This past Shabbos, Rabbi Heshy Weinreb, Executive Vice President, Emeritus of the Orthodox Union, discussed psychological studies as they related to orthodox Jewish issues. Here are some of the studies that he discussed at the Beth Israel Shul of Miami Beach:
Referencing work by Dr. Paul Vitz, Rabbi Weinreb discussed Vitz's theory that men who have a loving, close relationship with their fathers or a stand in father figure are more likely to have a strong belief in G-d. Likewise, men who have abusive or otherwise unhealthy relationships with their fathers are more likely to be atheistic. Vitz studied many well known religious men and atheists throughout history and through detailed analysis of their biographies found support for his theory. Vitz did not do the same study regarding women.
Rabbi Weinreb cited multiple psychological studies, all published in psychological journals, that found a direct link between gratitude and better mental health. He then discussed another study that concluded people who pray have more gratitude, thus showing that prayer alone can improve mental health.
Another study that Rabbi Weinreb outlined showed the difference between studies of all other religions and that of Judaism; namely, in other religions, observance correlated to better mental health although it did not with Jewish observance.
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Rabbi Weinreb explained one reason for this could be that in Orthodox Judaism there is greater possibility than other religions that observance does not automatically assume a genuine belief or love of G-d. This is because many orthodox Jews maintain their observance in order to gain the other cultural benefits as well as acting out of community pressure. A further study bore out this idea as it proved that observant Jews who had a firm belief in G-d did have better mental health.
Finally, Rabbi Weinreb discussed a study of Holocaust victims which discovered that victims who soon after the Holocaust chose to marry and start families or ones who moved to Israel faired far better than those who did not. The conclusion of the study was that those victims who decided to rebuild their lives immediately thereafter led them to significant better mental health.