Overcoming Same-Sex Attraction
By Adam Jessel
When 21-year-old Avi Korman (not his real name) confided to his parents that
he was experiencing unwanted homosexual urges, they weren't sure where to
turn. Eventually, the young man and his parents approached Sam
Rosenberg for help. Rosenberg, an Orthodox Jewish therapist in family
practice in New Jersey, did what he always did with new cases, namely
research the options. He discovered that a number of therapy and support
groups across the United States seemed to offer promising treatment. Most,
though, were overtly religious, and none were Jewish.
Eventually, the Kormans teamed up with several other Jewish families facing
similar challenges to launch JONAH - Jews Offering New Alternatives to
Homosexuality. The New Jersey-based non-profit organization is staffed
entirely by volunteers, with Rosenberg assisting as a clinical
consultant. JONAH serves as a worldwide information and referral center,
operates therapy groups for people who want to overcome homosexual
orientations, and provides professional guidance to similar groups in
Not surprisingly, those involved in JONAH are Jews who respect the
traditional Jewish approach to homosexuality - for the most part, but not
exclusively, Orthodox Jews. While valuing every human being and the
struggles people shoulder, Jewish law and tradition unequivocally prohibit
homosexual behavior, and some expressions of homosexuality are considered so
detrimental to the individual and society that they are included by the
Torah among the basic moral prohibitions incumbent upon all humanity.
The Reform movement, by contrast, permits its rabbis to formalize homosexual
unions and ordains open homosexuals. While the Conservative movement has not
officially sanctioned the practice, some of its rabbis do officiate at
same-sex ceremonies, and the former rector of one of the movement's two
rabbinic seminaries has openly endorsed the blessing of "gay unions."
Indeed, when a representative of JONAH was invited by a teacher and her
class to speak before them at a Conservative Hebrew high school, the
principal stepped in to cancel the event.
With that approach, the non-Orthodox Jewish movements are embracing the
contemporary societal consensus that regards homosexual orientation as
innate, irreversible, and morally neutral. That view, effectively promoted
by gay activists, leaves no room for an organization like JONAH, which
caters to people who do not consider homosexual activity a viable
alternative and supports their efforts to change.
"Strugglers", as the group's clients are called, want to overcome their
same-sex attraction for any of a number of reasons. Some have been involved
in homosexual activity for years and became disillusioned with a promiscuous
lifestyle and unstable, stormy relationships. Some simply want to marry and
have children. Still others are already married, and want to eliminate the
difficulties brought to their marriages by unwanted homosexual attractions.
Those who were born religious or became religious later in life are
motivated by a clear religious obligation to avoid homosexual activity and to
try to reduce their same-sex attraction.
Steven (also a pseudonym) had been pursuing an active homosexual life when
he started reading about Judaism. "Jewish philosophy and practice started to
make a lot of sense to me, and I eventually had to make a choice: Either
continue to be openly homosexual, perhaps even becoming a Reform rabbi, or
make a commitment to overcome my homosexual urges."
Taking the second path is never easy. Whether people like Steven manage to
control or eliminate their unwanted same-sex attraction depends on many
factors, including to what extent they regard change as possible. Indeed,
many Jews with unwanted homosexual attractions are discouraged from seeking
help because they have heard that homosexuality is something innate that
cannot be changed.
Rosenberg acknowledges that there may be people who cannot change their
same-gender attraction. "However," he adds, "I have never met such a
His confidence in the ability to change is not based solely on his own
clinical experience. He received strong support from a report by a Columbia
University Professor of Psychiatry delivered on May 9 at the annual
convention of the American Psychiatric Association (APA). In the report, Dr.
Robert Spitzer announced the results of a study he had conducted, concluding
that "contrary to conventional wisdom, some highly motivated individuals,
using a variety of change efforts, can make substantial change in multiple
indicators of sexual orientation."
According to Rosenberg, "We cannot make a man interested in women. But we
can help him attain that goal if he wants. Generally, a diminishing of the
unwanted homosexual attraction is accompanied by an increased awareness of
attraction to the opposite gender."
The researcher interviewed 200 men and women who have experienced a
significant shift from homosexual to heterosexual attraction, and have
shift for at least five years. By the time of the study interview,
three-quarters of the men and half of the women had become married.
"If somebody wants to change and it's not because they are just responding
to pressure, it shouldn't be assumed that it's irrational or giving in to
society," Dr. Spitzer told an interviewer.
While other studies have likewise demonstrated the fluidity of sexual
orientation, Spitzer's personal involvement in this particular study is of
special significance: He was a leading figure in the 1973 APA decision that
removed homosexuality from the official diagnostic manual of mental
Rosenberg is sympathetic to those who feel that they cannot change.
"While there's no question that Judaism prohibits homosexual acts, we must
be mindful that it can be a very painful struggle, one that you can't judge
if you've never been there."
"Still, although it can be difficult, "the potential for change is always
Adam Jessel is a therapist and research consultant
living in Israel. A former staff member in the Faculty of Medicine at
Hadassah Hospital, he has authored numerous studies in medical and
from the June 2001 Edition of the Jewish Magazine