Whatsapp They admitted to religious taboos ranging from same-sex attraction to extramarital affairs. The treatment they received was alarmingly severe. Joseph, a thin man with a delicate bearing and soft gray eyes, has a mellifluous accent that is hard to place — evidence of growing up in the United States but in a world apart.
He worked as a travel agent, spending his days arranging flights to far flung places, often for people with more freedom than he could ever dream of. Like many Hasidim, Joseph who, like several of the people interviewed for this article, requested that his real name not be used here married at twenty. His wife was the first woman he had ever touched, and she got pregnant soon after their wedding. But their sex life left much to be desired for both partners, and then petered out altogether.
After their fourth child was born, Joseph says she stopped going altogether. Joseph grew desperate for intimacy. After two years of celibacy, he finally went to a strip club, Stiletto, on Route About once a month, Joseph would go back to the strip club.
Sometimes there would be other Hasidic men there. One day Joseph sold a ticket over email to a Hasidic woman planning a family trip. A mild flirtation developed when she got her ticket and made a throwaway comment about the airport code listed at the bottom of the itinerary — something most customers never noticed. Joseph remembered their first interaction fondly: She had an open-mindedness and a brassy confidence that Joseph found intriguing; her curiosity about the world mirrored his own. After a week of email flirting, they arranged to meet at a movie theater.
When Joseph saw Dini, he was very attracted to her. But he was struck by something else, too. The two continued to see each other, and fell in love. The community got involved. Joseph says they got involved in every level of his life, in order to prevent him from leaving his family and starting a new one. Joseph was faced with a choice: He capitulated, and promised never to see Dini again. But that was not enough. The askan chose a psychologist to provide Joseph with talk therapy, and then a psychiatrist for medication, who started Joseph on a course of chemical treatment for sex addiction.
He urged his disciples to develop a personal relationship with God through mystical teachings. Today, there are about a quarter of a million Hasidim in the U. After the Holocaust, the remnants of these communities made their way to the United States, where they began to flourish, exhorted by their leaders to repopulate the Jewish people and to radically separate from the secular world that had caused them so much loss.
Many of these communities are now all but self-sufficient; they have their own ambulances, police forces, businesses and Yiddish-speaking schools. They have internal economies based on deluges of charity that cascade from the richest to the poorest. The focus of these communities is on securing the collective good. Conformity is strictly enforced. There is also strict separation of the sexes: Men and women, who typically marry between eighteen and twenty, are kept apart before and after their arranged marriages.
While sex is a taboo subject, masturbation is often discussed, absolutely verboten, and rigorously policed. A man from the Satmar community in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, told me that he knew of two rabbis with cabinets full of medications that they dispensed to boys who had been caught or confessed to masturbating, as well as to couples having marital difficulties.
Perceived aberrations are punished in the arena that matters most — the marriage market. If word got out that someone were on medication, that information could hurt her chances of making a good match, and those of her immediate and even extended family members.
But recently, non-Hasidic psychologists and psychiatrists have been making inroads on topics like post-partum depression and trauma therapy through workshops and ultra-Orthodox publications. When I did research in the s, many were reluctant to go to therapists and prescription drugs were stigmatized. These days, therapy is more accepted. Therapists and rabbis may work together, and like for so many in the secular world as well, prescription drugs for certain diagnoses are not uncommon. Joseph is one of many Hasidic Jews in the United States and Israel who are taken by community operatives like askanim to see psychiatrists for what are essentially religious, rather than psychiatric, difficulties.
One woman told me that, when she confessed to an askan and later to a psychiatrist that the strictures of her life made her feel stuck, she was prescribed anti-depressants. She was prescribed Abilify, an anti-psychotic medication. Another young woman, who had kissed a girl at school, was compelled by the principal to see the same psychiatrist.
But taken in a different light, these off-label uses are consistent with a current American mentality that uses medical interventions as technologies for optimization. Think for example of the use of growth hormones to enhance height, or Ritalin to optimize concentration, or plastic surgery to enhance beauty, or even amputations to optimize expressions of sexual identity.
Are the uses of psychiatric medications to enhance religious performance so different from these practices? And are they necessarily unethical? Metzl, a professor of psychiatry and the director of the Center for Medicine, Health and Society at Vanderbilt University, told me. Doctors over-prescribe anti-anxiety medications to women, and they over-diagnose African-American males with schizophrenia, he explained, because doctors themselves live with cultural biases.
According to Jewish law, a woman who commits adultery is barred from marrying the man with whom she cheats on her husband, and Joseph and Dini wanted a future together. When a psychologist diagnosed Joseph with sex addiction, he tried to correct him. The askan also made Joseph an appointment with a psychiatrist named Dr.
Before they went to the appointment, Joseph says that the askan coached him in what to say and how to say it in order to procure the treatment that the askan thought was appropriate. According to Joseph, the plan in mind was that Dr. When I reached the askan by phone, and asked him if he had arranged for a man having an affair to get Lupron Depot shots, he interrupted me.
Richard Price in his Monsey, New York, office. Price that he could not stop thinking about sex and running after women. Price initially prescribed a small dose of Risperdal, an anti-psychotic medicine, and recommended that Joseph go back to talk therapy. After that, he prescribed Lupron Depot. Joseph got the shot four times over a period of three months.
I went to Refuah [Health] Center to have a nurse stick it up my ass. I had to drop my pants, turn around, and have her put it in. Price was eager to talk when I called to ask about his work as a psychiatrist catering to the Hasidic community. He invited me to his private practice, situated in the upstate New York town of Monsey, where there is a large Orthodox and Hasidic population. His office is in a two-story building at the edge of a strip mall that also houses a kosher restaurant, a kosher candy store, a Jewish bookstore, and a pharmacy.
Price is a tall man with a childlike, clean-shaven face and jet-black hair cut across his forehead in a straight line. He wore a black yarmulke and a crisp navy suit and tie. When I arrived, he told me excitedly about a treatment he had come up with for autism, which he said has high rates in ultra-Orthodox communities. He had tried the treatment on his son, and is now having the powder baked into cookies at a local kosher factory. He showed me a bag: Price went to a Jewish day school.
After college and medical school, he earned his rabbinical ordination from Ohr Somayach, a non-Hasidic ultra-Orthodox institution. This gave him the cultural knowledge he needed to treat Hasidim, he says, though he is not himself Hasidic. He serves as the medical director of the Bikur Cholim of Rockland County, a mental health clinic that serves the ultra-Orthodox community. Two thirds of Dr. Sometimes, he uses medication to treat the symptoms, if he determines that they are psychiatric in nature.
Other times, he sends the patient to a rabbi for a dispensation to eliminate the religious cause. Psychiatric medication addresses symptoms, not root causes, Dr. Price told me; symptoms like anxiety, depression, paranoia, and overall distress can coincide with living a life of strict religious practice. I asked whether he prescribes SSRIs to prevent masturbation. The first time I asked about Joseph, Dr. He fondly patted a large and ornately embellished chest next to his chair.
Price said, a psychiatrist can do very little to guard against a patient who may have been coached on what to say. Later, I returned to Dr. He read me the notes he had written neatly across a yellow paper. He blamed himself, and he never told his parents. Price stood by the treatment. When I told Joseph about my conversations with Dr.
Moishe told me that he suffered from religious doubts, which he believed caused him to become manic. I was completely off my rocker. The askan took Moishe to see Dr. Moishe believes that Dr. Price saved him from a terrible fate. He would give them medication.
Or is the problem with the religious context?