IS THIS BOOK FOR YOUR GROUP?
Are you a member of an addiction recovery support group? Looking for an easy-to-read guide to a new life path—one that waits beyond the suffering and slavery of addiction? This powerful resource draws on Jewish resources—theological, psychological and ethical—that speak to the spiritual dimension of the disease, and will show you and your group how the principles of Jewish spiritual recovery directly align with the AA 12 Steps.
6 x 9, 176 pp, Paperback, 978-1-58023-808-3
A major new Jewish contribution to 12-Step spirituality.
Claim the spiritual freedom that waits beyond the suffering and slavery of addiction.
“One of the important similarities between AA and Jewish spirituality is the statement in Step 12, ‘to practice these principles in all our affairs....’ There is no dichotomy of sacred versus secular. Jewish spirituality applies to how we eat, sleep, work, socialize and recreate. There is nothing that is external to the relationship of human being to God.”
—from the Foreword
This easy-to-read exploration from a Jewish perspective is the first comprehensive approach to successfully integrate classic Jewish spirituality with the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and other recovery resources.
With clarity and passion, Rabbi Paul Steinberg masterfully weaves traditional Jewish wisdom with the experience, strength and hope of AA. He draws on Jewish resources—theological, psychological and ethical—that speak to the spiritual dimension of the disease, and shows how the principles of Jewish spiritual recovery directly align with those of the AA 12 Steps. Along the way, he courageously shares his own personal struggles with alcoholism and addiction in a way that will help others find guidance and a new life path—and stay on it.
“Deeply personal, richly informed.... A beautiful example of reaching for Judaism’s highest values through one’s own challenges and changes. There are great riches here.”
—Beth Fishman, PhD, director, Jewish Center for Addiction, Jewish Child and Family Services of Chicago
“This is it: 12-Step Jewish spirituality—applied. A profound reflection on the life of a Jewish alcoholic—a rabbi—who found his way back through Judaism.”
—Dr. Kerry M. Olitzky, coauthor, Twelve Jewish Steps to Recovery; executive director, Big Tent Judaism/Jewish Outreach Institute
“Many Jews wonder if Judaism and the 12 Steps are compatible, and whether Judaism can speak to our disease at all. [This book] puts an end to our wondering.... [It] belongs in the hands of every Jew in recovery, starting with you.”
—Rabbi Rami Shapiro, author, Recovery—The Sacred Art: The Twelve Steps as Spiritual Practice
“Teaches us that recovery will reclaim your life when addiction has destroyed your living. Courageously, honestly and painfully, Paul Steinberg knowingly walks us through the unknown forest of ourselves and the Jewish tradition.... Humbled, I walk with him.”
—Reb Mimi Feigelson, lecturer in Rabbinics and Chassidic Thought, American Jewish University
“Rabbi Paul Steinberg is a trustworthy companion. He offers deep spiritual wisdom and hard-earned authenticity that guides the reader toward reclaiming the fullness of life along the 12-Step path.”
—Rabbi Elie Kaplan Spitz, author, Healing from Despair: Choosing Wholeness in a Broken World
“Paul Steinberg shares ... that soul-saving lifeline that occurs when the 12-Step program connects seamlessly with our own inherent beliefs and spiritual foundation. This book will aid many in accessing the healing power of the recovery program.”
—Harry L. Haroutunian, MD, physician director, Betty Ford Center
“I can’t recall a book that has opened my eyes, touched my heart or awakened my soul more than Paul Steinberg’s Recovery, the 12 Steps and Jewish Spirituality. If you measure this treasure in terms of insight, honesty, courage and compassion, it matches the greatest works of the human soul. I will be sharing this book widely, and returning to it again and again.”
—Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson, DHL, vice president, American Jewish University; author, Passing Life’s Tests: Spiritual Reflections on the Trial of Abraham, the Binding of Isaac
“Rabbi Steinberg has written the go-to resource for Jews in recovery, and also for those who wish to support them. His honesty about his own addiction and recovery, combined with his insights into Jewish spiritual teachings, make this a very powerful book—comforting and inspiring as well as informative and accessible. The wisdom of Jewish tradition and of the 12 Steps are brought together here in ways that deepen our understanding of both.”
—Louis E. Newman, John M. and Elizabeth W. Musser Professor of Religious Studies, Carleton College; author, Repentance: The Meaning and Practice of Teshuvah
“It takes a courageous soul to stand naked and bare one’s soul in the public square. Rabbi Steinberg has done just that in Recovery, the 12 Steps and Jewish Spirituality. His remarkable candor ... will surely enlighten and empower others who ... struggle with addiction, perfectionism, Judaism and spirituality.... [He] has taken the complex challenges of understanding addiction, recovery, God, honesty, AA, mitzvot, spirituality, love, Judaism, trust, Torah and humanity and woven them into a seamless tapestry. I am grateful to Rabbi Steinberg for sharing himself through the book, and for the many new insights I gleaned from its pages.”
—Janice Kamenir-Reznik, cofounder and president, Jewish World Watch
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- Do you find it odd to have a rabbi come out as an alcoholic? Why or why not?
- What may challenge an alcoholic or addict in connecting to his or her religious or spiritual community?
- Have you ever felt like you were “on the margins” of your community because of a personal issue or problem you may have had?
Part I: A Judaism of Experience, Strength, and Hope: A Rabbi’s Journey Through Alcoholism
- Are there elements to Rabbi Steinberg’s story with which you identify?
- Rabbi Steinberg wonders how a rabbi could have been so affected by alcoholism and addiction. What answer would you offer him?
- How do you understand what Rabbi Steinberg means by teshuvah? Have you ever experienced genuine teshuvah?
Chapter 1: Understanding Addiction, Jewish Spirituality, and Medicine
- Is the relationship between science and medicine and your spiritual or religious approach a challenge?
- How has the science and medicine of addiction changed, affirmed, or added to your conception of addiction?
Chapter 2: A God of Religion and Recovery
- What is the message of the quotation from the Talmud at the beginning of the chapter? Do you agree with it?
- What are the challenges you face in developing a conception of God? What kind of God do you believe in? Where did your conception originate?
- What are the challenges you face regarding your own religious or spiritual tradition?
- What is your takeaway from the chapter on God and religion?
Chapter 3: The Dignity of Self
- What are the things you do and the people with whom you are connected that demonstrate your infinite value?
- Are there any ways in your life in which you have denied the dignity of equality to others? How might you exercise integrating the dignity of equality into your life?
- How might have you denied your own innate human dignities? What do you need to do in order to accept them every day?
Chapter 4: The Evil Inclination
- How does the yetzer ha-ra (evil impulse) manifest in your life? What triggers it most?
- Does your ego tend to incline toward the depressive or the grandiose?
- What does “elevating evil” mean to you? What does that look like in your life?
Chapter 5: Judaism and Alcohol: A Complicated Relationship
- Have you ever felt pressure to drink from your community (like you’re an outsider if you don’t)?
- How do you cope with the influences and pressures around alcohol in social and even religious settings?
- How has this chapter changed, affirmed, or added to your conception of alcohol and addiction?
Part II: The Covenant of Recovery—Spirituality in Action: Aligning Jewish Spirituality with AA
- What actions or practices in your life are spiritual in nature?
- What spiritual principles underscore your practice?
Chapter 6: Study—Talmud Torah
- For you, what makes sacred literature (Torah or other texts) sacred?
- How have you experienced the study of sacred literature? What assumptions did you have about it when you began?
- How might you implement the study of Torah or other sacred literature in your life?
- Why are teachers and/or sponsors so important? Who are your teachers?
Chapter 7: Prayer—Tefilah
- What can you identify with in this chapter on prayer?
- What is your experience with prayer and meditation? What “works” for you and what doesn’t?
- For you, are prayer and meditation different experiences? How are they similar?
- How might you implement the practice of prayer and meditation in your daily life?
Chapter 8: Repentance—Teshuvah
- Do you believe that people can change? Have you changed? If so, how and why?
- What is the most challenging stage of the teshuvah process: a) admitting our responsibility and part in our own resentments, b) confessing our wrongdoings to the injured parties, c) never returning to the same old behaviors, or d) another stage?
- How might you implement the practice of teshuvah in your daily life?
Chapter 9: Service—Tikkun
- How does it feel to participate in acts of service?
- Although it’s not explicitly mentioned in the chapter, the concept of community and fellowship is referenced throughout. What’s the connection between service and community?
- How might you implement the practice of service in your daily life?
Part III: 12 Texts for the 12 Steps
- Step 1—Choice and self-will are very tricky to understand. Is choice an act of mind or act of will? And what’s the difference?
- Step 2—What are you a slave to? How might you strive toward freedom?
- Step 3—Whom do you trust? How do you demonstrate trust and/or faith every day?
- Step 4—Are there any resentments that currently affect your life? How might you work to let them go?
- Step 5—Do you agree that holding secrets makes us “sick”? Explain.
- Step 6—How does fear play a role in your life, behavior, attitude, or thinking?
- Step 7—What character flaws and defects will you ask to be removed today?
- Step 8—Do you agree that we are constantly transmitting and sharing energy with those around us? Explain.
- Step 9—Have you ever had the experience of transforming malignant shame into motivational shame? Explain.
- Step 10—Why is it so important for us to focus on one day at a time? Is there anything wrong with looking ahead to the future?
- Step 11—What are you reverent about in your life? How are you different when you are behaving reverently than when you are irreverent?
- Step 12—How do you demonstrate love on a daily basis?
Why did you write this book?
Early in recovery, as I was introduced to the fellowship of AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) and its spirituality, I was confronted with questions of how my Judaism fit in: Does Judaism still work for me in recovery? Does the spirituality of Judaism contradict the spirituality of AA? First, I had to acknowledge that I loved Judaism (and I loved being a rabbi) and that I was not going to give it up. I may have had problems, but Judaism wasn’t one of them. Second, I acknowledged that AA was wise and necessary to my recovery. I then realized that for my recovery to be complete I must be completely me in recovery, utilizing all of my heart and mind. I must be able to be a Jew, a rabbi, and someone suffering with the disease of alcoholism and addiction. I had to integrate being a committed Jew and an alcoholic—once a point of tension and divide in my life—in order for my healing to be complete. This book draws upon all the dimensions of my soul—both my suffering and my redemption. It is what I have learned, what I have to teach, and what I still have yet to learn.
Is this book only for Jews?
No. This may be a book about Judaism, but beneath the vocabulary and particularities, it addresses a universal spirituality. Spirituality, of course, is not something that is possessed by any one group, religion, or culture. It is a pervasive energy that illuminates the spectrum of qualities within every soul, while simultaneously binding us all together. Both Judaism and AA are wise spiritual approaches to healthy and purposeful living. Though there are subtle differences between Judaism and AA, this book draws upon the similarities—things that are present in any positive spiritual approach, like study, prayer-meditation, repentance, forgiveness, and service. The language, concepts, and practices of Judaism are emphasized to guide Jews seeking to understand and enrich their own Judaism. Yet, spiritual seekers of any faith or background will find common ground from which to connect and grow.
Is this book only for alcoholics and addicts?
Certainly not. First, we have to recognize that society, science, and religion have long misunderstood what it means to be an alcoholic or addict. There is a constant societal temptation to reduce a problem to a clean and tidy explanation with a tangible cure or solution. Ultimately, alcoholism and addiction are rooted in the human challenge of existence itself—living divided as both soul and body, both good and evil, both living and consciously watching ourselves live. Alcohol and drugs medicate and sedate that innate human angst, appearing to help until they not only become part of the problem but exacerbate it. But, if we’re honest, we must admit that all sorts of obsessive behaviors essentially do the same thing. Addiction manifests in the obsessive desire to control our lives and feelings in a world of uncertainty, and we find its presence in processes (such as gambling, sex, eating, crime), relationships (codependency), and events (such as crises and social dramas).
Addiction is a symptom of the disassociation, or disintegration, of body, mind, and soul. Recovery from addiction is a reintegration by transforming broken divisions into wholeness through a healthy body, a clear mind and conscience, and a spirit actively expressing itself through connections with others and the world. The truth is that everyone experiences such human brokenness and requires the healing of some sort of program of wholeness, whether we call it “spirituality,” “recovery,” or by another name.
What do you hope for this book?
I think that many of us, like me, suffer from inner divisions, placing our spirit and identity into the silos of what we think we’re supposed to be, rather than being who we are. I hope that this book will help others to remove the dividing walls of these silos like it did for me. For alcoholics and addicts, I hope we will open up to the miracle of our own existence and trust that there is a way to live freely in spirituality. For Jews, rabbis, clergy, and Jewish educators, I hope that this book will serve as a helpful resource to deepen our Judaism and to garner more courage and willingness to openly address the necessary healing in our communities, not only in the form of external social action, but also in internal spiritual action.
Rabbi Paul Steinberg is a nationally renowned Jewish educator and a professional staff member at Beit T’Shuvah, the acclaimed recovery center in Los Angeles. Previously a rabbi at Valley Beth Shalom congregation in Encino, California, his books include the three-volume series Celebrating the Jewish Year, which won the National Jewish Book Award.
Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski, MD, is the founder and medical director emeritus of Gateway Rehabilitation Center in western Pennsylvania and Ohio. He is author of over fifty books, including Happiness and the Human Spirit: The Spirituality of Becoming the Best You Can Be and A Formula for Proper Living: Practical Lessons from Life and Torah (both Jewish Lights).
Harriet Rossetto is the founder, CEO and clinical director of Beit T’Shuvah. She is the author of Sacred Housekeeping: A Spiritual Memoir.