to fit the case very accurately. The superverisor responded, "The only problem with your diagnosis is that there is nothing we can do and the condition is terminal. However there is an alternative diagnosis while less likely than the one you gave - however there is a cure for it. Why don't we take the chance of the less likely diagnosis?"

My position is that my explanation is more productive and useful than giving an explanation which involves either ignorance or deliberately sacrificing the victim for the sake of family or community.

If it is true that trauma is a function of education and attitudes than that provides a powerful tool for preventing trauma - as opposed to picking up the pieces after the crash.
 
 
In short - is the absence of rabbinic writings referring to psychological pain - the result of ignorance or because the pain did not exist and it is a recent development?

123 comments :

  1. does rabbinic literature speak about people with down syndrome?

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    1. are you taking specifically about Down's Sydrome or do you mean those who are retarded?

      what issue are you interested in?

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    2. imo chazal and subsequent literature painted many phenomena in very broad strokes. there are all sorts of mental disorders not covered by our literature.

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  2. i think the problem is that some hareidim, like your brother, pick and choose which halachot suit them and which don't.

    In fact, there is a great heterogeneity of opinions in the literature, there are many responses and opinions that DO respect feelings of human beings, but unfortunately some branches of hareidism prefer to dwell on those who don't.

    It is all a matter of fashion and spirit of the time. Hitting children became prevalent under the influence of a christian culture who did the same... divorce was rendered more difficult in the context of a catholic culture that forbade it alltogether... polygamy was abolished after 1000 years in a monogamous society...

    Hareidim do not seem to grasp how much the halacha they defend evolved under the influence of foreign cultures. Like the shtreimel: Moshe rabbeinu did not wear a streimel. I'm positive about that.

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    1. Remark you are making assertions which clearly show you are not familiar at all with halacha or gemora. You clearly are coming from a secular perspective.

      In short you show that you really don't understand the discussion which has been going on for a long time on this blog. It has nothing to do with whether Moshe wore a streimel.

      Regarding hitting please study Makkos 8 before you make assertions that it is from Christian influence.

      Divorce has nothing to do with Catholic attitude towards divorce.

      etc etc. Before you talk about halacha and cultural influences - it would be helpful if you understood the halacha

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    2. well, if I want to understand halacha, I discovered that it is preferable not to rely on this blog to do it. This blog makes halacha smell really, really bad, but fortunately, I have other sources of information to put the assertions made on this blog into perspective.

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    3. Remark please take your assertions elswhere. Your other sources of information are not concerned with Shulchan Aruch and Torah thus are not relevant here.

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    4. remark if you are interested in learning about halacha,open up a shulchan aruch and start reading.

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    5. You are wrong on that one. Why do you make assertions on persons you never met and who you do not even know who they are?

      My other sources of information are very concerned with torah and halacha, and very knowledgable in gemara and shulchan aruch. They could refute many assertions made here with the right sources. One of them recommanded me not to go on reading blogs like this one, since it conveyed a very wrong picture of halacha and torah.

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    6. William Kolbrener writes about Down's Syndrome

      http://openmindedtorah.com/uncategorized/rabbi-aviner-go-talk-to-my-daughter/

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    7. "You are wrong on that one. Why do you make assertions on persons you never met and who you do not even know who they are?"

      I am simply judging what you are writing here. It is clearly not informed by Torah information.
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      "One of them recommanded me not to go on reading blogs like this one, since it conveyed a very wrong picture of halacha and torah."

      I agree totally with this person and I would appreciate that you listen to the advice.

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    8. Sorry remark, if you know the Torah and Halacha then you don't have to worry about what other people say about it.

      I went to parent teacher conferences the other night and they told me my daughter was a good student. I didn't need them to tell me that, I know she's a good student. It just tells me how well the teacher knows my daughter. The more they can say about her, the better they know her. But I know her better than them, thank God, so I'm not worried whether they give me a good report or not, I know my daughter, the report is just a reflection of the reporter.

      Same thing here. If you know the Torah (with the Gemorah and Halacha), then you don't have to worry about what anybody tells you it says.

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    9. Thank you! that's the right spirit. I agree with you!

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  3. It has been a few years since I learned the sugya, but the gemara in Sanhedrin explains that David Hamelech couldn't marry Avishag because he already was married to as many women as the Torah permits. One of the Rishonim (or it might have been an early Acharon), I confess I forget which, asked why David Hamelech couldn't just divorce one of his wives. He answered that none would agree to be divorced, and took this gemara as proof the cherem of Rabbeinu Gershom was enforcing a d'oraita prohibition, rather than a new prohibition.

    Also the Gemara in the beginning of the 2nd Perek of Kiddushin says one must see his bride before performing Kiddushin because the mitzvah of "v'ahavta l'reyacha camocha" applies to one's spouse and one there fore must not bind a woman to amarriage where there is no attraction.

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  4. A little more thought brings numerous examples of Chazal's concern for psychological pain to mind. For example, the requirement to be particularly careful how one speaks to someone whose ancestors converted within 10 generation. The rule to be particularly careful to not violate the prohibition of hurtful words to one's wife "because her tears are ready." Similarly the discussion of the requirement to be solicitous of a widow even if she is wealthy.

    Also, when we learned the sugya in Makkot, I remember Rav Dovid Moskovitz telling a story of one of the gedolim of the 19th century (I have again forgotten which) who dismissed a melamed for beating the boys. His friends (then as now) came to the Rav complaining that the melamed needed to eat. The Rav answered him "Yes, but I don't have to feed him Jewish children."

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    1. good point - but if you go through those gemoras you will see that many if not most examples are not understood as concern for psychological pain but rather social contract or stability.

      Simple case concerning verbal abuse - the Torah says not to cause verbal abuse to those like you. Which the chinuch understood to exclude children. Others understood it to mean concern only for tzadikim and talmidei chachoim. Why didn't the Torah simply say don't hurt anybody's feelings.

      Concerning hurting a wife - it says don't do it because she cries readily and therefore Heaven will retaliate. It doesn't say because you shouldn't hurt people's feelings. The Maharal goes one step further and says she cries because she doesn't accept her subordinate role. Therefore she cries. when she cries you are in trouble. Purely a pragmatic - nonempathetic explanation.

      19th century the mussar movement - had incorporated secular humanism and therefore there is no proof.

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    2. Rav Eidenson, this is just a thought. May be you could help develop or reject it. I think that people always felt victimized one way or another. May be that victimization might have expressed itself differently. However I do think that empathy (at least as we know) it might be a relatively new thing.

      I will explain what I am getting at. Ancient peoples clearly lacked in the empathy department. A case example would be child sacrifice for the sake of fortune. Much of the activities surrounding the worship of idols was to provide beneficient rainfall etc... The torah then steals their thunder by declaring that if we do the mitzvot G-d will make the rains fall on time. The fact that the gemora that you just mentions threatens heavenly retaliation to an abusive husband reflects that. Chazal is not telling this man that his wife has feelings and you should have empathy. They are warning him as you mentioned in a pragmatic non-empathetic way that he is engaging in a misadventure.

      However here is where the psychology seems to be hidden and embedded in this chazal. Correct me if I am wrong but as I understand it this exhortation is seemingly redundant. It is already forbidden to hit anybody. I am not aware of an extra prohibition that one transgresses if they hit their wife that is not already forbidden from the tora as far as raising one's hand goes.

      So here is where the psychology kicks in. Chazal is warning the man that his wife has feelings and they will be greatly hurt if you hit her. Granted that everybody has feelings. The guy that he might hit in the bar, his business partner that he got into a dispute with etc... However his wife's feelings are hurt more easily and G-d gets angry quicker. Therefore because of her extra sensitivity he needs to really watch his step for more practical reasons than he would have if he got into a bar fight.

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    3. I agree with you that empathy is relatively new and yes the arguments regarding others seems to presented as a pragmatic way of not getting hurt rather then a simple prohibition of not hurting the feelings of others. It was an issue that bothered me while researching child abuse.

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    4. "Empathy is new"??? Maybe in some cultures. Certainly not in ours. How would you define rachamim? And what motivates "nosei be'ol im chaveiro"? And without empathy, how does one implement Hillel's "ma desanei lakh"? Etc, etc, etc...

      I clearly am missing your intent. Because the literal read makes no sense to me.

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    5. I do not see how you can say that "dimata metzuyah" doesn't refer to her psychological pain, whether that is over her subordinate role or anything else. What else would it mean? Why, after all, will "Heaven retaliate"? Because you are causing her pain and making her cry, of course. How do you understand the issur of Ona'at devarim at all if not a prohibition against causing needless psychological pain by one's words? And the only exception, with all due respect to the Chinuch, that the Aruch Hashulchan mentions is to bring a wicked person to t'shuvah, and even that he brings as a "Yesh Omrim". Of course, I suppose you can argue that he was also influenced by mussar, but really he is mostly citing the gemara in s'if 1. It is true that the gemara doesn't explicitly use psychological language, but the concept seems abundantly clear, as indicated by the language of ready tears, and even a rich widow feeling vulnerable, and so on.

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    6. Micha BergerMarch 13, 2013 at 12:11 AM

      "Empathy is new"??? Maybe in some cultures. Certainly not in ours. How would you define rachamim? And what motivates "nosei be'ol im chaveiro"? And without empathy, how does one implement Hillel's "ma desanei lakh"? Etc, etc, etc...

      I clearly am missing your intent. Because the literal read makes no sense to me.
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      Empathy does not mean projecting your feelings on another person but rather to try and understand how the other person sees the situation and feels about it.

      Therefore to say that you should love your fellow man as yourself - meaning that what is hateful to you do not do to others is not an example of empathy. A person who doesn't like himself or is very humble will misread what is important to others and thus will not be empathetic.

      Let me give you an example of something which would seem to require empathy but is clearly not empathy but self-interest

      Ramban (Shemos 22:20): Do not wrong the stranger or oppress him because you were strangers in the land of Egypt. There is no reason why all strangers [in other lands] should be protected by this command just because we were once strangers in Egypt. It is also not justification for having to provide strangers in all generations with assurance that they won’t be wronged or oppressed because of this historical fact. Rashi asserts that this reason that “you were strangers in Egypt” is the explanation of why we should not oppress strangers. It is a warning against verbally annoying strangers. Rashi understands the verse to mean that if you oppress the stranger [by pointing out that he is a stranger] - he can also oppress you and say that you also are descended from strangers. This is accord with the statement of our Sages (44b): Don’t taunt another with a blemish that you yourself have. Ibn Ezra explained the verse to mean “Remember that you were once strangers as he is now.” Nevertheless these explanations are not sufficient reason for the law. It seems to me that the correct explanation of this verse is that G d is saying, “Don’t wrong a stranger or oppress him and think that no one will save him from your hand. Because you know very well that when you were strangers in Egypt and I saw how the Egyptians oppressed you - I avenged you. That is because I see the tears of those who are oppressed - who have no one to comfort them and the power is on the side of their oppressor (Koheles 4:1). I save all men from the hand of those who are stronger than they are. Similarly you should not oppress the widow and the orphan because I hear their cry. All those who can not provide their own security can rely on Me.” In another verse (Shemos 23:9) G d adds another reason, “Because you know the soul of the stranger because you were strangers in Egypt.” In other words you know very well that every stranger feels depressed and he sighs and cries and his eyes are always directed towards G d and G d is merciful with him just as He was merciful with you. This is written in Shemos (2:23): The children of Israel sighed because of their servitude and they cried out and their cries went up to G d because of their servitude.” In other words they were not answered by G d because of their merit but because He had mercy on them because of their servitude.

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    7. Mike S.March 13, 2013 at 12:40 AM

      I do not see how you can say that "dimata metzuyah" doesn't refer to her psychological pain, whether that is over her subordinate role or anything else. What else would it mean? Why, after all, will "Heaven retaliate"? Because you are causing her pain and making her cry, of course. How do you understand the issur of Ona'at devarim at all if not a prohibition against causing needless psychological pain by one's words?...

      Please reread the gemora - it is warning you that since a wife readily cries [Maharal says because she doesn't accept be subservient] the one who makes her cry will be punished.

      This clearly nothing to do with be concerned with her feelings because it upsets you that she is upset. It is that you will be zapped if you see her cry so therefore make sure you don't make her cry.

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    8. RDE, I was thinking of the difference between empathy and sympathy when I wrote my earlier comment. And while some translate rachamim as mercy or sympathy, I think both are wrong. But to be more clear, I added a second middah, the "nosei be'ol im chaveiro" -- sharing the other's burden.

      "Mah desani lakh" doesn't mean that someone who hates long speeches should save an academic from sitting through a long speech. It requires more than projecting my feelings on the other.

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    9. You are missing the main point - empathy is a state of awareness of what the other person thinks and feels. It is putting yourself in his shoes. The cases of ger and almana etc are described as "if you cause them to be upset they will cry and G-d will punish you". A concern for avoiding punishment is not empathy.

      the gemora about the wife who cried because her husband did not come home on time and as a result he was killed - is not explaining empathy but self-preservation.

      Regarding the issue of the prohibition of verbal abuse - if it said "don't verbally abuse others" or "don't abuse others because it hurts" I would agree you. But the Torah actually says a man should not verbally torment someone who is like him [in Torah and mitzvos]. Thus goyin are excluded, Chinuch excludes children, others exclude anyone who is not a tzadik or talmid chachom. Thus by having these major exclusion it is not a general mitzva of empathy and caring about the feelings of others.

      Additional other requires such as "nosei be'ol" is not a mitzva of empathy but of social responsibility. Not standing idly by the blood of your fellow - is also not empathy but social responsibility. Not embarrassing a person when chastising is not a din of empathy but simply the parameter of the mitzva.

      In sum if you look at what we call interpersonal mitzvos they are generally described as don't hurt another by X because you will end up being hurt by X or be punished. That that is not called empathy.

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    10. Because you're looking at black-letter halakhah. That's why I'm looking at Hilkhos Dei'os. Of course black-letter halakhah is phrased like a bunch of laws. Still, you're expected to be good to others not just because it makes for a good society or because society will punish those who don't, but simply because He is.

      There is no nosei be'ol im chaveiro without knowing their ol.

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    11. Halakhah is a set of duties and prohibitions. Look at interpersonal black-letter law, and of course you will see responsibilities -- as you put it "social responsibility". You're looking for morality in laws other than "thou shalt be moral". Look in aggadita, in mussar (Mishlei, Avos, etc...) Not in din.

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    12. You seem to be changing your argument. In the original post it was that Chazal weren't sensitive to psychological pain. When faced with arguments they were, you point out that we are told not to cause psychological pain because God won't like it, rather than out of empathy. Well, yes, in the sense that we are obligated to all mitzvot by Divine command. But the idea that Torah and mitzvot should improve our midot and develop our characters was hardly novel with R. Yisroel Salanter. The sources R. Berger cites are good ones, but many others are available. What does the passuk "Ki atem yidatem et nefesh hager" mean if not to suggest we should feel empathy for a mistreated stranger.

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    13. Mike S wrote: You seem to be changing your argument. In the original post it was that Chazal weren't sensitive to psychological pain. When faced with arguments they were, you point out that we are told not to cause psychological pain because God won't like it, rather than out of e
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      It was Dr. Shapiro's theory that rabbinical authorities were unaware of pyschological pain. I have repeated stated that there was always pain - the issue is truama. My question was whether a person get seriously messed up as the result of abuse, failure etc etc - i.e. is he traumatized?

      While the simple pshat of the Torah verse seems to indicate one should be empathetic with the suffering of gerim - but that is not how the classic mainstream commentaries understand it.

      You and all those who seem to feel that nothing has changed - except our society is less harsh - are ignoring the fact that the overwhelming understanding of these "calls for empathy" is that they are pragmatic calls to avoid punishment because of mistreating or ignorning the pain of others.

      Please note the Ramban on the subject of gerim I cited above.

      I am claiming that you are reading into the verses rather than understanding them in light of the commentaries. In short you are clearly ignoring the consistent Mesora on these issues.

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    14. 1) I think you are reading the Ramba"n very narrowly if you think that God's protection of the vulnerable is just His Will and has no reference to their pain. And in any case we are told to immitate God's attributes of Mercy and should similarly protect the vulnerable from pain. I also refer you to Rash"i on the verse I cited (Shmot 23:9) which takes the verse as I have understood it.

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    15. The verse seems to be directed to judges

      Shemos (23:9) And you shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings of the stranger, since you were strangers in the land of Egypt.

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      And you shall not oppress a stranger -: In many places the Torah warns about the stranger [convert] because he has a strong temptation [to return to his former bad ways]. -[From B.M. 59b] וגר לא תלחץ: בהרבה מקומות הזהירה תורה על הגר מפני שסורו רע:
      the feelings of the stranger: How hard it is for him when people oppress him.
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      Which part of Rashi. The first part is clearly not empathy.
      Not sure whether the second part is either.

      Netziv doesn't understand it that way


      העמק דבר על שמות פרק כג פסוק ט
      (ט) וגר לא תלחץ. אזהרה יתירה לב"ד שלא יהיו לוחצים אותו אם הוא ראוי לעונש לא ילחצנו יותר מדי:
      ואתם ידעתם וגו'. וידעתם את לבו שהוא נמוג בעת שהוא נשפט ואין לו גואל להקל דינו. ע"כ באה אזהרה זו להרחיב את לבו שלא יענש יותר מהראוי אם לא הי' גר:


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    16. The whole perek is directed at judges. So what? And the Netzi"v also seems to understand the 2nd part of Rash"i (and the verse) as a reminder to have empathy for the Ger as we have had the experience of being gerim.

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  5. I wish to make a suggestion that may seem "heretical" but I can prove it isn't.

    It can be claimed that the Torah of the Chazal was incomplete. This can be proven that for many mishnayot regarding Temple practice, there was no Gemara! In other words, Chazal did not have the same in depth knowledge of these areas as they did in more mundane laws such as Shabbat, Kiddushin etc. (or they had the knowledge but it never made it to print).

    either way, it suggests that we have not received everything that was known to Moshe.


    The idea that somehow psychological pains were non existent is not convincing in scientific approach. there is a dispute between Rambam and RambaN on whether animals have emotions and self consciousness. Maimonides says they have very strong emotions, whilst Nachmanides says they are essentially soft robots, and that we are not cruel to them only to develop our own beings.

    Now it seems quite preposterous what Nachmanides is saying - animals have intelligence and emotions. Perhaps insects do not, but certainly mammals do (and birds).

    However, there are many midrashim that deal with people's feelings. perhaps they have not been dealt with in psychological terms, but there is such a knowledge implicit. Also in many parts of the Tenach there are very humanistic stories, which deal with human emotions.

    And this may be a reason why psychology is not widely accepted in yeshivot - because once you starts looking at details of great characters in the Torah, and show that they are not the pure angelic personalities as made out in the artscroll genre and tales of Tzaddikim, it will be breaking a great Haredi taboo.

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    1. Actually psychology is widely accepted - at least here in Israel. My chavrusa gives lecture form Meah Shearim to Bnei Brak and says that even the most right wing Chareidim are very interested in psychology. Most so-call mussar books today are simply psychology with a few Torah verses and Chofetz Chaim stories thrown in.

      I agree that your suggestion might be correct - but I am exploring the possiblity that psychology has changed our society - not that it has revealed that which has been ignored. I this is more likely than your hypothesis

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    2. It depends how you argue that "psychology has changed our society". Of course it has changed our society. But has it changed our psychology? has medicine changed our physiology? To some extent is has, eg immunization has changed our immune systems, and perhaps allergies have increased as a result of people having less parasite and coming into contact with more chemical pathogens.

      But did people 3000 years ago have the same psychology, eg temptations, denial, depression, mania, projection, fear, abuse, homosexuality etc ? It is quite apparent that they did - we can see this from various aspects in the Torah.
      My proof is "ein chadash tachat hashemesh" - nothing is new under the sun. Just like King Solomon had to deal with hubris, and despised fools, so today, nothing has changed. It might be that people are more aware of psychological theory, but King Solomon was already quite adept at forensic psychology, game theory , and this is how he bluffed in the case of the disputed baby.

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  6. "In short - is the absence of rabbinic writings referring to psychological pain - the result of ignorance or because the pain did not existent and it is a recent development?"
    Why is that relevant? If the pain and trauma is real today we must deal with them. If the question is just academic, well, I'm afraid of what the consequences will be if it is decided that the pain is a recent development.

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    1. The simple implication is that if the sensitivity was recently brought into our society by psychology it can be removed.

      If abuse did not cause major trauma the halacha would be much different.

      The issue then is whether the pain has to be addressed or can it be eliminated.

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  7. Since everyone from time to time has psychological pain of some intensity, it's hard to accept that the phenomenon was unknown or considered trivial. It is possible that the most extreme cases used to be less common because our society was on a higher plane.

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    1. But that is my point. While is is true we all experience psychological pain - but did your grandparents experience the same trauma that you do? 300 years ago - was self-esteem as significant as it is today? Did PTSD exist as the result of physical or sexual abuse? that is my question. I am asking you to step out of your cultural biases and experience and think about the possiblity of a different culture in a different era.

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    2. "Spare the rod, spoil the child." That was Shlomo HaMelech's adage, although it could be figurative. However, DT, I am not convinced by your argumentation. You are trying to mix scientific issues with knowledge or views held by Chazal and Rishonim. Your underlying assumption (whether you are aware of it or not) is that Chazal knew everything worth knowing, and that modern psychology has nothing of value to teach us.
      Did you know that a honey bee secretes certain enzymes from its body into honey, hence rendering false the chazakah that honey is only collected and nothing secreted into it?

      I would like to know which area of psychology was your PhD in ?

      cultural bias, again, your assumptions are very simplistic. Do you honestly think a woman being raped by a cossack or an arab several hundred years ago would feel no trauma? Because in those days there as no rape crisis centres or national police force which had equal rights.
      Why do you think there are so many kinnot written by Jews for various pogroms over the ages? Do you no think that the victims were traumatised then?

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    3. Eddie you don't seem to understand my point - what I am saying is clear - it just goes against conventional wisdom.

      Your attempts to interpet my views are more a reflection ofyour biases then mine.

      I am not saying that people in the old days did not view these experiences as pleasant - I am talking about trauma. Please look up the word trauma.

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    4. DT, I looked up the word trauma.

      have you, btw, heard of the term shell shock? it occurred in WW1, so approx 100 years ago. Is that far enough for you, or are you talking about Biblical times.

      What you are saying is a hypothesis which is circular in its argumentation. There were no known studies of trauma in ancient times, hence you assume it did not exist. But you cannot base a scientific theory on such absence of evidence.

      Nor do we know much about the psychology of people living 500 or 2000 years ago. We have anecdotes about events occurring to chazal, but no detail. We don't' know what Rambam's voice was like, or what R' Akiva's hairline was like , or what body language was used by Elisha haNavi.

      And, I would even say that the presumption that there was no trauma in the past is a false one.
      Why did Am Yisrael display such odd behaviour during Yetziat Mitzraim and during the 40 years under Moshe's guidance? This is evidence of the effects of slavery on their psyche, the "stockholm syndrome" and cycle of abuse when they want to go back to their oppressors rather than be liberated; their learned helplessness despite a reliable source of supernatural miracles. And their low self-esteem vis a vis the Canaanites, how they view themselves as grasshoppers vs giants.
      according to your theory, trauma didn't exist, they should have been normal, despite having the slave mentality and being broken under the yolk of oppression.

      Perhaps also the laws of purity after warfare is some kind of therapeutic process to deal with the blood-shock of the time - at least from a functional point of view.

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    5. Eddie wrote: Have you, btw, heard of the term shell shock? it occurred in WW1

      yes Eddie I have heard of shell shock. I even heard about WWI.

      However that society did not generalize from shell shock to other situations and talke about trauma. PTSD. it was viewed as a unique consequence of war. In fact after WWI the idea of trauma disappeared until the 1970's due to a combination of Vietnam war veterans dealing with the trauma of war and women's liberation dealing with trauma to wives and children.

      The rest of your post is irrelevant and again shows a gross misunderstanding of my point.

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    6. Your point is whether pain existed or not. And whether psychology has sensitized us to feeling more pain.

      Here is an ancient source which is strong evidence of the existence and cognizance of pain:

      Ecclesiastes Chapter 4 קֹהֶלֶת
      א וְשַׁבְתִּי אֲנִי, וָאֶרְאֶה אֶת-כָּל-הָעֲשֻׁקִים, אֲשֶׁר נַעֲשִׂים, תַּחַת הַשָּׁמֶשׁ; וְהִנֵּה דִּמְעַת הָעֲשֻׁקִים, וְאֵין לָהֶם מְנַחֵם, וּמִיַּד עֹשְׁקֵיהֶם כֹּחַ, וְאֵין לָהֶם מְנַחֵם. 1 But I returned and considered all the oppressions that are done under the sun; and behold the tears of such as were oppressed, and they had no comforter; and on the side of their oppressors there was power, but they had no comforter.
      ב וְשַׁבֵּחַ אֲנִי אֶת-הַמֵּתִים, שֶׁכְּבָר מֵתוּ--מִן-הַחַיִּים, אֲשֶׁר הֵמָּה חַיִּים עֲדֶנָה. 2 Wherefore I praised the dead that are already dead more than the living that are yet alive;
      ג וְטוֹב, מִשְּׁנֵיהֶם--אֵת אֲשֶׁר-עֲדֶן, לֹא הָיָה: אֲשֶׁר לֹא-רָאָה אֶת-הַמַּעֲשֶׂה הָרָע, אֲשֶׁר נַעֲשָׂה תַּחַת הַשָּׁמֶשׁ. 3 but better than they both is he that hath not yet been, who hath not seen the evil work that is done under the sun.

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    7. No Eddie my point is not whether pain existed. Pain has always existed. you remember the description of being in Egypt? That was pain. I am talking about trauma and whether psychology has trained us to be more fragile in the face of pain, failure and other unpleaasant things of life.

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    8. But you got a pretty consistent answer in the comment stream. In fact, because of lag due to moderation, much of it is repetitive. Speaking for myself, I wrote things I wouldn't have bothered typing if I knew the same point was already in your moderation queue from other authors.

      The rest of us think it's not the discipline of psychology that trained us to be more fragile, it's the improved standard of living. If so, I don't want to roll back the clock.

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    9. so you are saying that as the standard of living rose the school system needed to be more gentle and because it was more gentle problems needed to dealt with a psychologists? And because the personalities were not used to hardship - traumatic events such as abuse or failure causes more more damage than in previous times?


      I don't buy it. Even with our higher standard of living and more pleasant life - there is apparently a bimodal response to traumatic events. We still have many people today who don't fall apart as the result of abuse - sexual or emotional.

      The critical factor is perception of the event rather than the event itself. Psychology and the educational system which is based on psychology teaches a way of perceiving events which makes a person more fragile.

      Go back to the Korean War. There were I think 52 Americans who decided to remain with their Communist captors. Other UN forces - especially from backward third world countries were not influenced at all by the communists. The subsequent investigation as to the reason introduced the word "brainwashing" to the modern world.

      Apparently the Communists did not need specialized techinques to convince the Americans to at least collaberate. The conclusion were that the Americans were desparate to be liked and values were seriously subordinate to this need for others approval. The need to be like is what was maniputated to get them to collaborate. Third world countries don't produce people who need to be liked. This personality difference is not inherently the result of a wealthy society.

      The typical Israeli is not concerned with whether he is liked. The typical American is.

      I am asserting that the vulernablity to trauma is the result of the need to be liked, a need for the world to be fair. Thus American's are more vulnerable psychologically when their expectations are betrayed by parents or teachers.

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    10. each time I try to argue a point, DT denies having made that point.

      I quote from the post (which is coloured in yellow)

      "In short - is the absence of rabbinic writings referring to psychological pain - the result of ignorance or because the pain did not exist and it is a recent development?"


      Now in this response he writes "No Eddie my point is not whether pain existed. Pain has always existed. you remember the description of being in Egypt? That was pain. "

      So perhaps there is a reason why you are being misunderstood.

      If you are saying that coping with pain has numerous strategies and that they may have had better strategies in different times and palces, then yes, but not everyoen has those strategies.

      But this contradicts the presupposition that rabbis didnt consider these pain-effects to be serious, so they didnt care much about child abuse.

      Write a logically consistent thesis, and then we can be focused on what to say. at the moment you jump from one point to another, denying you said something, despite having clearly coloured that something in yellow!

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    11. The typical Israeli is not concerned with whether he is liked. The typical American is. I am asserting that the vulernablity to trauma is the result of the need to be liked, a need for the world to be fair

      i doubt that the israelis suffering from post trauma would agree with the above.

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    12. I agree that there are Israelis that suffer from trauma - but I apparently disagree with you regarding the likelihood of their being traumatized

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    13. The issue isn't wealth, per se, but expectations. There are two aspects of these expectations. One is basically rational, in that, thanks to the material, scientific, and political advances of our civilization, we expect to be able to avoid much of the suffering that was the norm for the overwhelming bulk of human history. Thus, when we are struck by these unexpected tragedies, we tend to have a far stronger reaction than people from earlier times (or other cultures) where such tragedies were commonplace.

      However, there is also an irrational component to our expectations as well, in which we imagine that not only are such tragedies less likely for us, but that they aren't *supposed* to happen, and if they do then *something* is deeply wrong with the world.

      This irrational expectation is the root of many of the ubiquitous fantasies that the Western world indulges itself in (much of which goes under the general name of "Liberalism"), in which people imagine that every problem can be solved (if only the experts were given enough money and power), that "lifestyle" choices have no deleterious effect on the lives of individuals and society, that war is never necessary, that criminals are just misunderstood, that children don't need strict (and often physical) discipline, and that there are never any downsides to good decisions.

      In general, we imagine that we can have our cake and eat it too.

      In earlier times, someone who indulged in such romantic fantasies about reality would quickly end up in serious trouble, if not dead. But the Western world has such abundance that it is possible for people to believe such fantasies with little ill effect (in the short term). As a society, we are like sheltered and spoiled children, with no real understanding of reality. We cry when a toy breaks as if the world has come to an end, and we see any restriction of our self-indulgence as gross oppression. The problem is that, increasingly, there are no grown-ups around to teach us how to deal with reality when it inevitably comes knocking.

      Obviously this has ramifications that go far beyond the topic of this discussion. (It is closely connected to what I have written previously about the attitude of liberal Jews towards Israel (http://shesileizeisim.blogspot.com/2012/05/evil-of-unpleasant-realities-why.html).) For the purpose of this discussion, my point is that in earlier times, a victim of violence or abuse (of any kind) would have had no choice but to "get over it"; not because the event was any less painful but because, for the most part, there was no other alternative. If you wanted to survive, you had to remain fully functional, no matter how good a reason you had for failing to do so.

      People learned to accept that violence and suffering were an inescapable part of life, and that what happened in the past was best forgotten. In our society the attitude is the exact opposite, with the result that we actually cause ourselves to suffer more than necessary.

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    14. EddieMarch 12, 2013 at 9:59 PM

      each time I try to argue a point, DT denies having made that point.

      I quote from the post (which is coloured in yellow)

      "In short - is the absence of rabbinic writings referring to psychological pain - the result of ignorance or because the pain did not exist and it is a recent development?"


      Now in this response he writes "No Eddie my point is not whether pain existed. Pain has always existed. you remember the description of being in Egypt? That was pain. "

      So perhaps there is a reason why you are being misunderstood.
      ====================
      Eddie let's start from the beginning - you seem to be focusing on phrases but have forgotten or didn't undertand what this is all about. Prof Shapiro has a thesis that rabbis were not aware of the trauma of abuse. That psychologists have reveal this trauma. I took his thesis and offered an alternative. You have failed to understand his position and my reaction to it. Please read the post again.

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    15. @DT "Eddie let's start from the beginning - you seem to be focusing on phrases "

      @ Eddie: Yes, phrases used in your summary of the argument.

      @DT: "Prof Shapiro has a thesis that rabbis were not aware of the trauma of abuse."

      @ Eddie: He focuses on a handful of teshuvot, presumably they are representative of Sh'uT in general. I argued that from the Tenach there is a concept of oppression, and many psychological mechanisms we know today are apparent in various cases, eg low self esteem of yetziat Mitzraim, learned helplessness etc. [btw I found his discussion of R' Elefant very interesting]


      @DT "I took his thesis and offered an alternative. "


      @ Eddie B'kaf zchut I don't think your explanation is clear or consistent. On the one hand you talk of all kinds of "pain" form child abuse, divorce, beatings, etc, and when we press you on one or other you jump to PTSD, and deny making other claims.

      Majority of feedbackers are disputing your contention, so it must be difficult to argue with each single one.


      @Dt "You have failed to understand his position and my reaction to it. Please read the post again."


      @ Eddie: His position is that the rabbis couldn't care about the feelings of the victims of abuse, but are objectifying them,and only worried if the abuser spilt his seed.

      Your response is that since the poskim didnt care, then there was no pain, and that we have invented it ourselves.






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    16. No Eddie that is not an accurate description.

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    17. but I apparently disagree with you regarding the likelihood of their being traumatized

      so for your post-doc, you might want to try to compare incidence of PT among different populations, trying of course, to eliminate as many differences as possible. i agree with the postulate that comparing a Guatemalan maid and a new york, east side (is that a wealthy neighborhood?) girl is not a comparison.

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  8. Of course psychology has existed. It's been around as long as the human psyche has.
    The problem with any pure science or social science, however, is that it lacks an ability to interact with the complexities of the real world. Just like economists often seen to have no clue why the world is in recession despite years of education, psychologists often have no clue what's wrong with the patient. The Ribono shel Olam's universe is far too complex to ever understand sufficiently.
    This problem extends to halacha as well. It's easy to quote a posek or a statement by Chazal to justify almost any behaviour. But the impact of that behaviour in any number of environments is often not predictable or even desirable.
    To use a pop culture reference, there's a reason Spock never commanded the Enterprise. He functioned from a position of cold logic and that won't work dealing with real people and situations.

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    1. You seem to be saying - "give up thinking about alternatives because life is too complex for our feeble minds." Sorry don't buy it.

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    2. Spock became a captain later on in the movies.

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    3. I might not have been clear. I am against blanket statements in any field. Not all widows are easily moved to tears (Leona Helmsly, anyone?), not all brides are beautiful, etc.
      We can start with basic principles but have to understand that in the real world they have to be tempered to reality's consideration. So for example, discipline in children is extremely important. Beating them into it isn't a good way to do it nowadays despite what it says in Mishlei.
      And yes, Spoke became a captain but only when the Enterprise was downgraded to the status of training vessel for cadets.

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    4. Yes all generalizations are problematic including this one!

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    5. "Just like economists often seen to have no clue why the world is in recession despite years of education...The Ribono shel Olam's universe is far too complex to ever understand sufficiently." -- Garnel Ironheart, March 12, 2013 at 2:26 PM
      ____________________

      "I brought out *Progress and Poverty* [subtitled:
      "An Inquiry into the Cause of Industrial Depressions and of Increase of Want with Increase of Wealth: The Remedy"] in an author's edition, in August, 1879.
      http://www.econlib.org/library/YPDBooks/George/grgPP.html

      "...in Book I...I showed that...wages were not drawn from existing capital, but produced by labor. In Book II, "Population and Subsistence," I devoted four chapters to examining and disproving the Malthusian theory. Then in Book III, "The Laws of Distribution," I showed...that what were given as laws did not correlate, and proceeded to show what the laws of rent, interest and wages really were. In Book IV...I proved that the effect of material progress was to increase the proportion of the product that would go to rent. In Book V...I showed this to be the primary cause of paroxysms of industrial depression, and of the persistence of poverty amid advancing wealth. In Book VI, "The Remedy"..., I showed the inadequacy of all remedies for industrial distress short of a measure for giving the community the benefit of the increase of rent. In Book VII..., I examined the justice; in Book VIII..., the exact relation and practical application of this remedy; and in Book IX..., I discussed its effect on production, on distribution, on individuals and classes, and social organization and life; while in Book X..., I worked out briefly the great law of human progress, and showed the relation to this law of what I proposed. The conclusion..., "The Problem of Individual Life," is devoted to the problem that arises in the heart of the individual.

      "This work was the most thorough and exhaustive examination of political economy that had yet been made, going over in the space of less than six hundred pages the whole subject that I deemed it necessary to explain, and completely recasting political economy...I sold this author's edition in San Francisco at a good price, which almost paid for the plates, and sent copies to publishers in New York and London, offering to furnish them with plates. With the heavy expense met, Appleton & Co., of New York, undertook its printing, and though I could get no English publisher at the time, before the year of first publication was out they got Kegan Paul, Trench & Co. to undertake its printing in London. In the meantime, before publishing this book, I had delivered a lecture in San Francisco which led to the formation of the Land Reform Union of San Francisco, the first of many similar movements since.

      "*Progress and Poverty* has been, in short, the most successful economic work ever published. Its reasoning has never been successfully assailed, and on three continents it has given birth to movements whose practical success is only a question of time. Yet though the scholastic political economy has been broken, it has not been, as I at the time anticipated, by some one of its professors taking up what I had pointed out; but a new and utterly incoherent political economy has taken its place in the schools."
      -- Henry George, *The Science of Political Economy*
      Book II, The Nature of Wealth, Chapter VIII
      "Breakdown of Scholastic Political Economy"
      Showing the Reason, the Reception, and Effect on Political Economy of *Progress and Poverty*

      *Progress and Poverty* -- Preference of professors to abandon the "science" rather than radically change it, brings the breakdown of scholastic economy -- The Encyclopedia Britannica -- The "Austrian school" that has succeeded the "classical."
      http://savingcommunities.org/docs/george.henry/spe208.html

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    6. For background on the way in which Henry George's teachings were subverted and jettisoned by academia and the Roman Catholic Church, please read two essays by Economics Professor Mason Gaffney of the University of California at Riverside: "Neo-classical Economics as a Stratagem against Henry George" http://homepage.ntlworld.com/janusg/coe/!index.htm , which is published in "The Corruption of Economics" http://www.amazon.com/The-Corruption-Economics-Georgist-Paradigm/dp/0856832448/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top , and "Henry George, Dr. Edward McGlynn, and Pope Leo XIII" http://www.masongaffney.org/publications/K18George_McGlynn_and_Leo_XIII.pdf

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  9. Elements of what we call psychology seem to have been embedded in Torah as part of understanding the process of becoming an adam shalem. See many of the 48 kinyanay torah in Avos - binat halev, nosay ohl bchaveiro, miyut schok etc. Likewise the 7 names of the yetzer horah in Succos daf 52 have psychological implications. especially 'tzafoni'. Likewise the Gra's peirush on Mishleh, which deliniates 4 types of yetzer hora - kass, merima, chemda and tiva. Also see Orchos Tzadikkim - which explains 12 pairs of midos and includes many psychological insights. This is all way before the 'mussar movement'.

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    1. agreed - some of the elements are there. however I am talking about what is missing. Why is there no mention of child abuse? while is Makkos 8 extolling the importance of beating kids and students? Why is the issue of divorce apparently devoid of concern for the wife?

      so if you claim rabbinical authorities have always been aware of the psychological harm - then you have to conclude either that the Torah is not concerned about it. Or you can take my suggestion that up until recently the human being was not so fragile and sensitive.

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    2. DT, you are making what is called a false dilemma.

      "so if you claim rabbinical authorities have always been aware of the psychological harm - then you have to conclude either that the Torah is not concerned about it. Or you can take my suggestion that up until recently the human being was not so fragile and sensitive. "


      You simply assume that the Rabbis knew everything, therefore anything new cannot be true. Well they also assumed that mice and lice were sui generis, which is false. of course, you could take the Habad line and say that we cannot prove that this phenomenon never existed.

      The torah does not say that the rabbis are infallible, or that they know everything. Since Nehemiah was part of Anshei Knesses HaGedolah, and in fact his title was the Tirshata, we can assume he was a Gadol b'Torah. Indeed, his knowledge must have been much greater than that of Chazal and Rambam. Yet, he was not able to tell someone if he was a Kohen or not, and deferred the question to the Urim and Tumim in the future.
      Chazal and Rambam did not have access even to urim and Thumim.

      Quite part from your presumptions, your logic is also mistaken. Chazal not being aware of a phenomenon is not the same as saying that the phenomenon does not exist. Where did you get this idea from? I know you are inspired by r Dessler and the Eda, but even the Hatam Sofer would not go along with this.
      These psychological phenomena most likely did exist, and even had consequences. However, Chazal might not have made the correct scientific observations in these cases. Perhaps even King Solomon didnt always get it right. Why were there so many rebellions in the TNK of son against father?

      The human being may have had more resilience in some respects, but life was tougher and shorter. Trauma may have been repressed, but that is a psychological mechanism that we are more aware of today. In Ramabm's time, do not imagine that everyone was a perfectly balanced and well adjusted personality.

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    3. I tend to agree. The world was a much harsher place with high infant mortality, death for want of anti-biotics, starvation, lack of creature comforts etc. Emotional issues take on less importance when a lion is chasing you.

      People were stronger, physically and emotionally and had a different perspective on emotional pain. And they were probably closer to HaShem. They had Someone to turn to in their pain.

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    4. The idea of Makkos, corporal punishment for discipline, is not unique to Rabbinic Orthodoxy, it was practiced worldwide until very recently. This is not the same as sexual abuse.
      In ancient Greece it may have been the custom to combine pedagogy and pederasty.
      If you speak to people who were disciplined at school by the rod or cane, I don't think they are traumatized like those were abused sexually.

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  10. Why all the pilpul? Primitive societies still exist where this question can be researched and resolved. There is also plenty of literature from pre-psychological times that can be examined to see how people functioned in earlier times. Charedi educators are fond of saying that our generation has gone soft. Perhaps this is the reason.

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  11. Hobbes' description of the State of Nature (Leviathan 8:9):

    In such condition there is no place for industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain, and consequently, not culture of the earth, no navigation, nor the use of commodities that may be imported by sea, no commodious building, no instruments of moving and removing such things as require much force, no knowledge of the face of the earth, no account of time, no arts, no letters, no society, and which is worst of all, continual fear and danger of violent death, and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.

    When life is more "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short" people get used to living in "continual fear and danger of violent death". It doesn't mean it was less damaging; just considered an unavoidable part of life.

    BH we since formed a society which has learned to avoid it.

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    1. To restate in more plain English:

      It's not psychology that has made us more sensitive. It's technological process. We have a society where parents must spare the rod because life doesn't callous up our children. We don't have the same levels of child mortality, suffering with disease for months, children regularly being raised by aunts or stepmothers because their mothers died birthing them, we (unlike they) or only rarely living with lice or bedbugs, we live with indoor plumbing -- hot and cold running water, have heated homes, etc...

      Life until modern times was more brutal, and people learned to roll with a lot more punches. Everyone lived with their emotional scars -- all the young widows and widowers, the people maimed by disease or accident that we could now cure, the parents who lost their children.

      Compared to us, even King Louis XIV lived a life of perpetual suffering. He had lice, his bedroom smelled like a chamber pot most nights, he relied on a wood stove in the corner and a bedwarmer between the sheets, etc...

      Today's child is more likely to rebel against the stick than accept its instruction. How much is that the effects of studying psychology, and how much is that because the child no longer expects to be beaten down?

      And I think that's why the pain of abuse was just as present in premodern times, but not an issue people bothered addressing. It was one form of suffering among so many. And people had more ability to get on with life. There was permanent emotional damage; but everyone expected to live with such memories.

      Life was far more "solitary, poor, brutish and short."

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    2. Reminds me of my Russian professor. We were learning a Russian story about a palm tree growing in a green house in Russia. It wanted to reach its potential and become big and strong and transcend its environment. It kept growing bigger and bigger - until one day it pushed through the green house roof. Of course it was now exposed to the freezing Russian winters and it died.

      I asked him why Russian stories were so depressing?He responded - "but that is the way life is!"

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    3. Here is an example of a modern psychological theory - it is called Attachment theory. Now, according to DT's hypothesis, attachment disorder is more likely to exist today than 2-3000 years ago. after all, in Biblical times, a man had many wives, and handmaids, who might have raised the children.
      However, what if we consider that Yosef's brothers' plot to kill him was due ot their own attachment disorder, not having bonded to their biological mothers? Or the other rebellions in the Kings of Israel and Yehuda.
      If there does exist such a disorder it existed then as well. the difference is that such a person was termed (sometimes) a rasha, and today they may end up a murderer, or a psychopath.

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  12. What a load of nonsence! If the torah is not sensitive to people's feelings then why do we have the mitzvhos of bein odom la'chaveiro? What about not opressing a widow and an orphan? what about not oppressing a ger? what about that Hashem will hear their cries.

    Regarding divorce is the prolem women have become like men in today's world and that is why we have all the problems.

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    1. in this instance, I am in agreement with Stan. And i also agree about women becoming too much like men - this is a problem for secular as well. In fact, a psychologist from the previous generation suggested this might be a reason why there are growing numbers of homosexuals, since parents are in role reversal.

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    2. A case where Eddie and Stan are in agreement , it must be the month of miracles! Chodesh Tov!

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  13. I don't think there can be any question that things have changed. I don't believe what has changed is that people "feel" more strongly today than today, but that people are less capable of properly dealing with adversity across the board. Moreover, while the rise of "psychology" (whatever we actually mean by that) may have exacerbated the problem, I see it as being more of a symptom than a cause.

    I think one major reason for this change is the general rise of our material welfare in the Western world over the past two centuries, with regard to material abundance in food, shelter, clothing, in medical care, in security from harm and protection from violence, and many other areas. This has caused us to set our expectations of what is normal at a much higher level than any previous society.

    An obvious example is child mortality. Today, a parent who loses a child suffers extreme psychological trauma, and we take for granted that it may take years, if ever, for the parent to get back to normal functioning. In earlier times, almost every family lost children, and people were sad and cried and then life went on.

    I also think that much of modern entertainment (including books, as well as TV and movies) provides a model of how to deal with adversity that involves the extreme sentimentalization of every kind of suffering. The (sometimes explicit) message is that failure to react towards suffering with extreme emotions is an indication that one is either uncaring or psychologically damaged. The virtue of stoicism is almost entirely absent (as a virtue).

    While this issue may be partially inherent in the nature of entertainment itself (which is all about arousing strong emotions), I think that it is also derivative from Romanticism, which sees strong emotions as inherently meaningful and beautiful. In this view, which has become so ubiquitous that it is often perceived as simple reality, suffering an emotional breakdown or psychological damage is seen as healthy, and almost virtuous. We are supposed to "let it all out", and only in this way can we be happy and healthy human beings.

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  14. Being entrenched in both worlds, I have no problem recognizing the psychology in Torah. There are so many open references in Koheles, Mishlei, Pirkei Avos, many places in Medrash, and, of course, throughout Shas. All that is lacking is the organized presentation as exists in the science of psychology we know today. Much the same, Dr. Abraham Twerski writes about the 12 step programs as being fully compatible with Torah and mussar, only not having been presented in the 12 step format.

    Psychology is a social science. Of course, mental illness always existed. But the absence of certain phenomena means that certain conditions might not be detectable, and would not be described either in halacha or in our historical records. Has anyone heard of a reference to electrocution in Torah? Perhaps child abuse did not exist. We can't know for sure. We might theorize that society back then did not have this manifestation of whatever causes pedophilia. I don't believe the Torah omitted anything. We are told, "Hafoch boh vahafoch boh". It's all there.

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    1. Bemechilas kevod Toraso, I do not think R/D Twerski is correct about 12 Step Programs being compatible with Torah (including Mussar).

      12 Step Programs reflect their origin in the Oxford Groups, a Xian Revivalist movement. They presume that man cannot redeem himself, and must turn to God for salvation. Thus there are steps that not only hand over responsibility for curing addiction to God, but also all of life's other struggles. (Step 5, confession, is followed by handing the actual repentance and to God in 6 & 7.) It is therefore one thing to find qulos for someone in trouble, where piquach nefesh is a real issue. It's another to promulgate 12 Step thinking to the community at large.

      I also find it sad that our community would explore such non-Jewish sources for spirituality while leaving all the work of the Baalei Mussar largely untapped. How many people who went to OU meetings even heard of the notion of a va'ad, nevermind participated in one?

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  15. LazerA - you said some good stuff.

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  16. Daas Torah: The simple implication is that if the sensitivity was recently brought into our society by psychology it can be removed.

    I don't think that's true. Perhaps it is a relatively new phenomenon that was not there before, but that does not mean that it can necessarily be changed at this point. We may just have to deal with it as it is and formulate the halacha properly for this day and age. Just because it hasn't always been this way doesn't mean we should aim to make it the way it was. If your theory is true, it would certainly help explain why Chazal's approach to some issues seem very foreign to us, but I don't think it would be a reason to stick to the old way of doing things.

    Furthermore, Judaism through the ages has struggled to balance tradition and belief with society at large. Some parts we reject and some parts we integrate and deal with. Are there any examples of our trying to revert it? Even if it were possible to make society go back to the way it was "in the good old days," it does not strike me that that has been the Jewish approach.

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    1. Before we talk about changing it, I would like to understanding whether previous generations were less vulnerable to trauma because of less psychology or they had the same vulnerablity?

      As far a reverting to a previous mode of existence - that is what the teshuva movement is!

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    2. Hey, you brought up changing it, not me!

      Teshuva is about returning ourselves to who we are supposed to be, not about changing societal norms to past standards.

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    3. Raffi - I am simply bringing up an alternative way of viewing the data. Teshuva is about striving to return to what we should ideally be

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    4. @ DT "As far a reverting to a previous mode of existence - that is what the teshuva movement is!"

      I disagree, it the BT movement is reverting to an artifical mode of existence which never existed in traditional times.

      If you wish to "understanding whether previous generations were less vulnerable to trauma because of less psychology", perhaps start with Sefer Iyov. It is about trauma, and how one person has difficulty in dealing with it.

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  17. I'm evidently not alone in not understanding how the mitzvos of not opressing the orphan, ger, widow can possibly be divorced from their evident intention to avoid causing emotional distress to vulnerable people. I don't believe anyone's mentioned the issur of onaas devarim yet - surely that has to be all about emotional sensitivity to other's feelings? I agree that modern man suffers more from emotional sensitivity due to the societal/cultural factors already mentioned, but I don't think that it's possible to claim that the Torah isn't concerned with causing emotional distress.
    Another thought - The gemoras DT refers to about divorce, child discipline etc are sugyas in halacha. I think it's possible, even likely that Chazal treat halachic sugyas in one way, and leave the non-legalistic, emotional side of things for aggadeta. The structure of gemaras usually gives clear distinction between halachic sugyas and aggadeta. Perhaps it's just a question of casting the net wider when looking at Chazal's views on a subject.
    I know a wise man who says that mishnayos are not for happy people, ie the basic structure of halachic sugyas takes no account of what constitutes a healthy, constructive life of avodas hashem for most people. It's about thrashing out the outlines of issur and heter. So you need to look to Midrashim/aggadeta for the so get a balanced view how to live life, including emotional reponses.

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    1. see my replies further up in the comments section

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  18. Let me clarify some terms with the aid of wikipedia
    Empathy is the capacity to recognize emotions that are being experienced by another sentient or fictional being. One may need to have a certain amount of empathy before being able to experience compassion. The English word was coined in 1909 by Edward B. Titchener as an attempt to translate the German word "Einfühlungsvermögen", a new phenomenon explored at the end of 19th century mainly by Theodor Lipps. It was later re-translated into the German language as "Empathie", and is still in use there.[1]

    Empathy has many different definitions. These definitions encompass a broad range, from caring for other people and having a desire to help them, to experiencing emotions that match another person's emotions, to knowing what the other person is thinking or feeling, to blurring the line between self and other.[I am using the definition of experiencing emotionsthat match another persons or know what the other is thinking or feeling]

    Empathy is distinct from sympathy, pity, and emotional contagion.[12] Sympathy or empathic concern is the feeling of compassion or concern for another, the wish to see them better off or happier. Pity is feeling that another is in trouble and in need of help as they cannot fix their problems themselves, often described as "feeling sorry" for someone. Emotional contagion is when a person (especially an infant or a member of a mob) imitatively "catches" the emotions that others are showing without necessarily recognizing this is happening


    I am not aware of a Hebrew equivalent to the word empathy. In modern Hebrew it is אמפתיה

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    1. Mode Hebrew only needed to borrow from the Greek because "rachmanut" came to mean pity. However, it's more literally womb-ness, and implies a motherly connection, not the connection of the content to the pathetic.

      As I said, "nosei be'ol im chaveiro" requires knowing their ol. You can't share another's pain without knowing their pain. (Or do you think the expression refers to sharing their physical burden?)

      Al tadun as chaverkha ad shetagia limqomo is another explicit demand for empathy.

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    2. Empathy :

      Avot 2

      5. Hillel said: Do not separate yourself from the community; and do not trust in yourself until the day of your death. Do not judge your fellow until you are in his place.

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    3. how is that empathy?

      פירוש רבינו יונה על אבות פרק ב משנה ד

      ואל תדין את חברך עד שתגיע למקומו - גם זה הוא מן הענין שאין לאדם להאמין בעצמו ולא לסמוך בדעתו יותר מדאי. וכאשר יראה חברו במעלה גדולה ולא יתנהג ביושרו. אל יאמר אם הייתי ממלא מקומו לא הייתי עושה דבר רע מכל אשר הוא עושה לרוע לפי שאינך יודע וכמוך כמוהו בתוא' בני אדם. ואולי המעלה ההיא מטה גם אותך אז כשתגיע למקומו ולמעלתו ותעביר על מדותיך יהיה לך רשות להרהר אחר מדותיו:

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    4. s I said, "nosei be'ol im chaveiro" requires knowing their ol. You can't share another's pain without knowing their pain. (Or do you think the expression refers to sharing their physical burden?)

      It is understood has helping others much as Loving your fellow as yourself - this doesn't require empathy

      It is also understood as direction for a posek to join others in halachic decision.
      ספר מסילת ישרים פרק יט

      החלק השני שבא' הוא - במה שבין אדם לחבירו, וענינו גודל ההטבה שיהיה האדם לעולם מטיב לבריות ולא מריע להם, וזה בגוף, בממון, ובנפש: בגוף, שיהיה משתדל לעזור כל אדם במה שיוכל ויקל משאם מעליהם, והוא מה ששנינו (אבות פ"ו): ונושא בעול עם חבירו ואם מגיע לחבירו איזה נזק בגופו, והוא יוכל למנוע אותו או להסירו, יטרח כדי לעשותו. בממון, לסייעו באשר תשיג ידו, ולמנוע ממנו הנזקין בכל מה שיוכל, כל שכן שירחיק הוא כל מיני נזקין שיכולים לבוא מחמתו, בין ליחיד בין לרבים, ואפילו שעתה מיד אין היזקן מצוי כיון שיכול לבוא לידי כך יסירם ויעבירם, ואז"ל (אבות פ"ב): יהי ממון חבירך חביב עליך כשלך. בנפש, שישתדל לעשות לחבירו כל קורת רוח שיש בידו, בין בעניני הכבוד, בין בכל שאר הענינים, כל מה שהוא יודע שאם יעשהו לחבירו הוא מקבל נחת רוח ממנו, מצות חסידות הוא לעשותו, כל שכן שלא יצערנו בשום מיני צער כלל, יהיה באיזה אופן שיהיה. וכלל כל זה הוא גמילות חסדים אשר הפליגו חז"ל בשבחה ובחובתינו בה, ובכלל זה רדיפת השלום שהוא ההטבה הכללית בין כל אדם לחבירו.

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    5. דרך אמונה הלכות מתנות עניים פרק ט

      וכן מי שאין נושא בעול עם הצבור כגון שאין לו מעות לא יהי' גבאי צדקה כדי שלא יחשדוהו אבל יכול להכריח אחרים שיתנו צדקה ופשוט דכל אלו דוקא למנות גבאי קבוע אסור אבל אם רוצים מעצמן לאסוף צדקה

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    6. נתיבות המשפט ביאורים סימן קעח

      וזהו ג"כ כונת התרומת הדשן במה שמחלק במס שהן שותפים עדיין וכו', דכיון שמבואר בסימן (שס"ח) [שס"ט סעיף ח' בהג"ה] הטעם דדינא דמלכותא דינא במכס דהוא משום שנותנין המכס שיהיה רשות לדור תחתיו, וידוע דכל שהן ציבור יותר גדול עושה עין יותר, ומשו"ה חייב כל אחד להיות נושא בעול עם הציבור, ואסור לפרוש מהציבור כיון דכל אחד מקלקל לכל הציבור שעושה עין לכל הציבור, משו"ה אינו יכול לחלוק מהציבור בשעת התעסקות, ושליחותא דכולהו עביד בבקשת מחילת המס.

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  19. It could be that today's increased sensitivity is a good thing and not something we want to reverse. Rather, let's keep the sensitivity but toughen up so it doesn't degenerate into self pity and weakness. Like all new powers, it takes time to get control of.

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  20. I think you're taking a highly technical definition of empathy (and it was indeed coined as a technical term ca. 1909), as opposed to the broad way the term is generally used (also from the wiki article): caring for other people and having a desire to help them, to experiencing emotions that match another person's emotions, to knowing what the other person is thinking or feeling, to blurring the line between self and other.

    In fact, your analysis of empathy wrt Jewish sources is poorly done because you are also mixing up these definitions. More specifically, you seem to be arguing that because empathy (as technically used) is separable from related concepts like sympathy, pity,and a concern for others, then any historical mention (prior to 1909) of concepts like sympathy, pity or a concern for others must not include empathy. This is incorrect.

    To wit: You're looking for the very specific, technical understanding of empathy, in the ability recognize emotion after distilling away other related concepts such as sympathy, pity, and emotional contagion. And then you go and look for a source in chazal and poskim that talk about that very narrow definition. And then, after not finding a correlate to that very narrow understanding of the term "empathy", you go back to a more general definition and declare that people back in the day did not recognize or take into account the emotion of others, despite the fact that more broad concepts like sympathy, pity and a concern for others are mentioned in abundance.

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    1. You are nit picking. I am asking a very fundamental question. In order to explain the absence of the mention of trauma from abuse in the literature, I am suggesting that it is a result of the change of our psychological sensitivity which is the result in change in education and attitudes toward suffering.

      I view the relatively recent development of the concept of empathy as support for my thesis.

      An alternative is Dr. Shapiro's view that the absence simply indicates that society was unaware of the terrible consequences of abuse and trauma's of all sorts.

      You are claiming that support for my hypothesis is merely an artifact of my defintions of terms. Perhaps - but I think it is much more fruitful to explore the question then to define it away.

      There a story about a resident doctor talking to his supervisor. The superivsor asked him for a diagnosis of a difficult case. The resident proudly rattles off an obscure explanation which seemed to fit the case very accurately. The superverisor responded, "The only problem with your diagnosis is that there is nothing we can do and the condition is terminal. However there is an alternative diagnosis while less likely than the one you gave - however there is a cure for it. Why don't we take the chance of the less likely diagnosis?"

      My position is that my explanation is more productive and useful than giving an explanation which involves either ignorance or deliberately sacrificing the victim for the sake of family or community.

      If it is true that trauma is a function of education and attitudes than that provides a powerful tool for preventing trauma - as opposed to picking up the pieces after the crash.

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    2. I meant it to be a pretty fundamental critique of how your are conducting the analysis that is behind your theory. It may come across as nitpicky b/c I'm trying to be as detailed as possible for your benefit. You deserve detailed feedback. After all, you did the heavy lifting to lay out a pretty detailed theory and got the discussion going.

      As theories go, I'm leaning towards the kind of thing that Micha Berger (among others) posits, that the increased standard of living and the lowered of frequency of horrible things happening to people living in modern industrialized societies increased sensitivity to trauma.

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    3. With your new blue highlighted exposition of your hypothesis, there are now 3 questions that you are asking:

      1) Why is Halachic literature scant or absent on such issues of abuse?;

      2) Did abuse lead to trauma before psychology started to deal with the issue?

      3) Presuming that there wasn't trauma in the past, can we go back to the past as a therapeutic modality?



      I have already shown several examples of primordial Trauma, especially the Book of Job, hence your first 2 questions or claims are incorrect.

      As for qn. 3 - a better alternative is that some people are more resilient to trauma than others, and deal with it better. Hence, what you seem to be overlooking is coping mechanisms,and they differ across populations. And how are they developed or inculcated?

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    4. Tzurah paraphrased me (among others) as positing "that the increased standard of living and the lowered of frequency of horrible things happening to people living in modern industrialized societies increased sensitivity to trauma." To join the nit picking festival, I would faster say that living in our situation has decreased our ability to recover from trauma.

      (Or maybe the technical use of the word trauma in psych circles has something to do with the pain's permanence, and my correction really doesn't fix anything broken.)

      Eg Losing a young child in 1791 may have been just as painful as the experience was in 1991. But they had an easier time getting back to life's routines, and did so more completely.

      I think this answers #1. Because there was far less chance of permanent scarring of the psyche, halakhah didn't need to address it.

      There is also the issue which are host seems to be actively ignoring, that halakhah isn't the right place to look for concepts like empathy, and the fact that something is assur would be sufficient for halakhic discourse. One can't analyze the din to see which middos were under consideration.

      Another example of aggadic discussion of empathy. "Imo Anokhi betzarah."

      But I still believe rachamim, the womb-ness attachment to someone in need, is empathy -- not sympathy or pity. A mother feels her child's pain. When the child is in the rechem, she literally shares its hunger. It's not the mother projecting her emotions, but her receiving her child's.

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    5. I have no problem with your current formulation about not being traumatized as opposed to not feeling pain. I have stated such a formulation several times
      ===============
      Daas TorahMarch 12, 2013 at 2:41 PM

      But that is my point. While is is true we all experience psychological pain - but did your grandparents experience the same trauma that you do? 300 years ago - was self-esteem as significant as it is today? Did PTSD exist as the result of physical or sexual abuse? that is my question. I am asking you to step out of your cultural biases and experience and think about the possiblity of a different culture in a different era.

      Daas TorahMarch 12, 2013 at 8:52 PM

      No Eddie my point is not whether pain existed. Pain has always existed. you remember the description of being in Egypt? That was pain. I am talking about trauma and whether psychology has trained us to be more fragile in the face of pain, failure and other unpleaasant things of life.


      so if you claim rabbinical authorities have always been aware of the psychological harm - then you have to conclude either that the Torah is not concerned about it. Or you can take my suggestion that up until recently the human being was not so fragile and sensitive.
      ============
      Also regarding your assertion that pain wasn't addressed because it had no long range consequences. It clearly wasn't pikuach nefesh in the old days as it is viewed now.

      That is all in regards to the halachic literature. However you are ignoring the fact that even the non-halachic literature e.g., commentaries on chumash, mussar - don't express concern with the pain or trauma of abuse.

      Regarding Rachamim - how about providing some examples where the commentaries understand it the way you do? Same with "imo Anokhi betzara"

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    6. I'm not sure what you're asking for. Find someone who specifically says that "being with someone in their pain" refers to empathy? You're defining empathy in such a narrow specific way, that's not doable. I'm not even sure what it is, since that to me would be an exact description of empathy with someone in pain. You aren't projecting how you would feel, you aren't simply filling their needs. You're aware of their pain, as (you perceive) they are experiencing it, and you feel it too.

      Similarly, when we are called upon to share someone else's yoke. You quote the Ramchal saying your friend's money should be as dear to you as your own, but you also don't consider that close enough to what you're discussing to qualify.

      Even if you were right that there is no mention of "empathy" as you're defining it, it would still be true that there is enough mention of similar ideas so as to make no difference that empathy itself would have been valued.

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    7. Empathy is unique to modern times. while one can readily interpret many mitzvos as empathetic - if you read the commentaries they do not understand it as empathy. helping a person is not proof of empathy. Nurturing a person is not proof of empathy. kindness is not inherently empathy.


      Empathy is demonstrated by comments concerned with how the other person feels. By putting yourself in his shoes and trying to understand how he feels about things. A mitzva which says you should be concerned about someone because they are suffering and you should feel his pain - AND DOESN'T ADD that if you don't help him you will be punished because he will turn to G-d - is empathetic. Only if your motivation is solely because he is in pain is it empathetic.

      By and large the goal and concerns of what seems as first glance to be empathetic commands are in fact understood by Chazal, Rishonim and Achronim as descriptions of behaviors to be done for the sake of society - not the individual. They are behaviors to be done to avoid punishment. They are commandments to assume that the other person is like you and therefore don't do things to him which are hateful to YOU!

      Since it is a fact that a wife cries easily - don't make her cry because G-d will punish you. If you oppress the convert - G-d will punish you as He punished the Egyptians. etc etc.

      In fact I haven' found any mitzvos which ask you to understand the other person and view things the way they do - despite the widespread modern assumption that that is what loving your neighbor as your self, love the ger, don't afflict verbal abuse and others.

      So I strongly disagree with you - there are no equivalents to empathetic cognitive and emotional understanding of another's viewpoint.

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    8. One last time, although I'm starting to feel you're too in love with the chiddush to be open to the possibility that it's wrong.

      Mitzvos are duties, not middos. We can interpret them as being based on the value of developing more of this midah or less of that one. But that's taamei hamitzvos, post facto interpretations, not the law. Motivation beyond reward-and-punishment isn't in halakhah at all. Especially if you take sentences like "ki geirim heyisem" and say they aren't calls for empathy.

      Which is why I tried repeatedly repointing you to hilkhos dei'os, which would obligate us to imitate Hashem's imo anokhi betzara, analyze the etymology of the words we use, like rachamim, and look to non-halachic works like Mishlei and Avos.

      Don't let Brisk win! There is more to Torah than halakhah!

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    9. and the pirkei avot that was cited?

      Al tadun et chavercha ad she tagia limkomo?

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    10. How would you define and explain all the stories about Rav Aryeh Levine, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach and other Tzaddikim and Rebbes of previous generations who worked on themselves to the point where they felt the pain of other Jews as if it were their own? All these Tzaddikim are not from this generation!

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    11. "One last time, although I'm starting to feel you're too in love with the chiddush to be open to the possibility that it's wrong."

      I really don't understand why you keep repeating that this is my chiddush - as if I am making up an interpretations without any evidence. In fact as I have repeated state I am only insisting that people actually pay attention to what the classic commentaries say. I have repeatedly asked you to cite classic commentaries that understand the issue the way you do - and yet for some reason you have avoided doing so.

      This is not about Brisk or halacha vs Agada. It is about the fact that intutively obvious today that all these bein adam l'chavero issues are signs of empathy - while the clear consensus of classic commentaries is that they aren't. It is the mesora you have to answer to and justify - and so far you haven't. Why not?

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    12. RemarkMarch 13, 2013 at 9:04 PM

      and the pirkei avot that was cited?

      Al tadun et chavercha ad she tagia limkomo?

      I answered that already

      Daas TorahMarch 13, 2013 at 3:40 AM

      how is that empathy?

      פירוש רבינו יונה על אבות פרק ב משנה ד

      ואל תדין את חברך עד שתגיע למקומו - גם זה הוא מן הענין שאין לאדם להאמין בעצמו ולא לסמוך בדעתו יותר מדאי. וכאשר יראה חברו במעלה גדולה ולא יתנהג ביושרו. אל יאמר אם הייתי ממלא מקומו לא הייתי עושה דבר רע מכל אשר הוא עושה לרוע לפי שאינך יודע וכמוך כמוהו בתוא' בני אדם. ואולי המעלה ההיא מטה גם אותך אז כשתגיע למקומו ולמעלתו ותעביר על מדותיך יהיה לך רשות להרהר אחר מדותיו

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    13. I have. You are insisting that discussions of nosei be'ol im chareiro, imo Anokhi betzarah, ad shetagia limqomo, ki eved hayisa do not refer to empathy. If I quote famous idioms that say "share his pain", or "don't judge him until you realize how it would feel to be him", "remember how it was to be a stranger when you encounter a stranger", etc... and you take them to mean something else, what am I to do?

      As for Brisk... My point was that I keep on saying that empathy would be a middah, and you therefore wouldn't find it in discussions of mitzvos maasiyos. Then you cite more mitzvos maasiyos rather than discussions of how the ideal human being (or the One he emulates) is described. Yes, in those discussions, you will only see "do it or things won't go well for you". Because that's the only kind of discussion he'd have.

      This is very Brisk. I say look at the rest of Torah, and you keep on identifying Torah with din. 'Twas a tease. It comes naturally to me, as I often find myself the only one in the beis medrash more inclined to R' Shimon's derekh than Brisker derekh -- indeed, often the only one who knows there are other darkhei limud.

      And Brisk produced RYBS, who once noted that it puzzled him for years what the point of nevu'ah was, given that we can't pasqen from a navi. And that's a man who studied philosophy in his other life! Lo kol shekein someone too Brisk to step back and philosophize about what the ideal Brisker is, as in Halakhic Man.

      Another example as to why I find your assumption beyond possibility:

      Eikhah couldn't be written without empathy. "Eikhah hayah lezonah, ha'ir ravasi am..." -- it's an empty sentence if not taken as poetry to get us to empathize with an abstraction, Tzion.

      What was the point of Hoshea's marriage, if not to engender empathy for the fate of Israel?

      --------------------

      I would also point out that we're conflating disjoint subjects:

      1- Do Tanakh or Chazal discuss empathy?

      2- Did they historically suffer emotionally as readily as we do?
      (2b- If so, why? Ideas promulgated by those in the psych fields? Cushier lifestyles? Other?)

      3- Why is there no focus on the pain to an abuse or rape victim in halakhah?

      You have narrowly defined empathy, so that the 1st item on my list no longer relates to the 3rd. After all, you agree that there is a notion of sympathy in halakhah, which would be enough to justify a halachic discussion of the pain of abuse or rape. It kind of forces us to look at the possible difference in the effects of the abuse, or to raise new topics.

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    14. Yes, R' Yonah describes empathy primarily in terms of his effects. But doesn't he also invoke 4:2 when he discusses 3:2 (davening for the stability of the gov't) and the need to share the community's pain when davening? I recall his mentioning that David haMelekh talks about mourning in sackcloth as proof that one is supposed to be "mitzta'eir al tza'ar shel acheirim". My mourning, my sackcloth. Sharing (a possibly non-Jewish) society's suffering. So the effects are not to the exclusion of the middah itself.

      And what about the MY you quoted, which including my feeling the dearness of someone else's money?

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    15. RDE, I mentioned Sefer Iyov a few times. Now his so called "comforters" are perhaps acting in line with the kind of halachic approach you mention of the classic commentators.
      However, he says that they are showing no empathy.
      He doesnt use the word empathy, but it is the same meaning as I understand the word.

      Plus he is one undergoing deep trauma, which disproves your theory.


      Job Chapter 16 אִיּוֹב
      א וַיַּעַן אִיּוֹב, וַיֹּאמַר. 1 {S} Then Job answered and said:
      ב שָׁמַעְתִּי כְאֵלֶּה רַבּוֹת; מְנַחֲמֵי עָמָל כֻּלְּכֶם. 2 I have heard many such things; sorry comforters are ye all.
      ג הֲקֵץ לְדִבְרֵי-רוּחַ; אוֹ מַה-יַּמְרִיצְךָ, כִּי תַעֲנֶה. 3 Shall windy words have an end? Or what provoketh thee that thou answerest?
      ד גַּם, אָנֹכִי-- כָּכֶם אֲדַבֵּרָה:
      לוּ יֵשׁ נַפְשְׁכֶם, תַּחַת נַפְשִׁי-- אַחְבִּירָה עֲלֵיכֶם בְּמִלִּים;
      וְאָנִיעָה עֲלֵיכֶם, בְּמוֹ רֹאשִׁי. 4 I also could speak as ye do; {N}
      if your soul were in my soul's stead, I could join words together against you, {N}
      and shake my head at you.
      ה אֲאַמִּצְכֶם בְּמוֹ-פִי; וְנִיד שְׂפָתַי יַחְשֹׂךְ. 5 I would strengthen you with my mouth, and the moving of my lips would assuage your grief.
      ו אִם-אֲדַבְּרָה, לֹא-יֵחָשֵׂךְ כְּאֵבִי; וְאַחְדְּלָה, מַה-מִּנִּי יַהֲלֹךְ. 6 Though I speak, my pain is not assuaged; and though I forbear, what am I eased?

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    16. Rabbi Micha Berger wrote: I have. You are insisting that discussions of nosei be'ol im chareiro, imo Anokhi betzarah, ad shetagia limqomo, ki eved hayisa do not refer to empathy. If I quote famous idioms that say "share his pain", or "don't judge him until you realize how it would feel to be him", "remember how it was to be a stranger when you encounter a stranger", etc... and you take them to mean something else, what am I to do?
      ================
      Show me a Ramban or Maharal that understands it the way you do!

      or perhaps the best thing would be to come to the discussion group with Rav Triebitz on Chol HaMoed

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    17. I am offering translations, not interpretations. Which is why I have no idea how to provide a rishon who confirms that "being with someone in their pain" means "being with someone in their pain", or that carrying someone's emotional burden with them means carrying their emotional burden with them. Those words describe empathy. No peirush needed, nor would I expect one offered.

      Meanwhile, you're ignoring the numerous appeals to empathy throughout Tanakh. Neither Eddie's example nor mine. As well as Rabbeinu Yonah on David's empathy and the empathy one must feel for your compatriots.

      Ki eved hayisa... ki geirim heyisem...

      --

      There is no Mon morning this ch"m, so I don't know if Hashkafa Circle has a shiur / meeting. Either way, unless I need to be oleh regel, I'm unlikely to spend the kind of money it would take to buy a last minute ticket across the Atlantic. But I appreciate the invite.

      While on the subject, how do you like their new look?

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  21. I wouldn't overinterpret the fact that "empathy" is not given as a rationale for halachot. The tora/halacha rarely tells people how to feel, but only how to act. Case in point- we are commanded to fear and respect our parents, not to love them.

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    1. there are several mitzvas concerning love - so don't understand your point.There is also a prohibition of hatred and coveting

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  22. your story about the intern is not very convincing: to treat a disease, you have to find out what it is. You cannot say "I prefer diagnosis A, because it sounds better for the patient, so I will treat him as if it were diagnosis A". If the real Diagnosis is diagnosis B, treatment for Diagnosis A will not heal the patient and could even harm him, so it would be against the hyppocratic oath. What you are describing is a voodoo-doctor, who acts as if he could help, but who cannot really help.

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    1. Remark you seem to have a fundamental problem with understanding what I said. You yourself said that you were advised to stop wasting your time reading this blog - please do so.

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  23. There are 96 comments here, as of this writing, and I haven't read one of them. If my comments have already been made then I apologize. I just want to say this.

    A lack of Rabbinic writing about empathy doesn't mean its a new concept. It could be that empathy was such a part of the fabric of a person's personality that it did not need to be described or discussed. There were no shailas. Today, in our lowly generation we have to teach people to be empathetic, but this is new territory because in the past it didn't need to be taught, it came naturally to everybody.

    My second point is that it could be that in the past everybody had a stronger connection to Hashem's love for them. People were able to endure torment better than today because they had a stronger faith that Hashem loved them and would help them endure. How many people today have any clue of how deeply Hashem loves them? Its not normal to think about Hashem and thank him, for most of society, you have to make an effort to do so. In the past you were either a Jew with emunah, or an oved ovedah zara, but you had strong beliefs. Today, people believe in randomness. That would terrify anybody.

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  24. Here's another consideration: the nature of society has changed to allow for psychological pain to be significant.
    Consider a basic pre-modern society, one in which disease is rampant, poverty is everywhere and just surviving to the next meal is considered doing well, an environment that most of the world's population lived in until just a century ago or so. In such a society there is no room for "feelings". You either get on with surviving or you die. That's why there was no adolescence in those societies either. If you were 14 and able-bodied you worked. There was no room for "finding yourself" or "growing up". Either you did or your died.
    Now, B"H, we live in a much kinder world but the flip side is that we now have the time to deal with psychological distress. Once upon a time a father beating his child lead to "no consequences" because there was no time for those consequences. There were no counsellors or psychologists and anyway it took away time from work. Now we have the luxury of acknowledging this pain and working to deal with it.
    So no wonder the Rabbinic literature doesn't deal with it. In their society there was no place for it.

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  25. Another thought that I don't think has been addressed, based on R' Eidensohn's points about stability of society vs. individual pain, plus other points I've been chewing on - such as the fact that when it comes to rape, for example, Chazal seem to focus their discussion on repercussions for the family, the husband/fiancé, etc., and not, again, the individual pain. This actually strikes me as being an expression of a collectivist vs. and individualist culture. The US is the paragon of individualism. Japan, for example, is quite the opposite. Whilst in this country we encourage children to individuate, express themselves, etc., in Japan that is not at all the case. Family honor comes before all. Children are taught to subjugate themselves to the family, not express their own identities.

    In some societies, a person who has brought shame upon the family is expected to kill himself in order to preserve their honor. In others, a man who rapes a woman is punished by having his sister raped by the victim's brother! It's a calculus of honor that simply doesn't take into account the individual in the way we Westerners are used to. (Any Japanese readers out there?)

    It stands to reason that Chazal, living in the Ancient Middle East, lived in a world that was much more collectivist than today's West. It may be hard for us to understand, but perhaps their system of justice is based on collectivist principles that simply don't resonate with us. Hence, as far as trauma goes, it could be that it was much more important to people in earlier times and societies to assess the damage to the family and community than to the individual.

    Really this is along the lines of what R’ Eidensohn has been saying, but I think the framework of the collectivist vs. and individualist culture (one that has been written about extensively in sociology) makes a lot of sense.

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  26. While R' Eidensohn may be correct that Chazal did not discuss psychological traumatization, there is loads of evidence that they were concerned about people's feelings. After all, it is a mitzvah not to hurt others with words. (Onaas devarim.)

    We even cover the challah to avoid hurting its feelings! We try not to hurt books' feelings by how we put them down and stack them. It seems clear this is meant to teach us that all the more so we should be concerned about not hurting other people's feelings.

    We can't even ask questions about an item, suggesting we might buy it -- obviously the reason for this is that it would distress the seller to think he was going to sell something and then not be able to sell it! No one today cares about sellers' feelings -- so perhaps we're in fact less sensitive today.

    Also, I think it is in Pirkei Avos d'Rabi Natan that a man should not be a tyrant over his family. This is obviously because it hurts people's feelings to be yelled at and ordered around.

    We are also not supposed to oppress a ger, because gerim (as semi-outsiders) are more sensitive.

    Embarrassing someone else is described by Chazal as akin to murder. And one who embarrases another man in public has no share in the world to come! (Avos 3:11).

    This evidences much more empathy than people have today. Today it is common for people to sit around making fun of one another, and no one thinks it's wrong. The media gratuitously embarrass everyone they can for fun and profit. It's perfectly legal, and they make tons of money because people can't watch it. If people were so sensitive today, the mainstream media would have a different focus.

    Not one but two Sages in Pirkei Avos say we should smile at everybody (R' Shammai: smile at everybody; R' Ishmael: receive everyone cheerfully.) Of course the main effect of this (besides cheering people up) is to prevent people from being hurt because you're too serious.

    Chazal's emphasis on not hurting other people's feelings was recently discussed by Rabbi Aaron Raskin in this video trying to explain why we say shelo asani isha even though it might hurt a woman's feelings:

    http://www.chabad.org/multimedia/media_cdo/aid/2048426/jewish/Whats-Wrong-with-Being-a-Woman.htm

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  27. DT said: "Since it is a fact that a wife cries easily - don't make her cry because G-d will punish you. If you oppress the convert - G-d will punish you as He punished the Egyptians. etc etc.

    In fact I haven' found any mitzvos which ask you to understand the other person and view things the way they do - despite the widespread modern assumption that that is what loving your neighbor as your self, love the ger, don't afflict verbal abuse and others."

    The statement by Hillel the Elder is pretty clear on this -- the root of the entire Torah is not to do to others what you would not want them to do to you. You have to put yourself in other people's shoes to accomplish this.

    True, the Torah mentions punishments, rather than saying to do it for the sake of compassionate. But this is because not everyone is necessarily on the level of being compassionate to everyone because they know that's the right thing to do. Fear of punishment is the lowest level of yirat shamayim, but it is very fundamental, and it applies to everyone.

    Chazal do say that we should emulate Hashem's traits, especially his mercy and lovingkindness. The Gemara says, Just as He gracious and compassionate, may you be gracious and compassionate, bestowing free gifts to all. Tomer Devorah by Ramak is a good exposition of this approach.

    Another example: Pirkei Avos says that if other people are pleased with a person, then so is Hashem. How do we figure out if other people are pleased with us, or prevent offending them? Only by being emphathetic and anticipating other's feelings.

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  28. Here is a clear statement (by Rebbe Nachman of Breslov) that it is very important to be empathetic -- even to literally feel others' pain in our hearts.

    "You should be able to feel another person's pain in your heart - all the more so when many people are suffering. It is possible to know another person's pain and suffering yet still not feel them in your heart.

    When many people are suffering, you should certainly feel their pain in your heart.

    And if you do not feel it, you should knock your head against the wall: you should strike your head - your mind and intelligence - against the walls of your heart!

    This is the meaning of the words: 'Know this day and realize it in your heart.' (Deuteronomy 4:39) . You must bring the realization from your mind into your heart. Understand this well."

    Sichot Haran #39

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  29. One more example: both Rambam (in his Guide for the Perplexed) and his son Rabbeinu Avraham (in Guide to Serving God) say that it is important to emulate G-d's traits, especially his trait of compassion. There are many verses (in Tanakh but especially in the Gemara) about the importance of being compassionate and merciful. Being kind is even one of the core three traits of the Jewish people. One cannot be compassionate or kind or merciful without thinking about, paying attention to, being sensitive to, and avoiding hurting, others' feelings. If Chazal didn't state this it may have been because it was obvious.

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