Nefesh Head Backs Away From ‘Torah Declaration’ On Gays
01/03/12
Special To The Jewish Week
Photo Galleria: 

With the controversial idea that gays and lesbians can be “cured” through therapy rippling across the Orthodox Jewish world of late, Rabbi Simcha Feuerman recently found himself in something of a dilemma.

The rabbi is a licensed clinical social worker who serves as the president of Nefesh, a prominent international network of Orthodox mental health professionals. But he is also an Orthodox Jew who believes that homosexuality is prohibited by Jewish law and that “many people who wrestle with homosexual feelings and want to change them can be helped.”

So when he was presented with a so-called “Torah Declaration” — a document initiated, according to its website, by “a committee of approximately 25 people consisting of individuals who have successfully overcome their Same-Sex Attraction ... along with Rabbis and concerned fellow Jews who strongly support their brave journey” — Rabbi Feuerman signed on. The petition advocates repentance and therapy for Orthodox gays and lesbians.

But the rabbi’s professional responsibility soon collided with his religious beliefs. And this week, in a sign of how thorny the issue of homosexuality is in the Orthodox community, he asked that his name be removed from the petition.

Rabbi Feuerman told The Jewish Week that he originally signed the document “because I feel it is important to make the Orthodox Jewish position clear, and not stand silent in the face of propaganda that all homosexuals are born that way and cannot be changed.”

However, Feuerman decided to ask that his name be removed from the document — which was also signed by over 120 rabbis from the Litvish, chasidic, Sephardic and Yeshiva University communities, along with 24 mental health professionals — because although he “[agreed] with the general intent of the Torah Declaration, the parts that imply all forms of homosexuality are absolutely treatable with our current knowledge base [do] not adequately convey the complex clinical dimensions of this matter.”

Feuerman added he was also moved to remove his signature because “though I signed with my credentials as president of Nefesh, which is true, it may mistakenly imply that I speak for the organization on this matter. In fact, Nefesh as an organization has not taken a position regarding the Torah Declaration.”

The authors of the declaration “emphatically reject the notion that a homosexually inclined person cannot overcome his or her inclination and desire” and assert that “these individuals are primarily innocent victims of childhood emotional wounds ... [who] deserve our full love, support and encouragement in their striving towards healing.”

Feuerman’s decision comes just a few weeks after the annual Nefesh conference, which, The Jewish Week reported, was attended for the first time by the founder of a social/support group made up of religious and formerly religious gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Jews.

The article noted that until this year the only organization dealing with the issue of homosexuality to attend the Nefesh conference was JONAH, a New Jersey-based nonprofit that advocates “reparative” or “conversion” therapy. According to the American Psychological Association, reparative therapy is “based on the assumption that homosexuality per se is a mental disorder.”

This type of therapy — apparently advocated by the Torah Declaration — has generated significant concern among mainstream psychological and medical organizations, which have issued cautionary statements noting the lack of evidence for its effectiveness as well as its potential to cause harm. 

Indeed, according to Rhea Farberman, a spokeswoman for the American Psychological Association, “The science is that we don’t know that [therapy to change one’s sexual orientation] works. And there are some who believe it can cause harm. Thus it would be problematic in our eyes for any mental health professional to tell a patient that ‘we can change your sexual orientation.’”

According to Michael Salamon, senior psychologist and director of ADC Psychological Services in Long Island and an Orthodox Jew, though “conflicts between what a therapist believes and what a patient presents with” do exist, “When an individual takes an oath to be a licensed professional they are obligated to adhere to their professional code of ethics. These ethics require an understanding of and being sympathetic to the cultural, religious and ethnic diversity of the patients being treated. …

“But to impose one’s own values or beliefs on another,” Salamon continued, “is not only unethical it often has a significantly negative impact on treatment outcomes.”

Last Update:

05/15/2012 - 03:28

view counter

Comment Guidelines

The Jewish Week feels comments create a valuable conversation and wants to feature your thoughts on our website. To make everyone feel welcome, we won't publish comments that are profane, irrelevant, promotional or make personal attacks.

The rabbis "Declaration" on homosexuality and change are seriously mistaken.

They are steering teenagers and others to Jonah, as is evidenced by the signature of Arthur Goldberg. This executive and founder of the organization , Jonah, was disbarred and spent 18 months in jail for defrauding investors out of millions of dollars. He dropped his middle name Abba to disguise himself.It was one month after he got out of jail that he started Jonah to help himself to the money all these desperate families would give him. Aside from all the psychological harm this junk science therapy does to its clients, Jonah is using Christian evangelicals who specifically want to "shmad" Jews. Let everyone in this matter be clear when saying that "change" is possible. Yes you can become celibate but you can't change your attractions and desires!

It's the eternal dilemma between how "the things should" be according to a religious dogma and "how the things really are" in the world. Thank G-d Judaism is about much more than the fundamentalist beliefs.

I am Frum, was "Yeshivish" if you want to use titles, I am NOT gay & NEVER WAS & still Frum Today.
The Rabbi's signed this (162 of them) because it's the "in" thing to do. They never spoke to Arthur Goldberg, founder of JONAH. Nor did they speak to 25 gay people. (google him)
His therapy doesn't do harm---it can make an person KILL themselves. My son went through it.
Please have the Rabbi's send out a declaration on Pedifiles (which cause kids HARM), talking during davening & checking e-mails during davening.
This is what their busy with???

I am one of the many mental health professionals who works with men and women with same-sex attractions, and I also run a group for men who want to reduce or overcome as much as possible the limitations imposed by these attractions.
I and many of my colleagues chose not to sign the declaration, but not because we don't believe that therapy is helpful. On the contrary, we see first-hand how therapy for a this issue can be very valuable and positive. But there were numerous other reasons why we chose not to sign it.
In most instances, it was because there were some aspects of the declaration that we weren't comfortable with, and the originators of the declaration did not want to modify the text to accommodate our concerns (although they might have been willing to address our concerns in an accompanying FAQ).
Some of our concerns had to do with over-generalizations. Some had to do with differences in our understanding of Torah principles. And some had to do with whether how the statement might be perceived, misunderstood or misinterpreted by people struggling with homosexual attractions or by the public at large. But that doesn't mean that we don't agree in the value and importance of therapy with an experienced, reliable mental health practitioner.

to Charlie Hall

The reason why all the mental health professionals signed this is because it is because it is TRUE. you have no more experience in this field then many of those who signed it. There clearly people who change based on reparative therapy. Even DR. Nicholas Cummings former head of the APA agrees that some gays can be changed.

"Of the universe of gays we saw in Kaiser, 67% had good outcomes. Of those, 20% were successful in reorientation, with the remaining 80% pursuing sane, sexually responsible gay lives. The other third of our clients were not helped much at all."

right now there is a internet campaign (which I'm sure you're a part of) to get one one the (mental health professionals) signers of the declaration fired from her job by calling in to fire her.

That itself shows you how TRUE this statement is because the only method of attacking this is by gay terrorist methods, which is why Rabbi Simcha Feuerman said what he said. The LGBT terrorists have zero fact to work with which is why at least 4 mental health professionals were intimidated in ways that no decent person would use. The LGBT terrorists in fighting this now show once again to the whole world how they got the APA to change the status of what every sane person knew for 1000's of years. I don't know why you as a supposedly Orthodox Jew and in someone being in favor of free speech in every context would not be against people trying fire people from their jobs for stating simple facts that they believe based on the science. If you can't fight this based on science then don't fight it.

Nobody is claiming that this therapy can completely "cure" SSA, meaning that the person no longer has any such feelings whatsoever. No psychological treatment for any other issue is perfect either. There will always be some lingering issues. It's only in this case that they are holding up a standard of "perfect cure", to make their politically correct point.

BTW I am Frum, happily married with kids, and although I still have some SSA it is much weaker now and I feel much better about myself in general. And yes, avoiding my "triggers" is a big part of my work, it's not denial, just common sense.

Been There, Doing That

Therapy might work for some and not others. But if someone wants to overcome some sexual inclination, such as attraction to a sibling or child, would we deny them the chance to try?

"If the petition is drawn up by 25 people who say the therepy worked for them then it seems pretty clear it can work, doesn't it?"

Really?! Go do some research, and you will see that the amount of people that tried this and failed are far larger than 25. And this is enough to cast doubt under any scientific claim. I am convinced that those 25 people didn't cure anything, they just learned how to live in denial and avoid certain situations that would trigger the innate homosexual feelings. How do I know? Because I went through it. And by the way, I am a Torah Observant Jew. I struggled for years and years with homosexuality, I did my BEST to change it, and I couldn't. This is something that it is not under my control, and whoever says it's a choice is IGNORANT.
Hashem created all of us perfect. I'd like to think that He didn't do a mistake to create me gay. He must have had His reasons. Stop trying to change Hashem's plan, and accept your other fellow Jews for the way the were created! Why is it so hard??

How about an investigative story on those 25 signers? Who are they and what is their definition of success? [Isolated, celibate, inauthentic lives consumed with avoiding real intimacy?]

It is well known that the APA has been totally hijacked by the gay activist movement. Why is it OK to tell soemone with unwanted SSA that they MUST be gay, but it's not OK to offer them the opportunity to attempt change if they want to try.

And Dr. Salamon is way off base. A professional offering reparative therapy is not imposing anything on anyone, the patient comes to him because they want to change. And to impose one's own secularist, gay agenda beliefs on someone who does not believe in them, THAT is unethical.

And I know it does work....

Been There, Doing That

Some people are just so simplistic. You cannot pray the gay away as these rabbis seem to believe. I wonder how many of them actually read the “declaration” before signing on so as not to seem gay-friendly in any way. Great that the president of Nefesh saw the contradiction between what our religion says and what reality demands and chose to be honest with himself. Too bad the majority of rabbis can't manage the same.

common sense and Anonymous,

The scientific standard for any treatment of any condition is that it is shown to be effective compared to some other treatment. There is actually a Biblical example of this, in the first chapter of the Book of Daniel. Today we would add the condition that the comparison groups be sufficiently similar and that the investigators not bias the outcome by steering participants whom they think would be likely to respond better to the experimental arm. Furthermore, the study should be large enough that the results can be deemed to be generalizable.

The fact is that there has been no such study that shows that any reparative therapy is effective. Generally studies have shown minimal if any change from such therapies. Furthermore, the advocates of such therapy, such as JONAH, have not conducted such a study even though they appear to be well funded. There also some evidence that such therapy may harm some individuals.

This is simply the standard that would apply to any other type of therapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy for treatment of depression. It is the same standard as applied to medical devices or drugs. That 25 persons might claim the therapy worked is irrelevant; those same 25 persons might have had the same outcome after doing nothing. Without the randomized study with a balanced comparison group, you don't know. The annals of medicine are full of examples of anecdotal success that later were proven not to be better than doing nothing.

This has nothing to do with Torah observance, this is simply a fact. I cannot see how a Torah-observant Jew could knowingly promote a treatment for which there is no evidence for efficacy, a lot of evidence for lack of efficacy, and some evidence for harm.

What in the world does it mean that "the science" is unknown as to whether or not reparitive therepy works.
If the petition is drawn up by 25 people who say the therepy worked for them then it seems pretty clear it can work, doesn't it?
As for the potential for it to do harm, guess what all therepy has the potential to do harm 50% of marital therepy ends in divorce.
It seems pretty clear that what this really boils down to is a difference in beleif systems.
Torah Observent Jewry believes that Homosexuality is wrong as stated i the Torah and as such seeks to help those who have such tendencies to overcome them.
Seculists beleive that their is absolutley nothing wrong with it so therefore it is wrong to try and help someone overcome it.

The Torah also sanctions a death penalty for homosexual acts. Do the religious advocate a reparatory treatment for those women who cannot scream loud enough when forced into sexual act?

What is meant by "the science is unknown" is that controlled studies have not demonstrated its effectiveness. If 25 people with depression are helped by snake oil it is not proof that snake oil can cure depression. (Especially if another 1000 people were not helped and another 25 are lying in the morgue.) So, no, the evidence of 25 "strugglers", with no additional data, does not present clear evidence that change therapy can work.

Your claim that all therapy can do harm because 50% of marital therapy cases end in divorce is interesting but flawed. First of all, do you have data to back up your claim. Second, even if correct, if ending in divorce is the danger of marital therapy what is the danger of not going to therapy? I would argue perhaps divorce. So it may not be the therapy that is causing the danger, rather the difficulties that the couple are facing is the danger. Not every therapy cures every case. Sometimes the illness remains despite the treatment. Lastly, when the APA spokesperson speaks of danger they are referring to the therapy itself potentially causing damage to the client. There are cases reported in the literature that suggest that failed change therapy can lead to self-blame, extreme depression, and suicidality (that were not present prior to treatment). This is treatment-caused damage. This in no way claims that the treatment cannot work. However, The APA, without having clear evidence that a treatment is effective, cannot in good conscience recommend an unproven treatment that can cause undo pain, suffering, and death. And if and when it is proven that it can work, its potential effectiveness must still be weighed against the potential dangers, similar to what is done with most medical treatments (e.g., cancer treatments or surgeries that do have inherent risks). The benefits must outweigh the dangers and the client needs to give informed consent, understanding the risks.

Your claim that "it all boils down to a difference in belief systems" is unfair to the many religious therapists who are sincerely trying to make heads or tails out of the research that is available. Also, I suspect you have not personally met any of the people who are struggling or have struggled and failed in change therapy. I have and it can be extremely painful.

Anonymous above,
Sexual preference cannot be 'cured'. A gay man can no more be helped into overcoming his sexual attraction to other men than a straight man can be helped to overcome his attraction to women.

But it is possible to help a gay man understand that his sexual preference is an abomination, and that he should never, ever act on it, or even think about it. It's likely that the 25 people referenced in this article have been convinced of this, and as a result, publicly declare they are no longer gay. What harm that does to their psysche, who knows.

how come the (non) jewish week deems it fit to mention that someone removed (under pressure) there name from this list but not that there was a list to begin with.

if he agrees with the statement before it goes public and after it does magically want to remove it show you that there was a severe intimidation factor by the LGBT movement. It also shows how the APA changed homosexuality status from deviancy it is to what they call it now.

Add comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.