Homosexuality: JONAH offers choice
(Posted Nov. 9, 2007)
Written by Seth Mandel
Science and religion often clash, and rarely are they used to prove one another in modern times.
Yet it is exactly the combination of those two forces that drives Arthur Goldberg's work with JONAH -- Jews Offering New Alternatives to Homosexuality.
Goldberg, together with JONAH co-director Elaine Silodor Berk, uses Jewish law texts and scientific study to get to the individual root causes of SSA -- same sex attraction -- and help those who are unhappy with their lifestyle reassert their gender identity and change their life.
"We don't create a value judgment here," Goldberg told The Jewish State. "We're a pro-choice organization. And part of our job is to educate the Jewish community in particular, and the world at large, that indeed there is a choice for people to change."
Goldberg explained that the organization doesn't "proselytize"; rather, if a person is happy with their lifestyle JONAH has no reason to get involved. The mission of the organization is to help those who seek help.
But he is adamant in the underlying belief that serves as the foundation for JONAH's work.
"People are not born gay; there's no such thing as a gay gene," Goldberg said. "The fact of the matter is homosexuality is an emotional adaptation, typically to childhood pain. And because it's an emotional adaptation, people can readapt."
Goldberg, a former law professor at the University of Connecticut and past deputy attorney general of New Jersey, has a list of about a dozen events or recurring events in childhood that can derail the development of a child's sexual identity and cause him or her to pursue a homosexual lifestyle for any number of reasons.
Two variations of one of those causes, Goldberg said, are defensive detachment from the same-sex parent or enmeshment with the opposite sex parent.
"In the final analysis, what a homosexual has is a gender deficiency," Goldberg said. In other words, in the first two years of a male child's life, his mother is "his whole world." Between ages 2 and 3, that child begins to detach from his mother and start attaching to his father.
"If for whatever reasons it happens that he doesn't start attaching to dad and he doesn't start breaking with mommy, in the ages 3, 4, 5, he's going to start identifying more with the girls than he is with the boys, and therefore internalize more feminine characteristics," Goldberg said. "Therefore, he's going to start getting made fun of by the boys, and he's going to further detach from the world of boys and men."
That is what Goldberg called same-sex peer wounding. It's a psychological snowball, essentially, that is difficult -- but possible, he said -- to reverse.
Other possible causes are body image wounds and sexual abuse, sibling wounds, social influence, he said.
The Jersey City-based JONAH deals exclusively with those looking to change. Broadly characterized, there are two major age groups that seek counseling. Those who are under 30 often feel a values conflict, and are interested in "trying" to reconcile an internal incongruity.
Because the gay culture is such a youth oriented scene, Goldberg said, those over 40 often feel that they no longer belong -- that they now must become the pursuer instead of the pursued.
Hand in hand with the psychological implications of homosexuality, according to Goldberg, are the religious doctrines, which, when studied, reveal not only the complexity of the issue but also provide a prescription for both acceptance and change.
Goldberg explained that the famous word in Leviticus "toevah" is too often taken at face value. But in observant Judaism, the oral law, centered around the Mishnah and the Talmud, must be consulted on such matters as well.
Goldberg referenced a talmudic discussion in Nedarim where the meaning of the word toevah is analyzed. Goldberg said the text states that the word is an acronym for three Hebrew words that mean "you have been led astray."
Goldberg said such a person has been "led astray" in three ways.
"You've been led astray in terms of your authenticity to yourself; you've been led astray in terms of your relationship to the community at large; and you've been led astray in terms of your relationship to God," he said.
But the Talmud is just as clear, he said, with regard to a person's ability to repent.
"When you've been led astray, in classical Judaism, you're supposed to be able to do teshuvah -- if you made a mistake, you can always return," Goldberg said. "That's what teshuvah is. And it's the same process in terms of dealing with what I call the gender affirming process."
But the ability to "change" a person's sexual preference is often strongly questioned in the scientific community. Goldberg said there is more support for the idea than the public is led to believe.
As an example, he mentioned Dr. Robert Spitzer, a Columbia University Psychology professor. Spitzer was instrumental in 1973 in the removal of homosexuality from the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). At the time, Goldberg said, Spitzer was convinced that homosexuals were born that way and couldn't change, even if they wanted to.
About seven years ago, Goldberg and a number of others approached Spitzer about performing a study to see if people can, indeed change. Spitzer accepted the challenge and performed the independent study.
His findings invited a groundswell of criticism and disavowal of his scholarship: Spitzer had found that homosexuals could change.
Goldberg said that the vilification by the mainstream scientific community of Spitzer is counterproductive to the gay community.
"It's actually imprisoning people who get these feelings and don't know they have an option out," he said.
Goldberg also said that since about 40 percent of his clients are married, helping them to change their behavior and desires can save a marriage and family. He also believes that no homosexual child should ever be thrown out of a household, since the child never made a choice to feel what they feel; the choice is what to do about it, and the parents should embrace -- but not force -- the possibility of change.
"We believe very strongly that a child should be unconditionally loved as a child," Goldberg said. "But although you unconditionally love your child, it doesn't mean that you approve of their behavior. Just like if a child was on drugs or alcohol... you would say 'I love you, kid, but I don't agree with your behavior'."
Nor should the parents feel guilty, he said, because miscommunication and misreading signals can cause the child to feel a certain way, though the parents never intended to convey those emotions or judgments.
"Often what happens is the child's perception of you -- perception may not be reality," he said.
Additionally, the gender affirming process (GAP) that JONAH advocates can keep an observant Jew from having to choose between faith and fantasy.
"It's really very important for the child to feel loved and affirmed as the child; that's a very important part of the healing process, frankly," Goldberg said.
A civil rights activist in the 1960s and 70s, and an advocate for Soviet Jewish emigration in the 70s and 80s, Goldberg believes his work with JONAH is a natural progression of his advocacy, since the current political and social climate is most difficult for homosexuals who want to change, but are scorned by society at large who devalue their struggle and are treated as traitors by the mainstream gay community.
"I've always been one to try to help the underdog," he said.
Goldberg conducts initial interviews with those seeking change, and then refers them to members of a network of licensed social workers, psychiatrists, psychotherapists, and life coaches.
JONAH's work reaches many countries throughout the world, including South Africa, Australia, Canada, Israel, and Latin America. He would also like to set up an office in Jerusalem.
There are other organizations that do this work, he said, including People Can Change. According to its Web site, People Can Change is a "non-profit educational, outreach, and support organization of men who have successfully transitioned out of unwanted homosexual attractions and increased their heterosexual identity, feelings and behaviors."