Hinda Leah Scharfstein sees the Torah as more than just the original source of halachah, Jewish law, and the earliest telling of our nation's birth.
"The Torah takes a holistic look at the individual, and it does tend to have a sort of healing effect on people," said Scharfstein, the executive director of Bais Chana Women's International, a New York-based nonprofit. "I attended my first holistic Torah retreat 20 years ago, and I have been involved on a professional and personal level with it ever since, and since then I have definitely felt better. My thinking has become healthier, and I feel more whole."
It is this view of the Torah as holistic medicine in a book, a personal well-being road map for Jewish individuals, that is the impetus behind Bais Chana's February Palm Spring's retreat "A Spa for Mind, Body and Soul." In between the glatt kosher spa meals and the hikes in the Indian canyons, speakers like Rabbi Manis Friedman, a Minnesota-based Orthodox rabbi who dabbles in homeopathic and holistic healing, and Shimona Tzukernik, a teacher and art therapist, will lecture on topics like "Sharpening the Senses: Changing the Way We Look and Listen" and "Seven Foods for Emotional Well-Being."
But Bais Chana is only one of several groups that are part of a movement to integrate ideas of Eastern medicine and emotional healing with Torah learning and kabbalah to produce a kosher alternative to new-age philosophies.
Many members of the California Orthodox community take care of their families' health by seeing acupuncturists and homeopaths, viewing these therapies as part of the way that bodies can be kept whole to serve God. Last Sunday, the Fairfax's Torah Ohr Synagogue sponsored a daylong seminar on "Medicine and Kabbalah" by Rabbi Yuval Hacohen Asherov, an Israeli kabbalist and acupuncturist who discussed the halachic approach to healing, and the way that a healthy person has a "flow" going through the nefesh (one's physicality), the ruach (one's emotions) and the neshama (one's spirituality).
Afterward participants were able to approach Asherov for counseling about the problems or blockages in their life.
In the Pacific Palisades, a Chabad-sponsored group, The Jewish Women's Circle of Discovery, has sessions where participants explore "renewal and rebirth on a spiritual path of personal discovery."
Popular Australian Orthodox mystic Rabbi Laibl Wolf comes to California several times a year to lecture about how kabbalah can help people overcome stress in their lives. More Orthodox Jews are clicking on Web sites, like www.jewishhealing.com and www.paradiseprinciple.com, where they can find out about how "Jewish medicine" -- the advice that our sages have written over the years about how physical and spiritual health can actually help them become aware of, to quote Jewish Healing, "the soul's role in healing."
"Our main goal is to inform you that there is a higher medicine for Jews, one that is replete with diagnostic methods, treatment strategies, ethical teachings and spiritual profundities," states the mission statement on the site.
"The whole idea of many of these holistic therapies is getting to the root of the problem," said Dr. Ya'akov Gerlitz, an observant Jew who is the Jerusalem-based founder of Jewishhealing.com and a doctor of Chinese medicine. "For a Jew, the root of his condition is the soul -- it is his connection to Hashem, and therefore all healing must include the soul. If a Jew is suffering, it is not enough to heal the body, even though the physical body is very precious to God, but you need to get through to the soul to get to the core of the issue."
Gerlitz lectures and counsels people, writes articles on Jewish healing and runs a worldwide network of Jewish healers. He developed the Sefirotic Alignment Therapy (SAT), which uses the 10 kabbalistic sefirot (spheres of divine energy) to counsel people through emotional problems. His approach is part doctor, part counselor. While he will provide homeopathic remedies to children who have chronic colds or ear infections, he will also dispense Torah advice to people who have emotional problems, like an inability to see things through or fearing death (the Torah solution to that is to write a will).
"According to Jewish law, you are required to get the best healing you can get for an illness, so it doesn't matter if you go to a Jewish doctor or not," Gerlitz said. "But if you are already exploring going to the core of the matter then you should go only to a Jew. Healers bring their energy into the practice, and if you go to someone who has pagan ideology, it could affect the person by bringing in tumah (impurities) or kelipot (dark forces) into the patient. For holistic therapies, you definitely want a Jewish model."
While these therapies might not appeal to everyone, even more conservative Orthodox rabbis think that they can't hurt.
"It should not replace normative medicine," said Rabbi Elazar Muskin of Young Israel of Century City. "But anything that can help one find a balance in life is good, and as long as it does not violate halachah, then what would be wrong with using different methods?"
"A Spa for Mind, Body and Soul" will take place Feb 16-19 for women and Feb 19-22 for couples at the Le Parker Meridian Hotel in Palm Springs. For more information, visit www.baischana.org/couples.html or call (800) 473-4801.
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