R eb Yosef always sent me the most interesting referrals.

Whereas most of my patients came in requesting a diagnosis or treatment of a psychiatric illness, Reb Yosef’s referrals were for a completely different reason. As av beis din of a conversion court, Reb Yosef occasionally needed my help in confirming an individual’s sanity.

In reality, most of the people who wanted to convert to Judaism out of pure messianic psychosis would never reach Reb Yosef’s beis din. A young Japanese man with a history of bipolar disorder, who was manic and convinced that he was a direct descendent of Shimshon Hagibor, would be directed to the nearest hospital, as opposed to the beis din. Even if he’d grown out his hair and was refusing to touch grapes, it wouldn’t have been a strong enough case to make it to Reb Yosef. But should such a case reach him, Reb Yosef knew enough psychiatry to stop the conversion process in its tracks and to refer the individual for the appropriate level of care.

Not knowing the halachah at the time regarding mental illness and conversion, I was surprised to have received my first call from Reb Yosef, asking me to see a young woman who was undergoing the conversion process. Reb Yosef explained that every individual — regardless of psychiatric history — would be sent for an evaluation prior to his or her final meeting with the beis din.

I still remember when Reb Yosef told me, “As an expert in mental illness, your job is to determine whether or not this person is motivated by a mental illness to become Jewish or whether or not it’s an honest belief that Hashem gave the Torah to our people and that this is the way he is meant to live his life.”

There was the African-American man with a prior history of Jerusalem Syndrome, which he contracted during a study-abroad program. He had subsequently received treatment and, many years later, desired to convert after spending over a decade studying Chumash. True, he’d been acutely ill with hyper-religious symptoms, but that was close to 12 years ago, and now he was stable and making a logical choice. The other cases also were fascinating and reminiscent of some of my toughest forensic cases back in Boston.

And then there were the “regular cases,” which were required as a matter of halachic protocol where there didn’t happen to be any psychiatric illness.

On one particular morning last week, I was happy to be receiving one of these “easy ones” — which was probably a good thing, as I was feeling a bit burned-out after the chagim. So many meals of being stuffed full with my wife’s delicious cooking, followed by the grueling shock of returning to my clinic and an unexpected deluge of paperwork, had become an excuse for my own slacking off in my spiritual commitments.

Rachel was a young woman who had grown up in a pleasant suburban home outside of Baltimore. She wasn’t raised in any sort of religious home, and her family celebrated secular holidays like Thanksgiving by watching football and eating turkey together. She had a few Jewish friends at school who weren’t particularly observant themselves and she didn’t think too much about organized religion — until the summer after her first year of college.

Rachel vividly remembered the fire engines’ sirens and the site of the wooden swastika that was burned into the lawn of one of her neighbors. Her parents were expectedly outraged — as any good liberals would have been — and sat the family down for a similar discussion about the brotherhood of man and world peace that she remembered after the recent rioting in downtown Baltimore after a young African-American man had been killed by a police officer. But this particular discussion took an interesting turn when Rachel’s mother began to cry and revealed that her grandfather’s family had been killed in the Holocaust. It was a revelation that set the wheels in motion and had brought young Rachel to my office that morning.

Rachel stopped her story at this point and then said, “So I found myself asking, why do people hate the Jews so much?”

“It’s a great question,” I responded.

“Not just the Nazis, but the Spanish Inquisition, Arab violence in the past century, generations of blood libels, and the whole anti-Semitic BDS thing on campus these days. Everyone hates the Jews, and all I can ask is why.”

“Because we control the media and the economy?”

Rachel failed to suppress a giggle. “But seriously, Dr. Freedman. And the worst thing is that oftentimes these efforts are led by the Jewish People themselves. So when I learned about my mother’s family, I started reading a lot about the causes of anti-Semitism and I found a lot of garbage, a lot of inconclusive academic gobbledygook, and then one real answer.”

“Which was?”

“Hashem says it in the Torah. When the Jewish People do His will, He will bless us. When we turn against Him, He will hide His presence.”

I nodded and encouraged her to continue.

“And the more I’m reading, the more I’m realizing that I need to be a part of this. Logically, it makes a lot of sense. If there was a Creation, then there had to be a Creator; if there was a Creator, then there had to be a purpose for Creation, and if there was a purpose, then I have to figure it out. Did you ever hear of the book, The Cosmic Bagel?”

Seems like the Eibishter was trying to get me invigorated again. The Cosmic Bagel is a book written by my first rebbe, Rav Yitzchok Shimon Hurwitz, who uses geometric shapes as a tool for exposing the wisdom of the Torah. The book was compiled from decades of derashos he’d given to students Shabbos mornings over the Rebbetzin’s famous cholent. I didn’t want to reveal too much about my own story, but it was clear that she’d been to his Shabbos table, as well.

I put on my best poker face and told Rachel, “That’s a funny name for a book, but I’ll trust your word that it’s a good one.”

Rachel continued, “So I started studying Torah and enrolled at a seminary and the rest is history. I love Hashem and Hashem loves the Jewish People. How could I not want to be a part of it?”

“You’ve sold me on it,” I said, silently making a neder that I’d get back to my regular haneitz minyan starting the next morning. “Any reason in particular why Reb Yosef and the beis din sent you here?”

“Ummm, to make sure that I’m sane before my conversion?”

“I think your reasoning for wanting to become Jewish is about as logical as I can imagine,” I responded. “In fact, it’s good enough to give me the chizuk I need to call my own rebbe and start piling on the hiddurim again.”

Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 682. Jacob L. Freedman is a psychiatrist and business consultant based in Jerusalem. He serves as the medical director of services for English-speakers at Bayit Cham, a national leader providing mental health treatment and outreach within the religious community. Dr. Freedman can be reached most easily through his website www.drjacoblfreedman.com.