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October 24, 2014 / 30 Tishri, 5775
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘JONAH’

How Not to Have Too Much Integrity on Yom Kippur

Wednesday, September 17th, 2014

Familiarity with Bible stories often works against us. That’s because we remember simple, sometimes fantastic stories from our childhood and then have a hard time re-reading these stories as adults.

Reading the Book of Jonah as an adult, as I finally decided to do, made me realize that Jonah should be remembered for much more than using a whale (the text only tells us it was a big fish but it is a reasonable assumption to say it was a whale) as the world’s first submarine. A more mature read shows Jonah to be one of the Bible’s most outrageous characters. Such a read has this small book that we read every year on Yom Kippur emerge as one that requires serious thought in order to understand.

From what I make of it, Jonah’s main problem was that he had too much integrity. In fact, he had so much integrity as to even disagree with how God runs the world! That is to say that he felt that it lacked the “higher standards” that he would have expected from God.

To put this into perspective, most Biblical prophets prayed to God to have more mercy or to complain that he was too strict. With Jonah, however, it was just the opposite – he complained that God was not strict enough. As a result, he gets bent out of shape by God’s decision to accept the repentance of the city of Nineveh and to commute its destruction. Indeed, it causes him so much distress that he tells God that he’d rather die than have to see such things! Moreover, instead of apologizing for refusing God’s mission until he is forced to comply, he holds his ground and explains that it was knowing that God would relent from destroying Nineveh that led him to turn down the mission to begin with.

Nor is the above an isolated incident. The text presents Jonah’s response here as a case of deja-vu. Before being swallowed by the fish, Jonah also seemed to prefer death to involvement in what he believed to be a mere parody of repentance. At the point in the story when his ship is threatened by a raging storm, the sailors all realize that the time has come to pray and improve their conduct. But Jonah doesn’t buy it. So instead of participating in the popular religiosity of his shipmates, he simply goes to sleep! For Jonah, better that than the triviality of the sailors’ new found “commitments.”

Lest one think Jonah was just a cruel and strange character, the people of Nineveh were far from righteous and we can reasonably assume, like Jonah, that their repentance was short-lived. (And it is quite possible that Jonah’s sailors weren’t much better.) But if Jonah knew this, clearly God must have known it as well. And yet the Bible often shows – and this is exactly the thing that Jonah objected to – that God is willing to accept repentance, even if it is mostly for ulterior motives and likely not to last for very long. We can only speculate why this is so. Perhaps simply getting people to move out of their inertia has more of a chance of long-term success then not doing anything at all. Or maybe because some good, no matter how temporary, is better than no good whatsoever. Or maybe there is something very powerful when an entire community decides to change its ways, whatever its motivation.

Whatever the reason for God’s acceptance of the sailors’ prayers and the repentance of Nineveh, these typically Biblical responses to imminent disaster, do seem more productive than what we see today. Imminent disaster rarely, if ever, produces introspection of any kind, now that we think we are too educated for that sort of thing (another example of modern man having become too sophisticated for his own good). Resultantly, we tend to focus on whether there is someone to blame and whether there is some sort of technical way to impede the disaster. I am certainly not against finding ways to avoid disaster and a good case can be made that the Torah obligates us to try to do so. Still, it would not be such a bad thing if we also used such occasions as an opportunity to move ourselves to try and do better.

But it is really not so easy. When you think about it, many of us are not so different from Jonah. We don’t want to pretend. We don’t want to just go through the motions. Rather we want to come to personal turnarounds worthy of the name. And so we will wait until that special moment comes. But the Bible knows that for most people, that moment never comes and as a result, it provides set times to improve regardless. Yom Kippur is one of those set times.

Perhaps we can now better understand why we read Jonah’s story on Yom Kippur.

Given the above, the message may be pretty straightforward – don’t worry about integrity, just say you’re sorry and do the best you can! For many of us, this may sound fairly uninspiring. It sounds like it shouldn’t be good enough – and that’s exactly what Jonah thought. But the big news is that God thought otherwise.

Testing And Prophecy

Wednesday, August 7th, 2013

How did our ancestors distinguish a true prophet from a false one?

Unlike kings or priests, prophets did not derive authority from formal office. Their authority lay in their personality, their ability to give voice to the word of God, their self-evident inspiration. But precisely because a prophet has privileged access to the word others cannot hear, the visions others cannot see, the real possibility existed of false prophets – like those of Baal in the days of King Ahab.

What was there to prevent a fraudulent, or even a sincere but mistaken, figure, able to perform signs and wonders and move the people by the power of his words, from taking the nation in a wrong direction, misleading others and perhaps even himself?

Moses addresses this concern in our sedra:

“You may say to yourselves, ‘How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the Lord?’ If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him.”

On the face of it, the test is simple: if what the prophet predicts comes to pass, he is a true prophet; if not, not. Clearly, though, it was not that simple.

The classic case is the Book of Jonah. Jonah is commanded by God to warn the people of Nineveh that their wickedness is about to bring disaster on them. Jonah attempts to flee, but fails – the famous story of the sea, the storm, and the “great fish.” Eventually he goes to Nineveh and utters the words God has commanded him to say – “Forty more days and Nineveh will be destroyed” – the people repent and the city is spared. Jonah, however, is deeply dissatisfied:

But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry. He prayed to the Lord, “O Lord, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, O Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live” (Jonah 4:1-3).

Jonah’s complaint can be understood in two ways. First, he was distressed that God had forgiven the people. They were, after all, wicked. They deserved to be punished. Why then did a mere change of heart release them from the punishment that was their due?

Second, he had been made to look a fool. He had told them that in 40 days the city would be destroyed. It was not. God’s mercy made nonsense of his prediction.

Jonah is wrong to be displeased: that much is clear. God says, in the rhetorical question with which the book concludes: “Should I not be concerned about that great city?” Should I not be merciful? Should I not forgive?

But what then becomes of the criterion Moses lays down for distinguishing between a true and false prophet: “If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken”? Jonah had proclaimed that the city would be destroyed in 40 days. It wasn’t; yet the proclamation was true. He really did speak the word of God. How can this be so?

The answer is given in the book of Jeremiah. Jeremiah had been prophesying national disaster. The people had drifted from their religious vocation, and the result would be defeat and exile. It was a difficult and demoralizing message for people to hear. A false prophet arose, Hananiah son of Azzur, preaching the opposite. Babylon, Israel’s enemy, would soon be defeated. Within two years the crisis would be over. Jeremiah knew that it was not so, and that Hananiah was telling the people what they wanted to hear, not what they needed to hear. He addressed the assembled people:

He said, “Amen! May the Lord do so! May the Lord fulfill the words you have prophesied by bringing the articles of the Lord’s house and all the exiles back to this place from Babylon. Nevertheless, listen to what I have to say in your hearing and in the hearing of all the people: From early times the prophets who preceded you and me have prophesied war, disaster, and plague against many countries and great kingdoms. But the prophet who prophesies peace will be recognized as one truly sent by the Lord only if his prediction comes true.”

Jeremiah makes a fundamental distinction between good news and bad. It is easy to prophesy disaster. If the prophecy comes true, then you have spoken the truth. If it does not, then you can say: God relented and forgave. A negative prophecy cannot be refuted – but a positive one can. If the good foreseen comes to pass, then the prophecy is true. If it does not, then you cannot say, “God changed His mind” because God does not retract from a promise He has made of good, or peace, or return.

It is therefore only when the prophet offers a positive vision that he can be tested. That is why Jonah was wrong to believe he had failed when his negative prophecy – the destruction of Nineveh – failed to come true. This is how Maimonides puts it:

“As to calamities predicted by a prophet, if, for example, he foretells the death of a certain individual or declares that in particular year there will be famine or war and so forth, the non-fulfillment of his forecast does not disprove his prophetic character. We are not to say, ‘See, he spoke and his prediction has not come to pass.’ For God is long-suffering and abounding in kindness and repents of evil. It may also be that those who were threatened repented and were therefore forgiven, as happened to the men of Nineveh. Possibly too, the execution of the sentence is only deferred, as in the case of Hezekiah.

“But if the prophet, in the name of God, assures good fortune, declaring that a particular event would come to pass, and the benefit promised has not been realized, he is unquestionably a false prophet, for no blessing decreed by the Almighty, even if promised conditionally, is ever revoked … Hence we learn that only when he predicts good fortune can the prophet be tested (Yesodei ha-Torah 10:4).

Fundamental conclusions follow from this. A prophet is not an oracle: a prophecy is not a prediction. Precisely because Judaism believes in free will, the human future can never be unfailingly predicted. People are capable of change. God forgives. As we say in our prayers on the High Holy Days: “Prayer, penitence, and charity avert the evil decree.”

There is no decree that cannot be revoked. A prophet does not foretell. He warns. A prophet does not speak to predict future catastrophe but rather to avert it. If a prediction comes true it has succeeded. If a prophecy comes true it has failed.

The second consequence is no less far-reaching. The real test of prophecy is not bad news but good. Calamity, catastrophe, disaster prove nothing. Anyone can foretell these things without risking his reputation or authority. It is only by the realization of a positive vision that prophecy is put to the test.

So it was with Israel’s prophets. They were realists, not optimists. They warned of the dangers that lay ahead. But they were also, without exception, agents of hope. They could see beyond the catastrophe to the consolation. That is the test of a true prophet.

RCA Statement on Jews Offering New Alternatives to Homosexuality

Thursday, December 6th, 2012

In the years since the Rabbinical Council of America’s first comment about JONAH (Jews Offering New Alternatives to Homosexuality), “the only Jewish based organization dedicated to assisting individuals with unwanted same sex attractions move from gay to straight” in January, 2004, in which we suggested that rabbis might refer congregants to them for reparative therapy, many concerns about JONAH and reparative therapy have been raised.

As rabbis trained in Jewish law and values, we base our religious positions regarding medical matters on the best research and advice of experts and scholars in those areas, along with concern for the religious, emotional, and physical welfare of those impacted by our decisions. Our responsibility is to apply halakhic (Jewish legal) values to those opinions.

Based on consultation with a wide range of mental health experts and therapists who informed us of the lack of scientifically rigorous studies that support the effectiveness of therapies to change sexual orientation, a review of literature written by experts and major medical and mental health organizations, and based upon reports of the negative and, at times, deleterious consequences to clients of some of the interventions endorsed by JONAH, the Rabbinical Council of America decided in 2011, as part of an overall statement on the Jewish attitude towards homosexuality, to withdraw its original letter referencing JONAH. Despite numerous attempts by the RCA to have mention of that original letter removed from the JONAH website, our calls, letters, and emails remain unanswered. As Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, president of the RCA, stated in 2011, “We want it taken down. JONAH said it was a letter of support, but if you read the letter it is not. They took an informational statement and reprinted it, and the use of that as an endorsement is an error.”

We believe that properly trained mental health professionals who abide by the values and ethics of their professions can and do make a difference in the lives of their patients and clients. The RCA believes that responsible therapists, in partnership with amenable clients, should be able to work on whatever issues those clients voluntarily bring to their session. Allegations made against JONAH lead us to question whether JONAH meets those standards.

Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm, Chancellor of Yeshiva University and author of the 1974 Encyclopedia Judaica Year Book article, “Judaism and the Modern Attitude to Homosexuality,” the first contemporary article to address the issue from the perspective of Jewish law and philosophy, had originally commended the work of JONAH. In response to the negative reports about JONAH’s activities and concerns expressed to him by respected mental health professionals, Dr. Lamm withdrew his endorsement of JONAH.

About the RCA:

The Rabbinical Council of America, with national headquarters in New York City, is a professional organization serving more than 1000 Orthodox Rabbis in the United States of America, Canada, Israel, and around the world. Membership is comprised of duly ordained Orthodox Rabbis who serve in positions of the congregational rabbinate, Jewish education, chaplaincies, and other allied fields of Jewish communal work

For further information about this statement, you may contact:

Rabbi Mark Dratch Executive Vice President

Rabbi Shmuel Goldin
President

Bank of Israel Commemorative Coin Wins Coin of the Year

Tuesday, January 17th, 2012

The Bank of Israel’s “Jonah in the Belly of the Fish” two shekel commemorative coin won the Coin of the Year award in the annual competition sponsored by the Krause Publications, the Bank of Israel said in a press release on Monday.

The coin was chosen from among 95 coins by a panel of judges who are experts in the field, including writers, editors, and members of the American Numismatic Association.

The “Jonah in the belly of the fish” coin is the sixteenth commemorative coin in the Biblical Art series issued by the Bank of Israel. The series has included coins such as, “Elijah in the Whirlwind”, “Samson and the Lion”, “And the Waters Were Divided”, and others.

At Orthodox Mental Health Group’s Forum, Openly Gay Jews Get Their Say And Some Support

Wednesday, December 7th, 2011

HAUPPAUGE, N.Y. – The 15th annual conference of Nefesh International, an association of Orthodox mental health professionals, was a study in inclusion. Dr. Judith Guedelia, the director of Shaare Zedek Medical Center’s neuropsychology unit and a regular contributor to The Jewish Press, became the first woman to receive the conference’s Esther Solomon Mental Health Award. Several participants noted the increased chassidic representation. And three openly gay men for the first time were permitted to set up a table. Members of Jewish Queer Youth, a support group for Orthodox and formerly Orthodox LGBT Jews, they distributed informational materials and debated – and occasionally berated – conference participants. The JQY members were allowed to participate in last weekend’s conference at a Long Island hotel only as individual advocates raising awareness, not under the banner of an organization. And only after a special appeal to Nefesh. “They wanted to talk about their struggles as homosexuals in the Orthodox world,” said Nefesh president Simcha Feuerman, a marriage and family therapist in private practice in New York and a weekly Jewish Press columnist. “Mental health professionals should be aware of those voices.” Feuerman noted that as an organization that abides by halacha, or Jewish law, Nefesh cannot support any organization that “normalizes” homosexual behavior. “On the other hand, we certainly have great compassion and interest in the challenges and struggles that persons with homosexual desires and orientation experience,” he said. The inclusion of openly gay men at the conference represents yet another shift, however incremental, in the willingness of the Orthodox community to candidly discuss homosexuality. It also comes as Jews Offering New Alternatives to Healing, or JONAH – an organization that promotes reparative therapy for Orthodox gays – did not participate in the conference after its controversial appearance last year. JONAH co-founder Arthur Goldberg told JTA that he had a prior engagement in Florida. “The last few years have seen a seismic shift in attitudes toward LGBT people in Orthodox communities,” said Jay Michaelson, the author of God vs. Gay? The Religious Case for Equality. “To an outsider, things may seem barely to have changed. But to those of us who are part of or work with Orthodox communities, the change has been dramatic.” Last year, a gay Shabbaton in Connecticut attracted more than 150 guests. In the summer of 2010, a group of more than 150 Orthodox rabbis and mental health professionals endorsed a statement that called for greater sympathy from rabbis and counselors, urged families not to cast out homosexual children and cast doubt on reparative therapy, which most mental health professionals consider a sham. And just last month, a self-described Orthodox rabbi performed a gay commitment ceremony in Washington. The developments are not without their opponents, however. A statement on homosexuality signed by several leading Orthodox rabbis and Orthodox mental health professionals asserts that homosexuality is a curable condition and calls for resistance against “the infiltration” of homosexual activists in the Orthodox community. The statement, publicized last week on the Huffington Post, forbids a gay individual from being alone with a member of the same sex and cautions Orthodox individuals about “accepting some false notions.” On Saturday evening, Rabbi Dovid Cohen, one of three rabbinic advisers to Nefesh, spoke on making a distinction between sin and organized sin – comments interpreted by many conference-goers as targeting homosexuality in general and JQY in particular. In an interview with JTA, Rabbi Cohen said that anyone who organizes to reject a provision of the Torah should be regarded as a traitor. They should still be treated for their illness, he said, but not with compassion. “It’s as if someone was asked to treat an enemy soldier who is trying to kill him,” Rabbi Cohen said. “We shouldn’t have empathy.” At the conference, JQY members sought to distinguish between homosexuality as an orientation and gay sex as an act, with only the latter prohibited by the Torah. “JQY doesn’t challenge anything in the Torah,” said Mordechai Levovits, the co-executive director of JQY. “We understand that there are some acts that are halachically problematic, but we believe that [gays] can be openly themselves and still be part of the community and their families.” According to Levovitz, JQY does not “support or encourage sexual or intimate behavior…and adheres to the principal of tzniut [modesty], which demands that intimate behavior stays private and discrete.” The group, he says, only seeks “to combat shame, bullying and ostracizing while making families, yeshivas and communities safe and welcoming to their gay members.” Despite the debate, many conference participants appeared supportive of the JQY members and were pleased by their presence. A steady stream approached their station at the end of the hall featuring a well-stocked collection of testimonials about harmful therapeutic practices and statements from Orthodox rabbis on homosexuality. One of two television screens played a video of gay men describing the trauma they experienced as youths in the Orthodox community. “People need to hear that there is a gay population in the Orthodox community that needs to be integrated,” said Malka Engel, a social worker and psychoanalyst who practices in Manhattan and on Long Island. “Why not?” said a therapist who preferred to remain unnamed. “We’d rather find a way to treat than kick them out. How can we learn anything without talking to them?” (JTA)

Chronicles Of Crises In Our Communities – 1/30/09

Wednesday, January 28th, 2009

Last week’s column featured an overview of Light In The Closet: Torah, Homosexuality and the Power to Change, a recently released publication by Arthur Goldberg (Red Heifer Press).

In the interest of fair-mindedness, we present the following transcript of an interview with a (frum) SSA male who congenially shares his own personal perspective of the book. (For the record, our guest has no connection, nor has ever had any contact with Mr. Goldberg or with JONAH.)

Rachel: What was your initial gut reaction to [the existence of] the book, before actually reading it?

Anonymous: Frankly, I was absolutely stunned that such a book existed – especially with so much detail on every aspect of the topic. Before I even leafed through it, I wondered if it had a solution to such an impossible dilemma. I was also surprised at the size of the book. I never realized that so much could be written on the subject.

Being well read and well versed in the topic, and a professional writer to boot, was there anything about the volume that can have actually impressed you?

Believe me, Rachel, as a gay person, I did not want to be impressed with this book. I was leafing through it, desperate to find material that would be laughable and ridiculous – and found nothing of the sort. I continued to leaf through it, hoping to find that the author was narrow-minded, ignorant and bigoted. That is what I was HOPING to find. Instead I found a well-researched, sensitive analysis of a subject. This book, without a doubt, will become THE definitive work on the subject of changing sexual orientation.

I was also impressed that the author did not insult gays. The book was not at all demeaning. In fact, there seemed to be genuine respect for gays as human beings. That’s not what you would expect from what some would describe as a Bible-thumping perspective.

Of the 500 plus pages, would you say that most, some or little held your interest?

The entire book held my interest. The section on the causes of homosexuality was chilling. The religious prohibitions were explained in all too vivid detail. Initially, I thought the whole socialist gay agenda was a tad over the top. But the author buttresses his case with plenty of information.

I must say, however, that he seems to be overly concerned about gays having a positive self-image. There are many out there who are quite happy with their lot, and they are not necessarily promiscuous. In some cases, they are celibate.

Having acquainted yourself with the book by happenstance [I introduced him to my copy], would you seek to acquire it for your personal library, use, or the like?

Yes, without question. I would like to own the book for reference purposes, and . . . there were some parts of the book that were hauntingly accurate….

What kind of reader would be most likely, in your opinion, to benefit from the information in this manual?

I personally believe that this book would be of great benefit to anyone, in his 20s, 30s or even 40s, who is unsure, unhappy and ill at ease with his sexual orientation.

How do you think this publication would benefit the heterosexual reader?

It would help to demystify the conflicted gay man or woman. It would do nothing to inform them about gays who have come to terms with their imperfections.

It is important to add that the book will enrage many SSA individuals who will not appreciate being told that they are mentally ill and suffering from arrested development. The reason that they will be so upset is because it will ring true and they just don’t want to go through the anguish of once again questioning themselves and losing the self-esteem that was so difficult to build in a hostile and unaccepting environment.

Had this book been available for your consumption 30 odd years ago…

I would have laughed it off. In my 20s, I often said that if there were a pill that could turn you straight in one day, I would refuse to take it. Now I feel different and more mature. Less selfish… less interested in instant gratification. I would take that pill . . . as I am starting to grieve at never having had children or grandchildren.

What did you note, in your humble opinion, to be the most valuable aspect of Light in the Closet?

It was the section that deals with developing a loving and intimate relationship with a male in a non-sexual context. There seems to be something so amazingly satisfying, fulfilling and comforting about that possibility.

Anyone would agree that the author invested a tremendous amount of work and time in this painstaking project. Do you see him reaping the fruits of his labor?

Was it worth it for the author to do all this, you ask? Yes. It will help his organization and it might make a real difference in the lives of those who don’t want to be gay. But like weight loss and alcoholism, the success rate will never be what the author would like it to be.

If you would need to describe the book in three words, which three would they be?

Sensitive, caring and powerful.

Dear Readers,

It is our sincerest hope that our column has helped promote a clearer understanding of one of man’s most daunting challenges, and that those plagued by SSA (same sex attraction) will strive to overcome rather than succumb to their physical inclinations and thus distance themselves from Yiddishkeit – only to lament having done so in their later years.

We are most grateful to our guest for graciously sharing his insightful evaluation of Light In The Closet with the readers of this column

And last but by no means least, Mr. Goldberg is to be congratulated for his monumental achievement, which is sure to illuminate the lives of many. We wish him much hatzlacha in all his noble endeavors.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/family/chronicles-of-crises/chronicles-of-crises-in-our-communities-136/2009/01/28/

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