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April 21, 2014

Andrew Silow-Carroll: Passoverkill? Suggestions to make next year's seders even more culturally sensitive

Sara Israelsen Hartley: Seeking the Divine: An ancient connection in a new context

Christine M. Flowers: Priest's execution in Syria should be call to action

Courtnie Erickson: How to help kids accept the poor decisions of others

Lizette Borreli: A Glass Of Milk A Day Keeps Knee Arthritis At Bay

Lizette Borreli: 5 Health Conditions Your Breath Knows Before You Do

The Kosher Gourmet by Betty Rosbottom Coconut Walnut Bars' golden brown morsels are a beautifully balanced delectable delight

April 18, 2014

Rabbi Yonason Goldson: Clarifying one of the greatest philosophical conundrums in theology

Caroline B. Glick: The disappearance of US will

Megan Wallgren: 10 things I've learned from my teenagers

Lizette Borreli: Green Tea Boosts Brain Power, May Help Treat Dementia

John Ericson: Trying hard to be 'positive' but never succeeding? Blame Your Brain

The Kosher Gourmet by Julie Rothman Almondy, flourless torta del re (Italian king's cake), has royal roots, is simple to make, . . . but devour it because it's simply delicious

April 14, 2014

Rabbi Dr Naftali Brawer: Passover frees us from the tyranny of time

Greg Crosby: Passing Over Religion

Eric Schulzke: First degree: How America really recovered from a murder epidemic

Georgia Lee: When love is not enough: Teaching your kids about the realities of adult relationships

Cameron Huddleston: Freebies for Your Lawn and Garden

Gordon Pape: How you can tell if your financial adviser is setting you up for potential ruin

Dana Dovey: Up to 500,000 people die each year from hepatitis C-related liver disease. New Treatment Has Over 90% Success Rate

Justin Caba: Eating Watermelon Can Help Control High Blood Pressure

The Kosher Gourmet by Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon Don't dare pass over these Pesach picks for Manischewitz!

April 11, 2014

Rabbi Hillel Goldberg: Silence is much more than golden

Caroline B. Glick: Forgetting freedom at Passover

Susan Swann: How to value a child for who he is, not just what he does

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Financial Tasks You Should Tackle Right Now

Sandra Block and Lisa Gerstner: How to Profit From Your Passion

Susan Scutti: A Simple Blood Test Might Soon Diagnose Cancer

Chris Weller: Have A Slow Metabolism? Let Science Speed It Up For You

The Kosher Gourmet by Diane Rossen Worthington Whitefish Terrine: A French take on gefilte fish

April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review

Is it appropriate to practice religion only for its health benefits?

By Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb




An ordained psychologist examines a reversal of position in academia and turns to the Bible itself for his answer


"Religion is good for you." "A religious person is a mentally healthy person." Statements such as these could not have been made when I was a graduate student in psychology back in the 1960s. Quite the contrary. The prevalent belief in the mental health profession then was that religion was a neurosis, and that religious people needed to abandon their irrational beliefs.

Things have changed since then. Scientific research has proven, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that religion can have a positive effect upon a person's mental attitude, and that a person's religious beliefs can enhance not only his mental health, but even his physical well-being.

Books are now being published with titles such as Handbook of Religion and Health, and Faith and Health: Psychological Perspectives. Mental health professionals are now being encouraged to assess the religiosity and spirituality of their patients, and to use a patient's religious beliefs and behavior as part of the therapeutic process.

These findings are of great importance to practitioners of all the world's religions. They certainly have relevance for the Jewish people. Thus, one recent article in a professional journal asks, in its very title, "Are religious beliefs relevant to mental health among Jews?" The article concludes with this resoundingly affirmative declaration: "Beliefs about G0D's benevolence are related to mental health among Orthodox Jews; specifically, higher levels of belief predicted lower levels of depression and anxiety."

The part of me that is a licensed psychologist celebrates these findings. But the part of me that is an ordained rabbi questions whether the fact that religion can be a positive factor in one's mental health finds support in traditional Jewish sources and, furthermore, whether it is appropriate to practice religion just because of its beneficial effects upon one's health. I have long pondered these questions and have found a significant amount of material that helps answer them. One example is found in this week's Torah portion, Parshas Va'eschanan (Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11).

Close to the beginning of the parsha, we read, "And now, O Israel, give heed to the laws and rules that I am instructing you to observe, so that you may live to enter and occupy the land that the Lord, the G0D of your fathers, is giving you. (Deuteronomy 4:1)".

Classical Jewish commentators have been puzzled by the use of the phrase, "to live." Similar phrases emphasizing "to live" and to "choose life" abound in biblical texts.

One commentator, Rabbi Avraham Ibn-Ezra (1089-1164), puts it this way: "Surely our verse could have read '…so that you may enter and occupy the land…,' minus the phrase 'live to.' " His answer is a startling, indeed frightening, one. He suggests that those who do not "give heed to the laws and rules" are equivalent to idolaters, worshipers of the Pe'or, and they will not be allowed to live, but will be annihilated.


As far as I can tell, Ibn Ezra's explanation remained unchallenged for many centuries. In the late 19th century, however, it was forcefully challenged by none other than Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Berlin (d. 1893), the head of the Volozhin Yeshiva, more popularly known as the Netziv, in his masterful commentary, Haamek Davar.

Netziv begins by insisting that Ibn Ezra's approach is untenable. He calls it "a wonder;" that is, something that makes no sense to him. First of all, he argues, can we equate all who do not observe the Torah's laws and rules with worshipers of a pagan idol, Pe'or? With this argument, Rabbi Berlin once again demonstrates the tolerant attitude toward unobservant Jews which characterized his many decades of Jewish community leadership.

He goes on to further ask, "Are all idol worshipers in fact annihilated?" He therefore rejects Ibn Ezra's commentary, and takes an entirely different approach. His approach is based upon his contention, supported throughout his prolific writings, that the meaning of the word "life" in the Bible often means not just remaining alive biologically, but something close to what we might call joie d'vivre, the joy of living. As he puts it, "the implication of the word 'life' is that of a full life, a happy and meaningful life, replete with the delight one experiences with the achievement of spiritual wholeness."

The Netziv enunciates a general principle: Religious emotions enhance and intensify life. Just as intellectual achievements and experiences of prestige and honor stimulate the life force of all human beings, so too do worship and expressions of faith nourish the life force within us. Hence, the person who deprives himself of the opportunities to experience spirituality is denying himself a healthier existence. He is not fully alive, and in a certain sense, he is dead. As our Sages taught: "The wicked, even in their lifetimes, are considered dead."

Rabbi Berlin is saying that our religious experiences invest us with a tangible and genuine, which in more modern terminology is called "improved," mental health. This takes the observance of the Torah's laws and rules beyond the theological sphere into the realm of psychology. There is psychological benefit to religious belief and to religious behavior.


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"In our verse, Moses is telling us that heeding the Torah's laws and rules can bring about a fuller measure of life," concludes Rabbi Berlin. "This is the meaning of the Mishnah in the second chapter of Ethics of the Fathers which declares that 'he who increases Torah increases his life.' Marbeh Torah marbeh chaim. This does not mean that he lives longer than others, or that his allotted life span is extended. Rather, it means that he expands the emotional repertoire of his soul and can thereby live a much more pleasant life… Thus, we say in our Sabbath liturgy that those who taste the Sabbath earn 'life.' They literally feel a psychic joy during the Sabbath day."

We can take away from the Netziv's interpretation a lesson which is so necessary in contemporary times: Religion is not psychically harmful, as many are convinced. It has pragmatic value, not just metaphysical value. Religious faith, observance of ritual, and authentic spiritual experiences can help us cope with the emotional problems of living.

Yes, there are more idealistic reasons for adhering to Judaism. But we are taught that it is sometimes acceptable to follow the Torah for ulterior motives, because those motives will ultimately become transformed into far purer motives. Mitoch shelo lishmah ba lishmah.

Our faith can help us deal with anxiety and depression; it can enable us to better cope with the challenges and stressors which are unavoidable nowadays. These might not be the best reasons for adopting a religious lifestyle, but they certainly provide a place to start.

Religion is good for you!

Comment by clicking here.

Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, PhD is currently the Executive Vice President, Emeritus of the Orthodox Union.


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Previously:



When I didn't so 'humbly disagree'
The Inspired Loner
Words of Fire
Redemption
When the utopian idealist met the hardnosed realist in the park
Worrying about idolatry
What Moses knew about motivation
Commuting and Commenting: Conversations of a Life in Motion
Unanswered prayers force unlearning lessons
Dogs, too, have pedigrees
Count Me In
Open Eyes, and an Open Heart

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© 2013, Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb

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