Monday, 3 December 2012

RCA Response to JONAH

I posted the following on the RCA Rabbinic Forum regarding the RCA's recent press release on JONAH (copy of press release to follow if one hasn't seen it). I look forward to your comments.

Take care
Rabbi Ben Hecht

With the recent RCA press release regarding JONAH, I think that there is an underlying issue that we need to address. This is not to say that I disagree with the RCA's position. In fact, in reading about the present law suit against JONAH (as described on -, there would seem to be many reasons, from a Halachic perspective, for why we should be concerned. Nevertheless, there was still a reason for why the RCA and others, including, it would seem, Rabbi Lamm, originally looked upon JONAH in a positive light. It is difficult, from a Torah perspective, to believe that HaKadosh Baruch Hu simply created a drive for which there is no acceptable outlet.

I wrote about this, over 20 years ago, in an article (see http:'//, maintaining that there must be a halachically acceptable outlet for a homosexual drive and calling for a further investigation of this idea. Obviously, defining the homosexual drive as a mis-application of the heterosexual drive offers a solution to this problem -- but with the critiques now being voiced against organizations such as JONAH, this answer is no longer easily available. This leaves us with an issue. Either we have to believe that homosexuality is a mis-application of heterosexuality that can be corrected in a process of teshuva -- which would mean that we would have to agree with JONAH's underlying position but not with their tactics and process, leaving us with the task of finding a correct process -- or we have to find -- in the same light that a murderer should become a mohel -- a halachically acceptable (even mitzvah fulfilling) application of the homosexual drive.

Rabbinical Council of America's Statement Regarding JONAH (Jews Offering New Alternatives to Homosexuality)
In the years since the Rabbinical Council of America's first comment about JONAH (Jews Offering New Alternatives to Homosexuality), "the only Jewish based organization dedicated to assisting individuals with unwanted same sex attractions move from gay to straight" in January, 2004, in which we suggested that rabbis might refer congregants to them for reparative therapy, many concerns about JONAH and reparative therapy have been raised.

As rabbis trained in Jewish law and values, we base our religious positions regarding medical matters on the best research and advice of experts and scholars in those areas, along with concern for the religious, emotional, and physical welfare of those impacted by our decisions.  Our responsibility is to apply halakhic (Jewish legal) values to those opinions.

Based on consultation with a wide range of mental health experts and therapists who informed us of the lack of scientifically rigorous studies that support the effectiveness of therapies to change sexual orientation, a review of literature written by experts and major medical and mental health organizations, and based upon reports of the negative and, at times, deleterious consequences to clients of some of the interventions endorsed by JONAH, the Rabbinical Council of America decided in 2011, as part of an overall statement on the Jewish attitude towards homosexuality, to withdraw its original letter referencing JONAH.  Despite numerous attempts by the RCA to have mention of that original letter removed from the JONAH website, our calls, letters, and emails remain unanswered.  As Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, president of the RCA, stated in 2011, "We want it taken down. JONAH said it was a letter of support, but if you read the letter it is not. They took an informational statement and reprinted it, and the use of that as an endorsement is an error."

We believe that properly trained mental health professionals who abide by the values and ethics of their professions can and do make a difference in the lives of their patients and clients.  The RCA believes that responsible therapists, in partnership with amenable clients, should be able to work on whatever issues those clients voluntarily bring to their session.  Allegations made against JONAH lead us to question whether JONAH meets those standards.

Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm, Chancellor of Yeshiva University and author of the 1974 Encyclopedia Judaica Year Book article, "Judaism and the Modern Attitude to Homosexuality," the first contemporary article to address the issue from the perspective of Jewish law and philosophy, had originally commended the work of JONAH.  In response to the negative reports about JONAH's activities and concerns expressed to him by respected mental health professionals, Dr. Lamm withdrew his endorsement of JONAH.

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