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Over the past several decades, many medical and mental health professional associations have rejected conversion therapy as ineffective, harmful or both. They have also disavowed the view that homosexuality is a pathology requiring a remedy, as has most of the organized Jewish community.
For Orthodox groups, though, homosexual behavior remains a violation of biblical prohibition. Nevertheless, the Rabbinical Council of America, the country’s largest association of Modern Orthodox rabbis, acknowledged in a November 2012 statement “the lack of scientifically rigorous studies that support the effectiveness of therapies to change sexual orientation.” In that statement, the RCA withdrew its support of a Jewish group called JONAH, Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing. The group, which is unrelated to Nefesh, allegedly employed coercive techniques through which it claimed to reduce homosexual urges or even change homosexual individuals into heterosexuals.
In an ongoing lawsuit, several former JONAH clients say counselors from the group sometimes ordered them to remove all their clothing and touch their genitals. In other sessions, they were allegedly told to beat effigies of their mothers with tennis rackets or were subjected to homosexual slurs, according to the complaint.
JONAH clients would pay a minimum of $100 for weekly individual counseling sessions and another $60 for group therapy sessions.
JONAH has denied it employed abusive or coercive techniques.
Nefesh activists have distanced themselves from these practices. The campaign against the new law instead stresses therapists’ desire to use conventional therapies to provide their adolescent patients with the option of seeking to live a heterosexual life that “will enable them to live healthy Torah lives,” as stated in a recent Nefesh and Agudah press release.
“As a matter of policy, Nefesh International does not endorse any particular form of psychotherapy,” the organization’s president, Rabbi Simcha Feuerman, said in a written statement. “We do strongly oppose any effort to limit or restrict access of patients to any form of mental health services offered by duly qualified practitioners.”
According to Feuerman, who is a licensed clinician, the New Jersey law will inhibit patients who themselves have concerns about their sexual orientation “from exploring the possibility of focusing on heterosexual desires, which are consonant with their own chosen religious and social goals.”