Tefilah and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder


Washington, D.C.

The following is a personal and complicated question, and I totally understand if you don’t have time to answer it, but I thought I’d give it a shot:

I have been diagnosed with OCD for a few years, and one of the ways that manifests itself for me is that, on a daily basis, I doubt whether I have said parts of davening correctly (especially Shema where wrong pronunciation prevents fulfilment of the mitzvah, as far as I know), and repeat myself several times, or at least have a really strong urge to repeat myself.

I’m wondering if you think that OCD changes the general halakhic guidelines surrounding sefeikot in davening and berakhot.

There are so many areas of davening and berakhot where this question comes up, but one of the more interesting (and emotionally difficult) instances in my life is the issue of insertions/deletions to Shmoneh Esrei like mashiv HaRuach. The particular problem with these insertions for me is that not only do you have to repeat if you messed it up, but you have to repeat if you don’t know whether you messed it up. From my perspective, due to my OCD, I almost never feel sure that I didn’t mess it up!

I guess there’s two angles through which I could be asking this question. One is what I might call a more categorical approach to sefeikot – does the very category of safeik change if you have OCD? Put slightly differently, if I have OCD then perhaps should I be more concerned about the issur of saying berakhot/Shem Hashem levatalah by unnecessarily repeating things than about any safeik about whether I said a given part of davening correctly — even though the Halakha for non-OCD people is that in certain cases they should be more concerned about the latter?

The second angle would be more of a leniency, or a mental health/sensitivity angle.  Even if we can’t say that the category of safeik changes given the OCD, and in terms of pure hilkhot tefilah/Shema/berakhot I should be repeating the same things anyone else has to repeat, is there room to say that since repeating davening is damaging to my mental health and is detrimental to my practice resisting the urges of OCD, I should not/need not repeat these parts of tefilah if I am unsure whether I did them right the first time?


Thank you for reaching out to me regarding your OCD issues and davening, and I particularly appreciated your way of framing the possible approaches.

One approach is indeed to consider a person with OCD as a choleh, or in an analogous category. For a person with this condition, any activities that would exacerbate his condition should not be undertaken, even if we are talking about a mitzvah de’orayta like Shema. This is based on the principle that a person can forgo such a mitzvah in the case of a loss of 1/5th of his money (Rema, OH 656:1), and that exacerbating the condition of a choleh would be a loss equivalent to that of 1/5th of one’s money. (See Nishmat Avraham, EH 1:1, fn. 1, which states that Rav Shlomo Zalman Aurbach,z”l, was prepared to use this reasoning to exempt a couple from having children, if the child would be born with hemophilia).

Another, related approach, is that if not repeating the words enables a person to get their condition under control, then we are making a short term sacrifice for a long term gain (the ability to say these tefilot properly for many years to come). And the alternative – demanding that it be said properly now – does not ensure that this will actually happen. Such a demand could serve to both make his condition worse and still not achieve a proper Shema or davening.

These two approaches are adopted by Rav Asher Weiss (Minchat Asher 2:134) and Rav Yaakov Kanievsky (Karyana De’igarta 373).   Here is a citation from Minchat Asher,

נראה בזה להלכה דראשית חובתו של איש זה לעשות את כל הנדרש על מנת למצוא מזור ומרפא למחלתו ולשם כך מותר לו אף לעבור על מצוות התורה וזאת מחדא ותרי טעמי א כבר ביארתי במק”א דרשאי האדם לבטל מצות עשה כדי שלא יפול למשכב ויחלה… דאם פטור הוא מלבזבז הון רב על המצוות ה”ה שאינו חייב לחלות ולא יהא ממונו חביב עליו מגופו וכיון שבני”ד בביטול מצוות עשה עסקינן ולא בעבירת לאו נראה דמותר לו לבטל מצוה כדי להתרפאות מחליו כשאי אפשר בענין אחר דכשם שמותר לו לבטל מצוה כדי שלא יחלה ה”ה כדי להתרפאות מחליו…אף אם נאמר דאסור לעבור על איסור כדי להתרפאות שאני נידון דידן שהרי אם לא יתרפא ויחלץ מן המיצר יבטל מצוות אלה לנצח וכל כה”ג אמרינן מוטב שיחלל שבת אחת ולא יחלל שבתות הרבה.

Based on these rulings you would not have to go back to repeat anything, because even if you said it wrongly, you would be exempt from the need to correct it. This approach might be the best for you, and if so you should adopt it. I will add that I reached out to a doctor friend of mine who regularly works with frum OCD patients who struggle over exactly these issues, and asked him what rulings he and his patients have received from various poskim. He responded by saying that the poskim he and they have been in touch with are ready to give plenty of exemptions, but that in his mind this was not the most helpful as it sends a message that those with this condition are different and can’t manage. His opinion was that it was best to find ways to make davening manageable without giving a blanket exemption. If that resonates with you, I would suggest the following approach.

Let us assume that there is no blanket exemption, and look at each of the challenging aspects of davening separately. For משיב הרוח and keeping straight when to say it and when not to say it, I would advise you to always just say מוריד הטל, since you are always יוצא with that, even during the time of  משיב הרוח (Shulchan Arukh OC 114:5).

As to remembering whether to say ותן ברכה or ותן טל ומטר לברכה and whether you have said the correct one, you can solve this by saying that section of the berakhah 90 times at the time that the changeover from one to the other occurs. You would start by saying ואת כל מיני תבואתה לטובה and then, based on which is the proper formula, say either ותן ברכה or ותן טל ומטר לברכה. Do this 90 times and then, if you forget any time afterwards whether you’ve said the proper formula or not, you can assume that you have said it correctly (Mishnah Berurah 114:40).

As to Shema, the Shulchan Arukh (OC 62:1) rules that if one is not precise, he nevertheless fulfils his obligation. Arukh HaShulchan (62:1) points out that the definition of precise here depends on the person’s reality,

אף על פי שנתבאר שצריך לדקדק באותיותיה מ”מ אם קראה ולא דקדק בהן הדקדוקים שנתבארו יצא וא”צ לקרותה פעם אחרת וכך שנו חכמים במשנה [ט”ו.] קרא ולא דקדק באותיותיה יצא ופי’ רש”י שלא דקדק לפרשן יפה בשפתיו עכ”ל ואין הכונה שלא פירש התיבות והאותיות כלל כגון שאמר חצי תיבות וכיוצא בזה דודאי בכהאי גוונא לא יצא שאין זה קריאה כלל אלא כונתו כמו שפירשו הרמב”ם והרע”ב בפי’ המשניות שלא דקדק בהפרדת האותיות הדומות או שהניח הנע והניע הנח וכיוצא בזה דבכה”ג יצא.

The last line is key,

ופשוט הוא דמי שהוא נלעג לשון כמו שיש בני אדם שאין יכולים להטעים הרי”ש כראוי או שאין יכולין לומר שי”ן ימנית או שאומרים גימ”ל כדלי”ת וכיוצא בזה יצא כיון שמדבר לפי דיבורו ויותר מזה איתא במדרש חזית על פסוק ודגלו עלי אהבה א”ר אחא עם הארץ שקורא לאהבה איבה כגון ואהבת ואיבת אמר הקדוש ברוך הוא ולגלוגו עלי אהבה:

“It is obvious that a person who speaks unclearly – for example, there are people who can’t say a reish or a shin properly, or who pronounce a gimel like a dalet, and anything like this – fulfils his obligation, since he is speaking according to his way of articulating. We find even a stronger statement in Midrash Chazit on the verse “And his banner over me as love” (Shir HaShirim 2:4) – said R. Acha: A commoner who reads “to love” (ahavah) as “hate,” (eivah) such as “you shall love the Lord your God” he reads as “You shall hate” – says God, his verbal fumbling is for me an act of love.”

Based on this, when it comes to saying Shema, given your condition, you definitely fulfil the mitzvah in whatever way you are able to say it, even without precision, as long as you are not skipping the word.

Please let me know if this is helpful, or if there still are some areas that are not sufficiently addressed with this response.


Recent Posts

Browse by Category