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.

Gay Orthodox Jews Living With the Contradictions

Jim Burroway

February 15th, 2011

Dr. Jack Drescher, former editor of the Journal of Gay and Lesbian Mental Health, grew up an observant Jew in a kosher household. He’s not observant now, but he recently had the opportunity to attend a retreat for LGBT Orthodox Jews:

This group’s love of Jewish ritual both puzzles and intrigues me. When I have gone to religious events in recent years, I always feel like a gay outsider. Here, amidst all this religious celebration, I realize I am not a gay outsider as most of the celebrants are LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender). I’m an outsider here because I’m not frum (observant of Jewish orthodox rituals).

…I was invited to speak about “sexual conversion therapies” at a Shabbaton, a weekend retreat from Friday through Sunday, organized by a group called Eshel. The group’s mission is to provide “a place of SHELTER for Orthodox, frum, and other traditional gay and lesbian Jews seeking to maintain their Jewish observance and find meaningful religious community. We also welcome all those who are formerly Orthodox, ‘Orthodox-curious,’ or otherwise interested in maintaining a connection to traditional Judaism as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender Jews.” Ortho-curious? Who knew?

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.

Orthodox Rabbis issue a statement on homosexuality

Timothy Kincaid

August 1st, 2010

A collection of Orthodox Rabbis have issued a statement on homosexuality (JTA):

Dozens of Orthodox rabbis have signed a statement of principles calling for the acceptance of homosexuals in the Orthodox community.

This statement is careful to lay out up front that homosexual acts are not acceptable. But it also recognizes that gay Orthodox Jews exist and that many of them are in relationships and calls for their inclusion anyway.

Here are the points that I find most interesting:

  • Mistreatment of gay people is “a violation of Torah prohibitions that embody the deepest values of Judaism.”
  • Those with a homosexual orientation have the religious right to reject ex-gay therapy which they reasonably see as useless or dangerous.
  • Synagogues can set their own standards for membership with regard to gay individuals or gay couples who are in violation of halakha, but those standards have to also be applied fairly and objectively to others who violate halakha.
  • Families should not cut off their gay children.
  • Synagogues and schools should accept and embrace the children of gay couples.
  • And most importantly: “Jews who have an exclusively homosexual orientation should, under most circumstances, not be encouraged to marry someone of the other gender, as this can lead to great tragedy, unrequited love, shame, dishonesty and ruined lives.”

Of course this does not go nearly as far as I would like. The statement makes clear that Orthodox Judaism is opposed to marriage for gay people or for encouraging homosexual Jews to find a partner. But it does recognize reality and encourages Orthodox Judaism to treat gay people decently. And once you start seeing gays as real people, change often soon follows thereafter.

(This is not to suggest that I expect all of Orthodox Judaism to embrace full religious equality for gay couples any time soon. I drive through Hancock Park daily and I still see men wearing a shtreimel(a giant fur hat that sort of resembles a cheese wheel) and heavy black suit in the heat of the summer. If your faith, culture, and tradition won’t let you wear clothing that is fitting with your climate, it surely is not going to accommodate your sexuality.)

This statement is reflective mostly of the views of Modern Orthodox Judaism, but about 150 Rabbis have signed on so far.

The full statement is after the break.

Read the rest of this entry »

Yeshiva University discusses homosexuality

Timothy Kincaid

December 26th, 2009

yeshivaYeshiva University, the prestigious New York school for joint Torah and secular education, hosted a discussion about homosexuality on Tuesday. It proved to be quite a popular subject. (Jerusalem Post)

Organized by the YU Tolerance Club and Wurzweiler School of Social Work, the event attracted hundreds of students, graduates and faculty members. Indeed, dozens were turned away and fire officials were on hand at one point when security guards said the building had reached capacity.

Much of Judaism and the Jewish people in the United States are accepting of gay men and women and are often outspoken in favor of civil equalities. But these voices come predominantly from Reform and (more recently) Conservative Jewish communities.

However, this event revealed that some within the Orthodox community are willing to ponder whether and to what extent gay Jews fit into G-d’s order. This presentation was a beginning, not an attempt to address halakha, but rather an exercise in listening.

The speakers did not seek to challenge values, but rather challenged assumptions, stereotypes, and false impressions about reorientation. (Jewish Star)

Most of the panelists recounted suffering from depression after realizing they were gay; each underwent some form of therapy to “cure” him of homosexuality; each dated women; and each stressed that his orientation was not caused by childhood sexual abuse.

“For the record, I’ve never been sexually molested,” said Kopstick. “I had a very positive childhood.”

It must be emphasized that this was not a pride event, an effort to challenge halakha or redefine frum, but rather to breakdown barriers of “them” and “us”. And, from that non-threatening approach, was able to appeal to some(beliefnet)

The event, which drew almost 1,000 people [other media estimated 700] modeled a kind of compassionate listening and human decency which neither trumped nor trivialized the deeply conflicting views about gayness held by people in the audience. Instead, it proved that we all have the ability to listen and feel beyond the borders of any particular doctrinal conclusion, and that when we do so, we never jeopardize our commitments to those doctrines, we simply connect more deeply and more lovingly to those around us. And that, can never be a bad thing.

The presentation of this event should not be viewed as a shift in thinking among the Orthodox establishment. Indeed, the President of the University, Richard M. Joel, issued a statement which was condemnatory even of the listening process. (The Commentator)

Sadly, as we have discovered, public gatherings addressing these issues, even when well-intentioned, could send he wrong message and obscure the Torah’s requirement of halakhic behavior and due modesty.

(You need not worry, Mr. Joel, we did not get the wrong message. We are completely aware that you oppose any measure of fairness, equality, or decency towards gay men and women within your community. We will not accidentally confuse you for an open-minded man.)

But while those who share Mr. Joel’s worldview may not be easily swayed by the testimony of Jews who grew up gay in the Orthodox world, I think that we can draw encouragement from the popularity of the event and from the response of the crowd.

The crowd largely supported the panelists, with many bursts of applause interrupting the speakers, and numerous audience members writing messages of support on the index cards given out to the audience for the purpose of submitting anonymous questions.

Unofficial transcript here

(my apologies to our Jewish readers if I have misstated or oversimplified in my commentary)