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  • Jewish Pastoral Counseling:Recent Books
  • Michelle Friedman (bio)

On occasion we receive a number of books on a related topic that call out to be reviewed at one time. I have asked Dr. Michelle Friedman to write such an overview review of several books related to pastoral counseling. Dr. Friedman is a psychiatrist and directs the pastoral counseling program at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah in Manhattan. I am happy to have Dr. Friedman and her article as my guests, substituting in this issue for myself and my column.

Jonathan P. Slater

Jewish pastoral care has suffered for too long from the lack of professional texts written by persons committed to Jewish tradition. Guidance in this field is surely needed as rabbis and educators have always been called upon to respond to natural lifecycle events as well as to confront age-old yet eternally heartrending situations of physical and mental illness, family strife, and catastrophe. They have relied on knowledge and interpretation derived from sacred text, wise examples from their own mentors, and individual common sense. Jewish clergy and professionals also benefited from the knowledge and writings of Gentile colleagues who published extensively in the area of pastoral technique and who documented the unique ways clergy can help relieve human suffering.

Historically, the establishment of pastoral counseling as a necessary component in rabbinical training has met with ambivalence. With the exception of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School (where I am privileged to chair the department) I know of no other Jewish clergy training institutions that mandate formal pastoral [End Page 81] counseling education for all students throughout their entire academic program. This lack of comprehensive training is true in most Christian seminaries throughout the United States as well. Clergy programs that include some pastoral training generally require one or two courses in basic skills as well as a rotation through hospital-based chaplaincy. Other institutions offer optional courses that can be elected by interested students.

This academic unevenness in pastoral counseling does not seem to reflect seminarians' enthusiasm for classes in pastoral counseling. Indeed, the best rabbinical students are anxious about their preparedness to deal with the raw and powerful human situations which they are certain to encounter. My experience teaching across the denominations confirms repeatedly that s'mikhah candidates absorb and appreciate didactic material as well as supervised fieldwork where they can practice clinical skills. Most of all, students embrace opportunities that help them plumb their own religious and emotional depths. These include facilitated group discussions as well as mentored case presentations that explore complicated and important areas such as responding to moral conflict, maintaining appropriate boundaries, and taking care of the rabbi's personal life.

Ambitious agendas such as these deserve proper textbooks! After a long drought, we are blessed with a rich trilogy—three different yet complementary volumes that should be in the library of every rabbi, cantor, chaplain, educator, and community worker. These are: Jewish Pastoral Care: A Practical Handbook from Traditional and Contemporary Sources, 2nd edition, edited by Rabbi Dayle A. Friedman (Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights Publishing, 2005); A Practical Guide to Rabbinic Counseling, edited by Rabbi Dr. Yisrael N. Levitz and Rabbi Dr. Abraham J. Twerski (Nanuet, NY: Feldheim Publishers, 2005); and Jewish Relational Care A-Z, edited by Rabbi Dr. Jack H Bloom (Philadelphia: The Haworth Press, 2006). The books are similar in that each is a compilation of essays written by individuals with expertise or unique personal experience in the subjects they address. All three focus on the practical and the specific, offering many suggestions relevant to diverse clinical settings. To varying extents, all touch on the need for counselors to be mindful of how they are affected by the demanding work of compassionate listening and counseling.

While written from diverse socio-religious perspectives, the books under review will serve interested persons of all denominations. As they are pioneer, single-volume works, none can comprehensively cover all of the issues which come under the heading of pastoral counseling. Due to the vast amount of material touched on in each book, I feel they are most useful as a trio. In order to explain this ensemble function, let me outline some of the key similarities...


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