Photo Credit: Kodesh Press

Title: Kosher ADHD: Surviving and Thriving in the Torah-Observant World
By Simcha Chesner Ph.D. and Sara Markowitz Ph.D.
Kodesh Press



When it was time for summer camp, my son wanted to go where his friends went, which conveniently happened to be across the street from me. The problem was, half the day at that camp was spent learning. I called up to see if he could just attend for afternoons. Mrs. Brafman was lovely and quite accommodating.

“How about he can walk around and take as many breaks as he needs?” she asked.

I said that would be insufficient.

“How about if he has one on one instruction?”

I said he just can’t sit for that long.

Mrs. Brafman was perplexed. “Well, what does he do in school?” she asked.

“I homeschool him,” I said. “The last class we attended was 45 minutes long and they got to touch animals every 10 minutes, and he couldn’t sit through it.”

“You homeschool him,” she said. “That’s very brave.”

“No,” I responded. “Brave would be trying to send him to school.”

I had VERY high expectations for this book. I’ve been parenting kids with ADHD for 22 years, and I have a lot of theories and workarounds and opinions. My expectations were exceeded. This book is fantastic. I was thumbing through the advance praise and I saw: “Pick up an extra copy, because this is one of those rare books you’ll want to share far and wide, but you’ll also want to keep and treasure your own marked up copy!” This proved absolutely true. Although I started reading on Shabbos, I ended up reading this throughout the week because there is so much to underline. My copy already has a waiting list of people who want to read it. (Another advance praise made me snort: “If I did not have ADHD I would have written this book!”)

I wouldn’t say I’m an expert. I have been educated by my child whose brain was in so much pain when I tried to get her to do certain educational tasks that her tantrums were legendary. She told me frequently that she was unable to do certain things (some parents experience this as Oppositional Defiance Disorder). It took me a lot of years to comprehend what she was saying and for us to find workarounds, often with her leading the way.

I was immediately laughing at the descriptions in the book. It’s like they were looking at one of my children, whose idea of Shabbos clothes is a very nice soft t-shirt with no stains or holes and soft athletic pants that are not sweatpants.

The book asks parents to look at the environment their child is in, and to attune the environment to the child. Tragically, “children with ADHD often experience the Torah world as an environment that rejects and devalues their basic human dignity.” They “have not had their basic psychological needs met by the Torah world. Torah living has not provided them with basic security, mastery, or connection.” This point really shook me up. Torah is not providing these children love and comfort and care. It’s perceived as oppressive and a source of pain. Since I experience Torah as a tree of life for all those who grab onto it, it was sobering and dire to recognize that despite our best intentions, our children can be having a lot of trouble with major areas of Torah observance due to neurological tendencies in brain wiring. I really appreciate the book’s approach that the diagnosis does not matter. If the way the child’s brain approaches certain things causes conflicts with the environment, then this is where we need “attuned environment.” It doesn’t matter what the diagnosis is or isn’t, if it is over-diagnosed or over-medicated or under-medicated or whatever people argue about; if your child is having trouble in these areas, then this book can help. There is also the very poignant point that these kids are not lazy. A big section of the book is devoted to “cognitive restructuring” techniques where parents learn to reframe our way of looking at our children away from negative judgments and towards constructive, compassionate, and effective mindsets. I cannot recommend this enough. It is absolutely vital for your child’s emotional health and for peace in your home.

Due to neurology, your child (and maybe you) may have more trouble than the rest of the population with things like executive function and working memory. The book explains exactly what those are, why they impact functioning, and specifically why they impact certain aspects of Torah observance, both in terms of mitzvot and culturally.

How does your child (or you) view time? Do they only seem to be aware of what’s happening now? Are things absurdly “out of sight, out of mind” for them? Does their brain not really conceive future planning or consequences like the typical brain? (I’m not even talking about impulse control. In my experience and opinion, these kids have thousands of times more gevura than the average child because they have about thousands of times more impulses per minute than a neurotypical child.)

I was delighted to see the admoni (aggressive and lustful energy) concept explained so beautifully here and so relevant. I’ve been teaching this point for years: that any given middah is not good nor bad, but it depends on the situation. Case in point: Eisav’s attributes and Dovid HaMelech’s attributes are the very same attributes. This is a very important lesson for us as parents. The book has a great chart with a biosocial model for understanding ADHD that shows the difference in impact a non-attuned environment vs. an understanding environment can have on both an admoni child and an ADHD child (and we can extrapolate to any temperament).

I greatly enjoyed how the book goes through specifics. What, in detail, is difficult about the specifics of frum life and what makes them difficult for people with executive functioning challenges? What makes davening hard. What makes Talmud Torah hard. What makes Shabbos hard – both erev and during. These three areas are hugely fundamental to frum life; imagine how constantly failing at them feels as a sincere Jew.

This book is crucial for helping us understand what is happening and how to work with it and around it. It gives us awareness and understanding as well as excellent strategies. I especially enjoyed the section on adult ADHD and think it is invaluable for both the person who is struggling AND the spouse to read, and that it will enhance shalom bayit. Just like the rest of the book, it is both very insightful about the theory of what’s happening and very practical. For anyone who struggles with juggling the challenges of getting to shul, getting out the door, making Shabbos plans and making Shabbos, making Pesach…and their spouse who is getting frustrated with them.

There was a small, humorous, throw-away line that niggles at me: “Even those of us without significant reading challenges have difficulty focusing attention on areas that are not their preferred subject area. Not many of us have achieved the level of righteousness so that we are obsessed with the return of the Davidic monarchy to Jerusalem.”

Ironically, this chapter goes to great lengths to emphasize that lack of interest is not a reflection of a religious lack or moral deficit. I make no claims to extra righteousness when I say that I am pretty focused on the return of the Davidic monarchy to Jerusalem. It is in our prayers numerous times of day, and in bentching. We talk about it constantly.

Using the book’s own suggestion to feel attached to the idea and to make it meaningful, I submit that every human being in the world can be deeply interested and invested in the return of the Davidic monarchy to Jerusalem – having nothing to do with level of righteousness.

Jerusalem is “the city of Justice” (Yishaya 1:26), the capital of people whose mission is to be “a light unto the nations,” an example of ethics and wisdom for the world. We have all experienced weak and corrupt leadership, and how it impacts society on every level. Dovid HaMelech’s reign is described as: “Dovid was intelligent/successful in all his ways, and Hashem was with him” (Shmuel I 18:14). When we ask for the return of the Davidic monarchy to Jerusalem, we are asking for wise, courageous, ethical governance, to guide us to be a wise, just, ethical nation that is a model for the world. This won’t solve all of our problems, but it would help a lot of them.

I’ve only covered a fraction of what is in this tremendous book. If your child struggles with executive functioning and working memory, go and buy two copies, one to mark up and one to lend out. And maybe one more copy if you’re prone to losing things.

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Jessie Fischbein is a Tanach teacher, popular lecturer, and author of the book Infertility in the Bible. She homeschools her children in Far Rockaway, NY.