J-Wire Digital Jewish news daily for Australia and New Zealand
Rabbi Raymond Apple served for 32 years as the chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, Australia’s oldest and most prestigious congregation. He was Australia’s highest profile rabbi and held many public roles…and answers your questions.
Q. What is the Jewish opinion on hypnosis?
A. There are two issues – may a Jew practise or submit to hypnosis, and is an act performed under hypnosis deemed a conscious act by Jewish law?
On the first issue, the answer depends on whether hypnosis is merely a resort to dark supernatural practices, which would presumably come under the heading of witchcraft.
There was a time when hypnosis was rare and treated with suspicion by the medical profession, but now that it has some legitimacy we would tend to follow the view of the 19th-century authority, Rabbi Jacob Ettlinger, in responsum no. 67 in his “Binyan Tziyyon”. He was asked about a pious man who was advised to undergo magnetism or mesmerism. Gentile physicians assured the rabbi that the procedure had mental health benefits and was not necromancy. The rabbi therefore approved hypnotism as a valid treatment.
In relation to the second problem, Rabbi Joseph Schwarz addresses the question of a hypnotised shochet (kosher animal slaughterer) in the magazine “Vay’lakket Yosef”. If the shochet carries out shechitah whilst under hypnosis, is his act halachically valid?
Technically he does not need the same degree of mental intention as in saying the Sh’ma, where mental intention is everything. Nonetheless, if the hypnotised shochet carries out the act properly he must have some level of mental awareness and his act is valid. The discussion is reported by Solomon B. Freehof in his “Responsa Literature”, 1959, ch. 7.
DOCTOR OR RABBI?
Q. If a person is sick, whom do they need – a doctor or a rabbi?
A. They need both. Judaism says you are a pious idiot if you leave everything to God and refrain from going to the doctor. But it doesn’t leave it there. It also urges a sick (or for that matter a healthy person) to get spiritual assistance, which can help towards hope, equilibrium, certainty, security and atonement.
Carl Jung says in his “Modern Man in Search of a Soul” (1936, page 264), “Among all my patients in the second half of life – that is to say, over 35 – there has not been one whose problem in the last resort was not that of finding a religious outlook on life. It is safe to say that every one of them felt ill because he had lost that which the living religions of every age have given to their followers. And none of them has been really healed who did not regain his religious outlook.”
Yes, these words were written more than eighty years ago, but I cannot imagine that they could be bettered.
Rabbi Apple is now retired and lives in Jerusalem.