'Ex-gay' isn't kosher

Torah-committed homosexuals should be wary of reparative therapy.

gay couple 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
gay couple 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Since 2002, when I started becoming open about my personal religious choice to stop having same-sex relations, liberals on gay issues have repeatedly accused me of being a Jewish "ex-gay." But I am no such thing, because Torah Judaism doesn't have a concept of an "ex-gay." I have no doubt that some people's sexualities change. I have met many people who say it has happened to them. But I'm skeptical of the ones who credit their "reorientation" therapists. I just don't see the evidence that it works. In the process of writing Judaism and Homosexuality: An Authentic Orthodox View, the most important (really the only significant) full-length study of homosexuality and Jewish law, Rabbi Chaim Rapoport asked Jews Offering New Alternatives to Homosexuality (JONAH) if he could speak to some "success stories" - and he was unsatisfied with its meager response. I have had much the same experience; while I have spoken to about two dozen JONAH men on the Internet, on the phone and in person, I have never encountered a single Jew who was gay (not bisexual) and became straight (not bisexual) due to the techniques recommended by JONAH. If its approach was effective, shouldn't there be at least five or 10 men and women I could speak with who say that JONAH did for them what it claims to be able to do? CAN PRAYER change one's sexuality? I don't see why not. As an Orthodox Jew, I certainly support people praying for any change they want, from a new sexuality to more patience. If I didn't believe God listens to prayers (although not always responding like a genie), I wouldn't see the point in praying at all. And anyone struggling to bring his behaviors in line with his values could benefit from a good therapist. But that's not the focus of the "reparative therapy" promoted to many Jews struggling with same-sex attractions. People pay hundreds of dollars to poseurs who tell them their homosexuality stems from problematic parenting, but that they can release their inner heterosexual through resolving trauma that exists only in the therapist's imagination, hypermasculine or hyperfeminine role playing, "gender-appropriate" activities like baseball and sewing and other mucky-muck I don't have the stomach to describe. Even the largest "ex-gay" group, Exodus International, no longer has much use this type of discredited therapy. If the Jewish "ex-gay" advocates knew anything about Judaism and homosexuality, they wouldn't endorse Christian psychoanalytic ideas such as "healing same-sex attractions" and "becoming heterosexual" and the "false identity of homosexuality." Their offer to help gays "recover their heterosexual potential" is clearly lifted from Catholic natural-law philosophy. While Jewish law certainly calls for sexuality to be channeled into opposite-sex relationships, no notion that we're all inherently straight appears in any Jewish text. The Torah knows no sexual orientations - which is the point of Rabbi Joel Beasley's important 1998 Jewish Spectator article "Why Neither Homosexuality nor Heterosexuality Exist in Judaism." MANY OUTSPOKEN Jewish supporters of the "ex-gay" movement are non-observant Jews. One Jewish woman who wanted to encourage me to become "ex-gay" sent me an e-mail - on Shabbat - to suggest some reparative therapy Web sites. I wrote her back to let her know that (and I confirmed this with an Orthodox rabbi) if she had to violate one commandment, it would have been better for her to engage in lesbian sex than for her to e-mail me on Shabbat. She became very hostile. No serious practicing Jew would let such people supervise their kosher meat, so why should we trust them with Jews struggling with same-sex attractions? JONAH's confusion about Judaism and homosexuality is most evident in its comfort pointing Jewish gays and lesbians toward learning about Christian ideas about homosexuality. For example, eight times jonahweb.org recommends a book called Homosexuality and the Politics of Truth by a Jewish psychiatrist named Dr. Jeffrey Satinover. I read that book in 2002 when my rabbi told me it was JONAH-endorsed. Satinover quotes the New Testament far more than any Jewish source. The views of the apostle Paul (the founder of Christianity, who Satinover told me in an e-mail had "remarkably many deeply Jewish characteristics") appear on more than a dozen pages. The executive vice president of one organization JONAH has promoted used to have a policy (until I demanded its reversal) of refusing to talk to any Jews, no matter how observant, unless he was allowed to evangelize them for Christ. Indeed, I met one young man at a Jewish conference who confided in me that he had participated in many of the "ex-gay" organizations promoted by JONAH and now accepts Jesus as his personal savior. I would love to see a Torah-true organization for same-sex-attracted Jews who on their own seek help in following Judaism's guidelines for family and bedroom life. Alas, such an organization does not yet exist. The writer is working on a PhD in Jewish History at New York University and plans to make aliya in 2009. A version of this article appeared in the Los Angeles Jewish Journal. [email protected]