| Off the Couch |

A Pill Could Kill 

        The gabbai still thought I had some special powers, and raced up to the Rebbe to let him know


Reb Ruvy was a shady medical askan from Bnei Brak who ran a “yeshivah” for troubled bochurim to keep them out of hospitals. When he brought Mahyer to my office so that I could quickly fix him up with some strong meds, I knew I had to take matters into my own hands. How many more families would be at risk with his reckless behavior?

Part III


Reb Ruvy had taken the Geiselman family for quite an expensive and dangerous ride with his promises for healing their son through his “private hospital.” And although Rabbi Geiselman would have preferred to keep things quiet, especially since he was a prominent and influential member of his chassidus, he realized other people’s lives were at stake as well.

“I just wanted to let you know that I told the social worker at the hospital about Reb Ruvy’s private operation,” Rabbi Geisleman told me. “They were horrified and contacted the Ministry of Health to look into what was really going on there and to make sure that Mahyer is the last case of this sort that Reb Ruvy’s ‘hospital’ is involved in. Naturally, I discussed the entire chapter with the Rebbe shlita, and he said he doesn’t want to trouble you, but he’d like to speak to you next time you’re in Bnei Brak.”

I was duly flattered, and told Rabbi Geiselman that I would be honored to discuss mental health issues in the community with the Rebbe. But I was totally caught off guard when I received a phone call two nights later requesting that I come to Bnei Brak immediately.

“You’re presence is requested by the Admor shlita,” came a booming recorded message in Yiddish that was then translated into Hebrew for outsiders like me. “Please hold and the gabbaim will let you know when your appointment is for.”

I had never even contacted the Rebbe, but I held on for a moment and was shocked when I was told that my appointment was for “now.” I decided to follow the instructions and pressed “two” in order to hear why there was such a rush. I held the line for another moment before one of the gabbaim answered the phone to tell me I was needed immediately.

“The brother of the Admor shlita is very sick and the family doctor who saw him says a psychiatrist is needed immediately,” I was told. “The Admor shlita has already sent a car to bring you to Bnei Brak, as he’s heard from his chussid Rabbi Zushe Geiselman that you understand psychiatric emergencies.”

It was close to 11 p.m. when I found myself sitting in the back of a black SUV racing down Highway One somewhere between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. The driver — Reb Shabsi — was a distant cousin of the Rebbe and actually seemed like he was happy to be chauffeuring me around at this hour.

“You know I was almost a psychiatrist once, Reb Yankif?” Shabsi told me. “Then I remembered how much I love driving around and how little I love locking people up and forcing them to take medications.” He laughed heartily at his joke and then told me, “I didn’t really mean it like that, but I have a nephew who ended up in the hospital and they forced him full of meds and he never came out the same. It’s a disaster you know, but I guess they have good doctors too, which is why the Rebbe had me bring you out to Bnei Brak, right? You don’t do that kind of bad stuff, and that’s why they’re bringing you to prevent this kind of this from happening to the Rebbe’s little brother Reb Sruli. Baruch Hashem we have people like Reb Ruvy to help us in these situations, to make sure that our kehillah stays out of the hospital.”

This wasn’t the venue for a debate about the rights of patients to refuse treatment and the responsibility of physicians to provide treatment to non-compliant patients. It also wasn’t the time or the place for a discussion about the dangers of non-professionals making medical decisions in potentially life-threatening situations.

As I looked at my watch, I saw that it was actually time to be asleep, as haneitz was a short few hours away. Shabshi let me know that we had made record time, and brought me into the Rebbe through a nondescript side entrance.

“Thank you for coming, Doctor Freedman,” the Rebbe said without fanfare. “You see, my younger brother is a very heilege Yid, and he needs your help. The gabbai will let you know the story and I’ll be here to speak with you afterward. The Eibishter should make you a good shaliach.”

I accepted the brachah and was led out of the room by the gabbai, who told me he was a brother-in-law of Zusha Geiselman.

“Thank you for your help with my nephew, Dr. Freedman,” the gabbai told me. “We need your help here too. The Rebbe’s younger brother is a very special Yid, but he’s very sick and now he has dimyonos and has been acting very strange.”

“What’s the whole story?” I asked. “Am I the first psychiatrist to meet him? Or does he have a history of psychiatric treatment?”

“Chas v’shalom! He has a kehillah in Europe that he’s been heading for nearly 40 years. He’s never seen a psychiatrist and never needed to. In fact, he was fine until he caught a bad fever and was diagnosed with a urinary tract infection that he sometimes gets due to the diabetes. The Rebbe’s private doctor saw him and gave him antibiotics. But when he couldn’t sleep the other night, he was given some medication, and since last night he’s been an absolute disaster with dimyonos and all sorts of strange psychiatric problems.”

Hmm…an otherwise stable older man with no prior history of mental illness had been diagnosed with an infection and was still fine until he received some unknown medication and had suddenly become in need of acute psychiatric care.

I needed to confirm my suspicion “Does he confuse the date, the place, and drift in and out of sleep? And was he was given some sort of sleeping pill like Clonazepam or Lorazepam by the askan?”

The gabbai’s jaw dropped because I clearly guessed it right.

“Don’t worry, I don’t have ruach hakodesh,” I said, calming him down. “Come, let’s meet Reb Sruli.”

The Rebbe’s brother was barely rousable, and I didn’t want to wake him, as the poor fellow was in a hypoactive delirious state due to his fever and the benzodiazepine medication he’d been given by the world’s worst mental health askan: Reb Ruvy.

I wrote a brief note for the family physician, explaining that the patient needed sleep, and under no circumstances was he to take any pills from the askan, which would worsen his condition. I wished Reb Sruli a pleasant night and left the room as he fell back asleep.

The gabbai still thought I had some special powers, and raced up to the Rebbe to let him know. “This doctor is a very good shaliach! He knew the whole story before we even saw Reb Sruli! He also says that Reb Ruvy nearly killed him.”

I’m not sure if I said the last part but I didn’t mind it being given over. Here was another casualty of Reb Ruvy, playing doctor in reckless fashion with the lives of the chassidim.

The Rebbe motioned for me to sit down and thanked me for coming to see his brother, then pushed a sefer in my direction. He obviously knew what I thought of Reb Ruvy, but didn’t mention his name. After all, I was an outsider and this was obviously an internal issue. But he did motion for me to come closer, put his hands on my head and bentshed me: “You should continue to be a good shaliach!”

The gabbai walked me to the door and Shabsi was waiting for me with a smile.

“If he gave you a sefer, he thinks you’re a pretty good doctor,” Shabsi said confidently. “Give it to me a second, I want to see what he inscribed.”

Shabsi took the sefer from my hand and laughed out loud, “The Rebbe says, ‘Lichvod Dr. Freedman — thank you for helping us. You should know that we have a neitz minyan in Bnei Brak, too.”

Identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of patients, their families, and all other parties.



Jacob L. Freedman is a psychiatrist and business consultant based in Israel. When he’s not busy with his patients, Dr. Freedman, whose new book Off the Couch has just been released in collaboration with Menucha Publishers, can be found learning Torah in the Old City or hiking the hills around Jerusalem. Dr. Freedman can be reached most easily through his website www.drjacoblfreedman.com


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 854)

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