Box Turtle Bulletin

Box Turtle BulletinNews, analysis and fact-checking of anti-gay rhetoric
“Now you must raise your children up in a world where that union of man and box turtle is on the same legal footing as man and wife…”
This article can be found at:
Latest Posts

Posts for January, 2012

Jewish Press Publishes Op-Ed About Ex-Gay Abuses

Jim Burroway

January 26th, 2012

The Jewish Press, a conservative newspaper which has published advertisements for the Jewish ex-gay group JONAH, this morning published an op-ed by Chaim Levin detailing the abuses he experienced while participating in ex-gay therapy. Levin wrote in response to another op-ed by Elliot Resnick published six months ago in The Jewish Press, “Orthodox Homosexuals and the Pursuit of Self Indulgence,” in which, without mentioning Levin’s name, Resnick responded to Levin’s “It Gets Better” video by saying that he should learn to suffer in silence. In this responding op-ed, Levin describes what Resnick believes he should remain silent over:

The worst part of my experience in reparative therapy came at the end. In a locked office, alone with my unlicensed “life coach,” I was told to undress, stand in front of the counselor and do things too graphic to describe in this article. I was extremely uncomfortable, but he said that I must do this for the sake of changing and that if I didn’t remove my clothing I wouldn’t be doing the work it takes to achieve change. I would do anything to change, and so I did what he asked me to do. It was probably the most traumatizing experience of my life.

I tried to tell people what happened, but the organization said it wasn’t true and refused to fire the life coach. But I have spoken to other men whom underwent the same experience. And I can only imagine how many other young men who this has happened to who have not yet come forward. One of the most frustrating aspects was that because this coach is not licensed by any professional board, he is unaccountable to any licensing committee. Since I was over eighteen and agreed to this kind of therapy, I am told that I have no legal recourse. But I do have my voice! Yet, even after coming forward with what happened, nothing has changed. I often hear that this therapy has helped people, that it is wonderful, but I wonder, how helpful can an organization be when it causes great suffering and pain to many who come to them for hope.

Two weeks ago, JONAH founder Arthur Goldberg admitted and defended the practice of asking clients to undress, but denied that anyone was asked to touch their genitals.

Levin lays out the evidence for homophobia in the Orthodox community, citing the recent Torah Declaration case for “perpetuat(ing) the notion that all homosexuals in the Orthodox community must change in reparative therapy. …Unlike these other statements, it does not allow those for whom this kind of therapy is harmful or not working to seek other options. It kills me that this Torah Declaration will be used by parents to force their children into therapies that may be harmful to them.” He also mentions a grass roots Orthodox support community, JQYouth, who he says “saved my life.”

The Torah Declaration: Orthodox Judaism’s impossible position

Timothy Kincaid

January 18th, 2012

One of the more fascinating things to watch is the peculiar struggle that Orthodox Jews are going though in their effort to determine where gay Jews fit in the world, the family, and the tribe.

While conservative Christians may be content with “well the Bible says”, the Jewish tradition requires that an observant Jew carefully seek to understand the nuances of the Torah, the realities of the world, the condition of their own heart, run it through the sieve of tradition, and come to a place that reflects G-d’s intention.

Sometimes this can be a bit absurd, like the determination that if one uses a pen for work, then any use of a pen – even moving a pen so as to read a book it lies on – is forbidden on the Sabbath (my apologies if I got that wrong). But that’s a Jewish issue and doesn’t need to make sense to a goy fagela.

But it also can have subtleties that “well the Bible says” simply cannot handle. Take, for example, Rabbi Zev Farber discussion about the “morality question”:

Unfortunately, much of the rhetoric traditionally surrounding homosexuality seems to derive from a confusion of categories. For the believing Orthodox Jew, homosexual congress is a religious offense, akin to eating shrimp or driving on the Sabbath. It is not a moral offense, akin to assaulting women or cheating in business. Much of the rhetoric around homosexuality seems to center on moral discourse, and I feel this is a serious mistake.

But Farber is on one end of the spectrum. And in times of uncertainty on issues of discomfort, extremes arise. And within Orthodox Judaism, there are some pretty drastic extremes, especially on the subject of homosexuality. Peter LaBarbera’s hate-fest yesterday was endorsed by Rabbi Yehuda Levin’s Rabbinical Alliance of America / Igud Harabbonim. And we all know of the ultra-Orthodox Jews in Brooklyn who show up to protest gay marriage, usually toting signs that make little sense to anyone outside their particular community.

But even crazy sign-wielding Jews who seek to condemn the gay community and deny gay people of civil equality hold to the Jewish tradition of intellectual approach. And so it is with an appeal to logic that the more conservative wing of Orthodox Judaism presented their latest anti-gay screed, the Torah Declaration:

Same-Sex Attractions Can Be Modified And Healed

From a Torah perspective, the question whether homosexual inclinations and behaviors are changeable is extremely relevant. The concept that G-d created a human being who is unable to find happiness in a loving relationship unless he violates a biblical prohibition is neither plausible nor acceptable. G-d is loving and merciful. Struggles, and yes, difficult struggles, along with healing and personal growth are part and parcel of this world. Impossible, life long, Torah prohibited situations with no achievable solutions are not.

We emphatically reject the notion that a homosexually inclined person cannot overcome his or her inclination and desire. Behaviors are changeable. The Torah does not forbid something which is impossible to avoid. Abandoning people to lifelong loneliness and despair by denying all hope of overcoming and healing their same-sex attraction is heartlessly cruel. Such an attitude also violates the biblical prohibition in Vayikra (Leviticus) 19:14 “and you shall not place a stumbling block before the blind.”

This is actually similar to the thought process I utilized when dealing with my own sexuality and spirituality. Mine went something like: 1) God created me same-sex attracted; 2) Despite my best efforts and sincere prayers He seems to have no intention of changing me; 3) therefore either 3a) God is perfectly fine with me the way I am, or 3b) God is a monster. (And yes I know, atheists, that “God doesn’t exist” also works as a possible 3c.)

The logic in the Torah Declaration ultimately leads to the same paradox which I found. In the words of the Declaration, the following concepts all must stand in order for there to be logic and consistency:

  • The Torah makes a clear statement that homosexuality is not an acceptable lifestyle or a genuine identity by severely prohibiting its conduct.
  • G-d is loving and merciful. The concept that G-d created a human being who is unable to find happiness in a loving relationship unless he violates a biblical prohibition is neither plausible nor acceptable. Abandoning people to lifelong loneliness and despair by denying all hope of overcoming and healing their same-sex attraction is heartlessly cruel.
  • Same-sex attractions can be modified and healed. The Torah does not forbid something which is impossible to avoid. The only viable course of action that is consistent with the Torah is therapy and teshuvah. The therapy consists of reinforcing the natural gender-identity of the individual by helping him or her understand and repair the emotional wounds that led to its disorientation and weakening, thus enabling the resumption and completion of the individual’s emotional development.

But with this declaration, the ultra-Orthodox rabbis have backed themselves into a corner. They have placed their interpretation of G-d’s intent in the Torah subject to an objectively testable reality: reorientation.

Unlike other prohibitions – dietary law, for example – they have not made this a Jewish issue that can be resolved by “it may not make sense to you but this is what G-d said”. They expressly contradicted the position taken by the Statement of Principles of some less extremely conservative Orthodox Jews a year before that declared that while G-d might have created innately same-sex attracted persons, they should nevertheless remain celibate.

Rather they have declared that it is not possible that God would have simultaneously banned same-sex relationships and created humans who naturally, innately, and irreparably long for them. They recognize this to be heartlessly cruel. On this, they are right.

So, having worked out their logic they signed the declaration. Reorientation is the solution. Done.

But they have one little problem. Reorientation doesn’t work. And eventually these rabbis will have to come to that realization. There are far too many orthodox therapists and researchers and professors who value objective reality over rabbinical declarations.

And if these rabbis plug their ears and insist that – contrary to all evidence – reorientation works, they may find themselves without congregations. And that is exactly what happened in the Netherlands.

According to the Jerusalem Post, the Orthodox community in Amsterdam suspended their chief rabbi from his post after he signed the Torah Declaration. Disavowing the notion of reorientation, they issued a press release lest “Rabbi Ralbag’s signature may give the impression the Orthodox Jewish community of Amsterdam shares his view.” Rabbi Aryeh Ralbag (who appears to be headquarted in Brooklyn) was relieved of his duties until he goes to Amesterdam and “discusses the issue.”

And they will not be the last congregation to point out that it ain’t working. And then what? Unlike their less strident brothers, these rabbis are left with only two options. Either God is heartlessly cruel or the Torah’s statement on homosexuality may not be so clear after all.

Of these, it would seem to me that finding nuance in the Torah’s prohibitions might be the likelier eventuality.

Former Ex-Gay “Jewskimo” On Living In “No Man’s Land”

Jim Burroway

September 20th, 2011

Stories of former ex-gays are almost exclusively told from an Evangelical Christian perspective, which makes Jayson Littman’s essay in Heeb magazine so interesting. He is a former ex-gay client of Jews Offering New Alternatives to Healing (JONAH, formerly Jews offering New Alternatives to Homosexuality). He described his entry into JONAH as being a choice between conversion therapy and dying. The idea of coming out as a religious Jew was unthinkable. In JONAH, Littman found like-minded individuals trying to figure out how to live in “No Man’s Land”:

I became close to other men around my age who were on the same journey. We would often sit around and talk. I called the stage we were in “no-man’s land”—there was an obvious literal meaning to that as we weren’t sexually active with men or each other, to the dismay of most who think that’s what happens at these retreats. And we weren’t attracted to women, so we mainly hung out with each other and talked. We decided we didn’t appreciate the term ex-gay. How can we be ex-gay if we were never gay to begin with? We spent hours one afternoon debating what to call our in-between status. We broke down ex-homo to ex-mo and because we said it so many times fast, we realized it sounded like Eskimo. We then further segregated ourselves to Jewskimos, Chriskimos. We never met any Muskimos (Muslim Eskimos) during our journey.

In his ex-gay phase — one in which he eventually came out of — he and fellow ex-gay Jews often attended Christian ex-gay conferences, where he was struck by one immediate difference between Christian culture and Jewish culture:

I learned a lot from my Jewish and Christian brothers on my journey. I realized that many Christians who were attempting to change had an end-goal of celibacy, while the Jews wanted to get married and have children. The obvious difference had everything to do with religious dictates. Celibacy was highly regarded and practiced in the Christian culture, while Jews focused on biblical procreation, also pleasing our families.

Littman’s cheerful essay is devoid of drama and regrets over his experience with ex-gay therapy. Indeed, he credits his coming out to many of the valuable things he learned there. And he observes that Jewish culture, including Orthodox culture, has come a long way over the past decade. Littman today runs He’Bro, a gay Jewish promotion events group in New York, and this Saturday he’s throwing a huge “Jew Years Eve” bash for Rosh Hashanah.

Four Hasidic Jews protest DADT repeal

Timothy Kincaid

December 21st, 2010

Sometimes you just have to marvel at how people can miss the obvious. (LoHud.com)

Braving the cold weather, four men from the Hasidic Jewish community in Monsey picketed Monday afternoon just outside of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point to protest gays serving openly in the military.

Solomon Diamant, one of the protesters, said they were appalled by the Senate vote that ended the 17-year-old “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

“Only God can establish what’s wrong and what’s right. We cannot uproot his rules,” Diamant said. “The whole LGBT agenda is evil,” using the abbreviation for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.

Darned right! This is a Christian Nation, based on Christian Principles, and we should live according to what God has set out in the Bible! The whole Christian Bible.

Oh… that wasn’t what you meant?

The Jewish Standard kicks out the gays

Timothy Kincaid

October 5th, 2010

Last week the Jewish Standard ran the engagement notice of Avi Smolen to Justin Rosen. However, Orthodox Rabbis thought that this was simply unacceptable. So they expressed their discontent.

And as it seems that the Jewish Standard believes that Smolen and Rosen’s sexual orientation makes them less Jewish (or at least less important), they’ve adopted an all-new “no homos” policy. And they have apologized. To the rabbis.

We set off a firestorm last week by publishing a same-sex couple’s announcement of their intent to marry. Given the tenor of the times, we did not expect the volume of comments we have received, many of them against our decision to run the announcement, but many supportive as well.

A group of rabbis has reached out to us and conveyed the deep sensitivities within the traditional/Orthodox community to this issue. Our subsequent discussions with representatives from that community have made us aware that publication of the announcement caused pain and consternation, and we apologize for any pain we may have caused.

The Jewish Standard has always striven to draw the community together, rather than drive its many segments apart. We have decided, therefore, since this is such a divisive issue, not to run such announcements in the future.

Well guess what, JS, you haven’t brought ANYONE together. When you throw some Jews out of the family due to the whining of others, you don’t have cohesion, you have coercion. And I think you’ll soon come to discover that there are more Jews in this country (and in New Jersey) who believe in inclusion than in winnowing out the not-Jewish-enough.

Crazy Rabbis in New Jersey

Timothy Kincaid

July 20th, 2010

A few Orthodox rabbis participated in the National Organization for Marriage’s rally in New Jersey. And they had some rather peculiar points to make.

One sign reads:

G-D’S COMMANDS ARE JUST, FAIR
AND POSSIBLE TO COMPLY WITH:
Sodomy causes others to sin, diseases and misbehavior.
The resulting high costs are crippling the economy.
Every human being is obligated to control his physical desire.
RATHER HEAL YOURSELVES & ENJOY LIFE A LOT BETTER!

Ah, wackadoodlery. The traditional circus song flitted through my head as I tried to figure out how sodomy causes others to sin or how it’s crippling the economy.

The other sign fails the tiny print rule but seems to be making the same argument that we hear from the “America is a Christian Nation” crowd.

p.s. Hey, kid, knock of that misbehavior.

Bishop blames the “God-killing” Jews for Church’s pedophile priest crisis

Timothy Kincaid

April 14th, 2010

The Catholic Church and an Italian news source are in a dispute over statements purportedly made by Monsignor Giacomo Babini, the Bishop Emeritus of Grossetto. Babini says he never made the remarks and Pontifex claims to have tape. (Time Online)

A retired Italian bishop has provoked fury by reportedly suggesting that “Zionists” are behind the current storm of accusations over clerical sex abuse shaking the Vatican and the Catholic Church.

Monsignor Babini’s reported comments follow a series of statements from senior Vatican cardinals blaming a “concerted campaign” by “powerful lobbies” for accusations that Pope Benedict XVI was involved in covering up cases of clerical abuse both as Archbishop of Munich from 1977 to 1982 and subsequently as head of doctrine at the Vatican.

None has explicitly blamed Jews or any other group. However Bishop Babini, 81, said Jews “do not want the Church, they are its natural enemies”. He added: “Deep down, historically speaking, the Jews are deicides [God killers].”

The Catholic Church is in crisis over criticism of the way they enabled and protected priests who molested the children in their care. So far, their response has been to deny any institutional fault and to seek to push the blame to those whom they already consider to be their enemies.

They’ve blamed the gays outright and some now may be suggesting it’s all a Zionist Plot. History cautions against going in this direction.