Prof. Nahum Rakover, Ph.D.

Deputy Attorney General


Learned audience, I take pleasure in opening the session on psychiatry as part of this international conference, with the participation of expert and respected lecturers, doctors, lawyers and Torah scholars.

Psychiatry is a more obscure subject than other areas of medicine, and more than what we know about it remains unknown. I believe that this evaluation is equally correct with regard to the medical, the legal and the halachic systems, all of which face the same problem of a lack of accurate written definitions. The Rambam in his Laws of Testimony, in his definition of a madman, specifically chooses not to follow in the footsteps of the Tana'im in their descriptions of models of insanity. He instead chooses to broaden the concept considerably, including more possibilities under the category of the insane, including people who would not be defined explicitly as such by the Tana'im. As we know, there are other views among the Rishonim held by R. Simcha of Speyer and R. Avigdor Cohen which narrow the definition of insanity somewhat.

The practical questions which arise today involve several areas: the question of whether the person concerned is fit to execute certain actions as defined by monetary laws (e.g. the writing of a will, or other legal actions within the category of monetary laws), as well as in the area of his responsibility for criminal acts.

When we speak of his responsibility with regard to punishment, we find ourselves asking which set of assumptions we should use in order to decide his guilt. Should we go according to the wider definitions - as in the Laws of Testimony, where the testimony of someone who is insane is disqualified relatively easily, or according to the definition which applies when we ask whether such a person is fit to give his wife a divorce - where the definition of insanity is narrowed down in order that in as many cases as possible the get may be granted? In other words, the concept of insanity may be flexible according to the subject involved, and the question of how we should measure the criminal responsibility of an insane person has not yet been decided. The Rambam himself, in summarizing the subject, writes that each case is determined by the respective judge  "since it is impossible to put it in writing." In other words, the Rambam has given the subject a broad perspective, and perhaps allows for special consideration of new scientific developments.

The first lecturer will be Dr. Motti Mark, Head of the Israeli Mental Health Services. Dr. Mark will provide some basic background to psychiatry in the 1990's. Afterwards, Prof. Yaakov Bazak, Deputy President of the Jerusalem District Court, w ill present the legal situation in Israel. The halachic questions will be responded to by Rav Moshe Mordechai Farbstein, Dayyan of the Rabbinical Court in Netanya and head of the department for the training of dayyanim at the "Imrei David" institutions.