Thursday, December 17, 2015

Open Letter to Rav Nota Greenblatt: Why your comparison of Psychology to Medicine to justify not investigating the facts behind the heter - is a tragic mistake!

Dear Rav Nota Greenblatt,

You have acknowledged that you provided the heter for Tamar Epstein to remarry without first receiving a Get from her first husband. You have also said that you have no knowledge of the facts but based yourself on therapists that Rav Kaminetsky said were experts and reliable. You stated that based on the facts that you were told – Tamar’s marriage to Aharon Friedman was a mistake and was null and void according to your understanding of the views of Rav Moshe Feinstein. The therapists claimed that Aharon was suffering from  severe mental health issues. In particular they stated that he is suffering from two major incurable personality disorders – either of which is so debilitating that no normal woman would want to marry him. It is claimed that Tamar stayed in the marriage with the hope that these conditions were curable. Finally it is claimed by the report that Tamar left the marriage when she was bluntly told that there was no cure for these disorders. There is apparently no one who disputes these statements.

However as Rav Aharon Feldman, Rav Shlomo Miller , Rav Landesman, the Baltimore Beis Din and others major rabbis have stated – the reports are in fact not trustworthy for several reasons. 1) only one of the therapists actually met with Aharon Friedman and he only said that Aharon was not going to change - not that he was severely mentally ill 2) the therapist who wrote the report received his information from Tamar who paid for his services and there was no input by Aharon or opportunity for Aharon to defend himself from the negative accusations 3) it is a well known fact that psychological reports are highly subjective 4) It is acknowledged by experts in psychology that the categories of the DSM diagnostic system include normal behavior as well as pathologies – and thus receiving a label of paranoid or OCD does not by itself mean that the conditions are outside of normal behavior. 5) Only one of the two therapists is frum and he did not speak with Aharon himself. Thus there is only one frum person claiming that Aharon has severe mental issues and he is testifying only from second hand information that he received from Aharon’s wife – hardly a reliable basis for establishing the truth. 6) Perhaps the biggest refutation of the reports claim that Aharon has severe incurable mental illness is that Tamar made no such claims against Aharon to either the Baltimore Beis Din or to the secular court. It is inconceivable that Tamar who is intelligent, sensitive and knowledgeable about modern psychology would not notice the claimed paranoid or obsessive compulsive behavior even after many months of marriage – until a psychologist informed her! Furthermore Tamar made no reference to the mental illness in her diary where she specifically discussed Aharon's good and bad points. Tamar’s most serious  claim was that Aharon was not sociable enough for her.

Given the above strong basis that the facts you were given a false  – it is a major puzzle why you don’t retract or even investigate whether the facts you used are true. You are quoted as justifying your inaction by saying that this is no different than a case in which a person comes and says a doctor told him that it is a danger for him to fast on Yom Kippur. You say – “Just as I am not qualified to investigate the medical condition of this person but I rely on expert testimony – so here I am not an expert in Psychology and relied on expert testimony that Aharon has 2 incurable mental health problem that prevent him from being a normal husband.” In addition you have said that even if 6 psychologists disagreed with the diagnosis – you would not retract the diagnosis because it has been established by two experts. You claim you are simply applying the halacha to the data given by experts – who would not lie because of the assumption that they would not do something to ruin their reputation.

Unfortunately your explanation is a severe misunderstanding of the nature of Psychology and the value of an expert's diagnosis - especially one made based on an opponent's statement. A better model for understanding what has happened here is the following: 

Tamar has been diagnosed with a potentially fatal heart disease. The doctor tells her that her heart will fail unless she stops indulging herself with a diet consisting mainly of pizza, coke, french fries, burgers and candy bars. Despite the warnings, she makes no effort to change her life style because her parents and friends say – as they always have - she is entitled to eat whatever she wants – and no one can tell her what to do.  

Consequently her heart is on the verge of failing and she is told the only way to save her life is to get a heart transplant. The problem is there are few  transplants available and because of her poor health she is on the bottom of the recipient list.

She goes to her rebbe Rav Shmuel with her problem and he tells her that he knows a heart surgeon who has exclusive access to hearts from men executed for crimes in China. He acknowledges that the morality and legality of the use of such hearts is questioned by many but says – “This is pikuach nefesh! You may surely rely on Rav Nota to save your life. While he doesn’t know anything about cardiology he is the world’s best surgeon and transplant man.” 

Rav Shmuel urges her to hire cardiologists to describe her heart condition as terminal and that there is absolutely no other solution than a heart transplant. She finds an expert who is willing to write a report totally based on what she tells him - because she told this expert that her previous doctor said she has very little time left and there is no more time for additional testing. 

She makes sure to leave out any information that indicates that life style changes would improve her condition and she distorts all test results to make her condition look as bad as possible. The cardiologist motivated not only by the fat fee he receives but the belief that he is saving her life - writes a detailed report that paints the darkest picture of her condition. He says there is no alternative to an immediate heart transplant and makes up a couple factors to make it even more powerfully urgent.

The next week Rav Nota transplants a heart from a recently executed human rights dissident. He relies on the reports of two doctors in China that the heart is healthy. With great satisfaction he observes Tamar miraculous recovery from heart failure. She is a new woman and she is very grateful to Rav Nota and to Rav Shmuel for suggesting his services. She returns to her life and her lifestyle with great happiness to be given a second chance.

But rumors start circulating on the Internet and even the mainstream media. There are apparently problems. Reports smuggled out of China indicate that the heart “donor” had a horrible disease. A disease that produces horrible disfigurement and muscle debilitation not only in the heart recipient but also in all her future children  - as well as ruining her husband's health. Various concerned doctors contact Rav Nota to inform him that there is a good chance that the heart is diseased and that it needs to be removed as soon as possible. Rav. Nota is well acquainted with the disease in question, and knows that its incidence in China is much higher than average. In spite of these dangers, he eschews all questions about whether this heart has been adequately confirmed to be free of the disease, and did the operation on the basis of the say so of people he doesn't know - but were described as experts.

Rav Nota replies to his callers, “I am not a cardiologist and I relied on the expert American doctors who wrote the report that she was sick and I relied on the expert Chinese doctors that certified that the heart was healthy. I don’t want Tamar to be upset by these reports. I am going to deny that there is any problem and tell her she shouldn’t worry about these rumors. Since I am relying on experts –  there is nothing to worry about! While these rumors might very well be true – but I will not consider the possibility unless the certifying doctors themselves say they were mistaken. My conscience is clear since I am simply following the rules and I have been guided by the experts  - as well as the beracha from Rav Shmuel himself. Stop bothering me and please don’t say anything to Tamar!”

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