OzTorah: Ask the Rabbi – Hypnosis

OzTorahQuestion.   What is the Jewish opinion on hypnosis?

Answer.      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.

credit: Jerusalem Post.

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.


Question.   If a person is sick, whom do they need – a doctor or a rabbi?

Answer.      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.


Question.   Do husbands have a right in Jewish law to beat their wives?

Answer.      Decidedly not. According to the Talmud it is wrong just to raise your hand against another person even if you do not actually hit them (Sanh. 58b). The sages say that a husband must love his wife as himself and respect her more than himself (Yev. 62b; Sanh. 76b).

Maimonides, who thinks (Hil’chot Ishut 21:10) a man is allowed to beat his wife in order to make her perform her duties, is trenchantly criticised by other authorities who say they have never heard of Jews indulging in beating their wives.

A man who beats his wife is as guilty as anyone else who commits assault. The fact that she is his wife does not justify his treating her badly. If she brings him to the Beth Din they will order him to take a solemn oath not to do this ever again. If he disobeys the court can order him to be chastised and flogged and placed under a community stigma.

The R’ma adds in his gloss to the Shulchan Aruch (Even Ha’Ezer 154:3) that wife-beating is not the custom of Jewish husbands but a heathen practice.


Rabbi 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. He is now retired and lives in Jerusalem.

Rabbi Apple blogs at http://www.oztorah.com

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