Being a Jewish alcoholic

“Religion is for folks who don’t want to go to Hell. Spirituality is for those who’ve already been there.”


I’m Jewish. At least in my area, which has a decent Jewish population, there are only a handful of Jewish folks in A.A. I definitely feel in the minority, and I’ve felt a bit of a struggle coming to terms about following a program which has its roots in Christian principles.

There is also somewhat of a stigma in Jewish circles about being an alcoholic. There is an old pejorative Yiddish saying from the old country — “Shikker iz a goy” — meaning that a drunk is a non-Jew, and by implication, Jews aren’t drunks. I always joke that the most frequent customers at Jewish wedding open bars (which are typical) are the Irish-Catholic folks. Unlike many fellow A.A.’s, there was very little drinking in my family, across the board. My generation definitely drank the most, as we had a more American traditional upbringing than my parents, with high school and college keg parties, etc.

Generalizations aside, there are, of course, plenty of Jewish alcoholics. Indeed, the Torah and Talmud speak of excessive drinking, and King Solomon was a reputed heavy drinker.

In my quest to connect my Jewish faith with the spiritual side of my recovery, I’ve been reading an amazing book, God of Our Understanding, Jewish Spirituality & Recovery From Addiction. The book points out that the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous (p. 87) actually referenced seeking solace with “one’s priest, minister or rabbi” when it spoke about setting time aside for daily prayer and meditation. This was remarkable considering that AA was but four years old and hardly any Jews had joined its ranks. And of course, the Big Book went to great lengths, abnormally so, considering Bill W. wrote it in the 1930’s, to eschew favoring any particular religion or even making assumptions about its members’ religious affiliations. Religion and spirituality are mutually exclusive, as far as AA goes.

Anyways, Rabbi Shais Taub, in his God of Understanding book, posits a really profound theory about addicts/alcoholics and spirituality:

All human beings have a deep seated need for spiritual contact. But most people can also live their lives without it. Addicts are people who, for whatever reason, are unsettled to the core and cannot handle the business of life without maintaining a continual and acute awareness of the Divine. Absent such higher consciousness, they are miserable and sick. What makes their dilemma fatal is that their drug of choice (alcohol, pot, cocaine, pills, whatever) will actually produce in them short-term effects that simulate the release and relief that can only really be had through spiritual consciousness.

The drug of choice becomes the addict’s God. This is not meant as mere rhetoric. Addiction is idol worship in the most fundamental sense of the term — turning to something other than God to do for you what only God can do.

Pretty heavy and insightful stuff. It makes me really think about all the underlying reasons why I drank excessively. I mean, I had all the usual reasons: my life and job were too stressful; I was trying to escape from unpleasant feelings; financial insecurity; I couldn’t deal with failure, etc., etc. But now I’m wondering if there is something far more in my core? Was I really chasing some type of other-worldly experience? I was certainly trying to get to some type of “out of mind/body experience”!

It’s all good and interesting stuff to reflect on. I’m excited to work through the book. This is a major step inasmuch as when I first got into the program, I was a pretty militant agnostic.

One day at a time…




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