Yom Shabbat, 1 Heshvan 5775
Saturday, 25 October 2014
Rabbinic Conference statement on JFS lesson controversy

The Rabbinic Conference of Liberal Judaism has been appalled by an article in the Jewish Chronicle claiming that JONAH (Jews Offering New Alternatives to Homosexuality), an organisation offering reparative or conversion therapy to homosexuals, was referred to during a lesson on homosexuality at the JFS, a state-funded secondary school. Whilst there are conflicting accounts as to the way the organisation was presented, what is clear from all the different version is that JONAH was mentioned as an option meant to give students “food for thought.”

What was presented was a dangerous point of view that advocates unsafe medical practices, unsupported by science and unsupportable by all those of good conscience.

Reparative therapy is a dangerous procedure, which can not only cause psychological harm to the patients receiving it, but also creates a setting in which prejudice and discrimination flourish. According to The Royal College of Psychiatry, attempts to change a client’s sexual orientation can be “deeply damaging,” stating furthermore that “there is no evidence that such change is possible.” On a similar note, the American Psychiatric Association has made an official statement exhorting practitioners to “refrain from attempts to change individuals' sexual orientation, keeping in mind the medical dictum to first, do no harm.”

As well as a growing number of Orthodox rabbis willing to put their name to the condemnation of such practices, it is unfortunate that there seems to have been no engagement with organisations such as Keshet UK that seeks to tackle homophobic bullying and stigma in Jewish institutions.

Equally, there are many Jewish organisations in the UK offering support to those conflicted by their sexuality, including the Jewish Gay and Lesbian Group, which runs Orthochav - a safe social space for Orthodox gays and lesbians. Such options are not discussed with pupils at the JFS.

Rabbi Aaron Goldstein, Co-Chair of the Rabbinic Conference said: “Regardless of the intentions of the lesson plan, the presentation of such information was unsupportable. Attempts to justify its inclusion seem to demonstrate an inability to grasp the issues the school is seeking to address.”

“The duty of care for its pupils must be primary and providing this information is potentially damaging to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered students as well as drawing attention uncritically to a viewpoint that has no place in modern society.”

“Liberal Judaism has freely available on its website a pamphlet, ‘Lesbian and Gay Jews and Same-Sex relationships,’ that provides a progressive Jewish understanding of the importance all Jews hold in our community, regardless of sexual orientation.

“We are proud to have pioneered Same-Sex Commitment Ceremonies in the UK, for which we have published liturgies, and to be involved in lobbying for full LGBT equality in Civil Law.”