A Voice for the Shotim and Questions for the Docs

I recently read that Freud, Gandhi, Phillip P. Dick and other people of significance experienced hearing voices. I am constantly challenging the conclusions to which Western society has arrived regarding people whose minds work differently than most and the complete faith people have in psychiatry to decide who does and does not need to be hospitalized and medicated against their will.

The state of Israel hospitalizes and medicates people like me, who see and hear things, to points where we feel we have on self, no being, no connection to God, where our minds do not work and we have no drive to live. What is happening to us is deserving of examination.

For nearly two years I have faced people insisting that I acknowledge that I am, as they contend, mentally ill, from psychiatrists to therapists to friends. I have fought this label which I believe creates such an enormous burden of self-doubt and loss of power for the person with it that it can destroy lives.

My experiences in group therapy run by my health care provider showed me that there is a system that creates identity for those with disorder or illness-designation which requires repetition of label by the patient to ensure submission to authority, loss of value in self of the patient due to that repetition and other factors and a resulting state of hopelessness for anything good in life for the patient, who cannot work, does not have friends and who believes only psychiatrists and therapists can help them, that they are unable to change their own lives.

Out of the thirty to forty people I met while attending group for five hours a day, five days a week for five or six months, I saw people with manic depression, other schizophrenics, people with PTSD, hoarders and others break down in tears after speaking about their feelings at the encouragement of mental health professionals and therapists.

Many have been attending group for years, some for up to a decade. One day towards the end of my time with them I said, “I am not mentally ill. My mind works differently. I have challenges (yes, I can be considered disabled due to how my mind can at times affect how I function in modern society). I will not be in this group much longer. I learned as a combat soldier in the IDF every problem has a solution. Some we may not like. But there is no such thing as a problem that cannot be solved.”

I was met with shouting from a number of group participants. “You cannot say you aren’t mentally ill! You cannot say that!” I had challenged the framework of reality that the mental health care system, therapists and society had created for them over the course of years and decades of reinforcement.

I play out conversations in my mind, imagining how they would go. I believe if I were to assert to a doctor that psychiatry should not label people like me with a “disorder” but rather state we are, “people whose minds function differently than most, presenting us with visions, sounds and sensations that doctors cannot explain, with minds doctors do not understand and with experiences ranging from speaking with angels to God, which doctors cannot prove to not be real, regardless of their own beliefs in such entities,” many psychiatrists, if honest, would respond, “but if we were to do that we would lose our legal power and mandate to be able to commit and medicate you – we wouldn’t be able to fix you.” If I said that sounded “Orwellian” I’d be told that I was being paranoid.

A few months back, at a hearing with state psychiatrists, I was met with looks of disbelief and asked to repeat what I’d said when I told a panel deciding whether or not I was in need of court mandated psychiatric supervision that I work part time and write about my experiences living with schizophrenia.

“You write?” They asked. Most schizophrenics I’ve met in Jerusalem wander around, sit on benches quietly or stare away – not only because they experience reality differently but also because the are so heavily medicated and/or because they have learned from doctors, therapists and those around them that they are incapable of doing anything of significance in life because their minds are so faulty they cannot be valued members of society. They are thrown away. We are discarded.

When you see and hear things your thoughts are given little to no value or credit. Our entire Jewish culture is based on the laws and teachings of great people – men and women – who are said to have seen and heard things.

People offer incredible resistance when I openly challenge the thinking and methods of deduction I have repeatedly recognized when facing psychiatrists who, from the moment we begin speaking together, see in me a person who cannot know what he or she is experiencing and must be medicated in order to not be an affront to the comfort of those around him in society and because, as they like to say, the person with delusions “could become violent.” Most of us never do.

I recently asked a rabbi I’ve known for twenty years how, if it says in the Talmud that in our day prophecy is given to children and “shotim,” – people like me and other crazy, disabled or “disturbed” people – how the rabbis or rabbinic authority simply hand us over to doctors who do not believe in God and call us sick so that we are medicated to the point where we lose ourselves and our souls.

Do the rabbis not have an obligation to ask what we are experiencing and to perhaps look around the world to other cultures where people like me become valued shaman or gurus etc., and try to find out if there are tools to learn and teach us so that we can then live with our visions and voices and be people of value rather than discarded and forgotten. Do they not have a responsibility, and how would we have been handled thousands of years ago. If we were valued would we be a challenge to their power as authorities in matters of God and those who speak for him? Even if we did not claim moral authority or try to change tradition but simply offered ways of seeing our world today that challenged the establishment would we ever be accepted as divinely inspired? After all, God created our minds and allows us to see and hear that which others do not. And how is reality defined when it comes to matters of divine inspiration?

He said I was asking good questions and that in ancient times we would have been taken to prophets in order to understand what was happening with us. Today the only authority is rabbinical. And if someone tells a rabbi they are hearing God, seeing an angel or confronted by demons, most often than not the rabbi will send them to a psychiatrist or the hospital, to the doctors who have no God in treating such things.

Today we do not have prophets. But might those of us seeing and hearing things be some of the shotim? Is asking that question proof of insanity? Is it insane to believe a magical man called the Messiah will come to lead us to redemption and God’s Temple will fall from the sky or that a dead rabbi is that messiah and to put his pictures everywhere or to believe that Allah necessitates forty days of fasting or that a man killed on a cross hears all prayers?

There may be arguments over what the term shotim means and what we experience. If we are not shotim, did God not create our minds? How, in the Jewish state, are members of the Nation of Israel, the people of prophets and the Book, the people who celebrate Moses and Abraham and Issac and Jacob, in the state that closes government facilities in observance of holidays consistent with religious law, can we be so easily forgotten?

The rabbi saw value in my arguments. He wondered how the rabbis would go about helping people like me. I am not insisting I am one of the shotim. But I have no problem proposing that to people who are observant yet say we must follow the opinions of psychiatrists who do not believe in God. I have no problem proposing that possibility to ask what is and is not sanity in a country where the government can fall because work is carried out on Shabbat. I have no problem asking that question because in a legal argument a matter of faith should not be grounds for condemnation as unable to properly perceive reality.

I am not a moral authority in any sense. I am not claiming to be an authority to replace psychiatrists or rabbis. I am saying that we have questions to ask and we are not asking them and people are being left to rot with lives robbed of value.

I am not a prophet. God told me so numerous times when I used to hear him. And if I can quietly walk down the street and work part time and live my life does it make me insane to believe it was God?

Should psychiatrists and rabbis be the authority on whether or not God speaks to people and should people like me be forced to say we are mistaken and it was only delusions of our mind? Maybe we’re shotim. Maybe not. But who has the authority to say what we are in God’s eyes and whether or not we have value in today’s society? The rabbis? The psychiatrists?

God told me lots of things that many people might find interesting. He’s quite upset with the psychiatrists. And the rabbis. But no one wants to listen to me. I’m just someone called schizophrenic, someone with a disorder, one of the thrown-away shotim. But I’m not mentally ill. Even the doc said so.

About the Author
Greg Tepper moved to Israel in 1997 from the United States. He served in an IDF combat unit and completed approximately 15 years of reserve duty until he was discharged at 38. He used to write news for the Times of Israel and other publications and is now focusing on fiction inspired by his experiences in a schizophrenic psychosis in Jerusalem for the duration of a year.
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