“Religious society taught us to overcome difficulties, but that sometimes caused harm”
The Robert M. Beren Machanaim Hesder Yeshiva recently studied a number of topics including coping with mental issues, outlooks regarding the body in the personal and romantic sphere, and broader aspects of intimacy and sexuality. Knesset Coalition Chair MK Idit Silman spoke with the students: “I hope to increase public exposure and awareness”
Yishai Elmakies, 14/02/2022
How religious society copes with mental illness; outlooks regarding the body in the personal and romantic sphere; broader aspects of intimacy and sexuality; and building a happy and beneficial relationship – these are only some of the topics that students of Ohr Torah Stone’s Robert M. Beren Machanaim Hesder Yeshiva recently studied as part of a unique series of Study Day seminars held at the yeshiva.
The Study Day on the topic of mental health focused on how people with mental illness cope, as well as how to deal with people with mental illness. The documentary film “Mom Is Not Crazy” was screened, featuring Rabbanit Amira Ra’anan, who has been teaching Halakha and Responsa Literature at the yeshiva for several years.
Rabbanit Ra’anan discussed the subject with seminar participants, sharing with them the daily struggles and challenges she contends with as a woman with mental illness. Professor Tuvia Peri expanded on understanding the medical and therapeutic aspects of mental health. He was followed by Rabbi Yoni Rosenzweig who spoke about the halakhic approach to various mental health situations, and the importance of halakha and its role in the lives of people with mental illness.
“There is a famous saying, ‘a healthy soul in a healthy body’, but to my mind, ‘a healthy body in a healthy soul’ is no less accurate,” stated Health Committee Chair and Coalition Chair MK Idit Silman, who attended the Study Day. Silman detailed her parliamentary efforts in the field of mental health: “As someone who was raised in the religious sector, we were taught to overcome every difficulty and invest efforts in giving, but at times looking inward and analyzing ourselves caused us harm. Holding a conference to raise awareness of mental health issues is a true mitzvah. It is my hope that step by step we will increase public awareness and exposure, and save many more souls.”
“We chose to dedicate an entire day to the topic of mental health in the hope of being better able to cope with those among us who have mental issues, and to learn to accept help when we need it,” said Machanaim’s Rosh Yeshiva Rabbi Shlomo Vilk. “A lack of understanding results in fear and silence, and ultimately we cause injury and get hurt only because of shame and concealment. I hope that at the end of the day we’ll be able to understand a little better, to identify and to discuss the subject in greater detail.”
The second Study Day was held was held at the end of the Shovavim Tat (a period of six to eight weeks each year, in which some Kabbalists teach one should focus on repenting for one’s sins, particularly sexual sins. The name is a Hebrew acronym for the weekly portions of Shemot, Va’era, Bo, Beshalach, Yitro, Mishpatim, Terumah and Tetzaveh). The seminar topic was “Holiness and covenants: body and sexuality, manhood and relationships.” At Yeshivat Machanaim they explained that in recent years the discourse on sexuality has undergone a real transformation in Religious Zionism. There is a positive trend in which the world of Torah and halakha is seeking a connection with the energies inherent in the physical body and in life. This is a trend that is more attentive, released, connected, and empowering. The Shovavim Tat period calls on us to enable the entry of another movement, the kind that empowers and emphasizes holiness and not only freedom; loyalty and not just liberty; ascension and the covenant. Yeshivat Machanaim believes that these are not just two conflicting or even complementary movements, but that they empower each other.
As part of the Study Days conducted at the yeshiva, the students paired off in chevrutot to learn various topics including the Sages’ approach to sexuality, the correct halakhic approach between genders, the holiness of the body, and more. The students also had the privilege of hearing diverse lectures from rabbis and professionals, including Ohr Torah Stone President and Rosh HaYeshiva, Rabbi Dr. Kenneth Brander, who spoke about the Jewish ethics of intimacy and sexuality.