AJN Letters: Rabbi Shimon Cowen taken to task – June 1 2012

1 June 2012
The Australian Jewish News Melbourne edition

Letters to the editor should be no more than 250 words and may be edited for length and content. Only letters sent to letters@jewishnews.net.au will be considered for publication. Please supply an address and daytime phone number for verification.

Rabbi wrong on reparative therapy for homosexuality

IN response to Rabbi Shimon Cowen (AJN 25/05), I feel I must take a stand regarding the false portrayal of homosexuality as a mental illness or developmental disorder.

In 2009, the American Psychological Association voted to repudiate reparative therapy after a comprehensive two-year study concluded there was scant evidence that sexual orientation could be changed.

Their research showed that reparative therapy could lead to depression, self-harm and even suicide.

In mid-May this year, the Office for the Americas of the World Health Organisation issued a statement that “‘therapies’ to change sexual orientation lack medical justification and threaten health,” and that “there is a professional consensus that homosexuality is a natural variation of human sexuality.”

There are no rigorous scientific studies which show that “Practices known as ‘reparative therapy’ or ‘conversion therapy’ … demonstrate any efficacy of efforts to change sexual orientation”.

As our spiritual leaders, could our rabbis be supporting us to be loving parents invested in nurturing our children’s potential instead of pathologising and demonising homosexuality (and our lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender and intersex Jews)?

Should rabbis encourage parents to denounce their own children as “abominations”? Could we instead focus on investment in the kind of values and ethics that lead to minimising sexual abuse and domestic violence in our community?

Rabbi Cowen, we want our spiritual leaders to echo the statement by Dr Roses from the Office for the Americas of the World Health Organisation: “These supposed conversion therapies constitute a violation of the ethical principles of health care and violate human rights that are protected by international and regional agreements.”

Counselling psychologist
South Yarra, Vic

Study into reparative therapy repudiated

RABBI Cowen’s letter (AJN 25/05) distorts the events and findings surrounding Dr Robert Spitzer’s research into reparative therapies. To be precise and set the record straight:

Dr Spitzer’s 2003 paper was challenged by his colleagues because it was not refereed and because it reached questionable conclusions; it was not a situation, as Cowen implied, in which he was “assailed by the APA [American Psychiatric Association] and various lobbies”.

The primary objection to Dr Spitzer’s work was not, as Cowen stated, that his sample was drawn from highly religiously motivated individuals. But as Spitzer said, “In retrospect, I have to admit I think the critiques are largely correct.

“The findings can be considered evidence for what those who have undergone ex-gay therapy say about it, but nothing more.”

This year, Dr Spitzer said that his 2003 study was simply to answer the question “How do individuals undergoing reparative therapy describe changes in sexual orientation?”

Rabbi Cowen wrongly implies in his letter that the study was to investigate the success rate of such therapies.

Finally, Dr Spitzer bared his soul by concluding, “I also apologise to any gay person who wasted time and energy undergoing some form of reparative therapy because they believed that I had proven that reparative therapy works with some ‘highly motivated’ individuals.”

There is clearly no evidence whatsoever that reparative therapy works. In fact, there is ample evidence that for many individuals it causes extreme anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts.

Promoting the possibility of a “cure” for homosexuality ignores current medical knowledge and may indeed result in harm to individuals who are pressured into attempting such fake therapies.

How many of our fellow Jews, especially how many of our children, must suffer from depression and related issues before those who promote quack therapies recognise the harm they are doing?

President, Keshet Australia

‘I’m gay and I don’t need fixing’

RABBI Shimon Cowen’s letter last week reflects an attitude towards gay people that there is something wrong with being gay and that we need to be fixed. I’m here to tell Cowen and others from similar backgrounds that I don’t need fixing.

I’ve stood by my partner as he’s taken on the Orthodox attitude towards himself and his sexuality. While there has been significant changes in some attitudes within the broader Jewish community, there are still large segments that lag behind modern understanding of sexuality, and then there are those who simply don’t want to do anything to upset the Orthodox.

The notion that sexuality can be changed has been shown to be incorrect, the study that Rabbi Cowen relies on is often misquoted and misunderstood. Recently, the author withdrew the study because of the way religious people continue to misuse it.

Those in authority fail in their duty of care if they refuse to understand the nature of the diverse range of sexuality, and doubly so if they make any attempts to subvert the innate nature of the very personal notion of sexuality.

The anxiety caused in young people whose sexuality is not accepted by their faith groups is well documented, and gleefully ignored by those who believe it an abomination.

Rabbi Cowen and others of his ilk need to accept people for who they are; they need to encourage them to grow as individuals and they need to embrace the diverse nature of their community. It is the only way to true social cohesion and understanding for all.

Carnegie, Vic

Suffering caused by reparative therapy

RABBI Shimon Cowen, is continuing to misuse Dr Robert Spitzer’s work as it has always been misused by those whose minds are closed to the truth.

Dr Spitzer’s study is meaningless: it only measured people who said they had changed.

It contained no objective evidence, no proof at all of actual change.

Furthermore, it was based on memories from years earlier; it included ex-gay advocates with a political axe to grind; and tested no actual treatments.

It was based entirely on phone interviews.

Dr Spitzer never implied in the study that being gay was a choice, and he never said it was possible for anyone who wanted to change – no matter how devout – to do so by means of therapy.

By way of contrast, the World Health Organisation calls reparative therapy “a serious threat to the health and well-being – even the lives – of affected people”.

Homosexuality is a natural expression of human sexuality: it cannot be cured, only suppressed.

I have personally spoken with many men who have suffered this attempted cure. Even those who remain in “successful” heterosexual marriages admit their homosexual desires continue unabated.

Just as men in prison may become “situationally homosexual” to relieve their frustrations, these men have become “situationally heterosexual” within their marriages. Their underlying natural orientation and desires are unchanged – which leads many of them to despair and suicide.

It is reprehensible in the extreme for someone claiming to be a man of God to peddle false hope in this manner.

Eltham, Vic

AJN Letters: Rabbi Shimon Cowen draws on Robert Spitzer – May 25 2012

25 May 2012
The Australian Jewish News Melbourne edition

Letters to the editor should be no more than 250 words and may be edited for length and content. Only letters sent to letters@jewishnews.net.au will be considered for publication. Please supply an address and daytime phone number for verification.

Rabbi Glick’s view of homosexuality

IN last week’s AJN (18/05), the editor commented that Rabbi Avrohom Glick’s statement that homosexuality “can be cured … in most situations” is “an affront … to all those who believe in equality irrespective of sexual orientation”.  I am sure that Rabbi Glick acknowledges that the commandment of loving a fellow Jew extends equally to homosexuals.

The editor also commented that Rabbi Glick’s remarks raise questions about his role as director of student welfare.  Rabbi Glick serves in a school under the aegis of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.  The Lubavitcher Rebbe himself published an essay on homosexuality, in which he wrote that the point of education in general is to modify “inborn dispositions”, including homosexual dispositions, which pose challenges for the ethical requirements of Torah.

He wrote that “for some it is easier and for others it is harder”, but with the exercise of free will and the help of educators, therapists and counsellors, individuals can overcome these drives.  In his position at a Jewish, Orthodox, and particularly, a Lubavitcher school, it is a simple matter of religious freedom and charter that Rabbi Glick should be able to express this view.

Rabbi Glick’s statement that practical homosexual orientation could be experienced as abnormal and be altered was in fact demonstrated in a psychological research paper published by Dr Robert Spitzer in 2003.  This appeared as a revision of Spitzer’s position when, 30 years earlier, he was integral in having homosexuality removed as an illness from the American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders.  Spitzer was at once assailed by the APA and various lobbies for his new research, and over time a number of recantations were elicited from him.

The primary objection which was used to disqualify Spitzer’s new work was that his sample of interviewees was drawn from highly religiously motivated individuals who sought to change their homosexual orientations – a sample, it was argued, that did not represent average homosexuals.  And yet this is precisely the point: because these individuals had a conscious spiritual identity, a higher self, resonating with the Creator’s moral template, which negates homosexual conduct, they were often able to engage with and transform “another”, contrary physical self, as Spitzer found.  Without any concept of an autonomous spiritual self, capable of struggle with psychophysical impulse, the politically ascendant psychology of the APA necessarily rejects freedom, choice and cure in homosexuality.

Balaclava, Vic

Jewish submissions to Senate enquiry on Marriage Equality

The following Jewish organisations have made a submission to the Senate Enquiry into Marriage Equality:

This list may be incomplete.  If you are aware of other Jewish submissions to the Senate Enquiry, please contact Aleph Melbourne.

[ View related articles here. ]

AJN Letters: Homophobic bullying – March 23 2012

23 Mar 2012
The Australian Jewish News Melbourne edition

Letters to the editor should be no more than 250 words and may be edited for length and content. Only letters sent to letters@jewishnews.net.au will be considered for publication. Please supply an address and daytime phone number for verification.

Our duty to combat homophobic bullying

AS a member of a people who have fallen victim to a historical “norm” of persecution and ostracism, I find the argument against the program tackling homophobic bullying in schools extremely troubling.

It seems perverse to suggest that it should be the aspiration of our society to converge to the human condition, a condition that has seen the violent oppression of both homosexuals and Jews for millennia.

Now that Jews have finally been afforded a time and place where we are free from such persecution, why would some in our community be tacitly encouraging the vilification of others, some of whom fall within our community, based on their identity?

In advocating that Jews adhere to a medieval idea of morality, certain members of the Orthodox rabbinate are tragically out of step with the modern world.

Should this mentality persist, they will only continue to stand there scratching their heads as shul attendance continues to plummet.

Dover Heights, NSW

Jewish school out | Gay News Network

Jewish school out

Melbourne’s King David School has become the first Jewish school to join the Victoria-wide Safe Schools Coalition Victoria (SSCV).

Students at the school have formed a Queer and Or Straight Alliance (QOSA) which organises meetings and events to educate teenagers about sexual diversity.

Students from the QOSA produced and screened a video at a school assembly earlier this month in which they discussed their sexual orientation and encouraged gay or bisexual students to approach them for advice.

Funded by the Victorian Department of Education and Early Childhood Development and the Department of Health the SSCV provides resources to create safer educational environments for same-sex attracted and gender questioning youth.

The student video presentation joins the support for the anti-homophobic bullying initiatives from within the Jewish community following leading Australian Rabbi Shimon Cowen’s criticism of the SSCV as “the teaching and validation of homosexual behaviour at the early stages of child education”.

King David principal Michelle Bernshaw said she did not see the program from the perspective of Judaism, but from that of an educator.

“It’s imperative that every child in the school feels supported and respected,” she said.

Student video outs lesbians | The Weekly Review Bayside

Student video outs lesbians


March 5, 2012, 1:48 a.m.

  • King David School students (L-R) Marco and Liat

A GROUP of gay students have officially come out to their peers and teachers in a video screening at the Jewish King David School’s Friday morning assembly.

The video shows three girls talking about their sexual orientation and encouraging others who are gay or bisexual to approach them for advice.

The girls are part of the Queer and Or Straight Alliance (QOSA) – a small student-based group at the school which holds meetings and runs events to help educate teenagers about the nature of sexual diversity.

Gayle Factor, a support teacher of QOSA, said the program fostered a comfortable environment for gay and bisexual students to come to terms with their sexuality. Lesbian student Liat said the group was the reason she felt comfortable coming out.

QOSA formed as a result of a broader, government funded and supported program to prevent homophobic bullying in schools.

Since the program’s launch at the end of 2010, 30 schools have become members of the Safer Schools Coalition Victoria.

King David is the only Jewish school to join.

Principal Michelle Bernshaw said she didn’t see the program from the perspective of Judaism but from that of an educator.

“It’s imperative that every child in the school feels supported and respected,” she said.

Friday’s video revelation comes a few weeks after a leading Australian Rabbi, Dr Shimon Cowen, criticised the SSCV’s program fearing that it may “normalise” homosexuality.

Some of QOSA’s members said they had felt alienated from Judaism when they first realised they were gay. But since learning more about its different denominations, they found there could be a healthy relationship between their religion and sexuality.

Another member and video maker, Marco, said you could be gay or bisexual and still be part of a religious community.


AJN Poll: Should there be specific anti-gay bullying programs in schools?


Note: the survey results have changed markedly since going to press, and at the time of publishing this article they are:

20120301 Poll Daddy results

AJN Letters: Homophobia, Bullying & Rabbi Dr Shimon Cowen – March 2 2012

2 Mar 2012
The Australian Jewish News Melbourne edition

Letters to the editor should be no more than 250 words and may be edited for length and content. Only letters sent to letters@jewishnews.net.au will be considered for publication. Please supply an address and daytime phone number for verification.

My norms are not your norms

AS A proud gay Jew, who follows the Orthodox practices, I found little comfort in last week’s article “Tackling homophobia in the schoolyard” (AJN 24/02). They may preach against judgment, but that gives them no right to belittle us. “Universal norms” is not a “heterosexual union” Rabbi Cowen; that is your norm, in the same way that my norm is to be with someone of the same gender.

As for Rabbi Gutnick, your suggestion of submitting to celibacy is something to be ashamed of. It’s extremely narrow to perceive sexual diversity as purely physical and then to suggest that they deprive themselves of the same pleasures as everyone else. We don’t just need to be treated as equals, but we need to be recognised as equals. As with you, I too was created in God’s image – don’t ever forget that!

There is an Orthodox medium: accept and live. I pray that others of sexual diversity find the same strength to look beyond the community’s “tolerance” and seek those who accept: and most importantly, that they accept themselves.

Caulfield, Vic

Sexual orientation and the dignity of difference

THE AJN should be congratulated for publishing a plurality of rabbinic and other views about schools programs to combat bullying.

Bullying and vilification on the basis of sexual orientation is as much a scourge as is bullying and vilification on grounds of faith, race or ethnic origin.

Teaching high-school students that some people happen to be homosexual (or happen to be Jewish or black or from a minority ethnic group) celebrates only that they should enjoy the dignity of difference, a phrase that hails from the most hallowed halls of Orthodoxy.

Coogee, NSW

Rabbis opinions should not be silenced

RABBI Fred Morgan’s criticism of Rabbi Dr Shimon Cowen’s attitude to homosexuality in “The realities of the human condition” (AJN 24/02) is based on relativism. But if no behaviour is “normative”, is anything normal? And is it not a rabbi’s and ethicist’s task to give guidance?

Our homosexual brothers and sisters, treated with love and respect, should celebrate their acceptance. Instead, some demand that their sexuality be celebrated. And some ridicule religion, but demand the utmost respect.

The Safe Schools Coalition Victoria website reveals a homosexuality-promoting group ensconced in a university, with programs even for kindergarten children. Sensitivity programs are fine, but the indoctrination of a minority ideal isn’t.

A society that values tolerance and prizes free speech must respect the right of Rabbi Dr Cowen to air his views. Those who disagree with his views should debate them, instead of trying to silence him, as though he was a blasphemer.

Chatswood, NSW

The right way to tackle the scourge of bullying

A WORLD that is threatened by terrorism and is exposed to violence and immorality in the media is a breeding ground for anti-social functioning among both children and their adult role models. It is no surprise that bullying in schools and through social networking sites is on the rise. We need strong remedies to address the problem of bullying.

Do I want my Jewish children in school today to have their moral and ethical education regarding bullying initiated by our present day government answerable to every lobby group?

Even if some of what they propose to teach is on track in their “Safe Schools Coalition”, I know with a mother’s love that some of the methods they espouse are far from appropriate for any school age child.

We should be most grateful to Rabbi Dr Shimon Cowen who has courageously spoken out in these challenging times against a “politically correct” but dangerously flawed approach to bullying.

Inspired by the greatness of his own father who helped to bring healing and peace wherever his work took him, Rabbi Cowen’s writings show us how to return to the universal values, the moral and ethical absolutes of Torah and the Noahide Laws.

The Torah absolutes simplify everything. Our children learn that God is greatly good and that we are all made in His image therefore we all have great goodness.

A child with good self-esteem who feels loved and wanted at home and who is modelled good behaviours will not become a bully.

St Kilda East, Vic

Halacha is out-of-date on homosexuality

AS a heterosexual atheistic Jew I would like to address the GLBT issue featured last week. I am one of the very large number of Jews in Melbourne who do not believe in God, the divinity of the Torah or any other supernatural phenomenon.

I have learnt much ethical wisdom from many Jewish sources, but I believe they are all ultimately human in origin. There are however numerous aspects of halachic law I see as archaic, immoral and tragic. Some have fortunately been relegated to a status of inactive irrelevance by rabbis of previous centuries. These include the laws permitting slavery and polygamy. I see the biblical prohibitions against homosexuality as now crying out to be similarly shelved in the backwaters of Jewish history. Halacha actually recommends capital punishment for homosexuals in certain situations.

Jews more than most should have learnt from history that it is evil to persecute minorities and threaten them with execution.

I believe homophobia is as offensive as anti-semitism, and homophobic attitudes within the Jewish community must be challenged by every rational and responsible Jew.

To ignore homophobia is to condone it. I encourage those who are committed to orthodoxy to challenge their rabbis to be courageous on this issue.

Caulfield, Vic

Why the rabbi has got it wrong

IN an article recently published in the Australian Family Association journal, Rabbi Dr Shimon Cowen writes that the real goal of the homosexual “anti-bullying” program for schools is “the teaching and validation of homosexual behaviour at the early stages of child education”. He further argues that homosexual behaviour is a moral wrong.

Rabbi Cowen is essentially claiming that the homosexual “anti-bullying” program for schools has an agenda hidden behind the overt purpose of eliminating bullying behaviour.

This claim deserves condemnation for two reasons:

Firstly, because it seeks to discredit a program aimed at protecting vulnerable young people in our community.

Secondly, because it validates the discriminatory attitudes on which the bullying behaviour overtly relies for its justification.

Even accepting that Rabbi Cowen himself agrees it is unmistakeably clear to “all good and reasonable” people that “the bullying of a child on any grounds is reprehensible and must be stopped”, arguing that homosexuality is abnormal behaviour undermines any anti-discriminatory message.

Writing from his religious perspective Rabbi Cowen reflects the attitude of religious authorities down the ages when he says that “however common or strong homosexual impulses may be in certain individuals, that will not make homosexual practice permissible”.

That position has ever been used by some to justify the vile persecution of those who are different to the majority.

We stand alongside those Jews and others who firmly believe that we need to be accepting of the wide variety of sexualities that are manifest in our community.

Bullying and exclusion – whether by schoolchildren or by rabbis, or indeed by anyone else – needs to be combated. Regardless of traditionalist religious interpretations, it is vital that the Jewish community, and the wider community, become places of inclusivity and belonging.

Australian Jewish Democratic Society

Tackling homophobia in the schoolyard | AJN

24 Feb 2012
The Australian Jewish News Sydney edition

Tackling homophobia in the schoolyard

In an article published in a journal of the Australian Family Association, Rabbi Dr Shimon Cowen, founding director of The Institute for Judaism and Civilisation, expressed his concerns about programs to tackle homophobic bullying in schools.  In the wake of the controversy, Rabbi Cowen explains his position, while Rabbi Fred Morgan, Rabbi Moshe Gutnick and Dr Jonathan Barnett share their opinions on the issue.