LGBTQ+ groups against chemical castration in hassidic communities

A young Haredi man outside the IDF enlistment office in Jerusalem (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
A young Haredi man outside the IDF enlistment office in Jerusalem
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Havruta, a support and advocacy group for religious, gay men, spoke out after a recent investigation by Channel 12 revealed a trend in haredi communities in which youth are given unnecessary psychiatric drugs in order to “zombify” them and lower their sexual drive.
The investigation, aired on Channel 12’s Ulpan Shishi, discussed a trend in some haredi communities in which youth who use smartphones, learn physics, express sexual desires or other behaviors seen as problematic by educators are sent to psychiatrists along with “educators” and receive medication meant for patients suffering from schizophrenia and depression. The “educators” often describe symptoms to the psychiatrist without the student being present in the room.
“From the age of 9 until 15, I took psychiatric pills that I didn’t need,” said Kobi Winberg, a former yeshiva student whose rosh yeshiva sent him to psychiatric care, to Ulpan Shishi. “I didn’t eat. I didn’t sleep. It made me depressed. It turned me into a shadow of myself. I didn’t want it. They gave it to me by force.”
“It’s a known issue,” Shay Bramson, deputy director of Havruta, told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday. “We knew that it was happening. We know people that went through this type of stuff.”
Bramson pointed out that the investigation was somewhat different because it revealed specific doctors who were involved in the practice, and used hidden cameras to really show these situations live. The investigation was also on prime time, unlike earlier articles, which did help bring the issue more into public awareness.
“As part of the religious LGBTQ+ community, it hurts to see that acts like this are committed and I think this should be painful to see for every person in Israel that sees such a thing,” said Bramson. “How do you put psychiatric pills in people that really don’t need them?” he asked, stressing that it’s an “embarrassment that such a thing is done in the name of religion. This isn’t a religious thing to do at all.”
Bramson stated that a dialogue must be opened with the haredi community, even if it’s an “aggressive” dialogue with red lines about what can and can’t be done and what needs of the community can be dealt with so that they don’t need to take their children to psychologists unnecessarily. “Just writing articles about them and saying that this is something disgusting and far from us and that’s it, and all the more so on Friday, when religious people can’t even see it, isn’t really a desire to fix the situation,” said Bramson.
Using electrical appliances on Friday night, part of the Sabbath, is prohibited.
A group of LGBTQ+ organizations sent a letter to the director-general of the Health Ministry Moshe Bar Siman Tov demanding that the ministry prosecute psychiatrists who were exposed in the televised investigation.
The haredi youth subjected to the unnecessary psychiatric care were commonly prescribed with either Prizma or Risperdal, the latter of which is also known as Risperidone. Risperdal, which causes a suppression of sexual desire, can cause weight gain and high blood pressure. Parkinson’s Disease is a very common side effect, with one out of 10 patients being affected.
“From the moment that the boy begins to enter the period in which he takes psychiatric pills, he doesn’t function, he already isn’t at his best, and then... he’s a zombie, you can do what you want with him,” said Haim Tfilinski, a former educator who later left the sector, told Ulpan Shishi. “They want just one thing: be furious, do everything that you can to get through the three to four years that you’re in yeshiva, we’ll marry you off, you’ll have kids and from there you’ll deal with life.”
Youths with doubts about faith or sexual thoughts – or even just those who want to work – are sent to receive pills meant for schizophrenia in some haredi communities, according to the investigation. The psychiatrists involved aren’t diagnosing these youths with schizophrenia, but rather are looking for the side effects of certain drugs that cause the suppression of sexual desire.
Ulpan Shishi sent undercover haredim with hidden cameras to psychiatrists who are popularly used by haredim in these situations.
One leading psychiatrist at Hadassah-University Medical Center in Jerusalem’s Ein Kerem prescribed the actor with an anti-anxiety medication with a side effect that lowers the “undesired things” (sexual thoughts in this case). Another doctor issued a prescription and diagnosis without the patient even being in the room.
“In the investigation, a practice was revealed that [could best be described] as chemical castration of healthy minors by licensed psychiatrists with the goal of suppressing normal sexual desires,” said the LGBTQ+ organizations in the letter to the director-general of the Health Ministry, according to Mako news. “The chemical castration is done by providing psychiatric drugs based on biased diagnoses that are conducted in a manipulative way above the minors’ heads.
“It is unnecessary to point out that the practice revealed in the investigation raises grave concerns of serious ethical, and possibly criminal, violations conducted constantly by licensed psychiatrists,” said the letter. “These violations may have serious consequences on the health and welfare of minors who had the situation forced upon them.”
The organizations called on the Health Ministry to comprehensively investigate the claims made in the Ulpan Shishi investigation and “to exercise the law against the psychiatrists who betrayed their professional mission.”
Ulpan Shishi traced the practice of prescribing drugs in these cases in the hassidic community to the Gur stream of hassidim in the 1990s, although it later spread to other haredi communities.
In July, many Israelis protested against statements by Education Minister Rafi Peretz supporting conversion therapy, a multifaceted form of psychotherapy that attempts to “convert” a gay person to heterosexuality. One yeshiva student described the practice as being part of “the DNA of religious Zionism” to the Post. Peretz later denied that he supported conversion therapy.
“The platform is simple: Live like us or die,” wrote Ze’ev Goren, 20, in a Facebook post at the time, explaining that conversion therapy is the choice for people who feel helpless and afraid of being out of the closet, and hence kicked out of their community.
Bramson pointed out that while conversion therapy is popular with more modern Orthodox communities in Israel, the haredi communities tend to prefer chemical castration. He stressed, though, that the opinions that permit chemical castration also permit the use of pseudo-psychologists.
“It’s the same disregard of the person, of their will, the complete disregard of their medical needs [and] of solving something for the good person,” said Bramson on Sunday. “It’s only about the ‘health’ of the entire community, the good of the public, while the individual is run over. We want them to be straight so we just run over them.”
Conversion therapy has been called dangerous and ineffective by Israeli psychological associations, said Bramson to the Post in July.