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A Damaging ‘Cure’

The recent spasm of violence and inflammatory rhetoric against gays and lesbians should concern all Americans. From the suicide of a hounded Rutgers University student, to the unforgivably brutal attacks on gay men in the Bronx, the headlines have been chilling. When a major party candidate for governor of the nation’s third-largest state can say the sort of things that the GOP’s Carl Paladino said in New York and think he can get away with it — well, that’s just one indication of how disturbed our public discourse has become.

In this context, it is troubling to see that an organization that seeks to “cure” Jews of their homosexuality is still sanctioned by the Rabbinical Council of America, representing Orthodox rabbis nationwide. In August, the Forward recounted the horror stories of two Orthodox men who were referred to Jews Offering New Alternatives to Healing (JONAH) for so-called reparative therapy, an approach that’s been widely discredited in the mental health community. Yet JONAH is still listed under rabbinic resources on the RCA’s website, and the organization’s spokesman, Rabbi Basil Herring, told the Forward that “nothing has changed as far as we are concerned.”

A groundbreaking “statement of principles” signed this summer by more than 170 Orthodox rabbis and professionals noted that most clergy and mental health experts “feel that some of these therapies are either ineffective or potentially damaging psychologically for many patients.” Whatever one’s halachic view of same-sex marriage or gay ordination, there should be no rabbinic hekhsher for pseudo-science that has badly harmed the very people it claims to help.

After this editorial was published, Rabbi Herring told the Forward that “we are currently reviewing the question of endorsement of Jonah, in light of recent developments, and should make a decision in the weeks ahead.”

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