August 5, 2011 4:58 pm at 4:58 pm #598463
That may sound like a bad joke but I am quite serious. It is common when crimes like these arise to label the perpetrator “mentally ill” because it satisfies our need for a rational explanation. When a person dies as a result of a bank robbery gone horribly wrong or a drug deal gone bad, we dismiss it as “oh he got what was coming to him” or “as tragic as that innocent bystander’s death was, at least we understand why he died even though we don’t condone the rationale behind it.” Understanding is an important component of even the most basic of coping mechanisms. Once a person understands a tragedy they are better equipped to move past it.
When a senseless crime occurs, our coping mechanisms are thrown out of whack. We are left scrambling for a reason – a justification if you will for the crime committed. The brutal and senseless murder of Leiby Kletzky is a perfect example. We have a crime for which there is no logical explanation. Levi claims he panicked and killed Leiby, but that just doesn’t ring true for many. Did he take him to the wedding? Did he not? How could a “religious” person (leave that argument for another time) have committed something so morally abhorrent? All these questions blow a massive hole in any possible understanding of this atrocity. And that leaves us bewildered and hurting with no way to comfort ourselves.
The unknown has always caused irrational fear in people. Be it fear of the dark, fear of death, a job interview, the end of the world, etc. The unknown is a void in our minds and understandings – a void that is begging to be filled by something, anything, which can assuage our curiosity and uncertainty. So we desperately grasp onto anything which can either justify our fear and quantify it, or dismiss our fear as irrational. We prefer the evil we know over the evil we do not. For a child this is the bogeyman hiding in the closet. For the adult pondering the end of his life it is heaven and hell. (I am not chas v’shalom trying to call olam haba a myth) For the survivalist it is the world ending in a world nuclear war or a massive supernova. These explanations serve to focus our fear on something we can understand thus enabling ourselves to either prepare for, or move past them.
In this case it is mental illness. Mental illness has been chosen as the filling for the void left by this particular crime. We find it otherwise inconceivable that a “normal” person could commit such a crime, so we assign the title of mentally ill. In fact there are people who posit, when discussing the case around the dining room table, that Levi Aron will successfully plead not guilty by reason of insanity because “how could a normal person do this, he must be insane and therefore not liable.” What these people are, quite possibly, wrong, and rather offensive in the nature of their uneducated postulations.
As of now none of us know whether or not Levi Aron is indeed mentally ill, of possessed of some kind of personality disorder such as sociopath, psychopathy, narcissism, etc. Any speculation on the subject is just that: speculation. Numerous op-eds have been written on the premise that Levi Aron is mentally ill or has a personality disorder. Many of those op-eds draw some fantastical conclusions from their flawed premises about how we must shape our society, specifically concerning the treatment and containment of the mentally ill. If such ideas were presented at any psychiatric convention, the presenter would be laughed off the stage and would carry the scent of rotten vegetables for quite a while afterward.
Suppose it had been someone who may or may not be an African American who had committed this crime, would it be socially acceptable and politically correct to publish op-eds regarding the containment and treatment of African Americans? Not one single news source, print or web media would publish such blatant racism, so why is it all of a sudden acceptable to do the same in the case of the mentally ill? Why is bigotry toward one group socially acceptable while racism toward another is not? Why the double standard?
I have been voraciously absorbing anything and everything related to this case, both online and from print media. Jewish media has its own issues with exploiting this tragedy, but in a lot of the non Jewish media coverage, there has been a lot of Anti Semitic sentiments espoused. Stuff like “Jews have been serial killers for centuries but they have been able to keep themselves hidden” along with a lost of notable killers through history who just happened to be Jewish. One particular piece of nonsense struck a chord because so many people approved the message. I found the following on YouTube in the comments section of a vlog (video web log) concerning the murder of Leiby Kletzky. I am paraphrasing because the original content is unacceptable for publication.
“Jews have been using small children in rituals for centuries where they abuse them and kill them while reciting kaballah.”
That wounded me to my very core. I felt physical pain when i read that. Actual physical pain. As a Jew, nay, as a human being, seeing such lies being proclaimed so boldly and publicly with a conspicuous lack of protest and quite a bit of approval, sent a chill down my spine. I felt scared for my life living as a Jew in a secular country. I imagine you all feeling some of that as you read what was quoted above.
Now imagine that you suffer from schizophrenia, clinical depression, bipolar disorder, or one of the many mental illnesses which are so prevalent today. Picture yourself sitting at your computer reading a well known blog, or on the couch on a shabbos afternoon reading a magazine, and you see an article where the writer not only equates you to a brutal killer, but based on that comparison calls for you to be ostracized, stigmatized, and otherwise removed from society as a whole. How would that make you feel? Would you not be terrified? Would you not tremble at the very idea of showing your face outside your house?
People really do not understand what it is like for someone who had the misfortune of being born with a genetic predisposition to a mental illness. The constant stigma, the constant lack of understanding on the part of others, the constant looks as people pass you in the street. It is very difficult. I would equate it to the way African Americans must have felt in Birmingham, Alabama during the early 1900’s.
So how about this. The next time you’re talking about Levi Aron, and the desire to label him mentally ill strikes you, or in general, if you feel the sudden need to disparage the mentally ill with a terribly offensive generalization, walk over to a racial minority and yell a racial epithet at him. You would never do that, would you. Have I made my point?
Assuming Levi Aron is indeed found mentally ill, what I said still stands. What shocked us so much about this crime was its rarity. Mental illness is very prevalent in our community. Assuming there was, indeed, a correlation between mental illness and the butchering of small children, would it not stand to reason that there would be many more butchered children? Think about it before being offensive. Mental illness did not cause this crime nor did it aid in its perpetration. That was all Levi Aron. Pile the blame on him, not an innocent group of people who, as a whole, have done no wrong.August 5, 2011 5:19 pm at 5:19 pm #794619chofetzchaimMember
When one of my Rebbeim was asked about the issue of Levi Aron he responded that in the times of Beis Din, you needed eidim and hasra’a to put someone to death. This means that 2 people have to warn the person that what he is doing is wrong and that he will be killed for it. If the person then goes ahead and does it anyway, he is put to death. My Rebbi said that if a story like that happened today everyone would immediately label the murderer mentally ill. After all, how can a sane person go ahead and do such a thing in front of witnesses, after just being warned of the consequences. The answer is that, yes, there are evil people in the world and they are accountable for their actions. The yetzer hara has the power to cause someone to stoop so low that he would actually knowingly do such a thing. The Torah doesn’t call this person a shoteh, it calls him a murderer. (That being said, it still might be true that Levi Aron is mentally ill, and we should probably be dan lechaf zchus to some extent, but we need to realize that there is a yetzer hara and not to underestimate him)August 5, 2011 6:01 pm at 6:01 pm #794620PeacemakerMember
As far as semantics, the reason the term mentally retarded has been replaced by mentally ill or special or whatever is precisely because they had become a slur.August 5, 2011 6:16 pm at 6:16 pm #794621yitayningwutParticipant
I commend you for your well-written post. You demonstrate clearly and eloquently how many people have a skewed perspective when it comes to dealing with such a difficult and delicate issue.
Surely you are right that some people feel the need for justifying the crime. But another thing people need, and maybe this comes from that same place deep inside; someone to blame. How difficult is it to face a horrific tragedy when there is no one to blame? Having no one to blame can make life feel so meaningless and arbitrary, it can penetrate the deepest essence of a person.August 5, 2011 6:28 pm at 6:28 pm #794622
but you admitted tha ttheyre wrong and im right…so point made. im not calling people who blame mental illness and the mentally ill impartial…im calling them idiots. theres a difference.August 5, 2011 6:32 pm at 6:32 pm #794623
im sick and tired of people always using the name of my group to denigrate others.
this is pure racism!
we idiots are also a minority.
we idiots are also prejudiced against and im sick and tired of it
we are victims of everyone else
stop calling people who you dont agree with idiots.
we have rights just like african-americans and those who are mentally illAugust 5, 2011 6:35 pm at 6:35 pm #794624
fine. misguided. uneducated. misinformed. those labouring under a misconception. confused. bewildered. perplexed. shall i continue?August 5, 2011 6:38 pm at 6:38 pm #794625
no thats fine
thank you for being sensitive to the needs of society’s victimsAugust 5, 2011 6:43 pm at 6:43 pm #794626
your sarcasm and derision at my article is noted. did you really read it as a defense of levi aron?August 5, 2011 6:43 pm at 6:43 pm #794627yitayningwutParticipant
I agreed with you that people tend to “justify” to the extreme. But I also believe and was trying to point out that people “vilify” to the extreme as well, for various reasons, and I was questioning whether you were not doing that yourself.August 5, 2011 6:47 pm at 6:47 pm #794628
i read it as yet another person who wishes to belong to a group who can shout prejudice and claim victimhoodAugust 5, 2011 6:47 pm at 6:47 pm #794629
who did i vilify? i ssaid that first of all labeling aron as mentally ill is speculation and second of all that the correlation between lei aron and mental illness, whether is is or especially if he is not, and applying that as the CAUSE and drive behind his crime is wildly offensive. who did i vilify?August 5, 2011 6:48 pm at 6:48 pm #794630
“i read it as yet another person who wishes to belong to a group who can shout prejudice and claim victimhood”
did you really…then perhaps you should read it again
im, not trying to make an agenda out of this…just set the record straight. i didnt start this. im just responding to it. im not the one who used the situation to call for different treatment of the mentally ill based on this tragedy…others did. im entitled to respond. i was going to write an article about leiby th eweek he died but i didnt. i stopped.
i think everyone has been seeing me complaining about the exploitative nature of recent op-eds this past week so you would know that doing such is not my intention.August 5, 2011 7:01 pm at 7:01 pm #794631
i admit i didnt read your post in depthAugust 5, 2011 7:01 pm at 7:01 pm #794632
i thought my reply was pretty funny thoughAugust 5, 2011 7:02 pm at 7:02 pm #794633
wow. what even.August 5, 2011 7:09 pm at 7:09 pm #794634YW Moderator-42Moderator
Mod 80, can I call you a dolt?August 5, 2011 7:12 pm at 7:12 pm #794635☕️coffee addictParticipant
I’m sorry 42 but maybe we should leave that to Bar ShattyaAugust 5, 2011 7:15 pm at 7:15 pm #794636Sender AvMember
How about everyone just stops talking about Levi Aron.August 5, 2011 7:41 pm at 7:41 pm #794637another bro of pbaParticipant
mod 42 – no way! dolts have rights too!August 5, 2011 7:59 pm at 7:59 pm #794638
“How about everyone just stops talking about Levi Aron.”
all for it…and i woasnt going to write anything but i saw 2 articles and some blog comments that basically sent me over teh edge
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