Conversion therapy is not counseling for people who convert to Judaism. Rather, conversion therapy is an controversial program that is designed to help gay people become un-gay. It is most popular among religious groups who feel that being gay is prohibited by the Bible and they desperately want to rid themselves of their homosexuality.
The problem is that these techniques are shunned by all mainstream mental health groups.
Recently a lawsuit was filed against JONAH for engaging in these unregulated therapy sessions and causing more harm than good. The details are a bit sordid and not really necessary to understand what is happening. The suit alleges that JONAH is using controversial therapy methods to change people’s orientation and are causing serious pain to many of the people whom they are trying to help.
California courts are grappling with this as well. On one hand, a judge has ruled that the therapy should not be used and issued an injunction against its implementation. On the other hand, a federal judge ruled that therapy is mostly “speech” and the government cannot regulate “speech” without contravening the First Amendment. Meanwhile, activists believe that the therapy is effective and feel that it is unfairly maligned. We will see how this plays out over the next year or so.
As it relates to orthodox Jews, Conversion Therapy has become a passionate point of debate recently as well.
In Hakirah, Rabbi Shmuel Kamenetsky was quoted as a proponent of JONAH, basically endorsing the therapy that they do. This was met with a serious rebuttal in the subsequent (current) issue of Hakirah. The RCA endorsed JONAH for a while, but citing current scientific evidence, the RCA no longer endorses JONAH.
Then there is the lawsuit mentioned above. The suit is being brought to put a stop to JONAH’s practices. Meanwhile, JONAH is operating with rabbinic endorsements. Losing the suit could present a problem for rabbis wishing to endorse JONAH.
In the current issue of Dialogue* (I asterisk it because it is more like a monologue than a dialogue) Rabbi Ahron Feldman writes a passionate article about homosexuality and the frum community. In some places it is mildly progressive, in other places it is not and I believe it to be severely flawed. Perhaps I will formulate a respectful response to the entire article some day. For now, Rabbi Feldman endorses JONAH wholeheartedly.
This sets up a classic point of divergence between the charedi and modern orthodox community. The charedi community still supports JONAH and the working assumption is that the current whims of science are inconclusive or flat out wrong. Whereas the modern orthodox community takes the science that has emerged very seriously and changed their recommendation of conversion therapy based upon that scientific evidence.
I honestly think that it is as simple as that. As for me, unless there is a doctrine of faith that is contravened by science (and I know of none) I see no reason to reject science simply in favor of traditional thinking.
The question becomes, what would influence the charedi rabbis to change their stance? Anything? Is that right or wrong?
While frum men who are only attracted to men (and frum women to women) are left to wonder if they have a place in orthodox Judaism at all. And if they do, where and how. And while it may be interesting to talk about how to help orthodox men who don’t want to be attracted to men, the more important issue remains how important it is that we create safe places for all people to practice and observe their religion, even if they are gay and orthodox Jews.