The fellowships of Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and Al-Anon are of inestimable value in the recovery from alcoholism and chemical dependency. Not infrequently, there is a resistance on the part of Jews to participate on the grounds that these programs have a religious orientation that is non-Jewish.
Let us first dispense with some extraneous objections.
A.A. is Christian because meetings are held in church basements, say some.
While it is true that the majority of A.A. meetings are in churches, it should also be mentioned that few Jewish facilities have welcomed A.A.
The myth that Jews do not become alcoholic has resulted in an alienation of alcoholism treatment programs from the Jewish community. Just as there is a lack of alcoholism expertise in Jewish health agencies, so is there a dearth of synagogues and Jewish community centers that have opened their doors to A.A. Several years ago there were virtually no synagogue-based A.A. meetings. Today there are communities that have one or more. If more rabbis and community leaders would overcome their resistance and denial, there is no question that more meetings will be held in Jewish institutions.
A.A. meetings involve Christian liturgy, say others.
While A.A. meetings generally close with the Lord’s Prayer, there is no rule in A.A. that precludes substituting a Jewish prayer. While others are reciting the Lord’s Prayer, one may say the 23rd Psalm or any other Jewish prayer.
All the available literature on spirituality in recovery has Christian origins, is another common complaint.
Like the first objection, this is not inherent in A.A., but a default by Jewish theologians. Again, the prevailing lack of awareness about alcoholism among Jews is responsible for the absence of literature on spirituality. Hopefully, this will be corrected with the increasing interest in the problem. In some communities, knowledgeable rabbis have begun to provide sessions on spirituality for recovering Jews.
Denial and resistance
These objections are similar to the various forms of denial and resistance inherent to the disease of alcoholism and the awareness that help must be sought. Even after a person accepts the presence of a problem and the need for treatment, there is often resistance to Alcoholics Anonymous and Al-Anon.
Permit me to list the most typical forms of resistance:
1. A.A.’s insistence on total abstinence.
The alcoholic much prefers a treatment which would allow him (or her) to cut back on his alcohol consumption, or teach him to control his drinking. He is therefore more likely to accept some treatment approach that would not demand total abstinence indefinitely.
2. Reluctance to be stigmatized as alcoholic.
The pejorative nature of this term, and its association in many people’s minds with skid-row derelicts often results in preference for the euphemism of problem drinker.
3. Concern that one will meet social or business acquaintances at meetings, and that one’s alcoholism will be exposed.
While there are various reasons for resistance to A.A., the rationalization that it is alien to Jewishness is a comfortable one and frequently exploited. Strangely, one can hear this objection from people who have broken all identity with Judaism. It is a rationalization that is also employed by those who have no reservations about intermarriage.
Clearly, objections of this sort are a resistance manoeuvre and should be recognized as such.
By Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski, M.D. and is a nationally acknowledged expert in the field of alcoholism and chemical dependency, and is currently the Medical Director of the Gateway Rehabilitation Center in Pittsburgh, as well as an Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. The author of several books, Dr. Twerski has written extensively and lectured world-wide about the problem of chemical dependency in the Jewish community.