Local rabbi’s book brings Jewish understanding to addiction recovery
Rabbi Shais Taub could have moved anywhere.
But the author, lecturer, educator and addiction/recovery specialist moved to Pittsburgh last February for the Jewish community and, as he said, because “Pittsburgh is the capital of Jewish recovery of the world.”
Taub is referring to the work of Dr. Abraham Twerski, the well-known rabbi/physician who founded the Gateway Rehabilitation Center and burst the notion that addiction wasn’t a problem in the Jewish community.
Taub’s latest book, “God of Our Understanding,” seems like a logical fit for the city, then — it’s an examination of how Jewish spirituality factors into the 12-step process ascended by so many recovering addicts.
The 36-year-old Taub began investigating addiction and recovery in Milwaukee, where he and his wife, Brocha, managed a recovery community for people with various addictions. There, “people were staying sober because they’d found a higher power,” said Taub. “As Jews, they wanted to know more about how to incorporate Judaism into their recovery.”
Taub led the group in study and prayer, as well as helping them heal through social interactions.
“I could see how God could work in people’s lives,” said Taub of his years in Milwaukee. “I saw firsthand the power of people’s lives changing miraculously — literally miraculously.”
Taub said his approach to recovery combines overt spiritual elements to 12-step programs, but that his book should never be “a substitute for anything someone is already doing,”
Those 12-step programs, after all, already incorporate a spiritual element, according to Taub.
“Recovery has nothing to do with a person’s particular addiction,” he said. “The language of the 12 steps in Alcoholics Anonymous mentions alcohol once, then never again. If it’s just about avoiding a drink, you’ll drink. It’s about being God-centered instead of self-centered.”
Addiction also tends to suck in family members and friends, also called co-dependents.
“People don’t realize that addiction is a family disease, and co-dependents need recovery, too,” said Taub. “They think that the addict needs recovery, then all will be alright. But years of living with addiction can make people dysfunctional, too.”
The focus is different, of course, but the obsessions of addicts and co-dependents are often similar: “The addict is trying to control life by changing the way he feels. The co-dependents are also trying to control life by manipulating the behaviors of the addict,” said Taub. “These are wounded souls obsessed with trying to control life, but going insane in the process.”
Though Jews were once very doubtful of believing that addiction existed in the Jewish community, it’s now largely believed that Jewish rates of addiction aren’t particularly low or high. But as for co-dependents, “we might even be leading the pack,” said Taub, “because we’re family centered and really feel that if we don’t worry enough, our children will fly off the face of the earth. That’s exactly what co-dependency is.”
In thoughtfully paced chapters, Taub addresses the problem and the solutions, noting a theological study of the 12-step program. The book ends with chapters about surrendering, or “accepting things as they are in order to change.”
Published by Ktav Publishing House, Inc. in New Jersey, Taub said the book has been successful so far.
In Pittsburgh, Taub aims to localize his spiritual approach to recovery; he’s been leading a group called Conscious Contact at the Aleph Institute in Squirrel Hill, Tuesdays at 8 p.m.
“Life gets dysfunctional,” said Taub, as his group is for people who want, “to meet with other people who are serious about spiritual growth.
The title of the book, he said, comes from a common saying in recovery.
“Addicts recover by finding a God of their understanding. A guy once told me he’d become spiritually bankrupt; he’d lost it all,” said Taub. “He came to AA and found the God of his understanding. And in that way, he found the God of his fathers.”
(Justin Jacobs can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)