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Debunking the Acid Myth

A Times of Israel article on Jewish spirituality and drugs failed to address the dangers of taking psychedelics

I was disturbed to read the recent article on the Times of Israel titled “Was Moses tripping when he saw the burning bush? Should you try?

It is irresponsible to make the psychedelic drug known as acid or LSD, or for that matter, any other drugs, look cool. The author does exactly that.

The author goes to great lengths to promote the so called positive effects of psychedelic drugs as they relate to Judaism and spirituality, but does not properly address the risks and dangers of taking psychedelics in an uncontrolled setting. I know of people in my community who suffered serious mental problems that were triggered by psychedelics. All mental health professionals agree that it is essential to undergo medical pre-screening before using psychedelics.

The author writes: “In the ’60s, then-Chabadnik Zalman Schachter approached the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, asking for a blessing before dropping acid with Timothy Leary at an ashram in Massachusetts. The Rebbe offered him many ‘L’chaims [for a] good meditation and a good retreat.’”

This never happened. There is a recording of the gathering in 1963 where the incident allegedly occurred; the blessing had nothing to do with dropping acid. According to an article in Haaretz, Schachter implicitly acknowledged that there was no mention of LSD during his conversation with the Rebbe: “In retrospect, Zalman believes that the Rebbe was presciently blessing his upcoming LSD trip.”

How the author deludes herself into believing that the Lubavitch Rebbe encouraged the use of psychedelics is beyond me. It is well documented that the Rebbe was vehemently opposed to drugs and even issued a strict ban against the excessive drinking of alcohol.

The author omits the fact that Chabad fired Schachter after he took drugs with Timothy Leary. There is a letter from Rabbi Hodakovs, the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s Chief of Staff, severing all official ties with Schachter. Indeed, in several recorded interviews, Schachter states that he was fired from Chabad for using LSD.

The story goes — and I stress that it is unconfirmed, and some Chabad historians question whether it happened — that Schachter called the Rebbe’s secretary, before he went on a controlled trip with Leary, and asked for a blessing for a “Nesia Tova,” a good trip.

When he explained to the Rebbe’s secretary that he wasn’t referring to traveling but rather to a another, unique, type of trip, the secretary responded,

You need a Brocha for a regular refuah sh’lemah, a perfect healing.”

Yaacov Behrman is the program director at Operation Survival, a drug prevention program.

About the Author
Yaacov Behrman was ordained by the former Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rav Mordechai Eliyahu and earned his M.A. degree in Educational Leadership from Bellevue University. Behrman is the director of a drug prevention program in Crown Heights, the founder of The Jewish Future Alliance, and the former director of media relations for Chabad Lubavitch World Headquarters. He was featured in the Jewish Week’s seventh annual “36 Under 36” list of rising Jewish innovators for 2014. The views expressed are his own.