Volume 54 Number 55
                    Produced: Thu Mar 29  5:15:35 EDT 2007

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

         [Avi Feldblum]
Drug abuse (and depression) in the frum community
         [Sarah Beck]
South Florida infertility seminar with  ATime
         [Mordechai Horowitz]


From: Avi Feldblum <feldblum@...>
Date: Thu, 29 Mar 2007 05:10:21 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: Administrivia

Just a quick note: 

Some list members have written to me that they have had their postings
rejected by the spam filter on shamash. If that happens to you, please
let me know and resend your posting to <feldblum@...> In
general, I prefer people using the <mljewish@...> or
<feldblum@...> addresses over the mail-jewish@shamash.org.

A second quick note: please do not include the full text of the issue
you are responding to when you send me your response. Please edit the
included copy to only include the information you are responding to.

Thanks in advance,



From: Sarah Beck <beckse@...>
Date: Tue, 27 Mar 2007 22:00:29 -0500
Subject: Drug abuse (and depression) in the frum community

The relationship between Yiddishkeit and mental health deserves serious
consideration. In particular, a non-silly examination of mental
disturbance from Tanach down to present-day teshuvot is something I
would like to do someday. Meanwhile...

Russell writes:

"How certain are Mark and Sarah and the others that such as approach is
totally pointless?"

No, I do not believe that prayer, chesed, and cheshbon ha-nefesh are
totally pointless. Not in the least. See in particular my second post,
in v54n22, re: Menachem Mendel "Tehillim and a Good Doctor" A.. That's
my point: one often needs both spiritual, medical, and psychological
intervention. Yes, as I said in that post, all things are possible in
God, and I am inclined to think that God gave me the strength to get out
of bed, go to the therapist, and take my medicine. That's an old saw,
but I think it is especially true in these cases.

I hope that my prayer and chesed also play a role beyond the temporal
and cognitive-behavioral ;-) in my recovery and continued stability. I
am one hundred percent sure that my leaving academia in favor of
(purported) good works is a necessary, but NOT sufficient, condition of
my present good (ka"h) mental health. At the very least it is an
insurance policy against despair (which feeling, in these times, is
perhaps more pragmatic than self-indulgent!) On a bad day, I might want
to die, but I can tell myself that I helped Poor Person A and Poor
Person B. No, I recommend chesed and prayer highly, but medicine and
therapy are NOT thereby contraindicated.

I hate to keep on with the autobiographical self-aggrandizement, but, as
Wordsworth says, "Let others who know more speak as they know." In this
limited case, maybe I do know a little.

Russell further says: "And if they agree it could significantly help[,]
why are we disagreeing?"

Unless I mistake you, you are saying that prayer and chesed should be
the first, if not the only, treatment for depression, addiction, and
other mental illnesses. Is that an accurate characterization of your

I, however, believe that prayer, chesed, psychotherapy, and medicine
should be deployed more or less at the same time, depending on the
acuteness of the problem and the needs and inclinations of the patient.

Out of curiosity, what would be your ideal second approach if prayer and
chesed are tried for a time (say three to six months) and the sufferer
does not improve or gets worse? Perhaps sh/e becomes unable to work or
actively suicidal. At this point, is therapy and/or drugs appropriate?
If not, then what else, other than, of course, redoubling of one's

It also seems that you are saying that mental/spiritual illness have
mental/spiritual first causes. You write, in v54n09, "If I have improper
spiritual habits, it is these improper spiritual habits that CAUSE the
chemical imbalances that we call depression." This view has its
adherents in the secular world as well. It is not clear, in my extremely
limited and lay understanding of neurochemistry, to what extent "habits
of mind" can affect brain chemistry. What is the state of the research
here? If anything, I would say that habits of BODY can and DO influence
neurochemistry. But even this is still unclear, as we are at the very
beginnings of this science. "Let others who know more," by whom I mean
neurologists, enlighten us here.

If this is your view, then what about schizophrenia? An old question,
but valid here.

Another question: are you prepared to take the Spinozistic view that
each mode of thought, read: spiritual habit, can also be fully
understood as a mode of extension, read: a chunk of the physical world?
It follows that physical events can be FULLY explained by reference to
their corresponding modes of thought, and vice versa. WRT consciousness,
I think that my old friend is definitely on to something there. (The
relationship of the system of the Ethics to the "Torah worldview" (sigh)
is a totally different discussion. I am only asking out of curiosity.)

"But as the Rambam clearly states (about amulets)[,] [']The primary
purpose of the Torah is spiritual and the cure of spiritual problems'
[...] If a person needs a therapist to cure him/herself[,] then he/she
has contradicted the essence of the Torah."

The second sentence, your words, do not follow from what the Rambam
says. That the Torah is meant to cure spiritual problems does not imply
that it is the one exclusive cure. As I said in my first post, we know
for sure that the Rambam was a doctor, that he considered the soul from
both a traditional and a so-called "Aristotelian" perspective, and that
he spent time thinking seriously about causation. I wish I could hear
what the Rambam would say about current neurology and psychiatry. Alas,
I cannot. I hope he would not dismiss the enormous progress of the past
century or so as a "contradiction of the essence of Torah."

"Why don[']t we simply go out there and do it [?]"

At this very moment, I am paying Columbia unholy amounts of money so
that I can become a psychiatric nurse practitioner. I am doing this and
not medical psychiatry because I think that, yes, mental illness needs a
holistic approach, even though the word is overused in nursing and
elsewhere. Prevention, which you correctly emphasize, is also central to
the NP perspective.

As of YET, I have not abandoned organized Judaism to keep shabbat in a
yurt in Lancaster County, PA, so I hope to be able to work in the frum
community, although my population of choice is the poor.

Gently and with respect, Russell, I ask what you are going out there and
doing. Perhaps a chavruta or a joint project with a person "struggling
with these issues"?

"The main point is too structure the Jewish community in such a way that
we are maximally protected."



On rereading Russell's post in v54n50, I came upon this passage:

"...Israeli Rock Singer Yehuda Glantz...[saw] an explosion 100 meters
from his studio [....] Yehuda[,] if he was non[-]Jewish[,] could CHOOSE
to perceive his fears and anxieties as biochemical. [...] He overcame
his biochemical fears through spiritual means."

Not even the most hardened overprescriber, nor the most dogmatic
champion of nature over nurture, would say that Yehuda's fears and
anxieties on this occasion were biochemical in origin.

I'm just making sure, so forgive me if I am stating the obvious. But you
do understand that NO psychologist, psychiatrist, social worker, etc.,
is maintaining that mental illness is all biochemical. The consensus, if
indeed there ever is one, is that these problems have both environmental
and neurochemical causes. That is why therapy and drugs both have a role
in treatment. A frum mental health worker might believe that these
problems have a substantial spiritual component as well, and would
design a treatment accordingly.

Your comments on AMIT's orphanages are well-taken. Yes, a loving, stable
place where daily life can unfold is absolutely crucial to anyone's
recovery, adult or child, in an institution or at home. But some people
need more intervention. Does AMIT have no psychotherapists on staff, or
available to consult as needed? No one with training in psychology or

As for the role of please, thank you, and other tender aspects of a
normal life in preventing mental illness, I take your comments as a
slight on my honored mother. I could not have had a more loving home.
My best friend was my size, and Ruthie, her younger sister, my Next Best
Friend, was two years younger than us. For three or four years in
elementary school, before our tastes diverged, eighty percent of
Ruthie's wardrobe was taken directly out of my own closet. Four days out
of five at school, Ruth was wearing the clothes that I myself wore the
year before. And my mother sent these home as presents when the girls
came to spend the night...why should she embarass their mom by going
over to play Lady Bountiful? One January, our housekeeper took a
vacation to go to Oklahoma and play bingo. She came back with $50 that
she planned to use to buy new tires. My mother gave her our 1977
Caprice--this must have been in 1982. She had been planning to, anyway,
but she wanted to make sure that the deal went through before the $50
got spent. "If you even want that old jalopy, Esther," she said, and
they laughed. Did I learn chesed at home?

As for prayer, my main goal of prayer, in those days, was that my
mother's parents would come back (from Heaven, not from another state)
so that she would have someone to take care of her the way she took care
of me. Even my actual father, who was no great supporter of his late
former in-laws, maintained that it was OK to say "God bless Grandma
Beck, God bless Grandpa Beck, God bless Granny, God bless Papa," even
though Granny and Papa were dead. (My father also held, to his credit,
that the Holy "Spiiiirit" is for effete Vatican II lightweights, while
the Holy GHOST is the divine emanation of choice for serious
petitioners.) Did I learn prayer at home?

Yes, I did. But I got sick anyway. With the help of chesed, prayer, and
modern mental health care, I got better.

--Sarah Beck


From: Mordechai Horowitz <mordechai@...>
Date: Wed, 28 Mar 2007 15:55:07 -0400
Subject: South Florida infertility seminar with  ATime

My wife is the local chapter leader of Atime an halachic infertility
organization.  While she has tried to contact all the shuls and Jewish
originations in South Florida about this seminar she may have missed
some so I am forwarding this invite to the list.  If anyone has any
questions they can contact her or me.

As the size of the South Florida community grows, so do the challenges
faced by its community members.  One of these challenges, which one of
every six couples deals with, is infertility.  ATIME - A Torah
Infertility Medium of Exchange was established in 1993 to help these
couples.  A TIME is the premier, internationally acclaimed organization
that offers advocacy, education, guidance, research and support through
their many programs to Jewish men, women, and couples struggling with
reproductive health and infertility. A TIME has offices and chapters in
8 U.S. cities and 4 countries.  A TIME is supported by and works with
leading Rabbonim from the entire Torah community including, but not
limited to, Rabbi Shmuel Fuerst, Rabbi Mechel Steinmetz, Skvere Dayan,
Rabbi Dovid Feinstein and many others.  We are proud to include South
Florida as one of A TIME's newest chapters.

In addition to working with infertile couple's ATIME works as a resource
for the rabbinical community in both the halachic and medical issues
regarding infertility. A TIME is conducting a medical-rabbinical seminar
hosted by Rabbi Aron Shmuel Jacobowitz, A TIME's Director of Medical
Affairs, and an expert in the field of infertility. Rabbi Jacobowitz has
lectured worldwide, most recently for the Agudah of the Midwest, The
National Council of Young Israel, and for the Vaad of Baltimore.

We invite all Rabbonim and Rebbetzins in the greater South Florida area
to this important event of education and enlightenment:

"Infertility - Halacha Meets Technology"
Wednesday, April 25
10:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.
Young Israel of Greater Miami
990 NE 171st Street
North Miami Beach, FL 33162

This event is being co-sponsored by the Young Israel of Greater Miami
and A TIME.  Rabbi Jacobowitz will address all participants during the
morning at a general session on infertility.  After lunch, Brany Rosen,
co-founder of ATIME will speak to the women on, "The Emotional Aspects
of Infertility and Where To Find Resources", while Rabbi Jacobowitz will
offer the men a lesson on "Reproductive Health from Birth to Menopause".

A Question & Answer period will follow both presentations and will
include a panel of medical professionals to field questions and input of
those present.

Please RSVP to <Florida@...> so that we may plan accordingly.  We
look forward to seeing you there as we continue to work together for the
benefit of our kehilos.


Jackie Horowitz
A TIME South Florida Coordinator


End of Volume 54 Issue 55