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September 4, 2015 / 20 Elul, 5775
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Pills and Religion

Every American child seems to be on Ritalin and Israelis are imitating them.
pills and religion

No wonder we have become a species of addicts. From the cradle to the grave we have been trained to take pills for everything. Morphine and opium have morphed into Oxycontin, Vicodin, Percocet, Percodan, and Tramadol, to name the best known. In New York there is pharmacy on every corner.

One of the most influential books in America today is a handbook of the American Psychiatric Association. It is officially called “The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders” Known as the DSM, the fifth edition has just been released. This is the bible of American psychiatry, a profession that for years advocated lobotomies, misdiagnosed and invented all kinds of mental states that might or might not have been the cause of every ill in American society. This has led to people being institutionalized or even being persuaded that they had traumatic experiences that led to charges that ruined other lives. It had advocated the talking cure for years. But now it has decided that that takes too long and it is cheaper just to give out a pill. Ah yes, here we go again. So doctors can once again prescribe a quick-fix pill.

So far the fun; I fear I have needlessly insulted Americans, Britons, and Israelis. But to be serious, of course many pills in many situations are essential and quite miraculous. It’s the abuse, the idea of an instantaneous solution without effort, quick and easy, that worries me for our future as a species. And religion, which should be a bulwark against this instant gratification, has borrowed and adapted the very mentality it excoriates as corrupt Western materialist paganism. It is all there amongst the black hats and the long black coats. The wonder rabbi solves our problems. If not a magic cure, a drug will do. Of course, this is not new in our tradition, indeed in all religion. But it is getting surprisingly worse, not better. Superstition is a placebo too.

It is there amongst our less religious too, this desperate need for someone else to take responsibility, something else to blame. Someone I know who is not Orthodox agreed to my suggestion that he put on tefilin every morning to start the day in a more spiritual, meditative frame of mind. He did for a while, and he said it helped. But then he made some terrible decisions, and his business plummeted. Off came the tefilin. He had expected the magic to work and it hadn’t so he blamed the pill!!!

Me? I don’t take pills. I eat healthily and carefully, and I exercise. If I want God to do His bit, I had better do mine!

About the Author: Jeremy Rosen is an Orthodox rabbi, author, and lecturer, and the congregational rabbi of the Persian Jewish Center of New York. He is best known for advocating an approach to Jewish life that is open to the benefits of modernity and tolerant of individual variations while remaining committed to halacha (Jewish law). His articles and weekly column appear in publications in several countries, including the Jewish Telegraph and the London Jewish News, and he often comments on religious issues on the BBC.


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4 Responses to “Pills and Religion”

  1. David Thompson says:

    Reading that article has made me so depressed, I need a happy pill.

  2. Edwin Schrodinger says:

    You say "every American child seems to be on Ritalin." I'm American and I know that's not true. Many of them are on Adderall or Strattera instead.

  3. Sue Brown says:

    Great job! Well written article that needs to be read by everyone.

  4. Grace Acosta says:

    G-d forbid you should ever become ill, this article will come back to haunt you. I pray that someone who seriously needs medical help does not forgo it, based on your opinions.

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