Rabbi Yehoshua Kaganoff of Passaic, New Jersey, is among the courageous rabbis who have recognized and shown concern for the issues of drug addiction, lust ad- diction, and abuse. His research into both the scientific and halachic aspects of these problems is extensive and persuasive. Below is correspondence from November 1996, when he consulted with Rabbi Twerski regarding two questions:
Question 1: How does one do kiruv in a Jewish Twelve Steps recovery environment?
Question 2: Are Torah observance and spirituality one and the same?
Dear Rabbi Twerski,
I am writing to seek guidance from you. I believe the
issues I will raise require a p’sak from my posek, but I believe that I should have your input before I ask the sheilah.
In keeping with your suggestion in connection with my pastoral relationship with alcoholics in my congregation, I have been attending Jewish recovery meetings once a week here in Philadelphia. Besides the education I receive from the experiences of the people in recovery who attend and share, I also contribute almost weekly a thought of Torah, usually on the parashah. The focus and purpose of my divrei Torah is to either impart some basic Judaism to these people who, for the most part, have no idea of what Yiddishkeit is all about, or, more importantly, to show them how the Twelve Steps and spirituality are very much a part of traditional “old-fashioned” Torah thought and observance.
The Jewish recovery meeting meets in the basement of a Conservative temple, which in and of itself does not disturb me. (There are piskei halachah concerning churches and other functions in Conservative and Reform temples, and this is not worse.) However, because of my input and guidance, many in attendance begin feeling an affinity for Judaism, etc., and have begun attending services at this temple.
This leads to my first question. Am I not, de facto, as- sisting these people from one self-deception into another? Spirituality is defined as choosing to follow Hashem’s will. To deceive oneself as to the nature of Hashem’s will is again an addiction — a spiritual addiction — which is even more insidious than a hedonistic addiction.
Since the basis of all spirituality and recovery is abso- lute honesty, my gut reaction is to speak out — gently, of course — and reveal that God’s will for Jews is very clearly
enunciated in the Oral and Written Torahs. To posit that they are not the Word of God is really another form of denial as can easily be proven by attendance to a Discovery Seminar of Aish HaTorah or reading any number of books like Uri Zohar’s My Friends, We’ve Been Robbed.
Especially bothersome to me is the knowledge that no mat- ter how hard these people strive for spirituality, their Jewish soul will not be quieted of its yearning until it does receive the spiritual nourishment that mitzvos and Torah provide. I am not being honest with them unless I share with them the truth.
On the other hand, I am reluctant to tell them for fear of losing them. They are struggling to stay sober. Oftentimes this very struggle alone is a daily overwhelming fight. Will it be counterproductive to reveal the whole truth?
The question itself is frightening, because if not now, then when? And if not, then I am accomplice to a deception that is blasphemous negative spirituality!
The second issue is in regard to the Jewish Recovery Retreat. I went to the recent retreat as you had recommend- ed. It really brought to the fore the above turmoil that had been percolating in my head.
The vast majority of the attendees came away raving about the spirituality. I personally did not feel the experi- ence spiritual at all. (Of course, I didn’t tell them that!)
I was very perturbed by the official policy of the Retreat that there is “no correct way to worship.” [Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, and egalitarian services are all given equal footing. –Ed.]
Above all, I was upset that the spirituality of mitzvah per- formance and Torah study were not further explored at the Orthodox level for the Orthodox, and for the nonreligious at their level.
The Orthodox davening was, pardon me, very unin- spiring. Singing was at times spirited, but what about the words? What about the sense of conversing with Hashem and being in His Presence? I am aware that this may seem an unfair demand. After all, what shul in America really pos- sesses this? But then again, who in American Jewry really understands spirituality? But those in the program know and understand differently, and they therefore do promote and seek spirituality.
It is my opinion that at a retreat, Orthodox observances should not be business as usual, but rather every effort should be expended to demonstrate and teach how the mitzvos and Torah study can be spiritual in their halachic context. The davening should be uplifting. Those who understand Shabbos in its traditional context should be al- lowed to lead the zemiros and other mitzvah performances. Maybe your brother Rav Michel or someone with similar qualifications (halachah, avodah, kiruv) could be enlisted to coordinate this endeavor. I certainly will give any assistance that is deemed appropriate.
Again, the sheilah that I place in front of the posek will be: “Should I continue to participate in these functions as they presently exist?”
As I mentioned earlier, I would very much appreciate your input on these matters before I ask the sheilah.
Also, if you are aware of a posek who understands the world of recovery, I feel it would be most appropriate to ask him the sheilah.
As always, I am very grateful for your straightforward, con- structive counsel and guidance.
Rabbi Twerski Responds
Dear Rabbi Kaganoff,
Believe it or not, this is the first opportunity I have had to
respond. After returning from Israel and South Africa, and struggling with a seven-hour jet lag and catching up with a huge backlog, I have been twice to New York, and also to Los Angeles, San Francisco, Atlanta, Detroit, and Boston. If it were not for Chanukah, I’d probably be somewhere else today.
This frenetic running around is due to my seeking support for a drug treatment project I have started in Israel and to call attention to my recently published book on spouse abuse in the Jewish community. If you think there was denial about alcoholism or drugs, it pales in comparison to the denial about spouse abuse. Our brethren rabbis wish to continue to ignore it. I contend that they are in violation of a d’Oraisa: lo tuchal l’his’aleim.
Now to your letter. It is ironic that the problem exists because the group meets in a Conservative temple. Is this perhaps be- cause the Orthodox shul would not welcome them?
I see no problem with your stating what you believe to be God’s will. The Twelve Steps leave it open as “God as I understand Him,” and you certainly have the right to clarify what Orthodoxy explains as God’s will. I do not believe it will be counterproduc- tive. You are not condemning anyone, merely stating a position. They can accept it or reject it as they wish.
This raises another issue. I believe we have an excellent entrée to people in recovery. At one retreat, there was some criticism about Orthodoxy’s recalcitrance. I told the group this story:
A number of years ago, because of the lack of awareness of AA among physicians, several of us decided to try and educate doctors. We made a documentary about AA, by filming excerpts
of talks by various members, showing who comprises AA — law- yers, executives, doctors, nurses, housewives, judges, laborers — a cross-section of the community. To preserve anonymity, we bleeped out all names. We showed this film to medical groups, giving a “before and after” questionnaire, which demonstrated that their attitude about AA was definitely changed for the better by this film.
We then received a call from AA world headquarters telling us that this was in violation of the tradition preserving anonymity in the media. The fact that we bleeped out the names did not help. We were told not to use it again. The four of us who made this excellent film had invested $4,000 of our own money. Out of respect for the tradition, this film was never shown again. (AA subsequently made a similar film, using actors.)
I told the group that we accepted this painful decision out of respect for the AA traditions. We considered AA too valuable to be tampered with, even if we did not agree with the ruling opinion. I can ask at least that much for Jewish tradition. There was not a single dissenting voice.
With all the people I have helped in recovery, I have never imposed my opinion about Jewish observance. Why? Because the inordinate success of AA is based on attraction rather than promotion. If you like what you see, you can come and get it.
While I am supportive of people who do kiruv, I have not been assertive in this respect. If my observance of Torah is not adequate to attract them, then I must work on myself.
There is a story about the Baal Shem Tov, who once observed someone violating Shabbos. The Baal Shem Tov taught that the world is a mirror, and since we are generally blind to our own defects, Hashem shows them to us in others. The defects we see in others are our own. He therefore wept and did a thorough “inventory” to see where he had violated Shabbos.
It disturbs me greatly to see people shouting “Shabbos” at drivers. The Baal Shem, too, shouted “Shabbos,” but at himself rather than at others.
Just imagine. Shabbos is supposed to be “like the World to Come.” The word vayechulu means that when Shabbos arrives, one puts the worries of the work week totally aside. The work week has been closed and completed. Shabbos is a spiritual experience wherein man and God are united as bride and groom. If we glowed with the joy of Shabbos and radiated the bliss of the World to Come, wouldn’t people be running after us to learn our secret? If those who see me are not observant of Shabbos, I need to improve myself rather than chastise them.
[Regarding the second question, Rabbi Twerski continues:]
Here, too, there is a valuable lesson from the program. Abstinence is not sobriety. Someone who has not had a drink for years but has not made any changes to his character is a “dry drunk.” Families will tell you that it is easier to live with an active drinker than with a dry drunk.
Transgressing a negative prohibition of Torah is a sin. Failure to perform a required mitzvah is also a sin. When we avoid all the lo saasehs and fulfill all the asehs, we are essentially ab- staining from sins. Unless we make the requisite improvement in middos, we are the equivalent of a “dry drunk.”
There are many fine observant people who have exemplary middos. Unfortunately, we cannot deny that there are more than a few people who observe glatt kosher and are dressed in the most frum garb, but who are sorely lacking in middos. At the retreats, much of the anger is directed at parents or others who were very rigid and restrictive in their demands, but their middos did not keep pace with their ritual observance.
I was the first Orthodox rabbi to appear at a retreat, and my initial appearance almost caused an upheaval because of the
bitterness toward Orthodoxy. Fortunately, together with a few other well-chosen rabbis, we were able to achieve a change of attitude. One time an Orthodox rabbi came who did not obey the instructions to remain silent at his first retreat and just listen. He gave a sermon according to Rabbinics 101, which went over like a lead balloon.
Davening should be spiritual. Just how spiritual is the daven- ing in the average shul? I have davened in any number of shuls and shtieblach, and they rush through the davening at 100 miles per hour. If, God forbid, the baal tefillah is a bit slower, and the davening takes thirty-five minutes instead of thirty, it is simply intolerable.
But aren’t we those who preach emunah and bitachon? We say that every person must do some hishtadlus but that it is not the degree of hishtadlus that will determine his earnings. Then why the frenetic pace? Why rush out of shul after thirty minutes to spend nine hours in the business or the office? If we do not practice what we espouse, how can we expect others to respect our ways? I am not referring to others, but to myself.
I believe we can get the message across to people in recovery that the easy way is rarely the true way. All their lives they have been looking for the easy way, and when they hit rock bottom, they realize it doesn’t work. What are all the changes in Judaism if not looking for an easy way? I think we have an opening here to argue well for full Torah observance, unless, of course, those who claim to be totally Torah observant are also looking for easy ways. I suspect this may be true, in which case we have no argument.
There is certainly much at the retreat that can be improved, and I think that with patience we can do it.
I don’t know that there is a posek who can really address this. Sorry to say, many of them are meticulously observant and very
knowledgeable, but thoroughly unaware of what feelings are all about, and how people can be paralyzed by emotions. Some may be totally alienated from their own feelings.
Love to hear from you. Sincerely,
Abraham J. Twerski
Are the Twelve Steps of Christian Origin?
In September 2009, Rabbi Kaganoff was in touch with Rabbi Twerski regarding people who emphatically claim that the Twelve-Step Program was taken from Christianity, as well as the issue of inappropriate material on the Internet. Rabbi Twerski responded as follows:
The essence of the Twelve Steps, as I pointed out in my book Self Improvement? I’m Jewish! is identical to a program based on mussar. However, anyone who has already made up his mind will not be receptive to logical arguments. The idea that the con- cept of the Twelve Steps is Christian stems from the following:
The mistaken assumption that Step 5 is the “Catholic con- fession.” The Gemara (Sotah 32b) clearly says to the contrary! The Gemara states that one who brings a korban chatas needs to reveal his aveirah to the kohein and possibly to all present in the Beis HaMikdash. And this is part and parcel of the atonement process! And Rebbe Elimelech of Lizhensk includes it as manda- tory in his Tzetel Katan (“Short List” of daily character inventory).
The regular use of a Christian prayer. This is a very minor de- tail and not of essence to the program. Anyone who does not want to say it can substitute any Jewish tefillah instead, and it is
perfectly acceptable by program rules and custom. Moreover, it is stated clearly in the Twelve Steps literature (Alcoholics Anonymous: The Big Book, third edition, pp. 10–11) that the founders of Twelve Steps recovery were mevatel their religions and specifically oso ha’ish.
The halachah is quite clear that when that occurs, even the “getchka” (idol) itself becomes permitted for use — certainly a benign prayer that contains no objectionable content.
Insofar as inappropriate material on the Internet is con- cerned, I suggest referring to GuardYourEyes.com.