9/12/2014

Rav Asher Weiss on OCD

About two weeks ago, I posted on facebook a summary of R. Asher Weiss's responsum on OCD. I wrote:

Responsum #134 is quite possibly one of the greatest responsa I've ever read (I don't claim great expertise, but I've read quite a few and find it to be one of the most enjoyable forms of Jewish learning). 
It is addressed to a talmid chakham who suffers from OCD, who has been instructed by doctors to never repeat words during davening even if he thinks he mispronounced them (a practice I call "shmonging"). He asks R. Asher whether a) he should listen to them and b) assuming he should listen to them, should he take measures to minimize the problems that may result from possibly improper recitation of berakhot (for example, never eating a k'dei svi'a of bread so that he never has a Torah obligation to bentch). 
The responsum is divided into three parts. In the first, R. Asher establishes that the correspondent should listen to the doctors even if it means neglecting positive mitzvot. In the second, he cautions against trying to minimize such halakhic problems, as the constant search to obviate halakhic dilemmas will merely feed his obsessiveness, when the whole point of the exercise is to help him learn to live with it. In the third section, R. Asher allows that if the correspondent is concerned with occasions that he is responsible for others' mitzvot, he should let another do it instead. For example, his wife should make Kiddush for everyone in the family. And if there are guests, he should overcome his shame and ask one of the guests to make Kiddush. After all, he would not be ashamed to ask for assistance if he were missing a limb; this form of disability is no different.
I recommend reading it inside. The humanity and understanding that shine through in this responsum are simply breathtaking. R. Asher never tells his correspondent that he is "wrong" for thinking that his speech acts are insufficient. And yet, even as he gives the patient the validation he craves, he shapes and works within those constraints just as a therapist would, even encouraging him to move ever so slightly out of his comfort zone (don't be ashamed of your illness; have your wife make Kiddush for you). It answers the halakhic question, but more importantly it answers the person asking it (think the iconic scene in "Patch Adams."
Just amazing.

It got a lot of "likes" for a responsum summary, or so it seemed to me.
Last night after Rav Asher's shiur, I was shmoozing with a fellow attendee when Rav Asher walked by to join his ride. He said hello and continued, but a couple of seconds later he turned around and came back. He said to me: "You're Fischer, right? Elli Fischer?"
I answered in the affirmative.
"You wrote something about my teshuva? Someone send me something you wrote."
Gulp. I became terrified and began to hem and haw.
He said: "No, no. It's okay. I liked it very much. You were right."
And then he thanked me for promoting him.

A couple of takeaways:
1) Someone follows me on facebook and reports to Rav Asher. That's somewhat frightening. You know who you are.
2) I hope that's all he's seen from my feed.
3) There's probably a "mussar haskel" in there, but I refuse to learn anything from this.
One last thing: Rav Aryeh Leibowitz has a 17-minute "Ten Minute Halacha" on this responsum. Worth a listen.
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