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The Doctor Steps Out

Top-rated radio host Laura Schlessinger shocked both supporters and critics last week by telling her 12 million listeners that she was no longer observing Orthodox Jewish rites and rituals. Known to most as Dr. Laura, Schlessinger previously made news by converting to Judaism — twice — first under the auspices of the Conservative movement, then again years later under the guidance of an Orthodox rabbi.

Now, as our Lisa Keys reports, Schlessinger says Judaism has failed to fill her personal religious void. She also attributed her decision to the hostile reactions that she received from many Jews. “I don’t get much back,” she said. “Not much warmth coming back.”

It’s an odd complaint coming from Schlessinger, a confrontational radio host who climbed the national ratings ladder by dishing out tough advice with a razor-sharp tongue. While many of her newfound, more liberal co-religionists certainly took umbrage at the spunky advice guru, their criticisms at worst merely mirrored her own shrill style.

Sadly, instead of drawing on the best from Jewish and Christian moral teachings, Dr. Laura has too often ended up mirroring the worst examples of destructive debate in both communities. While she’s always been quick to invoke Orthodox Jewish teachings to support her black-and-white conservative views, she’s often seemed to lose sight of the fact that Jewish tradition demands moderation in word and deed. (Of course, on that front, she has prominent company, including 15 revered ultra-Orthodox rabbis who saw fit last week to use the most theologically damning words to condemn a popular, highly praised Birthright Israel travel program.)

No matter which religious camp she eventually settles in, Schlessinger seems unlikely to alter her moralistic, judgmental style. Unfortunately, she will probably continue to contribute to an increasingly coarse, reactionary public discourse in American society. The only difference is that now she will do so without observing the Sabbath or kosher dietary laws, and without the beneficial moderating influences offered by the best of Jewish tradition.

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