Friday, January 1, 2016

Steipler : Yaavetz' cure for severe depression and suicidal impulses - more love and affection with spouse

Steipler (Letters #10): Question: Concerning a person who suffers from severe depression who has tried to commit suicide. Answer. Perhaps it would be helpful to teach his wife to speak to him words of endearment and affection. Perhaps he is one who takes a very ascetic approach to marital relations. In truth that is what he needs for a cure as the Yaavetz states in his Siddur, "There is someone I know who fell into a severe depression and it became apparent from what he said that it is the result of studying Musar books. Because of these pietistic studies he only has marital relations once a week and that only happens after he makes many religious preparations and he only does it exactly at midnight...I told him that he should increase the frequency of marital relations even having them 3 or 4 times a week – or more. And he should be involved in showing affection and hugging and kissing..." Thank G-d he recovered completely from his depression and thus we see clear proof that the advice of the Yaavetz is very helpful....

Rabbi Eidensohn, as a psychologist who recognizes that there is such a thing as depression (which is not always cured by more frequent marital relations) why do you publicise this kind of teshuva? It may lead people to lose their faith in the Gedolim of the previous generation, or conversely it may lead to an increase in suicides.

Also, as an aside, what cure does the Steipler offer for single men? And what about for women?
Daas Torah
Rabbi Sedley - as one who appreciates your genuine intelligence, commonsense and sensitivity - I am troubled by your question.The Steipler did not say that sexual frustration is the source of all depression or that a general cure for depression involves sexuality. Not all the details are included in this letter but it is reasonable to assume that a person with a history of depression and suicidal thoughts has been to therapists. Has already been prescribed medication and psychotherapy - but it isn't working. He is dealing with a person who he presumes to be obsessed with mussar and asceticism and as a result has a very unhealthy relationship with his wife. Such are not unusual in the yeshiva world and people who suffered from inappropriate spiritual endeavors [i.e. too much Mussar] were often referred to the Steipler.The point of the letter and the reason it is given out to chasanim - is not to tell yeshiva avreichim to avoid medical or psychological treatment for depression. It is not to say there is no halachically acceptable cure for depression for single men or women.It is simply to say that an unhealthy focus in spirituality can produce depression. An unhealthy attitude towards sexuality can produce depression. That depression resulting from a warped understanding of yiddishkeit and one's human needs - is not a badge of honor.A person needs to know what the Torah expects of him and what his or her genuine human needs and obligations are - and not try deny them by being a "tzadik".i
 .קהלת ז (טז) אַל תְּהִי צַדִּיק הַרְבֵּה וְאַל תִּתְחַכַּם יוֹתֵר לָמָּה תִּשּׁוֹמֵם

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