The Ehud Syndrome

Gershom Gorenberg

My apologies for being AWOL recently; I’m in the midst of research that has kept me very busy.

As a result, I failed to mark the passing of Dr. Yair Carlos Bar-El. Yair was for years the Jerusalem district psychiatrist and head of the Kfar Shaul mental hospital. Among other things, that meant he was responsible for dealing with normally sane people knocked off their balance by coming to Jerusalem, along with the already unbalanced people attracted to sacred ground like iron filings to a magnet.

Treating the former group, Yair found a repeating pattern he named the “Jerusalem Syndrome.” While in the city, the victims are overwhelmed by the need to purify themselves, dress in white, appear at a holy place and preach. The episode is brief; afterwards, they are sane, and thoroughly embarrassed.

As for the latter group, he said, “People with personality problems arrive here to pray… There are people with illnesses who identify as Jesus, John the Baptist…” Once, he said, “We had three simultaneous cases of the Virgin Mary.” He wasn’t cynical about this. He was a dedicated, caring doctor. The madness of Jerusalem was simply part of his responsibility.

In no way do I mean to criticize the dead, but it seems to me that he did make one small oversight – or at least that a pattern he noticed has been broken since we last talked, around the turn of the millennium. Yair said that he’d never had anyone who thought he was Napoleon. The Holy City seemed to offer too many more interesting possibilities for those who wanted to trade in their own persona for a more powerful one.

At the time, Yair didn’t notice that Ehud Barak was quite sure he was Napoleon, probably because the symptoms were still subtle. More recently, they’ve become alarmingly obvious. Though he leads an insignificant party, he struts as if he were emperor. He also rents hotel suites in Paris fit for an emperor when he passes through town. He believes he can make no mistakes, that people will follow him no matter what, that he can settle all problems with the force of arms. Lost in his delusions, he does not notice that his former followers are deserting him.

Around December, I expect him to try to solve the Iranian nuclear issue by a ground invasion via Russia. Alas, Yair Bar-El is not around to treat him, and no one else knows how.

for those who had an uncontrollable urge to preach repentance on the streets.As described by Dr. Yair Bar-El, the victims – completely sane before and after – are overwhelmed by the need to purify themselves, dress in white, appear at a holy place and preach. They aren’t dangerous, he says; they are thoroughly embarrassed when the episode passes.

Bar-El, Jerusalem district psychiatrist for 21 years, has seen more serious problems. Sanctity attracts madness like a magnet. “People with personality

problems arrive here to pray,” he says. “There are people with illnesses who identify as Jesus, John the Baptist A few months ago we had three simultaneous cases of the Virgin Mary.”

4 thoughts on “The Ehud Syndrome”

  1. Actually the Russians have some experience treating invaders suffering from a Napoleon complex, notably that Monsieur B. from Corsica.

  2. Personally I find the direct Jesus quotes from the Apostles are all quite sane. It’s the Pharisees who objected to him performing miracles on the sabbath that always strike me as the looney ones. “You’re a miracle worker, you’re performing miracles on the Sabbath, so you’re working on the Sabbath”. He got the prescribed treatment for the day.

    It’s not the ones who claim to be messiahs you have to worry about. It’s the ones who hold the power of the state and leave behind rubble as the tribute to their genius.

  3. I think you and Haim fit this diagnosis very well. You come to Jerusalem, to which you have no more historic claim than Imelda Marcos does, settle on stolen Arab property, and pose as progressives.

    You are poseurs

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