`263 Craziness According to the Torah
Chananya Weissman

March 15, 2023


Contrary to popular belief, the greatest pandemic of our time is not Covid (whatever that even is), but mental illness. Everyone but you and me seems to be mentally ill these days, and I'm not so sure about you.

If you believe what you hear, all of the following groups of people fall into this amorphous, ever-growing classification:

People who are hesitant to take vaccines

Vaccines are indisputably the reason humanity has made it this far, the only explanation for why certain illnesses have ceased to ravage the population, and our only hope for a healthy future. There is nothing even to discuss. Hence, anyone who has the slightest qualm about becoming a pharmaceutical pin cushion must be insane.

Considering the fact that the overwhelming majority of the population is done taking Covid boosters, and never would have taken them in the first place without being relentlessly brainwashed, bribed, bullied, and blackmailed, that's a lot of crazy people.

People who believe the official narrative

According to many people who are hesitant about vaccines (among other things), the vast majority of their counterparts developed something called mass formation psychosis. In other words, they're nuts. Psycho.

Mass formation psychosis is just as invisible and difficult to detect as Covid – there isn't even a PCR test that one can pretend means anything – but it spreads, well, like crazy.

Then again, the psychos claim you're crazy if you don't believe the official narrative. The world is like a whodunnit; who's the real crazy one?

Crazy conspiracy theorists

This is another intentionally ambiguous term that can apply to anyone who doesn't trust the government and corporate media.

Do you believe the government ever tells a fib and the media dutifully promotes it? Crazy.

Do you believe they are covering up the truth about anything of importance? Insane.

Do you believe rich and powerful people collude to become even more rich and powerful? Lunatic.

Do you believe some of these people have nefarious intentions? That they might even be evil? Loco.

Do you believe elections might be rigged by people who will do anything to get power? And that these people will do anything to keep their power? Out of your mind.

Are you concerned that drug companies and their cohorts in high office rig the game in their favor, and have no regard for your wellbeing? You need to take your meds – their meds.

People who feel down, stressed out, overwhelmed, nervous, or otherwise unhappy

This must be a mental illness of sorts, which can be managed (never cured) with a combination of chemicals and psychotherapy. If your feelings improve, it's to their credit, and you should continue. If your feelings don't improve, you need more powerful doses of the former and greater supervision of the latter.

Either way, you are a certified mental patient for life. More bluntly, you're crazy, with all that implies. Cherish the fact that you aren't locked up in a loony bin and don't complain.

Children who aren't perfectly obedient and performing to expectations

There is only one explanation for this worth considering. It isn't that school is boring, uninspiring, and downright stultifying, nor that sitting in place for hours on end having their brains washed isn't most kids' idea of a good time. It also isn't that kids need to be kids, and they need to learn about the world (and how to behave) in a natural, organic way, which can be inconvenient when you have other things to worry about.

No, the only explanation for why your kid is daydreaming in the classroom, struggling academically, and misbehaving is because there is something chemically and mentally wrong with him. Drug him up and label him for life as being ADD, ADHD, OCD, on the spectrum, learning disabled, or some other moniker that is sure to make him feel better about himself. After all, his “disability” has a name, as well as a treatment plan to “manage his behavior” for the rest of his life. What joy!

Don't worry; he can still live a full life – as long as he takes his meds religiously forever. And if the meds don't work, or other problems mysteriously arise that have nothing to do with all those meds, we can give him more meds, more powerful meds, until we get that disorder in order!

And don't worry about stigma, either; almost everyone is on mood-altering and mind-altering meds. It's normal to be crazy! If you think you aren't crazy, you must be in denial.

Now that the science is settled, let's see what the Torah has to say.

The standard term in halacha for a crazy person is shoteh. The same word is often used pejoratively to refer to a fool or someone whose behavior is worthy of contempt. Whereas such people are legally responsible for their actions, a true shoteh lacks mental competence. Like a child, he is exempt from keeping the mitzvos.

Naturally this has tremendous ramifications. For example, a shoteh cannot effect a legal marriage or divorce, nor do we accept testimony from him. It is critical to differentiate between a true shoteh and someone who is merely eccentric.

The best example in Tanach of a crazy person is someone who was actually pretending to be crazy. David was on the run from Shaul, and fled to the land of the Plishtim. The servants of Achish, king of Gat, recognized the man who had killed so many of their people in battle, seized him, and brought him before the king. Desperate, David behaved like a lunatic in their presence, scraped on the gates, and drooled on himself.

Achish rebuked his servants: “Do I lack crazy people that you brought this one to be crazy by me?” (Shmuel I 21:16)

This indicates that a crazy person is someone who behaves in ways that defy all rhyme and reason, who has no understanding of appropriate behavior.

Indeed, Chazal explain that a shoteh is someone who engages in entirely senseless behavior, such as going out alone at night (it was different back then, though places like New York City and Chicago are turning back the clock), tearing his clothing, and sleeping in cemeteries. The Gemara acknowledges that such behavior does not necessarily render one a shoteh, for competent people might engage in such behaviors for specific reasons (see Chagiga 3B and related sources). The clearest indicator that someone is a shoteh is that he destroys valuable things that are given to him (Chagiga 4A), like a child who doesn't distinguish between a rock and a bar of gold.

The Rambam in Hilchos Eidus 9:9 (also see the Tur Choshen Mishpat 35:9) elaborates as follows:

A shoteh is ineligible to testify according to the Torah because he is not liable to keep the mitzvos. A shoteh is not only one who walks around naked, breaks utensils, and throws stones, but anyone whose mind has been torn apart, and his mind is always distorted in a certain matter, even though he speaks and asks questions appropriately in other matters, he is ineligible and is considered to be in the category of shotim.

The Rambam acknowledges that even a shoteh may behave appropriately at times, but if he has taken leave of his senses, he remains a shoteh. The Rambam then contrasts this with one who suffers from epilepsy. When such a person experiences a seizure, he is ineligible, but when he is healthy, he is eligible. The Rambam notes that some people with epilepsy are not mentally competent even when they are physically healthy, and concludes that we must deliberate very carefully when it comes to accepting testimony from such people.

The Rambam continues in halacha 10 as follows:

Those who are extremely foolish, who don't recognize when things contradict one another, and do not have basic understanding of things like ordinary people, as well as those who are terrified and impulsive in their minds, and who are extremely deranged – these are in the category of shotim. And this matter goes according to what the judge sees, for it is impossible to precisely define this in writing.

Although there are strong indicators that someone is a shoteh, it's not always black and white, and every case must be examined on an individual basis. Sometimes we know it when we see it, but sometimes it's complicated.

One thing that is very clear is that we cannot define someone as a shoteh for drawing conclusions that go against a supposed consensus. Today it is fashionable to label someone crazy for their beliefs about Covid, vaccines, and official narratives on a wide range of subjects. Some of these people might fall into the category of shotim depending on how they process information and jump to conclusions, but there is no doubt this would apply to a very small percentage of people, regardless of the veracity of their beliefs. After all, reasonable people can draw different conclusions even if some of them are terribly wrong at times. Being terribly wrong is not synonymous with being incompetent and crazy.

This is a vital point. Nowadays people can easily be diagnosed as “crazy” and stripped of their liberty like the lowest of criminals. Governments around the world weaponize “mental illness” against those whose beliefs may threaten their hegemony, but can't easily be prosecuted for a crime. Labeling people as crazy is a most convenient way to stifle discourse and eliminate the most troublesome dissenters – all for their own safety, of course.

At the same time, liberally referring to people as mentally disabled absolves them of responsibility for their actions when a free pass is unwarranted. If we are to think of everyone who believes that masks and vaccines saved humanity as crazy, then we are denying their possession of free choice, and essentially giving up on them as people. These people are extremely wrong, and their ability to make responsible decisions has been seriously impaired, but they are not necessarily shotim in a legal sense. It's critical to make this distinction.

Rav Moshe Feinstein makes this distinction in Igros Moshe Yoreh De'ah 1:235. This responsa concerns the case of a Jewish woman who had fallen prey to the Christian cult of scientology. She believed that it was forbidden to avail herself of medical treatment, but only to pray to “that man”. She had since passed away, and the question was if she could be buried in a Jewish cemetery despite becoming an apostate, for one of two reasons. The first reason was as follows: “Perhaps she should be considered a shoteh because this belief is crazy, since it prohibits medical treatment even though we see that their prayers to what they believe in do not help at all.”

Rav Moshe rejected this argument out of hand. He explained that all idolaters who worship wood and stone are behaving foolishly, yet they are still punished for their sins and executed. This proves that when a person does something because of a sincere belief – even if it is illogical – he cannot be considered to have lost his mind. Even highly intelligent people can be misled to believe in nonsense, or can misinterpret dreams and other such experiences, and become totally devoted to their faith, to the point of giving up their lives.

Again, these people are terribly wrong, and might behave in extremely irresponsible ways as a result, but they are not crazy. They are still responsible for their actions...and they can still potentially be persuaded away from their erroneous beliefs.

The Amalekites in power wish to leverage this designation to marginalize and eliminate those who dare oppose them, and sow discord among the citizens. The Torah, however, dissuades us from labeling and libeling the people around us as crazy, even if they hold “unacceptable views”. Our relatives and neighbors might be very wrong about things that we consider to be obvious, but that does not make them mentally ill.

It makes them human.



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