Members of the Israeli haredi (ultra-Orthodox) community – seemingly more
self-isolated, vigilant in segregating the sexes and extreme in observance than
ever – have emotional and psychological problems no less than the general
Although they are averse to basing their treatment on the
wisdom of “secular” personalities such as the founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund
Freud, they would be well advised to meld and customize this valuable knowledge
with a Torah-based treatment approach to promote psychospiritual growth and
So suggests Dr. Naftali Fish, an American- born clinical
psychologist who came on aliya with his family in 1984 and has for the last 25
years developed such a treatment technique (http://nachatruach.com) in
Jerusalem. Calling it the Nahat Ruach Treatment Model, Fish integrates “eclectic
psychotherapy with the twelve-step orientation and faith in God based on Torah
He has just published an English-language book on his
technique – which he abbreviates as NRTM. Titled Nachas Ruach: Torah-Based
Psychotherapy and Tools for Growth and Healing
, the hardcover book was published
by Targum Press of New York, using the Ashkenazi Hebrew pronunciation of the
word for “satisfaction”).
In an interview with The Jerusalem Post
publication of the 309-page volume, Fish says NRTM is “the first approach to
utilize Torah-based hypnosis therapy and meditation as a treatment tool when
working with a broad range of clinical situations.”
These include the
whole gamut of contemporary addictions, such as Internet addiction, to marital
and family problems, from teens at risk to the psychological challenges facing
those who are religious from birth and from penitent Jews to marital and family
counseling and psychosomatic disorders.
Fish, who himself became
religious at 21 and wears a large crocheted kippa, graduated from Pennsylvania
State University and Yeshiva University in New York before settling in
Jerusalem. In the mid-1990s, he founded and administered a full-time recovery
rehabilitation program here that, he says, was the first framework to
professionally address the issues of addictions within the Jewish community.
Since 1998, he has had a private practice in the capital and also teaches
psychology at Touro College- Israel.
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His mentor was and is Dr. Abraham
Twerski, an ordained haredi American rabbi who graduated from medical school and
specialized in psychiatry. The highly respected octogenarian founded in 1972 and
was medical director of the private, non-profit Gateway Rehabilitation Center in
Pennsylvania and Ohio for treating drug addicts.
Twerski wrote an
endorsement that appears at the beginning of the volume: “Due to the early
influences of Sigmund Freud, who was an atheist, there is still an impression
and fear that psychology and psychiatry are antagonistic to Yiddishkeit, so that
many people who need psychological help refuse to avail themselves of it.
Naftali Fish’s book points out that contemporary psychology is more
compatible with religion, and this is a positive development,” he wrote. “In
addition, based on extensive professional experience, Dr. Fish has developed a
unique treatment approach.... I believe [his] book makes an important
contribution in furthering the understanding of psychology and psychotherapy for
The haredi community, certainly in the US and
now also in Israel, “is not immune to many sensitive contemporary issues, which
can no longer be ignored,” says Fish.
“Yet sadly, some people who need
psychological advice refrain from seeking it, believing that contemporary
psychology and psychiatry are antagonistic to traditional Judaism.”
book, which may not be followed easily by the ordinary layman or haredim with
psychological problems, is meant, Fish says, for professionals in the field of
mental health, rabbis, educators, educated laymen and psychology, medical and
social work students. The Ashkenazi transliteration of the numerous Hebrew words
and the prayer- and hassidic-oriented approach may put off some
One wonders how many Israeli haredi rabbis would be able to
comprehend it because of the English and the serious discussion of
psychoanalytic and other theories and practices; in addition, while modern
Orthodox and haredi American rabbis will understand the English, some may also
have difficulty understanding the concepts.
A more likely audience are
members of ATEM-Nefesh, a network of mental health professionals who discuss and
answer questions related to professional topics as well as ethical and religious
psychological practice issues in the Orthodox community.
It is both an
international network and has a major Israeli branch, ATEM-Nefesh- Israel,
headed by Dr. Judith Guedalia and social worker Leah Abramowitz, with annual
symposia convened to promote community and individual welfare and mental health
and present research.
A how-to book in English and a Hebrew translation
would be advisable to reach a larger audience of haredim and other Orthodox
The new volume stresses the importance of therapists’ having
cultural competence and thus understanding of the haredi and religious way of
life so they will not think rituals, observance and behavior in the community
are themselves a psychological problem.
“Many mental health professionals
– particularly until the end of the 1960s, when many established ideas began to
be challenged in Western culture – typically not only failed to see that
organized religion could help heal patients, but considered reliance on a Higher
Power to be a dysfunctional way of coping because they thought it enabled people
to avoid taking responsibility for their own lives. Such an attitude,” writes
Fish, “which viewed religion as the ‘opiate of the masses,’ has long been part
of the mainstream Western, liberal, secular world view, though its predominance
has diminished somewhat in recent decades.”
Today, spirituality of all
kinds has become very trendy, he adds in the interview.
leaders are looking for a higher purpose.”
By adopting the Twelve Steps –
but in a religious Jewish version – Fish helps clients to benefit from the
technique that was used since the 1930s by Christians in Alcoholics Anonymous
(AA). The founders, who also remained anonymous, tried to go sober during
America’s shortlived Prohibition of alcohol production and sales.
were not motivated by Freudian psychotherapy, even though it was in its heyday
then,” Fish says.
Fish’s version of the Twelve Steps integrates belief in
God and the Torah as a way of overcoming addictions and emotional problems.
Abstinence preached in the Twelve Steps also fits in very well with Orthodoxy’s
advocacy of abandoning addiction to the Internet, drinking, drugs, extra-marital
sex and others, he says, adding that he has put thousands of haredim through his
adapted version of the Twelve Steps. He would like to train other mental health
professionals to use his NRTM.
The author provides a number of scenarios
of people needing and benefiting from the eclectic approach.
One is a
haredi woman in her 30s who has six children and is stuck in what seems to be a
highly dysfunctional marriage. She even considers divorce, although she realizes
that this status in a haredi community would eventually jeopardize her
children’s marriage prospects.
A second scenario is a modern Orthodox
professional man whose wife goes into shock and desperation when she discovers
her husband is addicted to Internet use that has nothing to do with his
profession. She learned of the problem after noting that he spending long hours
alone in his study at home.
A third is a 27-year-old, unmarried penitent
Jew who feels he is not as good at studying Talmud as he had thought and has
gone out on 50 arranged dates without being able to feel a commitment to
marriage, related to unfinished “emotional baggage” from his past.
last one is an 18-year-old haredi youth who has constant fights with his parents
about his using marijuana and abandoning part of his Shabbat observance, which
is an example of the dilemmas that many religious adolescents face
Each of the four are analyzed extensively by the author using the
“I tell patients to take one day at a time.
challenge is to escape from the post- Sixties world of immediate
First they have to admit that they are powerless against
addiction and then do footwork to turn to a Higher Power and ask to be
Fish, noting that “secular psychology has wisdom as well,” puts
much credence in a number of Freud’s views, including the pleasure principle.
The Torah, he states, regards pleasure as being from God.
sex in marriage and other pleasures enjoyed in moderation. Christians, however,
originally regarded such pleasure as sin.”
The haredi world, he
continues, “is having a reaction to the loss of balance after the Holocaust.
With so many haredi Jews lost, they became more separate and extreme so as to
grow in numbers and retain members of the community. But insisting that
everybody has to dress same way and learn Torah all day goes against the Judaism
that existed before World War II. There is small elite capable of devoting all
their time to Torah, but normative behavior is to work in addition to setting
aside time to learn Torah,” says the psychologist.
“More moderation is
needed. So many communities were destroyed that haredim developed a strong fear
of the secular world in the Diaspora and in Israel.”
He says he uses
Freudian thought together with Torah perspectives to heal the “inner wounded
child” in adults.
“They are still dealing with the pain and limitations
related to their past development and experience. This includes not feeling
loved enough, smart enough, secure enough. While placing emphasis on the inner
wounded child, the goal of the therapy is not to dwell on the past too much and
remain ‘stuck here.’ Rather, the emphasis is to begin to view oneself more
positively from [God’s] perspective.”
The clinical psychologist teaches
meditation – even just sitting still and closing one’s eyes – as beneficial, a
“natural and pleasant way to gain greater comfort with themselves and begin
moving into a different mode of consciousness that can facilitate
psychospiritual growth.” He advocates deep breathing exercises as well, as they
help stressed people to relax.
Fish also utilizes hypnotherapy “as the
foundation to build an adult’s healthy self as a Jew and as a person who has
intrinsic value. I see the unconscious as important too.” Most people, he says,
“can go under into a light to moderate relaxed open receptive state so they can
let go and absorb new ways.” Many of his haredi patients arrive in his office
“without adequate self esteem. Most feel they have not achieved
Fish concludes that despite the current wave of violent
demonstrations, extreme practices not demanded by Halacha and efforts to keep
women out of public places, “there are very encouraging signs the haredi world
is undergoing a quiet revolution. There is more and more acceptance that the men
go to work and support their families.”
It will be interesting to see
which trend wins out in the coming decades as the share of the haredi community
in Israel and the Diaspora continues to rise.
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