Children react differently to traumatic events and helping them overcome trauma necessitates a different approach than with adults. After presenting clinical definitions of trauma and the signs and symptoms of trauma in children, Dr. Fried suggests four treatment approaches. He discusses the importance of letting the young patients tell their story in their own words and giving them the time and the space to do so. Play is also important, as it builds rapport and lets the child relax and disengage from memories of the trauma. Texture therapy and nature walks are also suggested. Education entails “stating the facts simply, naming emotions, and empowering parents.” The final approach, creativity, includes poetry, guided thinking, and writing, as well as other outlets. The final chapter talks about the resolution of trauma and the power of relationships. Several studies by experts are mentioned; none of them fully referenced.
Dr. Fried is a clinical psychologist with many years of experience of working with children dealing with trauma. The short volume is insightful and contains many suggestions for helping children cope with their emotions, but the target audience is hard to define. Other practitioners will be aware of these techniques through their schooling and practice. Non-practitioners may be interested because they are parents or relatives of traumatized children and are looking for ways to help them. The Jewish content consists of several unreferenced quotes from Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, referred to as “the Rav,” and a few biblical quotes. The short paragraph asserting that “storytelling brings the child closer to a relationship with the Ultimate Listener” discusses the benefits of prayer, which may be lost on a younger patient and may stir up additional feelings of abandonment (Where was God when this happened?).
While somewhat simplistic for the professional, the book may be useful to parents and would be suited to a resource center or Jewish community services library.
While the idea presented in Samuel J. Levine’s book Was Yosef on the Spectrum, that the biblical Joseph, son of Jacob, was autistic, having Asperger’s Syndrome, may bother some people who prefer to think that Israel’s ancient leaders had no imperfection,[ they will still find much to learn and much to appreciate in this book. Readers will discover that Levine’s analysis explains numerous seemingly strange behaviors by Joseph, who is called by his Hebrew name in this book, behaviors that stymied many scholars for generations. We can now better understand his strengths and weaknesses.
Levine shows more than a dozen examples how Joseph closely resembles many behaviors common among individuals with forms of high-functioning autism called Asperger’s Syndrome.
A successful contributor to the literature on medical halachamust exemplify a strikingly wide range of characteristics: high-level Torah scholarship, intimate knowledge of current medical practice, extensive interactions with top-tier halachic authority, a deep understanding of the ethical underpinnings of current controversies in medical ethics, and a compassionate appreciation for the excruciating challenges confronting patients and their families.
Author Samuel J. Levine appeared as a guest speaker at the the Disability and Faith Forum.
The story of Joseph (the title of my book uses the Hebrew “Yosef”) presents a fascinating and memorable narrative, which has been both the focus of careful study for countless generations of readers and scholars of the Bible, as well the subject of a wide range of art and literature, from the visual arts to novels to Broadway. Much of this interest, among both religious adherents and broader culture, likely stems in large part from the challenging questions that arise in the course of the story.
In his paper “Is There Science in the Bible? An Assessment of Biblical Concordism,” Rabbi Dr. David Shatz writes that “some distinguished scientists, for some reason mostly physicists, push for concordist readings. Other intellectuals, for example those immersed in the humanities, are as a rule wary of, or put off by, such interpretations.” Concordism is a system of textual interpretation that is meant to establish a fusion between biblical texts and scientific data.
In general, I am not drawn to Torah commentaries that seek to frame biblical personalities in the language of today, at the cost of understanding their words and actions as expressed by the language of the Torah. Given this, when I received a copy of Samuel J. Levine’s 141-page book titled ‘Was Yosef on the Spectrum?’, who is a Professor of Law and who also has rabbinical ordination from Yeshiva University, I have to say that I opened the book as a very cautious reader.
This sweet, tough, and charmingly amateurish memoir is the story of a tenacious woman. Sylvia Fishbaum grew up in Slovakia after World War II. Her parents braved anti-Semitism and maintained a traditional Jewish lifestyle in a country where Jews were nearly extinct.
After the rise of Communism, life became harder both materially and emotionally, but Fishbaum’s irrepressible confidence served her well. As a young woman, she sewed clothes and sold them on the black market in the Ukraine to finance her escape to the United States.
A chance meeting with a Jewish family on its way to Israel alerted Sylvia to the existence of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society in Rome. After careful, clandestine planning, Fishbaum left behind an apartment and a job,made her way to Rome, and eventually moved to New York. There she married a co-owner of an iconic kosher pizzeria in Manhattan, raised two sons, and lived the American dream.
After her husband’s early death from heart disease, Sylvia dedicated herself to reviving Jewish life in Slovakia. Fishbaum’s wellsprings of willpower and self-deprecating humor make for a compelling read.
Yosef’s behaviors, interpersonal relationships, and personal development are often difficult to understand, and at times seem to defy explanation. This book offers a coherent and cohesive reading of the well-known Bible story, presenting a portrait of Yosef as an individual on the autism spectrum. Viewed through this lens, Yosef emerges as a more familiar and less enigmatic individual, exhibiting both strengths and weaknesses commonly associated with autism spectrum disorder.
“Sam Levine was my student in yeshiva, and I have known him for decades….I enjoyed his book on Yosef, which presents a thoughtful and creative literary analysis of the story, based on a close reading of the Chumash, midrashim, and classical meforshim.” –Rav Menachem MendelBlachman, Senior Ra”m at Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh
Samuel J. Levine is a Professor of Law and Director of the Jewish Law Institute at Touro Law Center. He has served as the Beznos Distinguished Professor at Michigan State University College of Law, and he has taught at the law schools of Bar-Ilan, Fordham, Pepperdine, and St. John’s Universities.