Gaily Fighting Religion

It is an interesting coincidence that two new volleys in the gay war on traditional religion were both fired last week, on two continents. While “GBLT” advocates in Israel were busy cynically misusing a shooting in a youth center to castigate rabbis who dare speak honestly about the Torah’s view of “alternative lifestyles,” the American Psychological Association also re-entered the fray, asserting that its members “should avoid telling clients that they can change their sexual orientation through therapy or other treatments.” Instead, its new official recommendation to those experiencing a “conflict between their sexual orientation and religious beliefs” is that they “explore possible life paths that address the reality of their sexual orientation.”

In other words, you can change your life path, meaning your religion, because, in contrast to your religious faith, your sexual orientation is an unchangeable fact.

A bit of historical perspective is in order. Until 1973, the APA classified homosexuality as a mental disorder. In fact, a psychiatrist who spoke out about the issue the previous year wore a mask to prevent professional repercussions for identifying himself as a homosexual. Then, quite suddenly, the APA reversed course and announced that homosexuals were perfectly healthy. Today, its website says that “since 1975, the American Psychological Association has called on psychologists to take the lead in removing the stigma of mental illness that has long been associated with [alternate] orientations” — a stigma that the APA itself helped to propagate for decades. Now, barely 35 years later, it has swung the pendulum completely the other way — creating a new stigma for those who might wish to change their own “orientation,” and those psychologists who might dare suggest that this is even an option. “Practitioners should avoid telling clients they can change from gay to straight,” says the press release.

If this were not amazing enough, this momentous resolution results not from extensive research into the efficacy (or lack thereof) of “Sexual Orientation Change Efforts (SOCE),” but from its absence. “Insufficient evidence that sexual orientation change efforts work, says APA,” it reports. Given that lack of evidence, its response is not to commission new studies nor to suggest that the issue be examined, but to slam the door.

JONAH — Jews Offering New Alternatives to Homosexuality — has already condemned the APA resolution as the work of a one-sided task force that ignored evidence on its way to a predetermined conclusion. The APA’s own release admits that the articles reviewed by the task force were mostly out of date. “Most of the studies were conducted before 1978, and only a few had been conducted in the last 10 years.”

The APA is even unable to demonstrate that SOCE is somehow harmful. “The task force was unable to reach any conclusion regarding the efficacy or safety of any of the recent studies of SOCE: ‘There are no methodologically sound studies of recent SOCE that would enable the task force to make a definitive statement about whether or not recent SOCE is safe or harmful and for whom,’ according to the report.” Instead, the APA resorts to conjecture on a webpage devoted to a “better understanding” of sexual orientation: “Furthermore, it seems likely that the promotion of change therapies reinforces stereotypes and contributes to a negative climate,” it says (emphasis added).

How might new, up-to-date evidence be developed to determine the efficacy of modern methods, if anyone attempting SOCE is already to be labeled an irresponsible psychologist? And, even more to the point, would the APA similarly suggest that psychologists abandon attempts to cure child abusers and practitioners of bestiality in the absence of extensive studies proving the efficacy of past efforts? Of course not — because everyone agrees that those behaviors are wrong. The APA thus arrogates upon itself the right to determine which behaviors should or should not be discouraged — what is, or is not, “wrong.”

That is not, though, the key to the conflict in values. Rather, the APA’s resolution sides with those who assert that a sexual preference defines a person. This is the same sort of thinking that caused HaAretz reporter Anshel Pfeffer to casually equate a belief regarding the behavior of homosexuality, namely that it is a perversion, with “homophobia,” a rejection of a person based upon his or her admitted predisposition towards that behavior. The APA says that this behavior is part of a person’s identity, and to promote change “seems likely” to merely reinforce stereotypes and contribute to a “negative climate” for the people whose identity is defined by this preference.

The Torah, on the other hand, does not place human beings into unique subdivisions based upon their preferences, or even their behaviors. It condemns a host of behaviors as wrong, immoral, even perverse — but not the practitioner. Even Capital Punishment, whether administered for immorality, murder, or carrying wood to the public domain on the Sabbath, was intended to cause the sinner to turn away from his past behavior and prepare his soul to enter the World to Come, while simultaneously educating others in the critical importance of not replicating those behaviors. It is no different whether the behavior is pork consumption or kleptomania: the behavior is condemned, as are efforts to promote it to others — but not the practitioners.

Obviously, not everyone manages to maintain that necessary distinction. The answer, though, is not to condemn those who reach out to people with these issues to assist them to make changes more in accordance with the Torah’s values. What JONAH and other psychologists do is nothing less than Kiruv, and their efforts should be commended, not condemned.

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18 Responses

  1. L. Oberstein says:

    I have heard several orthodox therapists talk about their belief that one can change his/her sexual orientation. Their view is very much out of the mainstream.
    A question we should ask is why are the Reform,Reconstructionist and now the Conservatives so gung ho on ordaining gay rabbis. At a time of declining Jewish births, why emphasize a marginal issue? Is it possible that we have more homosexuals than the goyim per capita? Why all of a sudden is ordaining gays and doing marriage ceremonies such a hot item?
    I gather that having a gay rabbi will be as common as having a woman cantor or rabbi, which is becoming the norm. Jewish kids will grow up with the feeling that sexual orientation is no big deal.
    That is the goal but what will that do for Yiddishkeit, can we survive if we don’t reproduce. There must be something deeper going on here and it won’t be solved by the usual bombast. All too often the biggest homopobes are closet gays who are fighting their own irresistable urges. Look at a string of Christian ministers who were open hypocrites.
    I seriously think that gayness is a big Jewish issue as we seem to have an inordinate share of people who don’t know what they are. Am I delusional or is the media hype overemphasising the issue.

  2. Ori says:

    L. Oberstein, I’m pretty sure it’s just that homosexuality is considered an important issue for the Heterodox movements because of the way it is pushed in mainstream society. Heterodox Jews are more American than Jewish, and tend towards the political camp that considers the acceptance of homosexuality a civil rights issue.

    How to encourage people in western societies to have kids is a different question. I don’t think it’s very related to homosexuality, BTW. The real issue is that heterosexual people decide not to get married, or to avoid becoming parents.

  3. Zach Leiner says:


    Pardon the hair splitting regarding semantics, but regarding your comment

    “Heterodox Jews are more American than Jewish”

    I would substitute the word “American” with “Cosmopolitan”. It’s safe to say that a general consensus of the American population (and yes, including African-Americans and Hispanics) regards the recently fervent judicial activism towards homosexual marriage with suspicion.

    More than likely, it’s viewed as another example of the judiciary behaving like an elite body that’s answerable to no one and is fond of pushing their personal agendas through judicial fiat. This time, it’s targeting the last vestiges of traditional family values.

  4. aron feldman says:


    Sadly R/C and Recon have gone very far from their traditional Jewish moorings,so far that they feel the urge to embrace anything that is on the liberal social agenda of today.
    This all falls under the rubric of Tikun Olam

  5. Ori says:

    Zach Leiner, your formulation may be better. I have a hard time using “Cosmopolitan”, because I don’t know what it means. The attitudes of Heterodox Jews seem to be the same as those found in Americans living in the same area of the US.

  6. Raymond says:

    To me, the matter is simple. We have the famous principle found in our religion and other religions as well, namely that G-d never demands anything of us that we cannot handle. Since G-d quite explicitly forbids male homosexual behavior, even calling it a disgusting abomination, it is pretty clear that men with homosexual proclivities are quite capable of refraining from carrying out their unusual inclinations. And once the behaviors, rather than the nature or tastes, of a person is the important thing, then the debate over whether male homosexuality is innate or learned, becomes irrelevant.

    As for why non-Orthodox movements within Judaism are so gung-ho about ordaining gay Rabbis, it is the same mentality that would be gung-ho about ordaining so-called Rabbis who eat pork or who drive their car on the Sabbath to the synagogue. It demonstrates how the real purpose of such non-Orthodox movements, is really to thumb their collective noses at traditional, Orthodox Judaism.

  7. dr. bill says:

    Sadly R/C and Recon have gone very far from their traditional Jewish moorings,so far that they feel the urge to embrace anything that is on the liberal social agenda of today.
    This all falls under the rubric of Tikun Olam

    Comment by aron feldman — August 12, 2009 @ 4:22 pm

    some, not all, acts done in the name of tikkun olam are mekadaish shem shamayim. i would not, even obliquely, discount that, particularly given a fair bit of negative press we have gotten. i know some will disagree, but hechsher tzeddek has contributed more to kiddush hashem than the prior events that may have provided motivation for its establishment. remember there is significant machloket within the arba amot of halakha: what is in the spirit of the halakha is yet more debatable.

  8. L. Oberstein says:

    Dr. Bill, whomever you are, I am very sad by the decline of Conservative Judaism. As one who grew up in that milieu, I would love that it would have succeeded more with the second and third generations. Hechsher tzeddek is a lot of talk, have you seen one label on a product, does anyone actually care enough to be careful with this hechsher? It is well meaning, but it’s lack of success will demonstrate the impotence of the movement as a whole. Secondly, no one honestly believes any more that Conservative Judaism is within the daled amos of halacha. That fig leaf was meaningful a generation ago with a different element. Now, with the gay movement (back to the original article), there can be no pretense of halachic fidelity. Call it “traditional” “covenental” but not halachic.

  9. One Christian's perspective says:

    “All too often the biggest homopobes are closet gays who are fighting their own irresistable urges. Look at a string of Christian ministers who were open hypocrites.” – Comment by L. Oberstein

    Painting a picture with a broad brush often leaves out the fine details. Everyone has a struggle and a story to tell but not everything that can be known is public information.

    Being a homosexual or anything else is a neutral position until the inclination becomes the deed. In todays culture, there is an over-whelming bias of the media/ Hollywood/government/institutions to encourage the pursuit of lusts and call it a “right”. This is the world view expressed by the American Psychological Association when it asserts that its members “should avoid telling clients that they can change their sexual orientation through therapy or other treatments.”

    Not all psychologists support the “world view”. There are several who are members of my church who have taught Sunday School classes that give the attendees a taste of psychology where behaviors and coping mechanisms are identified as well as documented causes of this activity. Where their approach differs is in the real identity of the problem (in all cases, is sin seen as a turning from G-d) and the resolution of the problem is turning back to G-d. I was amazed that for three months of classes, these wonderful psychologists found in the Bible, a Psalm and a story that glorified G-d and expanded on their teaching. These psychologists have a Biblical world view that is very different from a world view that leaves G-d out of the picture and gets man off of the hook. I was delighted to find that, G-d tells us what all of these problems look like and many times He calls it by a behavior psychologists can recognize even today.

    Perhaps, there are already Orthodox Jewish psychologists who practice this Biblical view of identifying the problem and directing the resolution back to G-d . Maybe, they are called Rabbi.

  10. dr. bill says:

    L Oberstein, You misunderstood completely, reading new content into what i wrote; i did not even use the word Conservative. But being misunderstood is my fault so let me clarify. I did not imply anywhere that the conservative movement is halakhic or that hechsher tzedek was successful. (however, i hear that some orthodox hashgachot are becoming more careful/concerned about non kashrut specific areas as some orthodox rabbonim in Israel have openly advocated.)

    What I did respond to was the remark about tikkun olam, (some of whose advocates are, btw, squarely outside the Conservative camp.) My point is that the motivation of some advocates of hechsher tzedek or some espousing tikkun olam cannot be dismissed, as some have. To elaborate on my last sentance that included the word halakhic: As the Rav ztl said famously, the halakha is a floor not a ceiling. It should be also be clear that what belongs in the room is more subject to debate than the floor, the arba amot of halakha. IMHO much of tikkun olam is claimed to be in the room not on the floor. And BTW, the defense that X is not strictly speaking assur al pi halakha, sounds a bit more hollow these days.

  11. Raymond says:

    In response to what L Oberstein and the Christian said above: If all those who come out against male homosexual behavior are themselves really homosexuals, then all Klansmen are Black and all nazis are Jews. See how absurd it becomes? The Political Left makes such a charge against those who oppose male homosexual behavior, as a way to shut our side up. Similarly, the Political Left will label any ideas that are to the Right of theirs as being Hate Speech, again as a way to censor the conservative side of the fence. We conservatives must be weary of such dishonest tactics, so that we can better defend our side of things.

  12. tzippi says:

    Rabbi Oberstein, I know of a midwest city that has/had at least 2 gay rabbis (Reform and beyond). I don’t think either of the congregations were making a statement, or actively seeking a gay rabbi at that time, but I wouldn’t be surprised if congregations are doing that now.

  13. PK says:

    I have never understood how modern western society can assert that homosexuality is “normal”. According to western society ever since the time of Darwin everything has been explained according to survival of the fittest and the desire of every living organism to reproduce itself. “Psychology Today” and the “New York Times” have numerous articles explaining why organisms, animals or people do something or have something in order to make sure that their genes are reproduced. According to this theory then on their terms (not religious terms) homosexuality would be abnormal because that organism, animal or person does not want to (or can’t reproduce}. Can anyone give me an answer to this question.

  14. One Christian's perspective says:

    Raymond, I am neither homosexual nor polital left. I even struggle with some of the political right. What bothered me was calling someone a label. Once someone is called a “label” – fill in the blank – then if that label does not agree with the one you call yourself, they are written off. G-d does not see us as labels. He sees us as humans created in His image albeit not perfect in this life, but struggling with flaws and addictions and whatever else. Yet, He never threw anyone away who sought His face……and He is a good listener to their story which He knows even better. My struggle is with arrogance, self-righteousness, and wanting to be in control too often and yet, I know G-d knows me better than I know myself…..and, He loves me too much to leave me where I am. I am sorry if I upset you….. G-d is not finished with me yet.

    A lot of what Rabbi Oberstein wrote makes sense. He is concerned that folks are drifting away from the wisdom of the Torah and setting a bad example for the young to follow, as I believe you are as well.

  15. Raymond says:

    The Christian in here thinks I am setting a bad example? Since when have I set myself up as some virtuous person to emulate? And what is so wrong about expressing what I am convinced is the truth? And since when was I accusing the Christian of being either on the Political Left or that he is a homosexual? I do not even know him, nor would I degrade a person in public in such a manner, even if I did. There is definitely a miscommunication going on here.

    On a much more happy note, to PK in response #13, whoever you are, you make such a brilliant point, that I envy you for thinking of it before I did. One of the hallmarks of brilliance is that once the observation is made, it seems so obvious, that one wonders why it was never noticed until then.

  16. Ori says:

    Raymond, I’m pretty sure you misunderstood One Christian. She meant you are concerned that folks are drifting away…, just as L. Oberstein is – not that you are one of those setting a bad example.

  17. pk says:

    Thank you Raymond for your compliment.

    I’m probably going off on a tangent, but I am against the homosexual agenda for the following reaons (in addition to the Biblical commandment)

    1. The Jewish people cannot afford homosexuality since we are an endangered species.

    2. As a woman I am insulted by it. We are going back to Greek Society where friendship and love were between two males and women were only good for cooking, weaving and bearing children. We have many lonely, unmarried women because some of the best men are gay. (I think the main homosexual agenda is male and that lesbianism is secondary and to some degree a result of male homosexuality)

    3. The Homosexual movement is intellectually dishonest. It speaks about people not having a choice as to their sexual orientation, but I think that those who really don’t have a choice are really a tiny minority, maybe 1 to 2 %(and that for the reasons I stated in #13 that 1-2 % are unfortunately dealing with an abnormality). As for the rest, I think there is an agenda to proselytize for homosexuality for whatever their reasons (but to cover up this proselytising by saying they are dealing with people who don’t have a choice.)

  18. Raymond says:

    Wow, whoever pk is, it is sure nice to discover somebody who can express thoughts I have had, saying them so much better than I am able to. Too bad it took me this long to read what she said.

    Also, when she talks there being so many lonely, unmarried women…what a coincidence, since I am a lonely, unmarried man. So where are these women, and how can I meet them? 😉

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