(Arthur Abba Goldberg’s original article is HERE)
By: Erez Harari
“If you want to be gay, gey gezunta heit (you should live and be well)”
This catchphrase, coined by Arthur Goldberg of JONAH (Jews Offering New Alternatives to Homosexuality) is used to illustrate that his “reparative therapy” organization believes that individuals who “choose” to be gay have every right to do so, just as an individual has a right to choose to “change”.
However, a recent article written by Arthur Goldberg on Arutz Sheva (a national Israeli news station) belies the disingenuousness of this message when Arthur lambasted a recent Yeshiva University event entitled “Being Gay in the Orthodox World”. This event was intended to illustrate some of the struggles, both internal and external, that Orthodox Jews have when trying to negotiate their religious and sexual identities (videos of the event are on vimeo.com, search: “YU gay panel”).
The purpose of the event was solely to raise awareness and tolerance, and it was explicitly stated that the event would not address halachah (Jewish law), reparative therapy, or the biological vs. social nature of sexual orientation. It was merely a chance for people to share their personal, often heart wrenching, stories about growing up gay in the Orthodox Jewish community.
This message was completely lost on Arthur Goldberg, who works with individuals “struggling with unwanted same-sex attractions” on a daily basis.
He begins his article by stating that the program “illustrates a classic strategy designed to manipulate Jews”. He clearly twists a simple plea for awareness and sensitivity into some sort of nefarious plot concocted by individuals with sinister ulterior motives. He then suggests that the panelists, a group of four Yeshiva University alums in their 20s, some of whom only came out within the past year or two, were “clever purveyors of a propaganda effort to alter attitudes within the Orthodox community”.
It’ surprising that raising awareness of the fact that homosexuality exists in the Orthodox community and encouraging sensitivity towards homosexuals is turned into a bad thing. No one violates Torah law by being nice to people.
Arthur claims that members of the “ex-gay” community were denied an opportunity to speak on the panel. This is blatantly false. The panel was comprised exclusively of Yeshiva University students and alumni and Arthur was denied a spot on the panel because he is not an alumnus.
If an “ex-gay” Yeshiva University alumnus had requested to be on the panel, he would have been permitted to present his personal story as well. Arthur also ties much of his condemnation into the argument that the panelists were trying to convince people that they were “born that way” and therefore could not change.
First of all, several of the panelists spoke about their unsuccessful experiences trying to change. Additionally, not a single panelist discussed the biological underpinnings of sexual orientation, as that was beyond the scope of the event.
JONAH often points to the inconclusiveness of genetic research as an indication that homosexuality is not innate. They then take this to mean that if it’ not genetic its environmental, and therefore subject to change. However, this argument is a classic red herring.
Without going into the plethora of evidence suggesting that genetic factors play a role in determining sexual orientation, the suggestion that if something is not genetic then it is subject to change is logically flawed. Many genes often operate in concert with one another and with the environment to produce permanent changes in an individual. For example, children born with phenylketonuria can develop severe physical and cognitive disabilities if they are not fed the correct diet early in life. However, once the diet (which is clearly environmental) has been provided, the changes are irreversible.
It’s irrelevant how or why people become homosexual, what is relevant is whether treatment is able to effectively alter their orientation. Arthur Goldberg avoids writing about any research suggesting that change is possible and sticks to the obsolete nature/nurture debate. Perhaps this is because the research on “reparative” therapy is clear: sexual orientation is highly resistant to change.
Arthur ends his article by suggesting that the panelists were actually victimizing others by simply appearing in public and onstage: “The real victims of the politically correct and scientifically incorrect event held at YU are the innumerable individuals who feel same-sex attractions (SSA) but who could change, their families, and the entire Jewish community”.
“If you want to be gay, gey gezunata heit,” Goldberg has said.
How is anyone supposed to live and be well when JONAH turns even a minor attempt to garner tolerance for gay Orthodox Jews into a clever manipulation strategy that victimizes the entire Jewish community?
Erez Harari on this email, a founder of Jewish Queer Youth, based in NYC and a PhD candidate at Fordham University