The Jewish Way of Healing

Nancy Flam

From Reform Judaism, Summer 1994
Reprinted with permission

In times of illness, Judaism offers potent remedies to help strengthen the body and spirit.

When Eve W. was diagnosed with lymphoma, she sought the finest medical treatment available. But she wanted more than high-tech medicine could offer. Like millions of Americans, she supplemented her medical treatment with complementary therapy. Eve began to practice Buddhist meditation, Hindu yoga, and natural diet. Deeply committed to her Judaism, Eve was nonetheless unaware of Jewish practices for strengthening the body and spirit at times of illness.

In response to his AIDS diagnosis. David M. began seeing one specialist after another. In addition, he tried to meet his emotional challenges by working with a therapist, taking part in a 12-step group, and staying in contact with close friends. Then, one day he saw an advertisement for a “Spiritual Support Group for HIV+ Jews.” With no clear sense of what he might gain, he called the number and registered for the group.

Shoshanna A. had never been religious or Jewishly affiliated. But when she was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, she called the Jewish Healing Center. “I rebelled against Judaism all my life. I couldn’t deal with the sexism of my brothers getting Jewish educations and fancy bar mitzvahs while I got nothing. So social activism became my religion. But now I’m sick and I’m not sure how to cope, and I wonder what I’ve been rejecting all these years. Maybe Judaism has something to offer me?”

Eve, David, and Shoshanna’s cases are typical. In times of sickness, pain, and trouble, many Jews seek spiritual comfort and healing through non-Jewish means, such as twelve-step recovery programs, new-age communities, and mind-body institutions. For some, however, there may come a point when one turns toward the Jewish tradition and community to see what it has to offer. Such seekers can find abundant resources in Judaism, which has addressed questions of health and recovery for millennia.