New Periodical: Hakirah 12

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The Fall 2011 issue of Hakirah (no. 12) is out:

  • Letters to the Editor – A very lively discussion! 1) Dr. Bernard Fryshman questions Hakirah’s existence in that it causes people with simple faith to ask difficult questions. The editor responds at length that this is precisely the journal’s goal and it is a good thing.
    2) R. Abraham Kelman questions articles about women rabbis because its institution is universally condemned by Orthodox authorities, was the beginning of a major decline in the Conservative movement and is unnecessary. Rabbis Broyde and Brody respond that halakhah is determined through sources and not votes, the Conservative movement is irrelevant and maybe it is necessary — none of us really know. (I agree with R. Kelman on all three issues — halakhah is decided by posekim, not journal articles; the Conservative movement may have been different but the similarities in intent and goals with today’s feminist activists, their protests notwithstanding, are sufficiently strong to make the historical precedent relevant; and the community at large doesn’t need women rabbis).
    3) R. Nati Helfgot writes that, contrary to the editor’s claim that the ordination of women rabbis “met with universal condemnation from all branches of Orthodoxy,” the IRF put forth “a highly nuanced position.” The editor responds with surprise that an Orthodox rabbinic body would issue such a statement, declares that no major posek sanctions women rabbis, and “should this line ever be crossed the term Orthodox will become an issue of debate.” I think they delicately understated the repercussions of crossing the line.
    4) R. Dov Frimer quotes a number of sources that permit married women to go around with uncovered hair. The editor responds at length why this view is not accepted in practice.
    5) R. Eli Schochet agrees with R. Asher Benzion Buchman’s critique of Prof. Menachem Kellner’s understanding of the Rambam. “Rambam, in many respects, was as much of a ‘mystic’ as he was a rationalist.”
    6) Marc Stern corrects a misstatement about the Orthodox Forum book on Tikkun Olam. Mitch First thanks him and makes two other corrections/additions to his article.
    7) Drs. Epstein, Dickman and Wilamowsky evaluate a reader’s suggestion of a different way to explain the complex Gemara on property assessment they addressed in their article.
  • A Discussion with R. Shmuel Kamenetsky on “SSA” by Arthur Goldberg – A long discussion that places R. Kamenetsky firmly against gay identity and in favor of “conversion therapy” (or an equivalent).
  • Why the Recent Modern Orthodox Rabbis’ Statement on Homosexuality is Unhelpful by Dr. Joseph Berger – A psychiatrist declares that “conversion” of a homosexual through psychotherapy is sometimes possible and there is no evidence that it is harmful.
  • Feminism and Changes In Jewish Liturgy by R. Aryeh Frimer – Full text here and discussion here: link.
  • Tenure Rights of an Employee and Rights to Severance Upon Termination or Non-Renewal of a Labor Agreement by R. A. Yehuda Warburg – Pesak of a beis din regarding a yeshiva rebbe who stole from the yeshiva and was fired. He argued that his termination is against halakhah because R. Moshe Feinstein requires all terminations to be approved in advance by a beis din and he demanded, if not reinstatement then severance. Beis din ruled that R. Moshe Feinstein’s is a minority view and he doesn’t get severance for many reasons, including that the stole from the yeshiva!
  • Honoring Abusive Parents by R. Mark Dratch – Rema exempts people from honoring a wicked (rasha) parent. Since a physically or sexually abusive parent is wicked, a child is not obligated to honor, mourn or recite kaddish for him. I would have appreciated more substantiation within halakhic literature of the claim that an abusive parent is classified as a rasha.
  • Legislating Morality: The Prohibition of Lashon Hara by R. Asher Benzion Buchman – According to the Rambam, lashon hara is not a set of laws but avoidance of the character trait of “gossiper”.
  • Abraham ibn Ezra’s “Yesod Mora” by R. H. Norman Strickman – A thorough overview of Ibn Ezra’s philosophy on a wide variety of topics as it emerges from this book, particularly on reasons for various commandments but also on much more. Many similarities between Ibn Ezra’s and Rambam’s approaches, perhaps indicating that the latter was influenced by the former. A noteworthy difference is Ibn Ezra’s acceptance of astrology and Rambam’s rejection of it.
  • “The Scholar Rabbi Levi” — A Study in Rationalist Exegesis by Yitzhak Grossman – A useful collection of Ralbag’s unusual, one could say radical, interpretations of the Pentateuch. This might be called A Yeshiva Guy Discovers Ralbag. The article, written by a Lakewood Yeshiva student, is thorough and thoughtful but I think most important in that it truly represents Hakirah’s goal of opening wider vistas of Jewish thought to the closed world of the “black hat yeshiva” (for want of a better term).
  • A.A. Fraenkel’s Philosophy of Religion: A Translation of “Beliefs and Opinions in Light of the Natural Sciences” by Dr. Meir Zelcer – An overview and translation of a 1930 essay by a Hebrew University Math Professor reconciling Torah and science. This is historically important because while his ideas are now old hat, he seems to have preceded many others in proposing them.
  • Tefillat Shav: The Limits of Prayer as a Means to Understanding its Transformative Nature by Dr. Ari Bleicher – A literary analysis of the chapter in Shulchan Arukh discussing prayers in vain (Orach Chaim 230). Very creative and interesting but I’m not convinced by the underlying premise of literary unity in this highly eclectic text.
  • Review Essay of R. Nachum Rabinovich’s Studies in Maimonides by Prof. Avraham Feintuch – R. Rabinovich is in the process of writing a comprehensive commentary on Rambam’s Mishneh TorahYad Peshutah. This book sets forth R. Rabinovich’s principles in understanding Rambam’s words and identifying his sources. It is remarkable both in its very publication — who else among rabbinic commentators has done so? — and its originality. This article gives many examples and highlights from the book.
  • Moshe’s Mission to Pharaoh in Light of Rambam’s Hilchos Teshuvah by R. Yisrael Isser Zvi Herczeg – Rambam gives a general explanation of Pharaoh’s inability to repent in Mishneh Torah, Hilkhos Teshuvah 6:3. R. Herczeg reads the entire story carefully and explains it using Rambam’s ideas. However, his usage of a midrashic/mystical distinction between a Jew’s and a gentile’s repentance gives me pause. I am not convinced the Rambam would accept the distinction.
  • Who Can Discern His Errors? Misdates, Errors, and Deceptions, in and about Hebrew Books, Intentional and Otherwise by Marvin J. Heller – A collection of unrelated printing errors, mistakes and forgeries that includes a good deal of history of how books were published. Serves as a warning to check your sources carefully.
  • The Relationship Between the Words of the Sages and the Discovered Science (Hebrew) by R. Gedaliah Aharon Rabinowitz, the Monastrisher Rebbe – Goes through most of the standard sources, some contradictory, and tries to reconcile as many approaches as possible. Somewhat radical in that he accepts the possibility that the Sages of the Talmud were mistaken in science, or at least — an idea I’ve never seen before — were unable to rule based on prophetic knowledge of science and were forced to rely on the science of their times. Also allows for acceptance of evolution. Concludes by quoting the Ramak that one is not a heretic by following a view among the Sages (including the Rambam). Given the controversy over such matters in the past ten years, quite an important article and statement.
  • Can A Prophet Innovate A Rabbinic Mitzvah? A Halakhic Explanation and Its Implications in Rambam’s Thought by Eliyahu Krakowski – Connects the issue of whether a prophet can create a rabbinic mitzvah with the nature of the prohibition to add to the Torah and explains various passages in the Rambam.

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of TorahMusings.com, a leading website on Orthodox Jewish scholarly subjects, and the Book Editor of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine. He writes a popular column on issues of Jewish law and thought featured in newspapers and magazines, including The Jewish Link, The Jewish Echo and The Vues. In the past, he has served as the President of the small Jewish publisher Yashar Books and as the Managing Editor of OU Press. Rabbi Student serves on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America and as Director of the Halacha Commission of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. He also serves on the Editorial Board of Jewish Action magazine and the Board of OU Press. He has published five English books, the most recent titled Search Engine volume 2: Finding Meaning in Jewish Texts -- Jewish Leadership, and served as the American editor for Morasha Kehillat Yaakov: Essays in Honour of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

59 comments

  1. ““The Scholar Rabbi Levi” — A Study in Rationalist Exegesis by Yitzhak Grossman – A useful collection of Ralbag’s unusual, one could say radical, interpretations of the Pentateuch. This might be called A Yeshiva Guy Discovers Ralbag. The article, written by a Lakewood Yeshiva student, is thorough and thoughtful but I think most important in that it truly represents Hakirah’s goal of opening wider vistas of Jewish thought to the closed world of the “black hat yeshiva” (for want of a better term).”

    He’s not quite as wet behind the ears as you think. This is him http://bdld.info/ .

  2. “Hakirah’s goal of opening wider vistas of Jewish thought to the closed world of the “black hat yeshiva”
    If the closed world of the black hat yeshivah was reading Hakirah you would be correct. It happens to be that those members of the black hat yeshivah world that read Hakirah are already acquainted with Ralbag as well as many others who the mainstream might deem beyond the pale. Many of us were/are in that world but are not closed off from the breadth of opinions of the Rishonim.

  3. >“Rambam, in many respects, was as much of a ‘mystic’ as he was a rationalist.”

    In further news, The Gra was just as much a hasid as a misnaged and rav saadia was just as much a karaite as a rabbi. Sounds like the mirror image of Leo Strauss, but hey, if the Rambam was a secret athiest, maybe he was also a secret mystic.

    >I would have appreciated more substantiation within halakhic literature of the claim that an abusive parent is classified as a rasha.

    This is in a nutshell, what is wrong with current halachic discourse, the fact that basic ethical categories need to be substantiated through halachic sources is a bizayon. ethics should precede halacha and halacha should be decided with ethical categories firmly in front of the poskim’s eyes. One does not need sources to show that an abusive parent is a rasha, it is quite obvious to someone with basic moral instincts.

  4. Ummm, to second Anonymous 10:16, that author is not a great example of someone whose “closed world” was “opened” by Hakirah. In fact he has been reading Ralbag since long before Hakirah existed, and is well acquainted with the world of secular scholarship, even if he is a black hat Yeshiva guy.

  5. I find it strange that Hakirah chose to publish two articles by advocates of a fringe psychotherapy which is almost universally regarded as quackery by the mainstream mental health community, and none defending the mainstream position. For some reason, in an exception to their usual policy of only uploading two pages initially, they also chose to put online the entire length of Joseph Berger’s meandering complaint about the malignant effects of “gay activists” (which according to his definition would appear to include 99.99 percent of psychiatrists.)

    Picking apart Berger’s claims and arguments, such as they are, is a bit like shooting fish in a barrel, but a couple of observations:

    1) Berger writes: “My own opinion is that the most accurate description of exclusive same-sex orientation is a failure to reach full psychosexual maturation. By full psychosexual maturation I mean the ability to be
    in a fully committed long-term relationship with a person of the
    opposite sex, with the potential of producing a biological family.” This is like describing a cat as animal that has failed to become a dog. It is true that cats fail to become dogs, but it would nevertheless be a peculiar description. Berger at least graciously concedes that “gay activists” would disagree with his description.

    2) He seems to think that the percentage issue is important, writing that if only 1% of the population self-identifies as homosexual: “In terms of one of the main scientific definitions of normal, 1% would not be considered a normal variation.” I have no idea what this means or is supposed to prove.

    3) He writes: “The view, that a homosexual orientation is something that exists and is fixed and not amenable to change, is essentially a gay activist
    position that doesn’t have much scientific support.” Here Berger appears to doubt even the existence (!) of a homosexual orientation. It’s true that there haven’t been voluminous studies specifically documenting the existence of a homosexual orientation. This is because it’s a readily observable empirical fact, as can attest the millions of homosexual people, their friends and relatives, doctors, and clergy. That Berger seems skeptical about this does not reflect well on his mooring in reality.

    The fact that a psychiatrist with an apparently impressive CV wrote this piece is just another example of the well know phenomenon that one can sometimes find people with reputable credentials to say all manner of patently ridiculous things.

  6. I think the fact that the frum world largely sees homosexuality as a lifestyle choice and not rooted in biological or endocrinological factors is telling. Even Modern Orthodox bodies endorse “reparative therapy.” A journal that ought to be exploring serious scholarship in the realm of Torah and Mechkar has no business giving this psychiatrist a platform to advance pseudo-scientific positions long considered unethical by the APA, AMA, and other authoritative medical organizations.

  7. Chardal, in other news can you please define the word hasid in the context you used it in , in other words what kind of hasid did you think the gra was. Your sentence has the potential to be somewhat misleading.

  8. >Chardal, in other news can you please define the word hasid in the context you used it in , in other words what kind of hasid did you think the gra was. Your sentence has the potential to be somewhat misleading.

    Hasid in the context I was using it == a student/follower of the Baal Shem Tov, the Magid of Mezritch, or one of their students.

  9. chardal on October 18, 2011 at 3:10 am
    >“Rambam, in many respects, was as much of a ‘mystic’ as he was a rationalist.”

    In further news, The Gra was just as much a hasid as a misnaged and rav saadia was just as much a karaite as a rabbi. Sounds like the mirror image of Leo Strauss, but hey, if the Rambam was a secret athiest, maybe he was also a secret mystic.

    I don’t have a copy of this issue of Hakira (which looks very interesting based on Gil’s summary), but it could be that they mean that the Rambam adopted neo-platonic ideas as well as aristotelian ones, an observation previously endorsed by R Soloveitchik, among others.

  10. The old regular biography of the Gra is called “Hagaon HeChasid Me’Vilna”. So he was as much a hasid as he was a mitnaged. Probably more of one, inasmuch as a Stoliner friend once characterized the “chasid” label as “what we strive for”, not “what we are.”

    And one can be a mystic without subscribing to “kabbalah”, which is the medieval label applied to the mysticism of 10 sefiros – 4 worlds – 5 partzufim etc. Jewish mystical texts long precede the idea of sefiros as we think of them today.

  11. Once again, Hakirah proves that it is a superb publication both respect to the letters to the editor and the substance of the articles contained therein. Dr Berger’s article IMO outlined how the profession of psychology reacted to political pressure to change the prior diagnoses that homosexual attraction was a mental illness. One can argue about whether “conversion therapy” works, but denying how a profession reacted to political pressure IMO strikes me as denying social and political change as having an effect on mental health,culure and academia-which IMO cannot be justified by anyone familiar with how mental health, culture and academia have in fact reacted to the “facts on the ground.”

  12. R Gil noted as follows:

    “The Scholar Rabbi Levi” — A Study in Rationalist Exegesis by Yitzhak Grossman – A useful collection of Ralbag’s unusual, one could say radical, interpretations of the Pentateuch. This might be called A Yeshiva Guy Discovers Ralbag. The article, written by a Lakewood Yeshiva student, is thorough and thoughtful but I think most important in that it truly represents Hakirah’s goal of opening wider vistas of Jewish thought to the closed world of the “black hat yeshiva” (for want of a better term).”

    I understand that the author certainly is not “wet beyond the ears”, but one can find many instances in Rashi, Ramban, Ibn Ezra, Seforno, Rashbam, Netziv and Meshech Chachmah, where a Drashas Chazal is rejected either for not being of assistance to Pshuto Shel Mikra as defined by each of the above Mfarshim or for a different or even a seemingly “mchudashdik pshat.”

  13. Daniel Sayani- Please see my prior post on how the evidence submitted by Dr Berger, who was evidently present when the changes became a subject of professional debate, to the effect that the APA clearly reacted to political pressures in the wake of the Stonewall riots/demonstrations. Would you maintain that Hakirah also has no business seeking the POV of R Shmuel Kamenetsky on the issue?

  14. Perhaps for balance, they should get a rebuttal from Abba Borowich. He’s a frum psychiatrist who wrote the essay, “Failed Reparative Therapy of Orthodox Jewish Homosexuals” for the Journal of Gay & Lesbian Mental Health (2008).

  15. The article by Dr.Borowich does not prove at all the inefficacy of reparative tHerapy.In fact Dr.Switzer who initially as editor of DSM-3 in 1980 got rid of the homosexual diagnosis ,changed his mind with research data ,writing in the Journal of Sexuality of the efficacy in a percentageof motivated individuals to change their
    homosexual orientation and develop heterosexual relationships.

  16. daat y — if you’re going to quote this da’at yachid, at least get the reference correct. His name is Spitzer and the journal was Archives of Sexual Behavior (2003).

    http://www.springerlink.com/content/rk67865783602411/

  17. It is a shame the Koch brothers didn’t fund an institute to prove Reparative Therapy as they did for Global Warming 🙂

    http://www.csmonitor.com/layout/set/print/content/view/print/417151

  18. While I have not read Dr. Spitzer’s whole paper. btw, his conclusion in the abstract is much more nuanced than those who quote the artcle here seem to realize.

    The key sentence is: “The participants were 200 self-selected individuals (143 males, 57 females) who reported at least some minimal change from homosexual to heterosexual orientation that lasted at least 5 years.”

    Note: “self-selected”, “some minimal change”, “lasted at least 5 years”.

    Also note the use of the word “predominantly” elsewhere in the abstract.

  19. In my view, IH has rightly pointed out some important facts. Still, I’m going to refrain from getting involved in a discussion about conversion therapy here, although I certainly have my own strong opinion (hint: despite my skepticism of some beliefs of the mainstream mental health community, I’m with the professional mental health organizations on this one).

    I just wanted to note that contra daat y’s implication, I did not claim that Dr. Borowich’s article single-handedly proved the inefficacy of reparative therapy.

  20. IH-The Koch brothers, like Soros & Co., are entitled to fund any organization that they deem worthy of their dollars-unlike you think that such largesse should be solely limited to those causes that you agree with. As far as global warning is concerned, have you read the articles about the East Anglia emails and the string possibility that data was “cooked” to suit the predisposed conclusions of the researchers?

  21. IH-For you to comment on misspelling a letter is Rather funny.
    The main poin is motivated people have been helped and this therapy should not be denied to them by the PROFESSIONAL ASSOCIATIONS.
    THERE ARE MANY THERAPIES THAT ARE ACTUALLY HARMFUL WHICH THEY DO NOT EVEN COMMENT ABOUT.

  22. Steve — Please read the linked article re: “cooked data”. The whole point I was making (in jest) was that the Koch brothers ended up funding research that has proved the case for global warming. People can continue to believe what they want, but the facts are the facts.

    daat y — Given that both the author’s name and the journal’s name were incorrect, it did not seem like a typo. My apologies if it was. In any case, I am intrigued enough to stop by the NYPL later this week and download the article and the accompanying responses also published in that issue.

    Have you read them? [if not, perhaps you ought to before you quote it, as I rather doubt from the abstract that it says what you think it does].

  23. IH wrote:

    “Steve — Please read the linked article re: “cooked data”. The whole point I was making (in jest) was that the Koch brothers ended up funding research that has proved the case for global warming. People can continue to believe what they want, but the facts are the facts”

    IH-where is the linked article? IIRC, an article in Commentary fairly established that the East Anglia emails revealed that the researchers were more concerned about the data supporting their conclusions, as is the case in most environmental extremists, and in suppressing any contrary conclusions therefrom.

  24. Steve — IH on October 23, 2011 at 11:08 pm has the story from the CSM. If you prefer a right-leaning newspaper, here is the story from the UK Torygraph:

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/environment/climatechange/8840702/Global-warming-the-Earth-is-getting-warmer-study-finds.html

  25. A cursory review of the literature shows that there aren’t any quality studies showing conversion therapy works and there is anecdotal evidence and theoretical discussions as to the harm. However, all the major professional(as opposed to religious) organizations relevant to the topic are opposed to this therapy on the grounds that a treatment needs to have demonstrated eficacy and a low risk/benefit ratio. Whether either is true or not is not actually known.

    What is known is that the paper that Hakirah published, written by someone who should have some grounding in science and scientific method, did not address these issues or provide any data for discussion. All he did was present his own opinion, basically a scientific da’as Torah(l’havdil). The paper is a discredit to the author and I am surprised that the usually high and admirable Hakira editorial standards were lowered to allow the paper through. A reader of these comments will find out more about the topic than a reader of the article.

  26. The following is the complete quote from the above discussed abstract:

    “Position statements of the major mental health organizations in the United States state that there is no scientific evidence that a homosexual sexual orientation can be changed by psychotherapy, often referred to as reparative therapy. This study tested the hypothesis that some individuals whose sexual orientation is predominantly homosexual can, with some form of reparative therapy, become predominantly heterosexual. The participants were 200 self-selected individuals (143 males, 57 females) who reported at least some minimal change from homosexual to heterosexual orientation that lasted at least 5 years. They were interviewed by telephone, using a structured interview that assessed same sex attraction, fantasy, yearning, and overt homosexual behavior. On all measures, the year prior to the therapy was compared to the year before the interview. The majority of participants gave reports of change from a predominantly or exclusively homosexual orientation before therapy to a predominantly or exclusively heterosexual orientation in the past year. Reports of complete change were uncommon. Female participants reported significantly more change than did male participants. Either some gay men and lesbians, following reparative therapy, actually change their predominantly homosexual orientation to a predominantly heterosexual orientation or some gay men and women construct elaborate self-deceptive narratives (or even lie) in which they claim to have changed their sexual orientation, or both. For many reasons, it is concluded that the participants’ self-reports were, by-and-large, credible and that few elaborated self-deceptive narratives or lied. Thus, there is evidence that change in sexual orientation following some form of reparative therapy does occur in some gay men and lesbians”

    IH-Given the highly politicized environment that led to the changes in the DSM, why would anyone be surprised that the same is “nuanced” and references ““self-selected”, “some minimal change”, “lasted at least 5 years” ? The critical findigs were that a “majority of participants gave reports of change from a predominantly or exclusively homosexual orientation before therapy to a predominantly or exclusively heterosexual orientation in the past year.” Would not such findings contradict the changes in the DSM and prove that the same were a reaction to a political movement, as opposed to being scientifically warranted? Would not the gay rights movement want such a study and its practitioners and supporters suppressed?

  27. Dr Noam Stadlan wrote:

    “A cursory review of the literature shows that there aren’t any quality studies showing conversion therapy works and there is anecdotal evidence and theoretical discussions as to the harm. However, all the major professional(as opposed to religious) organizations relevant to the topic are opposed to this therapy on the grounds that a treatment needs to have demonstrated eficacy and a low risk/benefit ratio. Whether either is true or not is not actually known”

    Perhaps, such studies haven’t happened because therapists can’t get reimbursed from insurance companies for undertaking them in the first place because of politically motivated changes in the DSM and the professional asociations.

  28. Steve — I have no idea what you’re talking about. The DSM controversy is orthogonal to this discussion. Incidentally, if you are truly interested in the broader DSM controversy, see the recent article in NYRB: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2011/jul/14/illusions-of-psychiatry/?pagination=false

    [IMHO the fixation thats ome people have with homosexuals strikes me as similar to the fixation that some people have with Jews. I just don’t get it.]

  29. IH-The Berger article summarizes the poltical and sociological facts on the ground that led to the changes in the DSM with respect to homosexuality. It is obvious that you view any rational questionning of the gay agenda as homophobic in nature-which for the life of me-I see as having no relationship to the world’s oldest social disease-anti Semitism and its myriad of proponents.

  30. IH-the two articles and the letters in response in the NYRB deal with unrelated changes in the DSM, changes in the pychiatric profession, the use of anti depressants and the role of the pharmaceutical companies. They shed no light whatsoever on why the DSM jettisoned its definitions with respect to homosexuality.

  31. IH wrote:

    “[IMHO the fixation thats ome people have with homosexuals strikes me as similar to the fixation that some people have with Jews. I just don’t get it.]”

    Are you suggesting that the Torah and Talmud does not have a very strong emphasis on the roles of God, a father and mother, as opposed to either two males or two females, in their bringing children into this world and encouraging them to love and fear them for doing so and providing a moral and ethical center and structure ?

  32. Steve- while it does take some resources to conduct a study(study design, data collection, analysis etc) it is not overwhelming. Most scientists who thought they had a useful treatment would make the effort to provide proof, so that others would accept their methods. I’m addition there are probably a few groups who would be willing to fund such research. The insurance companies have nothing to do with it.

    I have no knowledge as to how or why homosexuality was removed from the listings mental illness. However you should think about what exactly is the definition of mental illness. If it is behavior or thoughts that interfere with ‘normal’ functioning, then a lot depends on the definition of normal. The view that the author puts forth is rejected by the mainstream psychological/psychiatric community.

  33. Steve — The Torah and Talmud forbid many activities that are far more prevalent than acts of homosexuality; and, yet, this one issue seems to attract attention and venom that the others do not.

    It is an irrational fixation.

  34. Noam Stadlan wrote:

    “Steve- while it does take some resources to conduct a study(study design, data collection, analysis etc) it is not overwhelming. Most scientists who thought they had a useful treatment would make the effort to provide proof, so that others would accept their methods. I’m addition there are probably a few groups who would be willing to fund such research. The insurance companies have nothing to do with it.

    I have no knowledge as to how or why homosexuality was removed from the listings mental illness. However you should think about what exactly is the definition of mental illness. If it is behavior or thoughts that interfere with ‘normal’ functioning, then a lot depends on the definition of normal. The view that the author puts forth is rejected by the mainstream psychological/psychiatric community”

    Noam Stadlan-WADR, just as medical advancements interact with Halacha and cannot be looked at an intellectual, cultural or moral vacumn, the historical and political background is crucial to why the DSM was changed, and cannot be viewed either in a vacumn or by assuming that the same was purely empirically reached. To state it as clearly as possible, why are you adopting a position akin to “ignorance is bliss?”

    In this economy, I tend to doubt that many people would participate even in a limited study without being reimbursed for the same. More importantly, I doubt that any so-called university funded and related or “mainstream” mental health group would provide funding for the same because of the opposition of the gay rights movement, its advocates, supporters and apologists.

  35. Who cares why homosexuality was originally removed from the official list of mental illnesses?

    The fact is that at the moment, virtually all medical professionals view a homosexual orientation as a neutral physiological trait. Berger views it as a temporary psychological condition, and also thinks, for social and religious reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with science, that it’s a problem which should be cured. He spends pages criticizing the politics behind the increasing acceptance of homosexuality, but can’t provide any actual evidence supporting his allegedly scientific claims.

    The Spitzer study is also quite underwhelming. It basically consisted of interviews with a bunch of people who claimed to have had improved heterosexual functioning with the help of conversion therapy; the majority of these subjects had been referred by organizations promoting conversion therapy.

  36. IH wrote:

    “Steve — The Torah and Talmud forbid many activities that are far more prevalent than acts of homosexuality; and, yet, this one issue seems to attract attention and venom that the others do not”

    I would offer the following rationale-one cannot deny that such a lifestyle is completely contradictory to the Torah and the Talmud’s views on marriage and family. I would add that while you and I certainly disagree on this issue, for the reasons advanced by R Gil and myself-this issue was lost decades ago, by not sufficiently emphasizing the centrality of marriage between man and woman as a key Jewish value in a positive manner. I don’t think that cultural or political alliances with the RCC which views celibacy as the ultimate form of religious behavior is always the proper answer, but I do think that abdicating our right to defend what we think are the proper moral values in our manner is equally problematic.

    I recently commented that one could construct a semi serious inquiry-what is worse-voting for someone produced an awful television show that was hardly a paragon of moral values or someone affiliated with the MO world who wrapped himself in his identity as a MO Jew by supporting gay rights.

  37. A reader-how do you know that the politics had no bearing on the changes in the DSM? Berger was present as these changes developed in the profession.

  38. Steve Brizel,

    I don’t know; I just don’t see how that question about the politics of the early 1970’s is at all relevant to the empirical question at hand, namely is sexual orientation just a psychological state that can be changed by therapy (a proposition which hardly any contemporary medical professionals believe.)

  39. Steve. The patients don’t pay to be in the study. There would be no financial downside for a patient to be in a study such as we are discussing.

    Ignorance is not bliss. There is a difference between the questions: “why was the classification changed?” and “was the change the proper thing to do given current medical, social and scientific understanding?”. It is the second question that is most relevant to the current state of affairs. The first is a historical curiosity over which I am sure there can be many arguments.

  40. A reader-WADR, divorcing politics and the history of the changes in the DSM from an “empirical question” begs the issue.

  41. Dr Noam Stadlan wrote:

    “There is a difference between the questions: “why was the classification changed?” and “was the change the proper thing to do given current medical, social and scientific understanding?”. It is the second question that is most relevant to the current state of affairs. The first is a historical curiosity over which I am sure there can be many arguments.”

    WADR, delinking the two above phrased questions on the grounds is a classical example of viewing political developments as having no relevance in our “current medical, social and scientific understanding”. Such a rationale can be utilized to defend any current understanding, no matter how mistaken, from its historical origins.

  42. IMO, the notion that one can divorce political and similar considerations from “purely scientific issues” in any given society is a wonderful idea, but can be easily disproven by the fact the scientific and medical professions essentially rubber stamped and participated in some of the worst events of the 20th Century in Europe, Asia, etc as well as playing no small role in the development of racist and anti Semitic thought, etc, all under the rubric of being “scientific in nature.” Viewing changes in the DSM which resulted from political change in the US strike me IMO as naive and a rewriting of history at worst to suit a revisionist POV that the prior definitions were indeed “homophobic”.

  43. There is a broad consensus that the diagnosis in 1973 was changed by a VOTE and later changed in the DSM 3 IN 1980 by pressure of the gay community.
    The pressure continued to the extnt that a major researcher of genetics in tHe NIMH WHO SHOWED THROUGH HIS RESEARCH THAT THERE WAS NO GENETIC BASIS OF HOMOSEXUALITY COULD NOT GET HIS PAPER PUBLISHED.
    Today anyone who BELIEVES therapy MAY BE HELPFUL TO SOME ,IS FOUND NOT POLITICALLY CORRECT AND CALLED HOMOPHOBIC.THAT IS NOT SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH.

  44. OK, so the DSM changed in response to “extra-scientific” social changes. so what? how does that prove that it was right before and wrong now? surely the prior categorization was also influenced by social factors. as has been pointed out, the very question of what is “normal” is inherently bound up with culture…
    and even assuming the prior DSM was right, what does that have to do with conversion therapy? there are plenty of abnormalities/disorders that cannot really be changed/treated, and plenty of things that can be changed that are not disorders.

  45. There are some who believe Lincoln freed the slaves because of economics, rather than morality. If it is true, does that mean it is moral to have slaves?

    Obviously the situations are not completely analogous, but the basic issue is ‘what is mental illness’ and how does homosexuality fit or not fit the construct. Therefore the discussion should center not on why something was changed or not changed, but what are the categories, how are we defining the categories, and where does homosexuality fit. Why things changed is less important than whether it is a valid change.

  46. Noam Stadlan wrote:

    “There are some who believe Lincoln freed the slaves because of economics, rather than morality. If it is true, does that mean it is moral to have slaves?

    Obviously the situations are not completely analogous, but the basic issue is ‘what is mental illness’ and how does homosexuality fit or not fit the construct. Therefore the discussion should center not on why something was changed or not changed, but what are the categories, how are we defining the categories, and where does homosexuality fit. Why things changed is less important than whether it is a valid change”

    WADR, the analogy is IMO not a valid one. Lincoln’s purposes in fighting the Civil War evolved from restoring the Union, with or without slavery, to restoring the union and abolition of slavery-based on the southern withdrawal after Antietam, and as a response to the pro Confederate sympathies for economic reasons in some of GB’s highest political circles. Again-one never divorces political change or discusses the reasons for the same without considering the underlying reasons.

    For the same reason, looking at a contemporarily enshrined definition of what is mental illness has no bearing on the history of who led the movement that led to the changes in the DSM. Failing to do so would IMO is analogous to defending “experiments” conducted by Nazi doctors , Soviet era physicians or Kervorkian’s actions as somehow sanctified by the term “medicine” without the responsibility to investigate the basis for the same.

  47. If you want to go back in time, there are many other conditions that were once considered mental illness and countless people were locked up in apalling asylums as a result (into the 1960s).

    Comtemporary society no longer views homosexuality to be a mental illness. Blaming it on the media or DSM (and you seeem to alternate between the two) is a pointless exercise and increasibly has the odor of a consipiracy theory.

  48. Steve. I am sorry. I cannot follow your argument. I have no idea what Nazi experimentation and jack kavorkian have to do with this discussion. Both are bad regardless of context. For simplicity’s sake, if you want to continue the conversation, please state your definition of mental illness and how homosexual desires fit into that definition. Otherwise there isn’t a lot to discuss. You may want to include whether masturbation or other sexual behavior should be included as mental illness, explaining why or why not things are included or excluded.

  49. IH wrote:

    “Comtemporary society no longer views homosexuality to be a mental illness. Blaming it on the media or DSM (and you seeem to alternate between the two) is a pointless exercise and increasibly has the odor of a consipiracy theory”

    WADR, Berger’s article documents the political pressure and facts on the ground.Denying that the same led to a change in the DSM is exactly what is defined as a revisionist view of history-regardless of how “contemporary society”, however one defines that concept, views homosexuality.

  50. As always, looking up the source helps shed light and remove noise.

    The following is the meat of the editor’s introduction to the cited article by Spitzer in the Oct 2003 edition of the professional journal Archives of Sexual Behavior, published by Springer.

    Do not be deterred by the length, as much is due to parenthetical references I left intact. The text is both approachable and informative.

    It is now 30 years since the American Psychiatric Association deleted homosexuality per se as a mental disorder from the second edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (American Psychiatric Association, 1968), and the history of this remarkable transformative event has been well-described elsewhere (Bayer, 1981; Bayer &Spitzer, 1982; Spitzer, 1981; see also Nakajima, 2003). Prior to this diagnostic migration from abnormality to normality, the literature was replete with various treatment approaches designed to alter a person’s same-sex sexual orientation.

    […]

    Although it is well-known that not all mental health professionals agreed with the decision to remove homosexuality from the DSM(see, e.g., Nicolosi, Byrd,& Potts, 2000a), it is clear that only a small minority of contemporary practitioners still regard homosexuality per se as pathological. Matters of diagnostics aside, it is also clear that, like their heterosexual counterparts, gays and lesbians seek out therapy for all kinds of reasons (Jones &Gabriel, 1999). Indeed, there is even one scholarly journal, Journal of Gay and Lesbian Psychotherapy, devoted specifically to gay and lesbian therapeutics.

    […]

    In the early 1990s, a “movement” of clinical dissenters appeared on the scene. They argued that there were some clients with a homosexual sexual orientation who, for various reasons, wished to change their sexual orientation and it was argued, also for various reasons, that this desire should not only be respected, but treated. Led by Socarides, a psychoanalyst who, it is well-known, always disagreed with the decision to remove homosexuality from the DSM (see, e.g., Socarides, 1995), and Nicolosi, a psychologist, they have described a technique known as “reparative therapy” to treat both gay men and lesbians (e.g., Nicolosi, 1991; Socarides &Kaufman, 1994). An organization, the National Association of Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), was founded in 1992 and it has a newsletter, the NARTH Bulletin, a web site, and an annual conference. For readers interested in learning about the intellectual and ideological positions of NARTH, a subscription to the NARTH Bulletin is worth the few dollars it costs.

    Of course, the concept of “change” in itself is a complex parameter. Interestingly enough, the question of sexual orientation change has, over the past couple of decades, been approached from two theoretical and ideological camps that are as far apart as one can imagine. On the one hand, there is the reparative therapy movement, which is both politically and ideologically conservative and “rightist.” On the other hand, there is the social constructionist movement, which is both politically and ideologically liberal and “leftist,” and the constructionists, like the reparativists, have often argued that sexual orientation is more fluid than it is fixed (see, e.g., Bem, 1995; Brookey, 2002; Epstein, 1991; Kauth, 2000; Kitzinger& Wilkinson, 1995; Kitzinger,Wilkinson, &Perkins, 1992; Peplau, Spalding, Conley, & Veniegas, 1999; Richardson &Seidman, 2002; Rothblum, 2000; Stein, 1999; Weeks, 1985, 1995, 2000; Young-Bruehl, 2001). At times, there really is something to the expression that science and politics make strange bedfellows!

    Not surprisingly, the discourse between NARTH and its critics has been extremely heated. The rhetoric about reparative therapy has far exceeded any empirical evidence about its effectiveness and efficacy, or lack thereof, and has largely focused on ethics and sexual politics (Brookey, 2000; Davison, 1978, 2001; Drescher, 2002; Green, 2003; Haldeman, 1991, 1994; Halpert, 2000; Hicks, 1999; Kemena, 2000; Murphy, 1991, 1992a, 1992b, 1997; Rosik, 2003; Saunes, 2002; Selle, 2003; Shidlo, Schroeder, & Drescher, 2001; Silverstein,1977; Sturgis & Adams, 1978; Tozer & McLanahan, 1999). As this debate moved into formal resolutions by professional organizations critiquing “reparative therapy” (American Psychiatric Association, 1999, 2000; American Psychological Association, 1998), it is rather disconcerting, from a (narrow) empirical perspective, that so little information is available about the outcome of this form of treatment. Such resolutions raise complex ethical issues in their own right, including matters of individual autonomy in arranging a “contractual” agreement between client and therapist (see, e.g., Szasz, 1965). Of course, the absence of empirical information is all too common for many psychological treatments for many “problems in living” and/or disorders (see, e.g., Heiman &Meston’s (1997) thoughtful appraisal of the psychological treatment literature on sexual dysfunctions). In this respect, the absence of such data for “reparative therapy” is not that surprising (indeed, one might also

    note that, despite the multiplicity of published works on affirmative psychotherapies for gays and lesbians, they, too, lack any clear empirical foundation, at least if one uses standard guidelines for empirically-validated treatments (see, e.g., American Psychological Association, 1995; Streiner, 2002).

    It is really only in the last couple of years that we are beginning to see the semblance of some research about who exactly are the types of clients who seek out this form of treatment and some data on outcome (Beckstead, 1999, 2001; Beckstead & Morrow, 2003; Nicolosi, Byrd, & Potts, 2000b; Shidlo & Schroeder, 2002). From a scientific standpoint, however, the empirical database remains rather primitive and any decisive claim about benefits or harms really must be taken with a rather substantial grain of salt and without such data it is difficult to understand how professional societies can issue any clear statement that is not contaminated by rhetorical fervor. Sexual science should encourage the establishment of a methodologically sound database from which more reasoned and nuanced conclusions might be drawn.

    This issue of Archives contains an invited target article by Spitzer that examined a sample of 200 reparative therapy clients who sought treatment to change their sexual orientation. Because of the nature of the study, the Editor was of the view that it should be published only with the opportunity for detailed peer commentary, along with a reply by the author.

    […]

    Of approximately 40 individuals who expressed an interest in writing a commentary, 26 commentaries were received and these immediately follow the target article, followed by a reply from Spitzer.

    It is the Editor’s view that a scholarly journal is a legitimate forum to address controversial scientific and ethical issues rather than leaving the complexity of the attendant discourse to “the street.” Additional commentaries are welcome in the form of a Letter to the Editor.

    NYPL Catalog URL: http://nypl.bibliocommons.com/item/show/19080873052_archives_of_sexual_behavior

  51. Noam Stadlan wrote in part:

    “Steve. I am sorry. I cannot follow your argument. I have no idea what Nazi experimentation and jack kavorkian have to do with this discussion. Both are bad regardless of context”

    I think that the logical connection is obvious to anyone who refuses to see that what can pass for “medicine” is driven by the political phemomena of the time-whether the same be Nazism, Communism or some so-called right to “death with dignity.” Your question re masturbation would make sense if it were not for the fact as noted by Dr B Sorotzkin ( http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=perfectionism%20orthodox%20judaism&source=web&cd=1&sqi=2&ved=0CB0QFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fdrsorotzkin.com%2Fpursuit_of_perfection.html&ei=_E-oTq6NBsT40gHzua21Dg&usg=AFQjCNExENCaV7CU-iNKMpY6WybEPxAU2Q) that one can find much in the halachic and hashkafic literature that offers an approach other than condemnation, as well as the fact that would otherwise be considered masturbation can be the basis of artificial insemination, and the birth of a child. No such leniency exists in the context of a same gender couple.

  52. Steve,
    Why are you so quick to see social deteminants in medical decision and policy but blind to it in halachic decision making?

  53. The Talmud in BB debates whether Chachmah or Nevuah is greater and seems to conclude that Talmidei Chachamim by dint of their working through a halachic issue, have a Siyata D Shmaya that RYBS pointed out cannot and should never be analyzed via any outside discipline. The history of politics, medicine, economics, literature and every other discipline, being a discipline created by humans is suseceptible to social determinants.

  54. Steve,
    Perhaps it shouldn’t analyzed by an outside discipline, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t influenced by outside factors. As for siyata dishmaya, unless you believe Rabbis are infallible, then siyata dishmaya doesn’t prevent them from making mistakes. And it certainly doesn’t prevent them from being human. Which means they are affected by outside considerations, even if they don’t want to be, even if they don’t know it.

  55. Steve- Your article doesn’t claim it is muttar, just that the people who say that there is no kappara for it are wrong. The fact that it can be used for in vitro is completely irrelevant as you and I both know that the overwhelming majority is not done for that purpose. It is like saying that hitting someone and making them bleed is ok because sometimes taking blood samples is useful.

    If you think that homosexuality is a mental illness, please give your definition of mental illness, how homosexuality fits that definition, and how other sexual activities contrary to halacha are or are not mental illness. If you are unable or unwilling to do so, please forgive me for not commenting further.

  56. MDJ-Siyata DShmaya should never be confused or equated with Ruach HaKodesh. As far as mistakes are concerned, history is replete with great people making huge mistakes in their judgment.

    Noam Stadlan-answering your question implies that I accept the contemporary definition of mental illness with respect to homosexuality. To use a legal expression-I can’t ( and won’t) answer the question in the way that is phrased. WADR, I believe that you mistated the premise of the article that I quoted, which clearly offers a far more realistic means of giving mental health and hashkafic advice and an alternative approach for anyone faced with the issue, than merely condemning the same. Saying that the same is permissible for AI from a spouse and that there is Kaparah, as opposed to the far more severe views that one sees in some halachic and hashkafic works, for someone with such an issue is WADR hardly a small matter.

  57. Steve,
    Right. So, what was your point in bringing it in earlier.

  58. Steve- You are the one making a big deal about homosexuality vis a vis mental illness. If you think it should be considered a mental illness, then you should be able to give YOUR definition of mental illness(and it doesn’t have to be the one that real psychologists or psychiatrists hold by), and then how you think that homosexuality fits that definition. And to be sure that it is a logical construct, it is only reasonable that you should also be able to classify other halachically assur behavior as either mental illness or not(again, according to YOUR definition). Then we have a basis for discussion.

    I would also like to apply for a position on your Moetzes Gedolei HaRofim. Please let me know if space is available.

    thanks

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