By: Rivka Bennun
On Wednesday, October 13th 2021, the Active Minds Club hosted a shiur by Rabbi Aryeh Lebowitz on the topic of “Mental Health and Halacha” in the Rubin Shul on Wilf campus.
Active Minds is a nonprofit organization that promotes mental health awareness across the country. The Active Minds chapter at YU is headed by Co-Presidents Sarina Hilowitz (SCW ‘22), Yael Berger (SCW ‘23), and Shay Fishman (YC ‘23).
“Active Minds has co-hosted an event like this last year and it was widely successful,” Hilowitz told The YU Observer. “We had a lot of students attend, signifying interest in this topic.”
Due to a successful shiur on the same topic given in the past, Active Minds once again hosted this event. When asked why specifically Rabbi Lebowitz was asked to give this shiur, Hilowitz told The YU Observer: “Rabbi Lebowitz is really well educated, informed and passionate about the topic which is things we look for in a speaker for this type of shiur.”
Rabbi Lebowitz spoke about the relevance of mental health in the halachic system. Through various sources, he showed that topics pertaining to mental health are woven through the fabric of rabbinic literature, often represented by the risk of ‘pikuach nefesh’ [the principle that preservation of human life overrides other religious laws].
“Mental health touches on literally every area of halacha,” Rabbi Lebowitz told students. “There is no area of halacha [Jewish law] that mental health does not in some way relate to.” Rabbi Lebowitz then went on to give examples of mental health issues as they pertain to Shabbat [Sabbath], Kashrut [Laws of Kosher], Niddah [laws of female purity], Tefillah [prayer], and Lashon Harah [gossip].
For the last segment of the shiur, Rabbi Lebowitz shared with students four different shailas [questions] that he has received over the years pertaining to mental health in halacha, and allowed students to choose one shaila which he would discuss in greater detail.
“I thought Rabbi Aryeh Lebowitz displayed real sensitivity to issues that unfortunately plague so many YU students,” Gabe Gross (YC ‘24), a board member of Active Minds, shared with The YU Observer.
Active Minds is known for hosting events like these at YU with the goal of spreading mental health awareness around campus. Last February, Active Minds held its annual Stomp Out the Stigma event, wherein students and faculty had the opportunity to hear from four different students about their struggles with mental health.
Hilowitz commented on the importance of an event like this. “We hope that students will better understand just how much mental health is prevalent and crucial to prioritize, even as a Jew living in a Jewish community.”