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March 18, 1994 - Image 44

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1994-03-18

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

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Jews ponder the origin of evil.

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Jews offer ideas about
the dark side of human nature.

RUTH LITTMAN STAFF WRITER

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44

he dybbuk in Jewish folklore is
a demon cleaving to the soul of
man. It is an unclean spirit that
causes mental illness and
wrong-doing.
Put simply, dybbukim are
like devils — the incarnation of
evil. For believers, they provide
an easy explanation for atroci-
ties committed by mankind.
Modern-day Jewish thought
on evil, however, is far more
complex. It involves the prover-
bial nature-nurture argument.
Do genes and chemistry beget
an evil person, or is chronic de-
pravity the product of a warped
environment?
"Jewish tradition would say
that we're born neutral and we
have a choice. I don't think it's
a genetic thing," said Rabbi
Arnie Sleutelberg of Congrega-
tion Shir Tikvah.
Quoting the Talmud, Rabbi
Sleutelberg explained: "God
created the evil impulse, but
God also created its antidote,
the Torah. Studying and ob-
serving Torah fills the space evil
requires. If you fill your life with
mitzvot, there's no room for the
evil impulse." Rabbi Sleutel-
berg also believes that the ear-
ly years of life probably
influence one's ultimate choice
of good and evil. Most psychia-
trists agree.

Dr. Jeffrey London, a child
and adolescent psychiatrist
with Havenwick Hospital in
Auburn Hills, says specialists
in the field during the 1950s
and 1960s contended that a
good upbringing — nurture —
could create a decent person.
Now, "a lot is being looked at
as far as the nature of people
goes ... I do believe there is some
inborn factor, but I don't know
what it is," he said.
A rabbinic saying posits that
children cannot be evil until
they are at least 10 years old.
In England recently, two 10-
year-old youths murdered 2-
year-old James Bulger.
Can children be evil? Dr.
London says yes, but rarely.
Most hostile youngsters are go-
ing through a rough time. The
evil behavior they exhibit is a
phase.
"But for some, it becomes a
character trait," he said. "We
see early a certain subgroup of
people who are unkind to ani-
mals and brutal to their peers.
How much of it is inborn and
how much of it is learned? I
think it's probably both.
"But more commonly, I think
it's the accumulation of the
(negative) experiences they
have. This is not to excuse the
behavior, but to explain it," Dr.

London said.
Dr. Ellen Rotblatt,
medical education di-
rector at Harper Hospi-
tal and a psychiatrist
with a private practice
in Farmington Hills,
says:
"There's no psychi-
atric definition of evil.
However, human beings
with anti-social person-
ality disorders are often
viewed as evil."
Symptoms include a lack of
empathy, guilt and conscience.
"They cannot relate to the hu-
man condition. They cannot feel
what their victims feel," she
said.
Dr. Rotblatt believes there
may be a genetic component to
evil.
"The environment can po-
tentially temper the expression
or promote the expression of
whatever a person's genetic
loading is," she said.
Research has shown that med-
ication doesn't cure evil behavior.
"Psychosurgery" purported
to eliminate or alter the "evil
center" of the brain. Most mod-
ern physicians deem such op-
erations ineffective and
unethical.
Dr. Rosalind Griffin, a psy-
chiatrist and chief of Sinai's Day

method of mitigating evil is to
make it less pleasurable for the
perpetrator.
The evil person is someone
who enjoys inflicting pain and
"the consequences don't seem
to be painful enough to change
them," she said. In fact, killers
often delight in telling their sto-
ries. Dr. Griffin believes the only
way to lessen evil is to get tough
with evil-doers. She says she
supports capital punishment in
some cases.
Willthere come a day when
evil doesn't exist? The psychi-
atric field seems doubtful, but
Rabbi Sleutelberg said:
"I've been taught — at least
I want to believe — that there
will be heaven on Earth, where
there will be absolutely no
wickedness, no evil." 0

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