The world is a darker place tonight with the passing of a Torah luminary whose gift was in keeping Jewish people alive even with they themselves no longer had the will to live.
Rabbi Dr. Avraham Joshua Twerski z”l passed away Sunday (Jan. 31, 2021) at Laniado Hospital in Netanya at age 90 after being hospitalized last week after contracting COVID-19.
A world renown Torah personality, “Rabbi Abe” was a shochet, a mohel, a composer of niggunim, a talmid chacham, an ordained rabbi and a medical doctor — a psychiatrist — specializing in addictions.
The son of the Hornsteipler Rebbe, Rabbi Twerski received his own smicha at the age of seventeen, and then assisted his father as assistant rabbi in his birthplace of Milwaukee.
Although he is best known for his psychiatric knowledge and activities, Rabbi Dr. Twerski z”l was also a tremendous Torah scholar, widely respected for his deep devotion to the Chassidut of his ancestors and the breadth of his learning.
A descendant of the great Chernobyl Chasidic dynasty, Rabbi Twerski was nevertheless known to many as just “Abe,” a man who spoke truth in plain words that could be understood by the average Jew or gentile. He did not differ between the creations of the Master of the Universe and in accordance with his training as a medical doctor, worked to heal all.
But it was as a psychiatrist that Dr. Twerski truly changed the world as he began to engage his skill towards helping those caught in the deadly trap of addiction — alcoholism and drug addiction — at a time when no one willingly talked about the alcoholism and drug abuse that had indeed penetrated the Jewish community.
Nor had anyone any idea what to do about it.
Dr. Twerski was swamped with calls from desperate family members. He was also popular with addicts themselves, who were relieved to find a Jewish psychiatrist with no pretensions and no “airs” and who was able to speak plainly about the challenges they faced.
He also willingly lent his support to a small Brooklyn startup organization trying to help families with special needs children. Rabbi Twerski wasn’t “too famous” to take a position on the organization’s new advisory board; he knew his name would help attract others and give the new group a chance to survive.
Community politics didn’t faze him either, a fact that was clarified some years later when a furor developed over a book the rabbi wrote about domestic violence in Jewish homes. When he was unable to find a major publisher, Rabbi Twerski published the volume via Mirkov Publications — a move that horrified numerous members of the Jewish community and overjoyed many more in the clinical world.
The Shame Borne in Silence: Spouse Abuse in the Jewish Community (Mirkov Publications, 1996; 2nd ed. Urim Publications, 2014) is a slim volume that can be read in one sitting. It is a really, really important book.
It also rocked the Jewish world, openly stating for the first time the truth that Jewish clinical professionals had discussed behind closed doors for decades. Domestic violence takes place in Jewish families too, and Rabbi Twerski was determined to make sure something got done about it.
Only by shedding light on a subject, he said, can one drive away the darkness and begin to heal the pain.
So too with the mysteries of dealing with addiction and the issues of mental illness that so often go alongside that physical illness.
And so when COVID-19 came to claim the precious life of Rabbi Dr. Avraham Twerski, z”l, the light that for so many years shone bright upon this world now is gone.
Instead it now blazes in the World to Come.
In accordance with Rabbi Twerski’s wishes, no eulogies were to be said at his funeral, set for 11:30 pm in Jerusalem. He was to be laid to rest in Beit Shemesh, and at his request, his famous song, “Hoshia Es Amecha,” will be sung in place of the hespedim.
Rabbi Twerski is survived by his second wife Dr. Gail Twerski, three sons, a daughter and numerous grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren.
Baruch Dayan HaEmet.