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The Jerusalem Syndrome


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Jerusalem Syndrome - Psychotic state or condition identified by Israeli psychiatrists, that is supposedly related specifically to Jerusalem. The "syndrome" may have  various manifestations, including delusions of being the Messiah, and most dangerously, patients are convinced that God has commanded them to destroy the mosques on the Temple Mount or perform some other violent act that will bring about the end of days, the coming of the Messiah or World War III.

The syndrome was first diagnosed in the 1930s by Heinz Herman, and describes a large variety of extreme and excited  behaviors and anxiety states exhibited by some visitors to Jerusalem. Bar-El, who studied 470 patients admitted for the Jerusalem Syndrome, described the symptoms and named the syndrome.

Bar-El described three types of Jerusalem Syndrome patient, though Kalian and Witztum claim that these types may really be patients with totally different illnesses:

Type 1 - Jerusalem syndrome imposed on a previous psychotic illness - This might fit the pattern of someone like Michael Denis Rohan.

Type 2- Jerusalem syndrome superimposed on and complicated by idiosyncratic ideas. - This is not a psychotic syndrome at all, but may simply reflect pre-occupation with Jerusalem by certain religious or political groups.

Type 3 - Jerusalem syndrome as a discrete form, uncompounded by previous mental illness. - This is supposedly the best studied form, but in fact only about 40 of the 470 hospitalized cases presented by Bar-El followed this pattern. It shares some features with the diagnostic category of a 'brief psychotic episode', although a distinct pattern or progression of behaviors has been noted:

  1. Anxiety, agitation, nervousness and tension.

  2. Declaration of the intent to split off from the group or the family and  tour Jerusalem alone. At this point, tour guides aware of the Jerusalem syndrome may  refer the tourist to an institution for psychiatric evaluation . Otherwise, subsequent stages are usually unavoidable.

  3. A need to be clean and pure: taking many baths and showers; compulsive fingernail and toenail cutting.

  4. Preparation, often with the aid of hotel bed-linen, of a long, invariably white, ankle-length, toga-like gown.

  5. Public recitation, usually shouting or singing of loud psalms, verses from the Bible, religious hymns or spirituals. These behaviors can serve as a warning to hotel personnel and tourist guides, who should then attempt to have the tourist taken for professional treatment. Otherwise the two last stages will develop.

  6. A procession or march to one of Jerusalem's holy places.

  7. Delivery of a ‘sermon’or public speech  in the holy place. The sermon is usually very confused and based on an unrealistic plea to humankind to adopt a more wholesome, moral, simple way of life.

 It is not clear that the syndrome represents a single problem or many different problems or whether it occurs only in Jerusalem, or is similar to syndromes exhibited in Mecca and Rome for example. Cases of the syndrome were observed in the Middle ages, and described in the itinerary of Felix Fabri and the biography of Margery Kempe, as well as by 19th century visitors. Must such patients are harmless. However, in August of 1969,  an Australian Christian tourist, Michael Rohan was overwhelmed with a feeling of divine mission and was apparently intent on starting Word War III in order to bring about the coming of the Messiah. He set fire to the al-Aqsa Mosque and caused minor damage. This act precipitated citywide rioting and threats of holy war  (Jihad) that were broadcast on virtually every Arab language radio station in the Middle East.

The nature of the disturbance and its legitimacy are somewhat in dispute. Kalian and Witztum note that the incidence of psychiatric admissions in Jerusalem is no higher than elsewhere. However, the potential of a violent incident by a psychotic, a disturbed person or an extremist political group (such as the faithful of the Temple Mount) in Jerusalem to set off a major international confrontation is a genuine cause for anxiety among security personnel.

Synonyms and alternate spellings:

Further Information: 

Anonymous, Jerusalem syndrome article in  http://psychcentral.com/psypsych/Jerusalem_syndrome

Bar-el Y, Durst R, Katz G, Zislin J, Strauss Z, Knobler HY. (2000) Jerusalem syndrome. British Journal of Psychiatry, 176, 86-90.  (http://bjp.rcpsych.org/cgi/content/full/176/1/86)

Fastovsky N, Teitelbaum A, Zislin J, Katz G, Durst R. (2000) Jerusalem syndrome or paranoid schizophrenia? Psychiatric Services, 51 (11), 1454.  (http://ps.psychiatryonline.org/cgi/content/full/51/11/1454)

Kalian M, Witztum E. (2000) Comments on Jerusalem syndrome. British Journal of Psychiatry, 176, 492.   (http://bjp.rcpsych.org/cgi/content/full/176/5/492-a)

Kalian M, Witztum E. (1999) The Jerusalem syndrome"—fantasy and reality a survey of accounts from the 19th century to the end of the second millennium. Isr. J. Psychiatry Relat Sci., 36(4):260-71.  (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?cmd=Retrieve&db=pubmed&dopt=Abstract&list_uids=10687302)

Tannock C, Turner T. (1995) Psychiatric tourism is overloading London beds. BMJ 1995;311:806   (http://bmj.bmjjournals.com/cgi/content/full/311/7008/806?ijkey=99162912f1943a21abffad2d50be1a8406e8aefe&keytype2=tf_ipsecsha)


Hebrew/Arabic pronunciation and transliteration conventions:

'H - ('het) a guttural sound made deep in the throat. To Western ears it may sound like the "ch" in loch. In Arabic there are several letters that have similar sounds. Examples: 'hanukah, 'hamas, 'haredi. Formerly, this sound was often represented by ch, especially in German transliterations of Hebrew. Thus, 'hanukah is often rendered as Chanuka for example.

ch - (chaf) a sound like "ch" in loch or the Russian Kh as in Khruschev or German Ach, made by putting the tongue against the roof of the mouth. In Hebrew, a chaf can never occur at the beginning of a word. At the beginning of a word, it has a dot in it and is pronounced "Kaf."

u - usually between oo as in spoon and u as in put.

a- sounded like a in arm

ah- used to represent an a sound made by the letter hey at the end of a word. It is the same sound as a. Haganah and Hagana are alternative acceptable transliterations.

'a-notation used for Hebrew and Arabic ayin, a guttural ah sound.

o - close to the French o as in homme.

th - (taf without a dot) - Th was formerly used to transliterate the Hebrew taf sound for taf without a dot. However in modern Hebrew there is no detectable difference in standard pronunciation of taf with or without a dot, and therefore Histadruth and Histadrut, Rehovoth and Rehovot are all acceptable.

q- (quf) - In transliteration of Hebrew and Arabic, it is best to consistently use the letter q for the quf, to avoid confusion with similar sounding words that might be spelled with a kaf, which should be transliterated as K. Thus, Hatiqva is preferable to Hatikva for example.

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This work and individual entries are copyright © 2005 by Ami Isseroff and Zionism and Israel Information Center and may not reproduced in any form without permission unless explicitly noted otherwise. Individual entries may be cited with credit to The Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Zionism and Israel


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