Meir was from a town in Canada where his father was the rav of a small kehillah, having done a great job of ensuring regular minyanim and keeping the local supermarket stocked with kosher meat. He’d even gathered a small following for the daf yomi shiur after Maariv, and while Meir didn’t know what it was like to grow up among minyan factories and kosher pizza shops, he had a solid understanding of Yiddishkeit from his devoted parents.

Once he was old enough for mesivta, Meir followed in his older brother’s footsteps to the East Coast. His rebbeim saw a sharp kid with a good head, so no one made too much of the chumros that Meir slowly began to pile on. “Maybe it’s because he’s so excited to finally be living in Frum Veldt?” suggested one of Meir’s rebbis to Meir’s father. Because his learning was good and there weren’t any problems, Meir’s stringencies were overlooked.

As he entered shidduchim, Meir’s observance had become a bit inflexible, but his devotion and hasmadah impressed the shadchanim. Soon he was married to Sury, a Lakewood girl who never thought to ask questions about why he davened 30 minutes longer than the other bochurim or why he was so makpid on netilas yadayim.

The couple set up their initial home in Lakewood and Meir planned to continue on in BMG, but a few weeks after the wedding, Meir’s father broke his leg on the ice outside the shul, and it was going to be weeks before he’d be able to walk through the cold to shul on Shabbos. So instead of staying on in Lakewood, Meir and Sury decided to head up to Canada to help out while his father recovered.

Maybe it was the stress of being married, the move up to Canada, or just that it was the first time Meir had someone new paying attention to his daily habits. One way or another, Sury was confused and disturbed by the way Meir performed his daily chumros, and after a fight about kashering the kitchen for Pesach — Meir had been up scrubbing for 26 hours straight and refused to take a break for sleep — Sury spoke with her in-laws. The family agreed that Meir was a bit too strict in his observance, and upon Sury’s own insistence, an appointment was scheduled with a local mental health professional. But this Pakistani doctor who had previously practiced in Alaska and who had never had a frum patient before, took Meir’s claims of religious devotion and stringency without too much questioning — and missed the increasingly obvious signs of psychiatric illness.

Meanwhile, Meir’s father was back on his feet, and the young couple decided they’d spend the next zeman in Eretz Yisrael for a slightly delayed shanah rishonah.

Coming to Eretz Yisrael has sechar pesiyos and some wonderful brachos, but in his current state, Meir didn’t stand a chance. Within weeks of the move and starting at the Mir, not only was Sury concerned, the head of the chaburah he joined was also asking questions about some of Meir’s bizarre chumros, which were interfering with his learning, and, he learned, with the couple’s shalom bayis.

This particular rosh chaburah had been in touch with me previously regarding another young avreich, and when he told me about Meir, I was happy to take the referral.

Meir looked normal as can be and was quite punctual and friendly as he put down his pocket-sized traveling Gemara and shook my hand. After we exchanged pleasantries, I asked Meir straightforwardly to tell me a bit about why he was sitting across from me. 

And so, Meir began — a bit awkwardly and defensively — to tell me how he’d seen a psychiatrist back in Canada and had been given a clean report. No, he didn’t have anxiety, depression, psychosis, or trauma. And no, he wasn’t interested in treatment. The only reason he was here was because his rosh chaburah had insisted.

“Well, now that you’re here, Reb Meir, tell me a bit about why some folks might think you have a problem,” I said.

“Because no one understands that I’m machmir. My parents are from out-of-town so they’re not too machmir. My wife’s father is a businessman and not a learner. And now I’m here in Eretz Yisrael and since it’s a new place, I’m just being careful.”

“How about telling me how you’re being careful? Like Rav Elyashiv’s chumrah of taking terumos and maasros even on things with a good hechsher?”

“Yeah. And other stuff.”

“Other stuff like what?”

“I mean, it’s hard to be in Eretz Yisrael. It’s complicated. Sometimes I have to check the lettuce for two hours because it’s not Bodek. That drives my wife crazy, but again, her family isn’t so machmir on things.”

The more I listened, coupled with the report I’d received from his rosh chaburah, the clearer it became that Meir was suffering from classic chumrahdig Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. As it turns out, Meir was driving his wife crazy. He refused to eat the salads she’d made the previous Shabbos “because the vegetables weren’t checked correctly — you know, the infestation here,” washed his hands for Hamotzi five times because “the germs here — we’re in the Middle East,” and threw out the wine she bought because the supermarket has Arab stock boys.

As we continued on his litany of dysfunctional symptoms, Meir laughed nervously and said, “Eretz Yisrael nikneis b’yisurim. It’s tough here, you know.”

“Reb Meir,” I told him, “It’s true that living in Eretz Yisrael isn’t always easy. I can share my own bureaucratic horror stories. But your compulsive behaviors have nothing to do with Eretz Yisrael.”

“What?!” he exclaimed. “I think you’ve got it wrong, Dr. Freedman. It’s just tough adjusting to Eretz Yisrael and all the chumros we need to implement.”

“You’ve got OCD, Reb Meir, and that’s irrespective of Eretz Yisrael. And based on what you’ve told me, you very clearly had symptoms back in Canada and even before that in Lakewood. OCD is a diagnosis that knows no borders.”

Meir slumped down in his chair, defeated. “I think you’ve got it wrong, Dr. Freedman. I’m just a chumrahdig yungerman. That’s what the psychiatrist back in Canada said.”

“The psychiatrist back in Canada knew nothing about Yiddishkeit and what’s considered normative behavior. Reb Meir, with all due respect, your rebbi in Mir made the diagnosis even before I did. Look,” I said as I took his hand, “either you’re a terrible husband and a rotten learner or you’ve got a very common psychiatric illness that will improve with treatment. The latter sounds much better to me.”

Meir seemed to be coming around, a look of something akin to relief in his eyes, and said, “Okay, let’s say you’re right. So what do we do?”

“We won’t change your frumkeit Reb Meir, that’s for sure. We’ll just help you to be a bit more flexible so that you can appreciate your wife, your learning, and your time here in Eretz Yisrael.”

Meir smiled for the first time. “Well, if I don’t have to lower my madreigah, then I guess I’m open to making my wife happier. When do we start?”

Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 714. Jacob L. Freedman is a psychiatrist and business consultant based in Israel. When he’s not busy with his patients, Dr. Freedman can be found learning Torah in The Old City or hiking the hills outside of Jerusalem.  Dr. Freedman can be reached most easily through his website www.drjacoblfreedman.com.