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By Rabbi Johnny Solomon

In this essay I hope to touch on a number of points regarding the extent to which we are
dutybound to be inclusive to those suffering from Mental Illness through exploring the rabbinic
treatment of the shoteh.
In response to the question of ‘Who is a shoteh?’, the Gemara1 answers that this term applies to
someone who goes out alone at night, or one who spends the night in a cemetery, or one who
tears their clothes (for no apparent reason), or who destroys all that is given to him. As Rael Strous
‘the shoteh portrayed as such is best understood today as manifesting symptoms typical of the
insane, or what in clinical terms is known as the psychotic individual. Psychosis in this sense may
be heuristically defined as the state in which an individual lacks the ability to distinguish fantasy
from reality.’ 2
According to the Gemara3, the shoteh is exempt from both positive and negative mitzvot. However,
in cases where the shoteh exhibits itim halim item shoteh – meaning that they cycle in and out of
psychosis4 such as someone who is a manic depressive or suffers from bipolar disorder - they
become obligated for the mitzvot when in remission. Given this, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein5 rules
that a shoteh in remission is obligated to eat matzah for a second time if he or she ate the first
amount in a psychotic condition when exempt from the mitzvah of matzah.
Clearly the halachic status of the shoteh is complex. However, in a section addressing ‘The
Community’s Obligations to the Shoteh’, Rael Strous refers to a number of fascinating sources
addressing topics of inclusion that deserve further explanation:
‘The Mishna in Niddah 13b discusses how the daughter of a kohen, who happens to be a shota, is
assisted by others with nidda preparation and cleansing so that she may participate in eating the
teruma. Similarly, male shotim were assisted by others in the tahara (purificatioln) process and
observed in maintaining this purity so that they could participate in meals of the kohanim.6 In
another example, the courts are obligated to appoint a guardian (apotropos) for a shoteh in order to
protect his rights.7’

1 Chagigah 3b and 4a
2 Rael Strous M.D. ‘Halachic Sensitivity to the Psychotic Individual: The Shoteh’ in Halperin, M., Fink. D., Glick, S.
(2004) Jewish Medical Ethics Vol. 1 p. 299 (see for an
online version). Nb. This essay has been invaluable in the preparation of this essay.
3 Chagigah 2b
4 see Ketubot 20a, Yevamot 113b, Nedarim 36a, Gittin 5a, 23a, Rosh Hashanah 28a
5 Iggrot Moshe, Even HaEzer 2:18
6 Niddah 13b
7 Rambam, Hilchot Mechira 29:4


In all these cases, we see that considerable efforts were made in order to include a shoteh/shota, and
to understand further, we shall now explore each case:


‫ ואוכלות‬,‫ מתקנות אותן‬- ‫ אם יש להן פיקחות‬- ‫ ומי שנטרפה דעתה‬,‫החירשת והשוטה והסומה‬
A woman who is deaf, who is a shota, who is blind, or who has lost her mind. If she has mentally competent women
[available to assist her], they should prepare them [by carrying out a physical examination and accompanying them
to the mikveh] and they may [then] eat teruma.8
Here we find that a ritual impediment is limiting a woman from partaking in food with her family.
As a shota, perhaps it may have been easier to say that she may not partake in the teruma food as it
may only be eaten by someone who has undergone a conscious process of spiritual purification.
Instead, other women actively assist the shota and provide the spiritual intent that she is missing in
order to partake in the teruma.


‫תנו רבנן כהן שוטה מטבילין אותו ומאכילין אותו תרומה לערב‬
The Rabbis taught: In the case of a Kohen shoteh [who has become impure from a seminal emission], we immerse
him [in a mikveh] and in the evening we give him teruma to eat.
Here too, men actively assist the kohen shoteh and provide him with the spiritual intent that he is
missing in order to partake in the teruma. Though it may have been easier simply to restrict the
kohen shoteh from eating the teruma food, it is clear that considerable efforts should be made for
the sake of inclusion.


Rambam rules that:

.‫ והקטן‬,‫ והשוטה‬,‫ החירש‬:‫ דין תורה‬,‫ אין מקחן מקח ואין ממכרן ממכר‬- ‫שלושה‬
There are three types of individuals whose purchase is not considered a binding purchase, nor is their sale considered
a binding sale according to Scriptural Law: a deaf mute, a shoteh, and a minor.9
And he the continues to explain:

‫ ובית דין מעמידים‬.‫ ואין מתנה ממתנותיו קיימת‬,‫ ואין ממכרו ממכר‬,‫ אין מקחו מקח‬- ‫השוטה‬
.‫ כדרך שמעמידין לקטנים‬,‫אפטרופוס לשוטים‬
Neither a sale nor a purchase involving a shoteh is binding, nor are the presents he gives effective. Instead, the Beit
Din must appoint a guardian for such a person, just as it appoints guardians for minors.

8 Mishna Niddah 2:1

9 Rambam, Hilchot Mechira 29:1


Here too, it may be easier simply to disregard the legal needs of the shoteh or argue that he or she
is incapable of engaging in acts of purchase. Yet again we see that the community, and specifically
in this case the Beit Din, acts in a way that includes the shoteh while providing them with a robust
legal representation.
Towards the end of his essay Rael Strous observes that:
‘from the example of the spirit of halacha, it behooves us at all times to maintain sensitivity to
the shoteh. The Talmud in Berachot cites Rava’s instruction that the ultimate purpose of Torah
wisdom encompasses beneficence toward others.10 Not only will the shoteh benefit from this, but
extending sensitivity and discretion toward those less fortunate, and afflicted by disabling illness,
is in and of itself fulfilling.’
What we learn from these remarks and the sources we have studied is that inclusion takes effort
and intent, and that such effort and intent is both halachically, morally and socially necessary.
May we continue to be conscious of the needs of the most vulnerable in our community and do
what is necessary to ensure they are included in our community.

10 Brachot 17a