Is one allowed to attend and follow the 12 steps of AA?
The 12 step meetings of AA contain several problematic aspects. One should therefore seek other sources which are fitting with Halacha and Jewish Hashkafa.
The 12 step program was invented by Christians. Although many of the programs do not describe who they refer to when they say “G-d”, the foundation of it was based on belief in Avoda Zara. This can be compared to hearing a lecture on G-d from a priest without mentioning the name of their deity. Even if he will offer some great inspirational self help stories and tools, it is obvious that one should not listen to it.
There are programs that transform the twelve steps to a “Torahdik Hashkafa of the 12 steps”, but one must be cautious about such programs, as it is taking from a Tumah source and mixing it with “Kedusha”.
One noted problem is the very first of the 12 steps focuses:
“We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable”. This idea is routed in christian belief that the people are incomplete and are all sinners…. One need not elaborate any further. Therefore, the diagnosis is that it’s not a “sin” but rather a “sickness”. Of course, this is the exact opposite from Jewish belief in Bechira Chafshis (freedom of choice). Of course, one could argue that there are similar notions in Torah, as Chazal tell us in Kiddushin that the Yetzer hara is so powerful that without Hashem’s help we cannot overcome him. Nonetheless, there are major distinctions between the approach in Chazal to the approach – L’havdil – in the christian belief system. The Torah expects us to take an active fighting approach against the Yetzer Hara and ask for Siyata Dishmaya
It is possible that one could purify the 12 steps program from all foreign material. But it would require someone with exceptional ability, who is also thoroughly knowledgeable in Torah thought to do so in a correct manner. It would then need to be vetted by Gedolei Yisroel to ensure that a good job was indeed done.
There is a lot more to elaborate on this, so please see the following articles:
There are other criticisms of the 12 Steps relating to scientific evidence, low success rates, side effects, etc., but is not germane to our discussion.
I have not met a single person who was diagnosed as a drug addict or alcoholic, and has successfully stayed sober and lives a happy life without the 12 steps.
So what I ask as a follow up is, what other option is there for someone to get help?
There are many people in our community and nearby that currently are sober as a result of doing the 12 steps and attending 12 step meetings. I’m confident that they would be delighted to hear of another way.
I have asked on behalf of someone who wants help and has looked for answers within the circle of Yeshivas, Mashpi’im, therapists etc. and no one is able to help him. If the 12 steps are not an option, please advise what else he can do.
Let me make a general observation:
Many times we see the negative effects when people take stands on areas not within their profession and skill. For example, a patient wishes to know if he should fast on Yom Kippur and seeks medical advice. If the doctor tells her not to fast, he has overstepped his boundaries. His task is to advise the safety or lack thereof. The Rav’s job is to determine whether she should actually fast. Same in the reverse, if the Rav determines that fasting is safe or not safe he has expressed an opinion in a matter where doesn’t have the knowledge,background information etc. — and the insurance coverage if he is in error…
Likewise, the doctor should not Pasken that a woman isn’t a Niddah or that she should go on birth control; he can advise where the bleeding is from or why it is unsafe for her to have more children. Or, more relevant to our issue, the Rav shouldn’t express an opinion which method of birth control is effective; only after the doctor takes responsibility for the safety and effectiveness of a particular method can the Rav decide it is Halachically acceptable or preferable over another method.
In our case: I studied the success or failure rates of 12 step programs. There are conflicting reports out there. Understandably, anecdotal evidence isn’t a foolproof benchmark to determine success or failure. There are many reasons why there is such an impression about 12 steps being very successful, outlined in various studies.
I’m sure you know that there are many academic studies out there which claim that 12 steps is unsuccessful or even harmful. AskTheRav, being a Halacha platform, doesn’t get involved in such studies. While the principles mentioned in the earlier email are based on authentic Torah sources and corroborated by other Rabbonim who have researched the matter, as you can see in the links provided, the studies relating to 12 steps lack of success, available online, isn’t a Torah opinion as such, and therefore AskTheRav doesn’t and would not take a stand on this.
By the same token, AskTheRav cannot take responsibility for any other type of therapy or medication. However, there are many alternative methods out there, some of which claim enormous success. For example, see here and here.