Yes Anat, The Biblical Prophets Were Mentally Ill (Crazy Good)

Anat Ghelber, a Times of Israel blogger, wrote a column on December 23, 2017 conjecturing that the Prophets (Neve’im) were mentally ill.

Yes Anat, you are correct, the prophets were crazy. However, when we use the term “mentally ill,’ or “crazy” or “psychotic,” we are using a 20/21st century standard of measurement to evaluate the ancient Neve’im.  Sadly, when we diagnose someone as mentally ill in our society today, we deem many of the mentally ill to lack capacity and judgment to make sound decisions.

Fortunately, our tradition has a different method of measuring a person. Our rabbis measure a person through “midot” and intent.  We look at a person through his values, virtues and intentions.  Both the wise child as well as the evil child of the Passover Haggadah asks the same question, but we are aware of their intentions.

Thank goodness our tradition has a different method of judging people.  After all, our founding father, Abraham, heard an anomalous voice ordering him to take his family a thousand kilometers west, set up shop in a strange land, because, as that voice told him, someday a great nation will sprout from him.  That same voice also told him to sacrifice his son.  And yet, that voice was spot on and the rest is history.

In the Book of Prophets, men were told to confront kings face to face and question their moral leadership, or to also go into strange cities, such as Nineveh, and scream out “REPENT!!!”

That tradition of insanity continues to today.  In 1985, Elie Wiesel, in front of a barrage of TV cameras, told the President of the United States not to go to the German Military Cemetery at Bitburg because some Nazis were buried there.  “That place,” Mr. Wiesel stated sternly but eloquently, “is not for you.”  Mr. Wiesel, who witnessed and was affected by the Kingdom of Darkness, followed in the tradition of our prophets.

Even Moshe the Beadle in Mr. Wiesel’s memoir Night, followed in the tradition of the prophets.  After escaping the Polish Death Camps, Moshe went back to Sighet, Hungary, to warn the Jews.  They considered him to be crazy, incapacitated, and tragically did not listen to him, because simply put, Moshe was “nuts.”

Finally, the question is, would there be a modern-day Nation of Israel were not for one man who historians considered to be acutely bipolar?  That man, who led the First Zionist Congress, who probably in his manic state, dreamt, predicted and wrote about a Jewish state (Der Judenstaat), and met with the world leaders was also spot on in his drive and dreams.  What would world Jewry be like today without Theodore Herzl?  Would there even be a State of Israel?

Thank heavens that Judaism views the legitimacy of each and every person no matter their state of mind and emotional being.  Thank goodness for “crazy.”  As modern and sophisticated we think we are, we still have a lot to learn about the human condition and ourselves.

About the Author
For nearly thirty years, Saul passionately devoted and immersed himself to studying Jewish life in interwar Europe. Overnight, not only did this 1000-year-old community vanish, but so did its complex communal infrastructure. What piqued Saul Chapnick’s interest and curiosity was finding out exactly what it was that disappeared. In talking to politicians, survivors, scholars, Jewish communal leaders from Eastern Europe, and making trips there, Saul Chapnick was able to uncover the richness and the tragedy of interwar Jewish life in Europe. At the same time, Mr. Chapnick has discovered a limited reawakening of Jewish life in his parents’ and ancestors’ native land, Poland. Saul Chapnick has talked in various venues whether Yiddish and Yiddish Culture still has relevance today. He has also spoke about the importance this 19th and 20th Century world has to contemporary life today as well as to post-Holocaust Jewish identity. He also prepares the adult participants of The March for the Living about modern day Jewish Poland
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