Skip to main content

Agudath Israel of America "clarifies" their stance on reaparative therapy

Rabbi Avi Shafran, the spokesperson for Agudath America, published this article on the daily Forward's website yesterday, and it's supposed to serve as Agudah's standpoint from Agudah on reparative therapy.

My first conclusion about his statement is that it's so vague and it doesn't really give Agudah any real standpoint other then what we already know: the halachic prohibitions of homosexual acts. For whatever reason, Rabbi Shafran felt compelled to remind us in almost every paragraph of his statement about the halachic problems with homosexuality. The reason all this dialogue, controversy and back and forth is happening is because of that verse in Vayikara (Leviticus), and the insistent reminders of how wrong homosexual acts are according to halacha is only being used as a weapon to ignore people like me and the many other brave souls that were subject to condemnation by so many rabbinic authorities because of our choice NOT to engage in potentially life threatening "therapy" to change ourselves. Rabbi Shafran, don't you get it? This isn't a halachic debate, it never was for me, I know what it says in the Torah about homosexual acts, but I also know that you and many other rabbinic authorities have ignored the harrowing experiences that face LGBT people inside orthodox communities. I'll leave the scholarly ones to debate halacha, I've never disclosed any of my private affairs that are between me and god to anyone, I've only talked about the treatment I faced by my community.

"There have been Herculean efforts in recent years, even by some nominally “Orthodox” Jews, to cast the Torah’s explicit prohibition of male homosexual activity as meaning something other than what Jewish tradition has understood it to mean for several thousand years. But those millennia in the end are what matter to Jews concerned about what the Torah says to them rather than what they would like the Torah to say."

I don't recall myself or others who were victims of such "therapy" and grew up orthodox asking for any change in the way halacha views homosexual acts, and with all due respect, please don't claim to represent "traditional orthodoxy" as many people who consider themselves traditional orthodox highly disagree with your statements.

"Mainstream medical professionals deem psychological counseling aimed at helping people modify their sexual orientations pointless, at best, and counterproductive, at worst. There have even been reports of abusive behavior in the guise of such therapy."

Thanks for giving some credence to my experiences of abuse under the guise of such therapy, it would've been nice if you had actually condemned what happened to me, because as you write later on, you're still very pro people trying to change themselves. A little clarity on the fact that the Agudah doesn't condone such treatment of people might help Agudah look like they're standing against abuse, as opposed to the way it looks now, you simply don't care.

But other mental health care professionals insist that such interventions, conducted responsibly, are not only safe, but also (at least for the highly motivated) effective. And then there are the inconvenient numbers of actual human beings who testify that the therapy has helped them realize their goal to live exclusively heterosexual lives. I have met one such individual — an intelligent, sensitive and even-keeled man — and have corresponded with therapists who have helped dozens of patients control homosexual inclinations and, as a result, live happy, fulfilled, Torah-faithful lives."

For starters, it would be helpful if you actually were able to put a name or a face to these professionals who are saying these things - if I were a 17 year old yeshiva boy confused about my sexuality,I'd feel even more confused by these words because you don't actually provide names or references of real people that stand behind these statements. 
Also, "inconvenient numbers"? Where are those numbers? Who are these people? Where's the research to actually back this. You're using anecdotal evidence to pretty much mandate gay orthodox Jews that wish to maintain their label as orthodox to seek out these therapies because the way you so eloquently put it later on in your artice:

"But if there are in fact avenues to explore that might lead to the fulfillment (both emotional fulfillment and fulfillment of the mitzvot) of marriage and to normal procreation, doing the exploring is a worthy choice, if not a moral mandate."

If you don't mind my asking, how does one actually successfully conclude that any of these avenues might be successful for themselves? Are they supposed to risk their mental health and well being by trying and then when we don't succeed be subject to you saying that only the "highly motivated" can change, or worse, be blamed for the failure of these "therapies" by saying we didn't try hard enough. 

How can you call it a moral mandate? What does morality have to do with the equation at this point? The words moral mandate are very strong and in my opinion very incorrect, because as you point out yourself, the issues surrounding homosexuality right now are Torah related; simply being honest about our sexuality isn't a moral transgression, and furthermore, even being in a relationship with someone that I love, isn't a moral transgression as you claim, and to take it a step further, if I were in a relationship with someone of the same gender, you would still have no basis to prove that I'm violating anything in halacha unless you actually saw me engaging in the prohibited act mentioned in Leviticus.

"We traditionally observant Jews wish that all Jews shared our understanding of the Jewish mission: to seek to observe the Torah’s mandate, as it has been preserved by the traditional Jewish transmitters over the ages. But if some, even most, of our fellow Jews cannot yet embrace the fullness of our mutual Jewish heritage, we hope that they can at least muster respect for other Jews’ choice to do so. And the good will to realize that those Jews’ attitude toward all matters of human life, including homosexuality, derives not from prejudice or pathology but from the deeply Jewish conviction that the Torah bequeathed us all at Sinai is eternal and real."

So you're hopping that we respect people's choice to try and change their sexuality so that they can live what you call "a traditional orthodox life", and that's understandable, and despite what many of my critics think, I believe in everyone's right to live the way they deem fit for themselves. But where's your call for respect for people like me who have already tried and failed miserably and changing our sexuality? By saying that homophobia isn't sanctioned by the Torah you're pointing out the obvious, but in your statement you seem to only stand behind those who choose to try and change themselves. Aside from all the empirical evidence that proves it to be imposible to change one's sexuality, along with the personal accounts of people like myself and others who have tried, you're saying that certain mental health professionals do believe in change and yet you can't even point people in their direction by referencing these professionals by name. So Rabbi Shafran, who are you really standing up for? All gay people that are in orthodox communities, or only the ones who pursue this "moral mandate" to try and change themselves?

I'd like to end this by just making three simple points about the Torah declaration that you basically endorse in other words:

1. The Torah declaration doesn't just say that homosexuality may be says that it is the ONLY acceptable approach and that the Torah Mandates such healing

2. That there is no mention or response to the many who can not be healed, and the many who this therapy is harmful for...or have been harmed by

3. that this document was created and serves to profit an organization that has on record supported non licenced therapists who engaged in irresponsible harmful behavior.

I appreciate that the dialogue is finally taking place within orthodox communities, but I must remind every LGBT person who might be feeling lost, alone, confused and without hope that Rabbi Shafran's words do not represent orthodox Judaism as a whole and that you need not feel hopeless because there are people like me and many others who won't just accept such a vague and cheap statement as a "stance". Most importantly, please don't forget that you're not alone and that you're all on my mind every single second and I will do all that I can to make this world a safer place for you to live in.

With sincerity and love,

Chaim Levin


  1. BS"D

    Chaim, I've asked you this before and I'm sure it's a painful question but I would really like as good an answer as possible and you're probably the best person to give it.

    Leaving aside Jonah, ex-gay therapy and any unlicensed counseling, what experience have you had in finding well-researched, peer-reviewed, licensed therapies. I know that science has said that this is not a disease and I am not implying that it is, but you and many others did or do want to change. were there ANY avenues provided by science or the medical community for those who truly wanted to try? are you aware of any research in that direction?

    I know the many 'conclusions' but 'conclusion' and 'science' are contradictory statements, and definitely in a complex issue such as this.

    Please post your response,
    Thank you.

  2. Good work, Chaim. You call out the authority when he is vague, or when he makes statements but does not back them up. Thank You for your continued work in this area.

  3. Thank You Chaim your points are extremely helpful in this area.

    The Rabbi Shafran clarifications need more clarification. Because reparative therapy has been a main cause of suicides, it is halachacally imperative that Rabbis who support it also be involved in urging the following:

    A clear written warning by the therapist to his patient about the mainstream view against it.

    What the best outcome is likely to be.

    That the person's Kinsey Scale sexual orientation/sexual attractions will not change.

    That he will be able to change his sexual behavior only.

  4. The "Torah Declaration" attempts to help Jews. But instead it hurts them because it promotes the view that people with same sex attractions can actually be "cured" or changed into people with only opposite sex attractions. It has adopted the view of reparative therapy that childhood damage causes homosexuality, and that it can be cured. The problem with that is that this is really just wishful thinking and not true. The very people that would be willing to forgo the prohibited behaviors often also would very much like to believe that they can actually "convert" not only the lifestyle but the actual attractions completely. They end up finding out years later after this approach that is not the case and are devastated. This results in some suicides and leaving the faith.

    Aside from all the mainstream psychiatric, psychological, social work, the World Health Organization and counselling groups even many experts among people that have been involved in "reparative therapy" mostly agree on this. It does not work in changing orientation.

    Dr. Abba Borowich, an Orthodox psychiatrist who practiced reparative therapy for Orthodox homosexuals for nearly 30 years concluded that this was an ineffective course of therapy which only increased suffering among his patients and their families .

    Rabbi Chaim Rapoport, an ultra-Orthodox rabbi who is the author of Judaism and Homosexuality: An Authentic Orthodox View, has said, "I am not obligated to believe in a failed therapy because it fits my theology better."

    According to those who do believe in such conversions, the sucsess rate is around 0.5%

    The leader of Exodus the largest public group of people (several hundreds) who changed from a gay to heterosexual lifestyle admits that this does not include an end of same sex attraction for 99.9% of the group.
    "There has been a change in our beliefs about orientation change focused therapy and we don’t believe it’s effective.”

    Dr. Spitzer
    “If people can recognize that being a homosexual is something that cannot be changed and that efforts to change are going to be disappointing and can be harmful, if that can be more widely known that would be very good. "

    Another issue is that the Declaration group
    led by Rabbi Kamenetsky, primarily relies on
    and promotes
    someone who is of bad character, who has a history of misleading people for profit, Arthur Goldberg of Jonah.

    This organization has many problems
    aside from a criminal history.
    It can't provide any proof of change, It has relied on crackpot therapies that have included touching that is prohibited by the Torah, and it relies primarily, and in great detail on the idea that Jesus will provide the change.

    I hope that in spite of what they must have experienced the twenty-five people
    that have gone through the Torah Declaration path will have happy Torah lives, but those that want to be faithful to the Torah's sexual prohibitions can get help to succeed without quack therapy.

    Orthodox religious therapists and rabbis have an alternative to this Declaration. See

    Without having clear evidence that a treatment is effective you cannot in good conscience recommend an unproven treatment that can cause undo pain, suffering, and death as the signers of this declaration have done.

    The many rabbis that signed this other statement are truly concerned for both the 0.5% and the 99.5% group and have not endorsed a failed therapy because it would fit better with their theology.


Post a Comment

Feel free to post any comment or questions. Negative commentary that does not serve a useful purpose will be deleted.

Popular posts from this blog

Sharing Stories With Deborah Feldman

Discussing plans for our futures, finding the humor in our similar and traumatic pasts and enjoying uncommon empathy, Deborah Feldman and I had coffee on the Upper East Side on a bright Friday morning. My time with her was a refreshing pleasure and an honor. She is the author of the New York Times bestselling Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of my Hasidic Roots. Deborah helped me with something that I’ve been trying to navigate lately. Deborah reminded that I’m not an ex gay survivor, an ex Chabad, a gay man, a Jew, an activist, etc.; she told me that who I am is just Chaim Levin — who just also happens to have an interesting story to share and an opportunity to inspire change. She insisted that we all have our own lives and personalities that we must care for, cultivate and celebrate.

Deborah had entered mainstream media a few months ago with her fascinating memoir. I haven’t had a chance to finish reading her book yet; in fact, I just started the other day. But with every page, I…

Sexual Abuse Victim Demeaned and Put on Notice for Misconduct at Hebrew Theological College

Hebrew Theological College Dean Doctor Esther Shkop demeans student survivor of sexual abuse and puts her on notice for having the audacity to talk about her experience. Kaylie's* (a pseudonym) courage is to be applauded. The college's actions are outrageous.

Kaylie*, an 18 year old College student in Chicago, had recently posted this image on her Facebook page with this caption:

“I'm a survivor of sexual abuse.

This is not a new thing. I've been a survivor as long as you've known me.

Are you going to change your opinion of me just because three evil people took advantage of me?

Are you embarrassed of me? Are you willing to share our story?

Let's see who my real friends are.”

Just a few hours ago, Kaylie* received the following email from one of the dean’s at her school with the subject line “Breaking all Boundaries”:

From: Esther Shkop <> Date: Thu, Feb 28, 2013 at 12:11 PM Subject: Breaking all Boundaries To: [REDACTED] Cc: "" …

When it's Someone you Know: Levi Moscowitz

I’ve been torn inside and out ever since I found out that someone who I otherwise knew to be a good friendly guy, someone that I shared good memories in yeshiva with, pleaded no contest to one of the most heinous crimes that has ever come across the arsenal of cases that I’m personally familiar with.

Levi Moscowitz committed suicide on Saturday in Griffith park in Los Angeles. This came just weeks after the charges against him as well as a very damning police report became public. Despite having known Levi for over 10 years and once considering him a close friend, I knew that sharing this information with the public was crucial to the safety of any and all children that he may have come into contact with. At the same time though, his death brings about some very unfortunate realities and issues that have yet to be addressed when confronting this cancer of sexual abuse.

While there are many who have expressed no remorse over his death, and others who even seemed to rejoice in it, I don’…