Rabbi Yose the Galilean and…Cialis?

By Jamie Bornstein

Erectile dysfunction.

Did that grab your attention? I admit, it’s not the topic I expected would kick off the first installment of the new Drashot section on the Mental Health Safe Space blog. But give me a moment to explain.

I saw a TV advertisement the other day for Cialis. I’ve seen them before. You know, the ones with the tandem-tub-soaking couples deeply infatuated with each other; images oddly juxtaposed against the voice-over’s disconcerting list of possible side effects. (More than four hours?! Yikes.)

I noticed something different about this particular ad, though. While the focus of the ad, the music, the imagery, was clearly about “ED,” it also described the drug’s use to control bladder problems. Brilliant! Embarrassed to talk to your doctor about ED or to pick up your prescription filled by the young woman behind the pharmacy counter? No problem. Cialis treats more than one symptom, so nobody knows for sure that you can’t get it up. Maybe you just have an uncomfortable case of the drips.

I’m not sure if incontinence is truly less embarrassing than impotence, but the marketing professionals seem to think so, and thanks to them, now you can ask for Cialis leaving a little bit more of your manly dignity intact.

So what’s this got to do with Torah and mental health?

There’s a Mishnah in Tractate Sotah (Chapter Eight, Mishnah Five) that discusses the speech given to soldiers before going out to battle, specifically who is exempt from war.

“Then the officers shall go on addressing the troops and say, ‘Is there anyone afraid and disheartened'” (Deuteronomy 20:8).

The Mishnah gives three opinions of what “afraid and disheartened” means. I want to focus on the first two.*

Rabbi Akiva offers the first opinion and is the literalist. Those who are truly afraid of battle are exempt. Presumably they are a liability to the war effort in that they will likely bring down the morale of their follow soldiers.

Next is the opinion of Rabbi Yose the Galilean. He does not necessarily disagree with Rabbi Akiva, but offers a second interpretation: A soldier might be afraid and disheartened because he has committed transgressions in the past and therefore fears he will die in battle as a result of his improprieties.

Rabbi Yose the Galilean goes on to say that the Torah deliberately includes both possibilities, Rabbi Akiva’s literalist reading along with his own, so that a soldier can exempt himself from battle without the true reasons being publicly disclosed with certainty.

Similar to the Cialis example above, I’m not sure if being a transgressor is any more or less embarrassing than fearing battle, but the rabbis seem to agree with the psychological approach of the big pharma marketing professionals.

Perhaps this concept is well known and already has a name, but for our purposes I’m going to call it the Galilean Rule. I’ll define it as follows: “One who has an embarrassing ailment is more at ease knowing that his/her peers can only inconclusively suspect one of two or more embarrassing conditions rather than being decidedly aware of a singular embarrassing truth.”

The importance of dignity for someone suffering is no small matter. I wonder how we might apply the Galilean Rule in the world of mental health for the sake of creating comfortable and dignified access to needed treatment. To be clear, I am not arguing that those with mental health issues should forever hide behind the opaqueness of the Galilean Rule. The mission of Mental Health Safe Space is quite the opposite. That said, as long as issues of dignity are barriers for those in need of help, they must be addressed.

Here’s just one idea, and I hope those reading this piece will contribute other ideas in the comments section below. Why don’t more mental health professionals deliberately set up their offices within general practice clinics? I once ran into a colleague, someone with whom I worked closely, in the waiting room of a mental health clinic. It was awful – staring at him and drafting a story in my mind about his “issues” and knowing he was likely doing the same about me. Had we been in a general clinic, though, we could have been there to see our psychiatrist, or just there to get annual physicals. Thank you Rabbi Yose the Galilean!

How else might we apply the Galilean Rule to benefit those suffering from mental illness? If the one who has transgressed so badly that he fears divine retribution on the battle field deserves a more dignified way to excuse himself from war, all the more so we should make access to mental health services as dignified as possible.


*If you’re one of those people who simply must know the third opinion, here you go: Rabbi Yose (a different one) seems to more or less agree with the opinion of Rabbi Yose the Galilean, but he alters it. One is not afraid and disheartened and therefore exempt from war, he argues, because of past transgressions, rather only because of ongoing transgressions, such as being actively involved in a forbidden marriage.


Jamie Bornstein is the founder of Mental Health Safe Space. He lives in Sharon, MA with his wife and three children. He is the assistant director of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies, North America. He can be reached at mhsafespace@gmail.com.

 

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