Responding to Ben Shapiro
To take Mr. Ben Shapiro’s words even further, as a psychologist, social worker and therapist, I am a member of Nefesh, a professional organization for Orthodox Jewish mental health providers. Nefesh has been around since the early 1990s. They have changed drastically in that time. Nefesh has annually a four- or five-day professional conference that deals with mental health/therapy issues in the Orthodox Jewish world. They also hold workshops, podcasts, and small conferences during the year.
In the early 90s Nefesh dedicated one full pre-conference day to how to help people get over unwanted same-sex attraction. The day-long workshop was led by Dr. Joseph Nicolosi, Ph.D., the therapist who founded “Reparative” therapy throughout the world.
Let’s jump forward. For the last eight years, Nefesh has refused to have any workshop, conference, podcast, etc. to devoted to helping therapists try to help people struggling with unwanted SSA. In other words, Nefesh has now bought into the Modern Orthodox (RCA) view that nobody can change their sexual orientation – they must accept it, and should not get help in this struggle, and those therapists who try to help someone move back to being heterosexual are unethical. Ethical therapists, then, are those who help someone accept being homosexual, bisexual, lesbian, transgender, etc. That is okay.
The Modern Orthodox position goes fully against the Lubavitcher Rebbe, OBM, and the Rambam’s position on this issue. (See Chabad.org, “Rights or Ills,” a talk given by the Lubavitcher Rebbe on Purim 1986 on this topic.) So Nefesh fully opposes the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s and the Rambam’s position on the issue.
Two quick points. One, “reparative therapy” is not a therapy per se; it is simply an attitude with which a therapist tries to try to help someone remain or become heterosexual. Two, there now are no training opportunities in the United States for a therapist to learn how to help people overcome unwanted SSA.
So, Ben Shapiro, things are worse than you thought. Hopefully, Agudath Israel might move to help correct the situation.
Dr. Dovid Schwartz PsyD, LCSW
In a recent article criticizing many Orthodox institutions, Ben Shapiro coined many new terms to describe Orthodoxy: Secular Orthodox, Nervous Orthodox, and Sloppy Orthodox. However, he failed to list a most important form of Orthodoxy – Soundbite Orthodox. Soundbite Orthodoxy is a product of the social media era in which nuanced ideas are displaced by quotable quotes that are a) inaccurate reflections of the sources they claim to represent, and b) are often produced by pundits and not people whose hands are dirtied by being in the trenches of communal work.
Ben Shapiro’s article has numerous examples of Soundbite Orthodoxy. For the sake of brevity, I will list just two:
In his analysis of the Orthodox Union, or what Shapiro terms Nervous Orthodox, he correctly argues that Judaism demands discrimination against sin. He therefore concludes that the Orthodox Union, in supporting religious freedom provisions in the Respect for Marriage Act, adopted a secular moral approach. What Shapiro fails to note is that the extent to which one must go to discriminate against sin is a matter of serious halachic debate. Unfortunately, a proper synopsis of the sources would have taken more than 280 characters, something which Soundbite Orthodoxy does not allow for.
Further, Shapiro characterizes the Orthodox Union as “trading away the definition of marriage for some weak legal protections.” The Orthodox Union was crystal clear both in their letter to the Senate and in a follow-up clarifying statement of their absolute rejection of redefining marriage. But facts aside, the “weak legal protections” are indeed a matter of legitimate dispute as to the possible limitations of the amendment to H.R. 8404 and yet, none of the arguments, either for or against the amendment in question, were delineated in the article. This is likely because the complex considerations that take every eventuality into account require the deliberation, experience, and wisdom of communal leadership steeped in Torah knowledge, not sound bites.
Ultimately, the Orthodox Union has taken the responsibility of attempting to protect the religious freedoms of Orthodox Jews in the United States. With this responsibility comes difficult decisions and complex calibrations to ensure that in the real world, Jews can practice freely. To have stood down as this piece of legislation, which was likely going to go through with or without their involvement, and not protect the freedoms of Jews in the process, would be an abdication of their responsibility. “Weak legal protections” does not make for great ratings but is excellent real-world Torah leadership.
I have spent the past few days discussing and debating the merits of the Orthodox Union’s and Agudath Israel’s positions on the Respect for Marriage Act with members of both organizations. It is clear that both positions were principled and were only arrived at after serious thought and a proper analysis of Jewish tradition. Sound bites are powerful, but, as Ben Shapiro notes, what is really needed is True Orthodoxy. True Orthodoxy has always been predicated on honest debate, deep analysis, and constructive efforts to represent our values and protect our faith. It has never garnered many likes, shares, or views, but has always prevailed.
An Orthodox rabbi in the U.S.
who requests anonymity
The article “Modern Orthodoxy’s Moral Failure” by Ben Shapiro begs the question of why the state of Modern Orthodoxy is in shambles and what programs we need to set up in shuls, schools, colleges other places. Yes, Modern orthodoxy is in a state of crisis because its leadership class has in large measure abandoned its central principles in favor of political expediency, surrendering long-term interest for short-term tactical maneuvering. For this reason, the factions within Modern Orthodox groups must be steadfast and put their foot down by teaching more Torah and setting up more programs to assist Modern Orthodox Jews in staying strictly kosher 24/7 and keeping Shabbat fully.
I read with interest David Israel’s online response regarding the lawsuit brought against a publication for blurring women’s images with interest. In it, he suggests that all media should have the freedom to say whatever they want, however they want, and that anything less is an affront to the principle of free speech.
But I must disagree. Yes, we have a right to free speech, but not the right to defame. Newspapers have the right to report, but not to lie or slander. And if they do, those who have been insulted and defamed have the right to sue. Our Torah has an even higher standard. Yes, we have the right to speak, but we have no right to say lashon horah, rechilus, or defame people, Hashem or our Torah.
Choosing to blur or erase women’s faces is inherently defamatory. As Rabbi Yitzhok Breitowitz (Ohr Sameayach, Jerusalem) has stated, “Erasing women from photographs or blurring their faces even if they are modestly dressed has not been the practice in klal Yisrael, and to take on a stringency over and beyond anything required by gedolai Yisrael is not only arrogant and pretentious but profoundly offensive and demeaning to women as a whole.”
Our Torah proclaims that both women and men were created B’tzelem Elokim. By blurring women out, publications demean women, and by extension, demean this Torah truth as well. I applaud these women for taking a stand and defending our true Torah by bringing suit. I look forward to what I’m sure will be more lawsuits, brought by women from all denominations. And I have tremendous hakarat hatov to The Jewish Press for consistently giving women the opportunity to be represented as their whole selves.
Ann D. Koffsky
Ann Koffsky is the author/ illustrator of more than 40+ Jewish books
and the webmaster of www.keepwomeninthepicture.com
Regal Role Model
I was delighted to read “My Mother And Queen Elizabeth” (Dec. 9) written by her loving and devoted daughter, Naomi Klass Maurer. Seeing the regal and radiant photo of Irene Klass, who served for many years as Women’s Editor at The Jewish Press and author of countless articles, poems, book reviews and more, brought back such warm memories for me! I grew up in Manhattan Beach at a time when there were very few religious families. My mother was a dear friend of Irene Klass.
But even more important was that my mother was Irene’s true admirer. I so often heard my mother proudly say that her friend had “a remarkable gift of prose” – a talented writer who could express her thoughts with such eloquence and fluency. She also credited Irene for being “independent-minded.”
As a young person in the 1970s, I was actively searching for female role models in my religious community. I wanted very much to have a career, and the era augured well for women, as doors began to open in graduate schools and the professions. However, as a young Orthodox woman, I was so afraid to navigate in a world where morality had run amuck, and where most women my age were embracing a radically independent lifestyle which I could not.
Then, one day I had the fortuitous opportunity to sit down with Irene at a hotel in the Catskills where I was vacationing with my parents as a young adult. I confided in Irene my desire to write articles and books and to get “out into the world.” But I was so afraid that as an Orthodox woman I would flounder. Irene held my hand and gave me words of encouragement that I will never forget. What a blessing she was to me at a time that I needed direction from role models in my community. Irene was legendary in so many ways, but for me she was my role model.
Amy Neustein, Ph.D.
Fort Lee, N.J.
Trump, Politics and G-d
Avi Ciment hit the nail on the head in explaining the key problem in current U.S. politics. He stated, “I chose to ignore the signs that Trump might not be the leader I thought he was,” (“I Can No Longer Support Donald Trump,” Dec. 9). The name of many politicians could be substituted for Trump’s. All politicians of either political party change their positions over time. Sometimes they have more information than before, sometimes they have developed better (or worse) judgment, and all too often we may suspect their previous policies were disingenuous and self-serving to begin with.
We can also recall many persons in our lifetimes who consistently exhibited true leadership and good faith, and legislated or ruled for right and wrong to the best of their understanding rather than political expediency. But I am hard-pressed to identify any true statesmen today in Congress or the White House. And compromise for the benefit of all seems to be a concept few people understand anymore.
Of course, questionable actions are easier to recognize and censure in candidates of the other one does not affiliate with, while excusing the same behaviors in our own party. But many of us, regardless of party, were deeply concerned all along that Trump meant the outrageous things he said or did. We found it impossible to join in excusing them as juvenile braggadocio or political theater. It was just too unsettling to watch supporters at his MAGA rallies revel in his outrageous statements and we are not surprised now to see him openly embrace antisemites of the worst sort. After all, he vehemently complained about not getting more votes from Jews. Trump is, after all, the self-proclaimed master of the quid pro quo – excuse me, I meant to say “the Deal.”
Certainly Donald Trump was not the first womanizing, self-serving politician, and undoubtedly, he will not be the last. But until 2016, politicians had the decency to deny wrong-doing, or at least make a feeble effort, like Bill Clinton, because they knew their behavior violated the norm and expectations of G-d and the voters. The disturbing thing about Donald Trump has always been his blatancy. Where is the evidence he truly fears either G-d or man? The disturbing thing about contemporary politics is that the best we get is a choice for the lesser of two evils.
The early Prophets (Yehoshua through Melachim) are especially illuminating about our contemporary political and economic circumstances. They demonstrate from Jewish history that the moral character and quality of a leader is at least as important as their political and economic policies. One might also conclude from the later Prophets that corrupt leadership was good for the economy, mostly for those at the top of the monetary food chain.
In different ways, each of the Prophets teaches us that the overall justice and well-being of a nation directly correlates with the degree to which its leaders fear and serve G-d. There is no tendency in modern political economy that cannot be found first in the Torah and Nach, and that should be our first and most important consideration when we vote.
Many Maga Metaphors
Avi Ciment, in “I Can No Longer Support Donald Trump” (Dec. 9), compared Donald Trump to Achashveirosh, who was “pareve.” He also seems to compare him to Pharoah and that the same King Pharoah who knew Yosef also enslaved the Jews, because had a change of policy. (As an aside, ‘pareve’ is a term used in kashrus and should remain so.)
The Talmud (Chagiga 13b) reads: “The king of beasts is the lion, the king of livestock is the ox, the king of the birds is the eagle, and man exalts himself over them. The Holy One Blessed is He exalts Himself over them all and upon the world.”
Who is the king of the fish? The pike is a long bony fish that leads other fish with a very weak brain, but other fish do not care about this, as “the hearts of kings are in the Almighty’s hand,” as Mishlei puts it. This implies that leadership positions are not determined by intelligence, but by G-d’s grace.
Rabbi Chaim Tzvi Tanny