There are faith traditions that prohibit medical intervention even when it may result in a decline in health or even in death. Judaism has no such tradition. We are told of the Mitzvot, “You shall live by them.” The words "You shall llive by them” ("Va-chai bahem"), as my teacher Rabbi Brad Artson wrote, “reverberate through the ages as a thundering witness both to the central function of Torah, and to the nature of its centrality as a way toward a sacred goal, not as that goal itself. Living itself is a ''mitzvah.'' Without maintaining life, no other ''mitzvot'' and no other holiness is possible.
So it comes as a surprise that several prominent rabbis, here in Israel, have backed an initiative by an organization called “Kamoha” – a GLBTQ Orthodox organization – that has set up a fund a charity to pay for "conversion therapy" for religious men aged 18 to 25 who are attracted to other men.
A spokesperson for Kamoha stated, “We consulted many rabbis on the issue – Zionists and haredim – and they all welcomed the initiative and congratulated us, and some even donated money.”
This support for conversion therapy is a violation of everything Jewish. (Yes, I can already hear the Talbacks saying, “What? Is he nuts? Isn’t homosexual sex a violation of everything Jewish? These rabbis are seeking to help avoid sin.” So save the verbiage).
Virtually every organization of psychologists, psychiatrist, psychiatric social workers, and school counselors, has declared this form of therapy ineffective. It has NO record of success at all (some have succeeded in remaining chaste – but that is something very different from changing one’s orientation). It is a waste of time and money. But far worse, in a community where the suicide rate is nearly three times the average, experts have written of the possibility that the dashed hopes may lead to even greater depression and possible suicide.
The only organizations behind such ersatz therapy are religious – mostly Christian – but now Orthodox Jewish too. (It should be said that there are other religious GLBT organizations that do not hold by this approach (e.g. Havruta)).
Rabbis must know that they are obligated to follow the best that science and medicine have to offer. Judaism does not follow the practices of Christian Scientists. We rely on the best information available to us – especially when it comes to matters that may be of life and death.
Kamoha''s director said, "there is no clear ruling in the world of research that one can change or cannot change.” This is patently false. Unless one accepts witchcraft, voodoo, and fairy dust as effective – then this statement borders on idiocy, if not heresy.
That rabbis would ignore all of the best evidence and research we have to date, and encourage people to try a form of treatment that has been proven to be ineffective and possibly dangerous, is tragic and irresponsible.
It is one thing to say that the Torah forbids homosexual sex (something upon which not all agree – certainly not everyone outside of the mainstream Orthodox world). It’s another thing to send the “sinner” to those who practice dangerous quackery.
Again I remind the reader that the Torah commands “Va-chai bahem" (You shall live by our tradition and not do that which may advance danger).
Homosexuality is not an illness. It is not something to be treated (although it may be that rejection by family, society, and religion may lead some people to seek treatment for loneliness and depression).
I go back to the teachings of Rabbi Artson who wrote “The goal [of Mitzvot and Torah] is a sufficiently rich inner life, a sufficiently pulsating love of the Jewish People and all humanity, a sufficiently overwhelming responsibility for our planet and its denizens, that out of that rich spirituality, loyalty, love and connection will emerge that most precious of all Jewish commodities: a true sacred servant.”
And that is surely living. ''Va-chai bahem.''