Tuesday, June 03, 2003

Sex Addictions: Jewish Survivors of Incest, Childhood Sexual Abuse, Clergy Sexual Abuse, Sexual Assault

Sex Addictions
Jewish Survivors of Incest, Childhood Sexual Abuse, Clergy Sexual Abuse, Sexual Assault


Disclaimer: Inclusion in this website does not constitute a recommendation or endorsement. Individuals must decide for themselves if the resources meet their own personal needs.

Table of Contents:  

Jewish Resources

  1. Some say behavior is not an addiction
  2. A quick checkup
  3. A daily progression Author shares her fight against sexual addiction in new book (05/23/2001)
  4. Letters to the Editor - Speaking Out  (05/25/2003)
  5. Web Can Ensnare Victims Quickly (03/07/2003)
  6. The Agonizing Toll of Sexual Addiction (03/07/2003)
  7. Sex Addictions Real and Ruinous
  8. To Forgive or to Shun:  A Child-Porn-Convicted Rabbi Tries to Make Amends As Rabbi Sex-Abuse Cases Roil the Jewish Community  (03/28/2007)
  9. How Common is Sex Addiction among Orthodox Jewry? (08/16/2009)

    Secular Resources

    Children/Family Members of those with Sex Addictions  
    1. Co-Sex & Love Addicts Anonymous (CO-SLAA)  For partners of sex & love addicted people seeking support & recovery from their own addictive patterns with their sex & love addicted partners. (617) 332-1845, P.O. Box 650010, West Newton, MA 02165-0010.
    Love and Sex Addictions   

    1. CyberAA  Online support group for people who have become addicted to sex chat & realize the harm this addiction has caused in their lives.
    2. Cyber Addiction Helpline  Egroup at Yahoo.  Anyone interested in discussing online cyber addiction, you have come to the right place. We all need some help coping, whether you are the victim or the addict yourself. We are here to discuss and help. Many of us are confused by this addiction, and wonder why it is so wide spread. It is a reality, we need to explore and try and cope with
    3. Females and Sex Addiction: Myths and Diagnostic Implications  Six myths concerning women and sexual addiction are offered as an explanation of why female sexual addiction does not receive as much attention as male addiction. Each myth is challenged and diagnostic implications are discussed. Offers suggestions for a diagnostic instrument that identifies sexual addiction in women as well as men. [PDF Format].
    4. The National Council on Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity  A non-profit organization dedicated to education and referral services. Offers membership for lay public and professionals specializing in the treatment of addiction, offending behaviors, and trauma. Includes a nationwide listing of affiliated counselors
    5. Sex, Love, Pornography Addictions  Links to various organizations, and information on Sex Addictions.
    6. Sex Addicts Anonymous  Sex Addicts Anonymous, S.A.A., is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and hope with each other so they may overcome their sexual addiction and help others recover from sexual addiction or dependency.

    Some say behavior is not an addiction

    By Susan Kushner Resnick 
    Journal Health & Fitness Writer

    Most professionals agree that being unable to control your sexual desires is a problem. But some stop short of calling it an addiction.

    ''The term addiction is very useful when talking with a patient, so they can understand what they're going through,'' says psychologist John P. Wincze, a Brown University professor. ''But among professionals, it's not an accurate term.''

    He calls the problem a paraphilia. Paraphilia is basically recurrent, sexually deviant behavior that is harmful to oneself or others, such as exhibitionism, voyeurism, pedophilia, masochism, sadism and fetishism.

    ''It is certainly like an addiction in many ways,'' Wincze says. ''You can definitely have a psychological craving [for sex].''

    Peter Loss, director of the sex-offender treatment program at the Adult Correctional Institutions, has qualms about the label, too.

    ''My problem with using the word addiction is that it can serve as an excuse for sexual crimes, for which there is no excuse,'' he says.

    Wincze points out that the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders doesn't include sex addiction. The DSM is the bible of the psychiatric profession, and unlisted diseases are considered invalid by many professionals and almost all insurance companies.

    Researchers at Vanderbilt University, in Nashville, Tenn., are attempting to give sexual addiction ''diagnostic legs,'' which would help it find a place in the next version of the DSM, according to Robin Cato, executive director of the National Council on Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity. The researchers are conducting magnetic resonance imaging (MRIs) on the brains of sex addicts while they watch neutral and sexually stimulating images.

    ''The hypothesis is that there will be some differences in brain physiology of the addicts, particularly with the sexually-stimulating material,'' says Dr. Reid Finlayson, a psychiatrist in Vanderbilt's addiction-medicine division.

    But even Finlayson, who treats sex addicts as well as studying them, isn't sure ''if addiction is the right word or not.''

    Cato acknowledges that there are ''different schools of thought'' on the disease, but notes that the various experts aren't that far apart.

    ''Sometimes it just comes down to semantics,'' she says.


    A quick checkup

    Ask yourself the following questions to assess whether you may have a problem:
    1. Do you keep secrets about your sexual or romantic activities from those important to you? Do you lead a double life?
    2. Have your needs driven you to have sex in places or situations or with people you would not normally choose?
    3. Do you find yourself looking for sexually arousing articles or scenes in newspapers, magazines, or other media?
    4. Do you find that romantic or sexual fantasies interfere with your relationships or are preventing you from facing problems?
    5. Do you frequently want to get away from a sex partner after having sex? Do you frequently feel remorse, shame, or guilt after a sexual encounter?
    6. Do you feel shame about your body or your sexuality, such that you avoid touching your body or engaging in sexual relationships? Do you fear that you have no sexual feelings, that you are asexual?
    7. Does each new relationship continue to have the same destructive patterns that prompted you to leave the last relationship?
    8. Is it taking more variety and frequency of sexual and romantic activities than previously to bring the same levels of excitement and relief?
    9. Have you ever been arrested or are you in danger of being arrested because of practices of voyeurism, exhibitionism, prostitution, sex with minors, indecent phone calls, etc.?
    10. Does your pursuit of sex or romantic relationships interfere with your spiritual beliefs or development?
    11. Do your sexual activities include the risk, threat, or reality of disease, pregnancy, coercion, or violence?
    12. Has your sexual or romantic behavior ever left you feeling hopeless, alienated from others, or suicidal?

    If you answered yes to more than one of these questions, Sex Addicts Anonymous encourages you to seek out additional literature as a resource or to attend a support group meeting to further assess your needs.

    Source: Sex Addicts Anonymous Web site, www.sexaa.org


    By Susan Kushner Resnick, Journal Health & Fitness Writer
    Providence Journal-Bulletin (Rhode Island) - February 23, 2003, Sunday All Editions
    SECTION: Health & Fitness; Pg. M-01

    It's easy to be a sex addict in Rhode Island.

    People who can't stop having sex, even when they want to, have countless businesses to cater to their needs. In fact, Providence has so many palaces of prurience that the city even lures out-of-staters with sex addictions looking for a fix.

    "Rhode Island gets a lot of transient people from Massachusetts and New York coming to sex clubs," says William Hochstrasser-Walsh, a Cranston therapist who treats people with sexual addictions.

    A person with a sex addiction is commonly defined as someone who anesthetizes his psychological pain with sex or can't control his or her compulsive sexual activities. Most people with addictions live double lives full of shame.

    Robert, a recovering addict from Massachusetts who will not give his real name because of the stigma attached to the disease, regularly drove to Rhode Island to feed his addiction at massage parlors and with prostitutes.

    What's not easy in Rhode Island is getting help for sex addiction.

    Hundreds of sex-addiction support groups meet weekly in the United States, but only between one and three gather in Rhode Island, depending on who's counting.

    An extensive search turned up only one local therapist, Hochstrasser-Walsh, who specializes in treating sex addictions.

    John P. Wincze, a psychologist and professor at Brown University, also treats the problem, but bristles at calling it an addiction, preferring instead the more technical term paraphilia. Paraphilia, which he defines as "behavior that is repetitive and essential to sexual arousal and harmful," is listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Sexual addiction is not.

    When sex equals love Sue William Silverman thought she was simply looking for love when she slept with strangers.

    "I never would have thought it was an addiction," says Silverman, the author of Love Sick: One Woman's Journey Through Sexual Addiction.

    Silverman says she learned to equate sex with love at age 4 when her father started creeping into her bedroom and molesting her. He didn't stop until she went to college.
    "I was given the message that he loved me," she says, "and he was showing his love through sex. The message I got was the only way a man could love me is if I had sex with him."

    As a college student, she once walked up to a car that was often parked outside her dorm, got inside and had sex with the driver. She met and bedded an obscene caller. As a young adult, she spent days living the life of a proper married lady and nights picking up men in bars. Before entering a treatment program for sex addicts, she says, she "lived in a fantasy world24/7" as she prepared for her weekly rendezvous with another addict in a motel room.
    "The anticipation and fantasy of it is always more powerful than the act," she said in a phone interview. "When it's in your head, you can make it perfect."

    And when it's perfect, it will cure what ails you, or so she thought. But every time she "acted out," she felt worse about herself. To mask that remorse, she'd find another man until it became a never-ending cycle.

    "Regardless of the drug of choice, addicts act out to numb their pain and feelings," she says. Or, as she writes in her book, the managed pain of promiscuity relieved her larger, unmanaged pain.

    Robert, the addict from Massachusetts, turned to Penthouse magazine at age 14 instead of facing the fear, shame and frustration that ruled his life. He had been a teased, overweight child who withdrew from people to avoid ridicule. When he lost the weight, he replaced excessive food with excessive sex.

    "I began to perceive pornography and masturbation as a way to escape and get my power back," he says. "I can only imagine [that I turned to sex] because it was forbidden and it involves human touch and warmth and intimacy, which I was really starving for."

    Steven, a research assistant for a Boston hospital, was a lonely child with an overly critical father. Like Robert, Steven, a member of a support group, also turned to magazines.

    "Men and women in magazines and movies don't talk back," he says. "You can act out as much as you want and no one criticizes you."

    E-porn at work
    Pornography and promiscuity are certainly not the only ways the disease manifests itself. Robert moved on to sexual massage and prostitutes after magazines and cyber porn lost their power to soothe his pain. Steven became a peeping Tom. Other addicts often cruise in public places. Some addicts turn to rape or pedophilia if they are not treated, some experts say.

    "I currently work with some women who are into hard sex, and I've also worked with a number of men who really like the romance and sensuality," says Jeff Seat, a psychologist and certified addiction specialist in Nashville, Tenn., who is on the board of the National Council on Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity.

    The Internet, called the "crack cocaine of sex addiction" by insiders, eats up hours of work time each day for many addicts. Seventy percent of e-porn traffic occurs between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.

    "People say they're working late, but they're really online 10 hours a day and arranging to meet people to have sex with," Steven says.

    According to Seat, 3 percent to 6 percent of Americans have sexual addictions. Many are hooked on something else as well. Seat says that he's seen studies estimating that 80 percent of cocaine addicts are also sex addicts.

    "We know that 48 percent of sex addicts who come to inpatient treatment centers are recovering alcoholics and drug addicts," he says.

    Compulsive eating is another common cross-addiction.

    "One of the ways people control sexual addiction is to morph their body so it's unattractive to other people," says Hochstrasser-Walsh, the Cranston therapist. "They think it will stop the sexual addiction. But it's a vicious cycle. The more they feel bad about themselves, the more they need to act out."

    Feeling awful after a sexual act is one of the hallmarks of the disease. "I was always filled with disgust after," says Steven. "I pledged I was never going to do it again."

    Of course, he couldn't stop without help, which he maintains is one of the ways to identify a person with an addiction.

    "You can't automatically assume that someone doing these things is an addict," he says. "The test is: try to stop. See if you can."

    'A highly functioning person'

    As with other addictions, sex addicts come from all walks of life. The stereotype of the creepy guy in the dirty raincoat is woefully inaccurate.

    Robert, a business consultant with a master's degree, would never have been suspected.
    "I've been a pretty morally-upstanding guy in every other area of my life," he says, adding that the women he dated probably would have called him "a nice guy" because he was respectful to them. They never asked what he did with his free time.

    "I was a highly functioning person, and I've always shown up for life," he says.

    Silverman worked on Capitol Hill for a senator. Seat, also a recovering sex addict, was a minister. In Robert's support group, he's seen artists and construction workers tell their stories.

    "There are good, smart, worthy, people in the rooms," he says.

    The support groups, which are run by nonprofessionals, let criminals in the door, too.
    "I've seen people confess to pedophilia," Steven says.

    "We could choose not to let someone attend meetings if they're engaging in flagrant behavior," he says. "But it has to be their own conscience guiding them to go to the authorities. No one can boss anyone around."

    Looking for a cause
    Even when they understand it, professionals can't agree on what causes the problem or how to treat it. Marty Kafka is a psychiatrist at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Mass., a Harvard professor and a member of a Vanderbilt University team that's debating how to diagnose and define unhealthy sexual behavior.

    He disagrees with the argument that many sex addicts were sexually abused as children.
    However, Patrick Carnes, clinical director of sexual disorder services at the Meadows in Arizona who is one of the pioneers of sex-addiction treatment and the author of several books on the topic, surveyed 1,000 sex addicts and found that 80 percent had experienced sexual trauma as children. Not all were victims of child rape; the trauma can be as seemingly innocuous as a preschooler being shamed for playing doctor or a child having to hear about her parent's sexual exploits.

    Kafka calls this link "a bunch of baloney." He says people with sex addictions may use sex to medicate their bad feelings, but most are suffering from mood disorders, such as depression, bipolar illness or attention deficit disorder (or ADD). Only a small percentage of his patients were sexually abused.

    "If you treat the depression, you treat the whole thing," he says, claiming that he has successfully treated 800 patients with antidepressants and psychotherapy.

    He encourages his patients to join 12-step programs, such as Sexaholics Anonymous, for support, but he doesn't think those groups can work unless people also take medication. Others agree that medication is helpful, especially when people stop acting out and must face a lifetime of buried pain. But they don't think sex addicts can recover without 12-step programs.

    "It takes a community to hold a person through this process," says Belinda Berman, a Cambridge psychologist who treats sexual addiction. "This disease has a tremendous amount of secrecy and anonymity and isolation, and a group cuts through that."

    "These groups teach people how to live day to day," says Hochstrasser-Walsh, adding that this is something a weekly therapy appointment cannot accomplish. Group members have sponsors and friends they can call whenever the urge to act out strikes.

    And there are some experts who believe recovery can only come from finding the root cause of the problem. Dr. Lance Dodes, a psychiatrist at Harvard University's division of addictions, wrote The Heart of Addiction to explain his position.

    "All addictions are psychologically the same," he says, "which is particularly important for sex addicts because there's so much shame. It's not about sex, just like compulsive gambling is not about money and alcoholism is not about alcohol. Addicts are always responding to an overwhelming sense of being helpless."

    Find what causes the helplessness, he posits, and you can stop the behavior.

    Seat, the Nashville psychologist, agrees that resolving past traumas is necessary for recovery from sex addiction, as is learning to be intimate in a healthy way. It can take three to five years to achieve complete recovery. Relapse is common, especially during the first year.

    'A shame-based addiction'
    Silverman, the author, fell off the wagon within a month of being released from an inpatient treatment program. But she's been sexually sober for 10 years. She defines sobriety as "no sex outside a loving, emotionally committed relationship."

    Robert has been sober for a little more than a year, meaning in his case that he has not masturbated or had sex with another person in that time.

    Each 12-step group defines sobriety differently, with some standards being particularly puritanical. Robert went to his first group after a visit to a prostitute left him feeling as if he were "coming apart on the inside."

    "I could not stop and it's devastating to realize that this disease is moving you around at will," he says. "I can remember walking around my office and just feeling like I was about to cry."

    The constant lying about his activities got to him, too. And he suspects he may have gotten arrested or committed suicide if he hadn't sought help.

    "Your sense of integrity starts to break down," he says. "Your fear of being caught makes you a wreck. It's no way to live your life."

    Steven got help eight years ago after a clergyman handed him the card of a sex-addiction therapist. Often sufferers aren't that lucky.

    "Many therapists out there don't recognize sexually compulsive behavior as a problem," he says. "We were told it was understandable behavior. Many people enter recovery because they couldn't deal with a therapist continuing to tell them it was OK."

    This is especially dangerous because left untreated, most sex addicts' behavior will escalate. That's why Hochstrasser-Walsh is so frustrated with the dearth of treatment options in Rhode Island. He'd like to see enough 12-step groups to allow patients to attend several meetings a week, more training for therapists on sex addiction and more awareness of the problem.But first, locals need to be able to discuss the problem without smirking.

    "Particularly here in the Northeast, and specifically in Rhode Island, people just don't want to talk about sex," he says. "We're a very parochial state and it's a shame-based addiction."

    Letters to the Editor - Speaking Out

    Baltimore Jewish Times -  May 25, 2003

    I wanted to thank "Tom" and the Baltimore Jewish Times for having the courage to speak out and educating our community about sex addictions in the April 25 article "Addicted To Sex."

    There are many common symptoms that victims/survivors of childhood sexual abuse exhibit, along with various coping mechanisms. The more we talk about them in an open venue, the more likely individuals who are suffering in silence will feel comfortable disclosing their past histories, seek support and begin to heal.

    For more information about sex addictions, sexual abuse or other related topics, visit The Awareness Center's Web page: http://www.theawarenesscenter.org

    Vicki Polin - Executive Director, The Awareness Center - Baltimore


    Web Can Ensnare Victims Quickly

    by Julie Gruenbaum Fax
    Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles - March 7, 2003

    In his 35-year career, Rabbi Juda Mintz established a Jewish youth group in Montreal, founded a traditional congregation and a campus Hillel in Atlanta and led more than 50 missions to Israel — all without the aid of a computer.

    But when he was hired at a Mount Freedom, N.J., synagogue at the age of 56, his board felt the rabbi should have a computer.

    It didn't take long before Mintz stumbled upon Internet pornography. For 18 months, he spent several hours a day numbing out in front of the computer.

    Now in recovery for two and a half years, he continues to uncover underlying reasons for his addiction: parents who were distant, his own dysfunctional marriage of 36 years.
    But it is also true that without Internet pornography, Mintz may never have acted on his emotional disturbances.

    Like a growing number of people, Mintz became addicted on a medium that can snare its victims within a matter of weeks.

    Robert Weiss, who co-authored "Cybersex Exposed: Simple Fantasy or Obsession" (Hazleden, 2001) with Jennifer Schneider, said he is seeing a significant increase in the number of people addicted to cybersex, even among people with no history of addictive behaviors.

    "Something about the intensity and the accessibility and the affordability of the Internet made it more arousing and a more immediately compulsive medium than any of the other outlets for sex, and therefore more addictive," said Weiss, clinical director of the Sexual Recovery Institute in Los Angeles.

    Weiss said that about 60 percent of all Internet traffic involves a sexual purpose. An estimated 2 million users are addicted — meaning they are ashamed of what they are doing, it is impacting their life, yet they are unable to stop.

    In a small number of cases, the behavior moves out of virtual reality and into real life.

    Just last week in New Jersey, Rabbi Israel Kestenbaum, who founded and directed the Jewish Center for Spiritual Care for the New York Board of Rabbis and was named the board's Chaplain of the Year for his work at Ground Zero, pleaded not guilty to charges that he was having sexually explicit e-mail conversations with a 13-year-old girl, who turned out to be an undercover police officer, according to The New York Times.

     While it is hard to cull out how many cyberaddicts are Jews, mental health professionals agree that there is no reason to believe the proportion is any different among the Jewish population than the general population.

    "The Web site has become the opiate of the 21st century. It's a wonderful way to stay in your secret world, your fantasy world," said Donna Burstyn, a psychotherapist who has many Orthodox clients.

    In the last two months before he was caught, Mintz's addiction spiraled down to child pornography, for which he could face up to three years in federal prison. For now, he is living at Beit T'Shuvah, running a weekly 12-step minyan at Kehillat Israel in Beverlywood and working to alert community leaders — and especially educators — to the allure of Internet pornography.

    "I don't think any rosh yeshiva or teacher or rebbe for boys or girls is in denial that this is a humongous plague facing these kids," Mintz said.

    Natural adolescent curiosity now has an outlet that is more convenient, prolific — and addictive — than magazines hidden under the mattress.

    Many Jewish families, especially in more observant circles, use heavy filters, none of which are foolproof firewalls. Others use commonly encouraged approaches, such as keeping the computer in a common area and monitoring when and for how long kids are on computer.

    But the most effective tool, said Scott Perloff, assistant director for education technology at Milken Community High School, is keeping a culture of openness around the Internet.
    "You should really be engaged with the kids when they are on the Internet," he said. "Use it as an opportunity for helping kids develop judgment about what is appropriate and inappropriate material."

    If kids do happen upon explicit material, don't overreact, Perloff said. Teach kids to close the image, or just turn off the monitor, and alert a parent or teacher to what they have seen.
    "When parents are faced with a 9-year-old boy who mistakenly ended up on a porn site, that is a teaching opportunity the parent dare not avoid," said Rabbi Elliot Dorff, rector of the University of Judaism and an expert on ethics. "Because if they do avoid it, children may deduce that this is perfectly fine, or they may deduce that the parents are so uncomfortable with it that is a taboo subject which they are not to talk about with parents."

    The Agonizing Toll of Sexual Addiction

    by Julie Gruenbaum Fax, Religion Editor
    Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles - March 7, 2003

    "I stopped making promises and decided to live a double life. My goal was to make a lot of money and to make sure that my two worlds don't mix."

    One Friday night 33 years ago, when Yisroel Richtberg was 12 years old, an older boy sneaked into his dorm room at his Chasidic yeshiva in Israel, pulled off Richtberg's pajama pants and raped him. The same thing happened the next Shabbat.

    The boy told Richtberg (not his real name) that if he ever told anyone, the two would be blacklisted at all the yeshivas, and the attacker said he would kill himself.

    Richtberg didn't tell.

    Instead, he sank into a cycle of depression, shame and isolation, one that would lead to a 20-year addiction to prostitutes, pornography and drugs, fronted by a double-life as an upstanding Chasidic rabbi, businessman and father of 12.

    Today, Richtberg is alive to tell his story because he got help from therapists and 12-step programs. He has made it his life's mission to help others conquer an addiction so coated with shame that it resides at the very bottom of the hierarchies of addiction.

    Identified in the 1970s by Patrick Carnes, author of "Out of the Shadows: Understanding Sexual Addiction" (Hazelden, 2001), sex addiction has the same psychological and physiological underpinnings as alcoholism, drug abuse and other addictions, but cultural proscriptions against openly addressing sexual behavior problems have made it one of the least understood of the addictive disorders. Addicts are either feared as offenders, which only a small percentage are, or mockingly revered with a that-sounds-like-fun wink.

    But addicts say there is no pleasure in being a slave to a compulsion so strong that it affects the body and mind as acutely as a drug.

    "There is still this judgment of `what a sleazy guy,' but what they don't understand is that the addict has a psycho-biological disorder in which he is seeking a drug that he himself produces," said Robert Weiss, clinical director of the Sexual Recovery Institute, on Olympic Boulevard, just outside Beverly Hills. "He is literally dosing himself with his own neurochemistry, like a drug addict with a needle in his arm."

    Whether acting out by compulsively masturbating to pornography, having serial affairs, frequenting prostitutes or habitually seeking homosexual or heterosexual one-night stands, sex addicts sink into a pit of shame and self-loathing, often threatening their families and livelihood.

    It is difficult to determine whether the incidence of addiction is higher or lower in the Jewish community than in the general population, where Carnes estimates that about 5 percent to 8 percent of adults have a sexual compulsivity disorder. Conversations with several mental health professionals who work with the Jewish community, from ultra-Orthodox to unaffiliated, revealed that all had a significant number of patients dealing with sex addiction, including several rabbis. Several pulpit rabbis revealed that congregants had sought counseling from them about sex addiction.

    Weiss believes the vast majority of sex addicts are men, and pointed out that female sex addicts might be too embarrassed to seek help, or might be getting paid to act out as prostitutes or exotic dancers.

    Weiss estimates that about 20 percent of addicts are sexual offenders, usually engaging in exhibitionism or voyeurism. Occasionally addicts are guilty of molestation or rape, but not all sex offenders are addicts.

    In a world where clothing styles, entertainment and marketing have stripped away sexual inhibitions, triggers are everywhere for an addict. Free-flowing pornography on the Internet has added to the mix a population of addicts who never showed such tendencies before (see Web, p. 11).

    The changing reality of cybersex has forced Jewish community leaders, educators and rabbis to begin battling a seemingly inbred denial and acknowledge that the community must aid its addicts.

    In Los Angeles there are indications that awareness is growing. A Jewish Federation conference on addictions in the fall of 2001 attracted 250 people.

    This year, 880 people attended the annual dinner of Beit T'Shuvah, a residential rehabilitation organization in Los Angeles that uses Judaism at the core of its treatment — the only such facility in the country.

    With the help of Rabbi Juda Mintz, himself a recovering addict to Internet pornography, Beit T'Shuvah and the Board of Rabbis of Southern California recently co-sponsored a series on addictions. It was at the session on sex addiction, and in private conversations with The Jewish Journal, that Richtberg told his story.

    Addiction or Just Bad Behavior?
    Richtberg is a Chasid with a scraggly beard, wide-brimmed hat, long coat and knickers tucked into his thin black socks. Thick glasses cover his tired blue eyes, and his Yiddish accent belies his American birth and Israeli upbringing.

    Two years after Richtberg was raped, his parents transferred him to a new yeshiva in Jerusalem, hoping to reverse his baffling transformation into a depressed and isolated C student.

    A rabbi at the new yeshiva, an ad hoc counselor for boys who have sexual problems, was the first person Richtberg told about the rape and his subsequent behaviors: compulsive masturbating, viewing pornographic materials and a sexual relationship with another boy. (Years later, Richtberg found out that the boy, after he married and had a family, committed suicide.)

    While the rabbi was more compassionate than others in the yeshiva system who scolded and blamed Richtberg, he was not a mental health professional and was more interested in getting Richtberg to stop his behaviors than in healing him. Richtberg said he would promise the rabbi that he would stop, but then would come back crying in shame when he didn't.

    "Today I know I was an addict from the start because I had so much pain, and I didn't have a person to talk to about my pain, and I tried to do something to cope," Richtberg said.

    Experts say his symptoms — compulsive, self-destructive behavior, followed by shame and heartfelt-but-futile promises to stop — were classic signs of addiction, whether caused by an acute trauma or more subtle emotional trouble.

    "All addiction is caused by a hole in one's soul, and a need to fill it with something," said Rabbi Mark Borovitz, spiritual leader of Beit T'Shuvah. "It's about loneliness and emptiness. We turn to addictive behaviors and substances as a solution to this experience of not fitting in, of not being good enough."

    Despite an understanding that the addiction is destroying his life, the addict's attempts to stop will fail until he gets outside help, experts say.

    "An addiction becomes the center of your life," said Rabbi Elliot Dorff, rector of the University of Judaism and an expert in Jewish medical ethics. "It becomes like an idol, theologically speaking, and everything in your life is centered around it, and most other things that are really important get lost."

    While society has come to accept an individual's powerlessness in relation to drugs and alcohol, because of the brain's chemical dependency on these substances, the terminology of addiction seems harder to justify in reference to gambling, overeating or sex, which most people can control.

    However, experts report that sex addicts have the same genetic predisposition toward addictive behavior as other addicts. And once an addict gets hooked on a behavior, his body treats it — and the pursuit of it — as a drug.

    "Neuropsychological research shows that the exhilaration that people feel when in pursuit of the object of their addiction can approximate the high in and of itself, so that not only are they seeking the thrill through the drug or illicit behavior, but even the pursuit is generating an exhilarating high," said David Fox, a clinical psychologist and rabbi.

    Just how to classify sex addiction is still a matter of debate in the medical community. Sex addiction made its way into the DSM III, the American Psychiatric Association's diagnostic manual, in 1980, but was pulled with the release of the DSM IV in 1994. Weiss is confident that current research has quieted most debate and that the diagnosis will be reinstated in the next edition.

    All of this makes it difficult to use sex addiction as a legal defense, and Weiss notes, it is hardly a defense that conjures much empathy among jurors.

    The Double Life
    Mark Altman (not his real name), a 40-something married professional, who was a sex addict for more than 20 years and has been in recovery for five, was raised by two alcoholics and suffered a childhood trauma that set off his addiction.

    He began sexually acting out as a teenager, "numbing out" by compulsively masturbating, he said. Starting in college, he sought sexual liaisons with men at sex clubs, bathhouses and park restrooms, while in his public life he dated women. He continued his double life through 15 years of marriage, raising three children and belonging to a Reform temple.

    "Every New Year's, every birthday, every Rosh Hashana, every time there was some sort of event when I could make a resolution, I would swear to myself I would stop, because it was killing me," Altman said.

    "I was leading a good family life, I was there for my kids, I was there for my wife," he continued. "I just carried on this charade, and I was dying inside. And I couldn't stop, no matter how hard I tried."

    At one point, he planned suicide. He sought therapy, but it didn't give him the tools to stop. At the height of his addiction, he was acting out almost daily — adult bookstores, cybersex, phone sex and cruising for sexual encounters.

    Altman knows now that what he was searching for was validation — the comfort of believing, however fleetingly, that someone else thought he was worthy of love and attention. It was never about the sex, he said.

    "The thing I was really looking for was somebody to hold me and rub my back and tell me I'm an OK guy, not such a bad person," he said. "You feel so bad about yourself, and as an addict, you look to the exterior to find something to fix you."

    But the fix never lasted long.

    "I would act out," Altman recalled, "then feel really crappy about it afterward, saying, `I can't believe I did this,' then go home to my wife and kids, and feel awful and shameful and guilty and horrible, and the only way I knew to make it stop was to act out again."

    Experts say the cycle Altman described is characteristic of all addictions and is usually augmented by what is referred to as boundary crossing, where increasing levels of the substance or behavior are needed to achieve the same high.

    Richtberg can mark each of the milestones in his life with another boundary crossing. When he was 19, on the advice of the rabbi who was counseling him, he married. His first introduction to the female body quashed his desire for men, but enhanced his addiction.
    He stayed clean for three weeks after he married. But the first night his wife cooked dinner, he took a bus into Manhattan's redlight district instead of going home.

    "I cruised the streets and went to some peep shows," Richtberg recalled, "and came home about 3 a.m."

    It was his first time at a live show. "Today, I know it was too hard for me to deal with my life, and I had to run."

    He celebrated the birth of his first daughter by seeing a prostitute for the first time. As his habit grew more expensive, he left kollel, where he was studying full time to earn rabbinic ordination, and started a business.

    At around that time in 1983, his third child was born, a son with a serious genetic disease. "I knew for sure that Hashem is punishing me, and that's why he gave me such a sick child," Richtberg said. "And I kept promising myself that I'm going to stop."

    Two years later, another child was born with the same disorder, and two years after that another child was born with a different chronic illness. Another child died in infancy.

    With each trauma, Richtberg crossed another boundary. He began to use drugs — first marijuana, then cocaine, then crack.

    "At a certain time, it's hard to say exactly when, I gave up," Richtberg said. "I stopped making promises and decided to live a double life. My goal was to make a lot of money and to make sure that my two worlds don't mix."

    Getting Help
    Getting into drugs killed Richtberg's illusion of control. Within a year and half, he lost his business and started bouncing checks within his own community. In 1990, he pleaded guilty to business fraud for which he later served a 20-month sentence. His double life was falling apart.

    It took a well-timed external kick to finally induce Richtberg to get help. The nurses who lived at Richtberg's home to care for his disabled children told his wife that they thought he was on drugs. His brother-in-law brought him to a clinic.

    Richtberg yo-yoed through the first few months of therapy, which focused only on his drug problem, until his therapist insisted that he go to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and intense outpatient rehabilitation. Richtberg went on his last cocaine binge in October 1991.
    Richtberg said he stayed away from prostitutes for a full year. But then one day, he found himself in Manhattan, in tears and with a prostitute. The next day, he and his therapist came up with one last hope: Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA).

    Richtberg went to a meeting that day and has been clean since.

    "Treatment for any addiction is directly related to motivation, so if someone is really motivated to change, it is possible, but it is an active process," Weiss said.

    Unlike gambling, drugs or alcohol, sex cannot simply be sworn off. Rather, sex addicts construct parameters in which they can have sex — with a loving partner, for instance — and still stay on the path toward their life goals.

    Altman went to his first SAA meeting after he was arrested at a park where men hung out to pick up sex partners.

    "I never really thought that I could ever find a group of people talking about the kind of things that I was sure nobody else did," Altman said. "Twelve-step gives you tools you can work with to stop these behaviors, to really live your life. It's not just about stopping the sexual activity. It's about living your life with integrity and honesty and being accountable for your actions."

    Spiritual Treatment for a Spiritual Malady
    Borovitz of Beit T'Shuvah, himself a recovering alcoholic, believes that spiritual counseling,

    prayer and Torah study are essential to integrating all the elements of a Jewish addict's soul.

    "One of the things that most people speak about in recovery is finding their authentic soul and how important it is that they can take a breath and be who they are, rather than who everyone else expects them to be," Borovitz said.

    He said addicts need to harness God's power to make their recovery successful.

    "Turning my life and will over to God's care is a statement by me that the creative energy of the world is available to me to learn and to follow the derech [the right path]," Borovitz said.
    While some might mistake admitting powerlessness for relinquishing responsibility, Borovitz said the admission brings a renewed sense of moral culpability.

    "Once I have a connection with God, I have to accept the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven," he said. "I can't lie to myself anymore."

    Both Altman and Richtberg had to re-envision their relationship to Judaism and God to succeed in SAA's 12-step program.

    "When I was first forced to go to AA meetings, I felt that it's goyish, it's not for me," Richtberg recalled. Meetings are often in churches, God is invoked as the higher power and sessions end in "The Lord's Prayer."

    Richtberg wove together the 12-step process with the Jewish path of teshuvah (repentance), growing closer to God and stronger in his Judaism as he made amends with himself and others.

    "This is like a cancer, my addiction, and based on the prognosis, I can't stay sober," Richtberg said. "But there is a God who can help keep me sober if I turn to him every day," he said. "Every day, I get up in the morning, and I say, `Tati [Daddy], I'm powerless, I can't stay sober and I'm asking you for a toivah [favor]. Please keep me sober for today. I'm not asking more, just for today.' That has been working for 10 years."

    Altman, a self-described atheist who grew up in a "spiritually empty" family that belonged to a Reform temple, said he had "to get away from a lot of initial religious baggage before I could develop my own concept of a higher power."

    Altman now has a "constellation of ideas" that constitute his higher power. One of those ideas incorporates the ongoing conversation in his own head between what he calls "my addict" and the person he was born to be — the one who can discern right from wrong, the one who can learn to love himself for who he is.

    "The program consists of people helping each other," he said. "Two people are always stronger than one person alone, so I cannot deny that that is a power greater than me."
    With Help, Hope

    Altman is honing his new conception of God with Rabbi Paul Kipnes of Congregation Or Ami in Agoura Hills, who has worked with addiction for years.

    "Every rabbi should have the big book of Alcoholics Anonymous, as well as some of the Jewish recovery books, on their shelf just over their shoulder, so everyone knows that we're here, and that we're open," Kipnes said.

    Harriet Rossetto, CEO of Beit T'Shuvah, said that opening Jewish opportunities for recovery is especially vital for rabbis, who often have no one to talk to about the conflicting realities of their public image and what goes on inside them.

    "It's time to address rabbis as human beings and acknowledge that they have these issues and provide treatment, rather than putting them up on this pedestal and knocking them off and stepping on them," Rossetto said.

    Beit T'Shuvah, with Mintz's help, is putting together an anonymous 12-step group for rabbis.

    Mintz said that working to raise awareness of addiction in the Jewish community has become his tikkun — a mission of healing that is his life's purpose.

    Richtberg, who hides his secret from his Chasidic community and the small congregation he runs, believes his ordeal also has a divine purpose. He makes himself available to rabbis, doctors and mental health professionals. He started an SAA group in Israel and he often runs the minyan at international SAA conventions.

    And if in his past life his milestones were marked with sinking deeper into his addiction, he said they are now marked with saving more lives.

    On the very day last year that his son, disabled from birth, died as a teenager, Richtberg got a call from an Israeli friend who was in the United States and needed the support of a fellow recovering addict. With Hatzolah paramedics still in his home, Richtberg at first explained that he just couldn't. Then he called back and told the man to come right over.
    "My son left in the spirit of somebody who was reborn," he said. "I helped somebody recreate a new life and another one left."

    In the 10 years that he's been clean, Richtberg and his wife have had three healthy children. On their anniversary this year, his wife, who considered leaving him when he revealed his secret, told him she now treasures each minute she is married to him.
    "If you ask me what is the basic change that has happened to me in the last 10 years, it's that 10 years ago, I did not believe I had anything to give, that there would ever come a time in my life that I would have something to give," Richtberg said.

    "Now people feel that I'm something," he said. "People value me. Sometimes I still have a hard time believing it."


    To Forgive or to Shun:  A Child-Porn-Convicted Rabbi Tries to Make Amends As Rabbi Sex-Abuse Cases Roil the Jewish Community
    Los Angeles Weekly - March 28, 2007

    By Justin Clark

    As an Orthodox Jew, Heschel wasn't accustomed to going to confession. Seven years ago, he was a highly respected rabbi at Mount Freedom Jewish Center, an Orthodox synagogue in Randolph Township, New Jersey. But he was also a lifelong porn addict, and his addiction peaked after he was shown how to use the synagogue's computer. Two weeks before the High Holy Days, the synagogue's computer technician discovered two pictures of child pornography that Heschel had viewed on an adult Web site. By enlarging the images, Heschel had unwittingly downloaded them to his Web browser's temporary-file cache.

    "It was 2000," Heschel says, explaining why the synagogue's elders went directly to the FBI. "That was during the height of the lawsuits against the Catholic Church."

    Heschel's nine months at Fort Dix Federal Correctional Institution, one of which he spent in solitary confinement, were only the beginning of his downward spiral. Seven years after those fateful mouse clicks to illegally download child porn, Heschel has abandoned his last name (Heschel is his middle name) and lives an impoverished life in a tiny Venice apartment, decorated with the pictures of his three children who live on the East Coast. In Los Angeles, his potential employers and landlords usually assume that "registered sex offender" means rapist or child molester. He has been denied jobs and turned down for apartments. One of the most difficult moments came when a Los Angeles synagogue initially told him he was no longer welcome — even as a congregant.

    As Los Angeles Archbishop Roger M. Mahony becomes embroiled in new claims that he knew about — and failed to stop — sexual abuse by a California priest, a number of high-profile sex scandals involving rabbis here and elsewhere have created a simmering fear among believers.

    "We in the Jewish community are recognizing that we aren't immune from these problems," says Rabbi Mark S. Diamond, executive vice president of The Board of Rabbis of Southern California — one of the area's two main rabbinical bodies, along with the Rabbinical Council of California. "For too many years I've heard Jewish people say this is not our problem, it just affects other faiths and denominations. We're seeing otherwise."

    Diamond was horrified, for instance, to see his close colleague Rabbi David Kaye ensnared last year on Dateline NBC's "To Catch a Predator." (Kaye was sentenced to six and a half years in prison for attempting to seduce an actor who, working with Dateline, posed as a 13-year-old boy.) Around the same time, the principal of one of Los Angeles' most popular Jewish schools, Rabbi Aron Tendler, stepped down amid allegations that he had sexually abused teenage girls. A few months later, Rabbi Mordechai Gafni, a popular leader in the Jewish Renewal movement, lost his chair at Los Angeles' Stephen S. Wise Temple Elementary School after confessingto molesting several of his former female students.

    Diamond says all of these episodes left him "very, very pained." He isn't alone. A growing concern about unreported sex abuse — and what to do with offenders when they're caught or come forward — has reshaped alliances within the local Jewish community and created bickering behind closed doors.

    So discovered prominent Rabbinical Council member Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein last month, after he hosted a seminar dealing with the growing number of sex-abuse allegations surfacing on Jewish blogs. Adlerstein said he felt torn between the need to listen to victims and his colleagues' concern that the Internet has simply created a venue for l'shon hara, or anonymous slander.

    But he found even bringing up the subject at all was tricky. Says Adlerstein, "I immediately got flak from colleagues asking me, 'Why are you talking about the stuff when you know it's going to get distorted?'"

    The discussion has led to some positive results. In 2002, when Heschel began speaking about his struggle to overcome porn addiction and re-enter society after prison, he and Diamond helped organize a five-part seminar on the problem of sexual addiction among the clergy. It was the first time in years, says Diamond, that leaders of the historically estranged Board of Rabbis and Rabbinical Council found themselves sitting down at the same table.

    Heschel says the discussion was especially needed in the Orthodox community, where the topic is dealt with less openly because of the shame attached to it. To rectify that, Heschel organized a 12-step group for addicted rabbis at the local rehabilitation center Beit T'Shuvah in Culver City, where he voluntarily resided before his sentencing and stint at Fort Dix.

    Soon after, the Aleinu Family Resource Center — the primary family-advocacy group for Orthodox Jews — convinced 21 of 26 local Los Angeles yeshivas to agree to guidelines that encourage the reporting of sexual abuse by rabbis. (Council director Deborah Fox declined to identify the nonparticipating yeshivas to the L.A. Weekly, but calls their refusal to sign the guidelines an example of the lingering resistance to addressing the subject of sex abuse.)

    Dealing with sex-abuse allegations can be even trickier than preventing the abuse in the first place. Like priests, rabbis suspected of sexual abuse have been shuffled from one temple to another. Unlike priests, however, rabbis cannot be defrocked, which poses a tricky question that Jews must face: how to deal with the fallen.

    For its part, Diamond's organization will soon send a team of chaplains to serve Jewish patients at the 1,500-bed Coalinga State Hospital, a recently constructed facility for sexually violent predators. California's first new mental hospital in 50 years focuses not on curing its patients but preventing relapses — a more realistic goal, practitioners say. At the same time, Diamond admits, nonviolent turnaround cases like Heschel's present an equally serious dilemma: After seven years of seeking treatment, telling his story and raising awareness about sex offenses, should Heschel be allowed in the pulpit?

    Beit T'Shuvah's founder, Mark Borowitz, doesn't hesitate. He says that the Torah commands believers to forgive those who make a genuine t'shuvah, or repentance, through admitting to their crimes and ensuring the crime will not happen again. In practice, that means rehabilitation programs such as 12-step, through which Borowitz himself, a former convict and author of a best-selling addiction memoir, The Holy Thief, says he found salvation.

    But salvation, in a religious sense, is one thing. In a medical sense, it means something else. "We don't say that word in 12-step programs," says Borowitz, when asked if Heschel is "cured." "We say 'recovered.'"

    Still, not everyone is comfortable with phrases like "recovered" as applied to child-porn felons like Heschel, and other sex offenders. Vicki Polin, a trained social worker who runs a Jewish version of a sex-offender registry, The Awareness Center, raised the alarm after discovering in December that Heschel had started an Internet-based addiction-counseling service.

    "Allowing [Heschel] to provide counseling to others with sex addictions is totally inappropriate," Polin posted on her Web site in December. "To allow him to advertise in Los Angeles Jewish Journal is horrifying."

    Heschel is obviously torn about whether to defend himself, reasoning that the community itself must decide if he should be forgiven, or simply resign himself to the unlikelihood that he will find universal acceptance.

    "Had I robbed a bank or been guilty of second-degree murder, I would have served my sentence, been on probation, and then been free," says Heschel in a rare moment of frustration. "My reality is that having viewed these images of child pornography, I am considered a sex offender for life."

    That is why Heschel offers his services discreetly over the phone, mostly to Orthodox Jews on the East Coast who have also suffered from Internet porn addiction. Heschel says that if his callers weren't allowed to remain anonymous — he knows them only by their client number — most would never come forward at all. Borowitz credits Heschel with bringing nearly two dozen individuals into Beit T'Shuvah's Sex Addicts Anonymous program.

    "As with alcohol or drug addiction," Borowitz says, "the best sexual-addiction counselors are those who are in recovery themselves."

    Nevertheless, Heschel says he misses having the rabbi's pulpit, and regularly sends out his résumé — without success. "When I send my résumés, it's my curiosity," he says. "Is this group willing to accept someone who has made genuine t'shuvah?"

    After much agonizing, the synagogue where he worships decided to do just that, and allowed him to become an elder. For Heschel, it was a moment of bliss.

    And what about his recent date over coffee?

    "I was surprised at how empathetic she was," Heschel says, turning upbeat. "It turned out to be a five-hour date." 


    How Common is Sex Addiction among Orthodox Jewry?
    Emes Ve-Emmunah (Blog) - August 16, 2009

    How many people who read this blog have pornography or sex addictions? I don’t know the answer to that question but statistically there are probably some who do.

    People who are addicted to porn range across the entire spectrum of Orthodoxy. Whether Modern Orthodox, very Charedi, or Chasidic. Addictions know no religious boundaries. They are a result of a combination of various factors in both nature and nurture in the development of one’s personality.

    The way porn addicts act upon their addictions can vary - some acts are more destructive than others - none of them permitted by Halacha. But no matter how religious one is - once triggered the sex drive is so strong it can easily overwhelm the strongest of wills to resist it – no matter how religious one is.

    The computer age and the easy availability of Internet porn makes it all too easy to succumb in private where no one will be the wiser. One thing that seems common is that if left unchecked the addiction becomes increasingly destructive – as does any type of addictive behavior. Porn addiction - just like narcotics addiction - can destroy one’s life.

    Living in a society where sexual stimuli are all over the place and where standards of decency are constantly being defined down no doubt make this problem a growing one - no matter how sheltered one is. I don’t know what the numbers are. But I’ll bet it is a bigger problem than anyone realizes. How many addicts are there that live dual lives and no one even suspects them? I am reminded of an article in the Jewish Observer by a Charedi principal who had such an addiction and was caught only when he started accessing illegal child pornography sites.

    This is not a subject I am comfortable writing about. I am certainly no expert. But Aish.com has an article by a Jewish man that is quite revealing. I am not sure he is religious but I somehow suspect that he is. In any case he was a man who led a dual life - an outward one and a secret one. To the world he was... a successful family man living in a nice Jewish community and happily married. Inside, it was all about lust, focusing on the next "fix." 

    He allows the reader to enter the mind of a sex addict. He very clearly describes his descent into the world of porn; how he became addicted; the constant need to see and ‘act’ on porn; the need to keep increasing the eroticism of images he sought to maintain his level of pleasure - the lowering of his self esteem, and how it affected his relationship with his wife. He also describes the steps he took to return from the depths of his addiction.
    Whether someone has even the slightest problem along these lines or simply wants to get educated about the problem from the perspective of a recovering addict I highly recommend this article. That said this article is not for everyone. Be cautioned. Those who are queasy might want to skip it.



    Some of the information on The Awareness Center's web pages may contain copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. I am making such material available in my efforts to advance understanding of environmental, political, human rights, economic, democracy, scientific, and social justice issues, etc.

    I believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.

    For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml . If you wish to use copyrighted material from this update for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

    "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." –– Margaret Mead


    No comments: