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MENTALINCOMPETENCE
AND
ITSIMPLICATIONSINJEWISHLAW123
Mental
Incompetence
and
Its
Implications
in
Jewish
Law
Rabbi].
David
Bfeich
One
of
themostbasicissues
of
concerntopersonsinvolvedinthemental
health
careprofessions
is
formulation
of
thecriteriawhichmarkthedistinctionbetweenmentalcompetence
and
mentalincompetenceforpurposes
of
Halakhah.
The
problem
is
hardly
anovelone.Intimesgone
I:)y
theissuewasprimarilythe
questionof
legalcapactiyforpurposesofexecutingareligiousdivorceinsituationsinwhichawifesoughtadivorcefroma
husband
who
wasmentallydistrubed.
At
present.
when
somuchmorecanbedone
on
behalf
of
thementally
ill.
thequestionarisesmostfrequentlyinthecontext
of
thetherapist'sobligation
10
encourageperformance
of
mizvot
and
hisconcommitantobligationto
caution
againstinfraction
of
Jewishlaw.
These
obligationsmay,
at
times.be
of
paramount
significanceindeterminingthemode
of
therapywhichmaybe
undertaken
inconsonancewithhalakhicnorms.Invirtuallyallcasesthepossibility
ofundertaking
toprovideatrulyvalue-free
therapy
canbecontemplated
only
when,by
virtue
of
hismentalcondition,thepatient
may
bedeemed
10
beabsolvedfromtheobligationsandconstraintsimposed
by
Jewishlaw.
RoshYeshiva,RabbiIsaacElchananTheologicalSeminary;Professor
of
Law,Benjamin
N.
CardozoSchool
of
Law,YeshivaUniversity
 
THEJOURNALOFHAlACHA
Any
analysis
of
thisquestionmustbegin
with
an
elucidation
of
theterm
shoteh.
The
term
is
ageneralone
and
is
employedinr.abbinicsources
to
denoteaperson
who
is
mentallyincompetenteitherbyreason
of
insanity
or
mentalretardation.
Diagnosis
of
thismentalstateisbymeans
of
overtbehaviorpallerns.
The
criteri.a
of
a
shoteh
areformulatedinthe
Tosefta,Terumot
1:3,
and
cited
by
theGemara,
Hagigah
3b,inasomewhatdifferentform:
Our
Rabbistaught:
Who
isa
shoteh?
Onewho
goes
out
aloneatniRht;
one
who
spendsthe
night
in
acemetery;andone
who
tearshisgarments.
The
Gemara
continuesitsdiscussionby
adducing
adisputebetweentwoAmoraimwithregardtothemeaning
of
thisdictum.Rav
Huna
considersthelist
ofsymptoms
presentedasindicative
of
mentalincompetencetobeconjunctiveinnature.According
to
Rav
Huna,
aperson
is
notconsideredtobea
shoteh
unlesshemanifestseach
of
thethreeforms
of
bizarre
conduct
describedbythe
Tosefta.
RavYohanandisagrees
and
assertsthatthecriteriaarelisteddisjunctively.AccordingtoRavYohanana
person
is
deemeda
shoteh
if
he
manifests
anyone
of
thethree
forms
of
erralic
conduct
depictedinthe
Tose/ta.
The
Gemara,however,isfullycognizantthatvirtually
any
mode
ofconduct
may,attimes,beentirelyrational.Hence,the
Gemara
is
not
prepared
10
acceptbizarreconduciin
and
of
itself
as
arbitrarilyestablishingmentalincompetence.
On
the
other
hand,ifa
person's
actionsaremanifestlyirrationalit
is
difficulttoperceive
why
Rav
Huna
insiststhatlack
of
mentalcompetence
be
evidenced
in
threediversetypes
of
activity.Accordingly,theGemeraqueries:
What
is
thecase?
If
hedoestheminanirrational
manner,even
one
is
[sufficienttoestablishmenialincompetence];
if
hedoesnot
do
them
in
an
irrationalmanner,evenall
of
them[establish]nothing.Indeed
[the
Tose/ta
refers
10
acase
in
which]hedoesthemin
an
irrationalmanner.Butifhe[only]
spent
the
 
MENTALINCOMPETENCE
AND
ITS
IMPUCATIONSIN
JEWISHLAW125
night
in
acemetery,Imightsay:Hedid(it)
in
order
thatthespirit
of
impuritymightrest
upon
h:m.
If
he
(only)went
out
aloneatnight,Imightsay:Hewasseizedby
ganderipos
(melancholy
or
heat:Rashi).
If
he(only]torehisgarmentImightsay:Hewaslostinthought.Butsincehedid
all
of
themhebecomeslike(anox)whichgoresanox,anass
and
acamel.
and
becomes[thereby]aforewarnedgorer
(mw'ad/
with
regardtoallanimals.Severalprinciplesemergefromthisdiscussion:
1)
Erraticconduct,nomatter
how
bizarre
it
mayappear,
is
notindicative
of
mentalincompetenceifthereexistsarationalbasis
For
such
conduct.
2)
Irrationalbehavior,eveniflimited
and
manifestin
onlyone
type
of
activityisasufficientcriterion
of
shelul
or
mentalincompetenceprovided
t h ~ t
norationalexplanationfor
such
conductmaybeadvanced.3)
The
controversybetween
Rav
Huna
and
RavYohanan
is
limited
to
situationsinwhich
no
obvious
explanationforaberrantbehaviorpresentsitselfbutinwhich
such
anexplanation,albeit
one
whichisfarfetched,isconceivable.AccordingtoRav
Huna,
manifestation
of
what
is
prima
facie
an
irrational
patternof
behaviorin
one
or
twoareas
ofconductmay
bedismissed
by
ascribingunlikely
but
rationalexplanations;
but
aberrantbehaviorinthreeareas
ofconduct
cannotberationalizedinthismanner.According
to
Rav
Yohanan
evenasingleform
of
behaviorwhich
is
primafacie
irrationalinnature
is
sufficienttoestablishmentalincompetence.
This
disputebetweenRav
Huna
and
Rav
Yohanan
is
considerablymodified
by
theGermara,
Hagigah
4a.
The
Gemara
citesa
further
tannaiticdictum:
"Who
is[deemedtobe]a
shoteh?
One
whodestroys
all
that
is
givento
him."This
Form
of
behavior
inand
of
itself
is
deemed
by
the
Gemara
toconstituteabsoluteevidence
of
mentalincompetenceevenaccording
to
Rav
Huna
and,accordingly,theGemaraconcludesthat,
"learingone's
garments,"
sinceit
is
but
aform
of
"destroyingallthat
is
givento
him",
isinitselfsufficientevidenceforestablishingmentalincompetence.
The

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