Gay gezunt
A brief note about Rabbi Roth.

The decision of the Conservative movement's Committee on Jewish Law and Standards to approve three separate teshuvot with regard to homosexuality will satisfy no one completely. This baffles the extremists, who believe that no one should be satisfied at all. (For isn't the point of halachah an iron-bound maximalism?)

I wish Rabbi Roth weren't resigning from the Committee; I'm guessing this means that he will choose to no longer be affiliated with the movement. He is a towering scholar of unparalleled erudition. Perhaps though this a fitting moment to remind ourselves of two recent statements of Rabbi Roth's (made here):

I urge halakhically committed gay Jews not to reject the possibility that the severity of the halakhic demand of celibacy might be somewhat or significantly mitigated by some modes of therapy and treatment. Since the halakhic prohibition stands irrespective of whether there is treatment possible or not, there is little to be lost in giving a chance to treatment for which claims of marked success are made and attested.
As I mentioned before, the fact that Rabbi Roth believes such "attested" claims of "marked success" in the mitigation of homosexual behavior speaks more to his biases and unintentional ignorance than to any intellectual failing. More important however is his following claim:

. . . an inability to legitimate homosexuality halakhically makes no negative claim whatsoever about the humanity, sanctity, worth, and dignity of homosexuals.

The fact that Rabbi Roth sees no difficulty with this claim (or, at least, no necessity to defend it properly) casts light on a sharp disconnect between halachic strict constructivism and halachic compassion. (Note that this sentence itself makes no distinction between homosexual behavior and homosexuals themselves, a difference which Rabbi Roth dwells upon at length elsewhere.)

Update: A JTS source writes us.
Rabbis Roth and Rabinowitz left for different reasons. in Rabinowitz's case he believes there is not much point to the CJLS. Any rabbi can write a teshuvah and publish it on the web and any other rabbi can either follow that p'sak or not. Rabbi Roth left to make a point that "decisions have consequences". He thought the Dorff Nevins Reiser teshuvah was clearly a case of poskim considering an issue with a predetermined answer in mind. He sees nothing wrong with being predisposed to a certain answer as in the case with deciding someone is not a mamzer or not an agunah, but he says even then if the case is clear there is nothing to do. In his mind this a case where the answer was clear the other way. In particular he said the decision rested on three pillars--all of which would have to hold--and all of which are "tenuous at best". In particular he thought they made way too much out of an apparent makhlokhet between Rambam and Ramban about whether "everything else" is d'rabbanan. He said almost every rabbi since has said that Ramban simply misunderstood Rambam and thought Rambam was saying innocent touching was prohibited d'oraita. [I wish I could find a copy of Roth's teshuvah to better understand these arguments]. Roth also thought the principle of k'vod habrit was with only a few excpetions used for person X to violate a prohibition for the sake of person Y, and even when that was not the case it was always a social situation whereas private bedroom behavior was not a social situation.

Roth was asked how this decision was any worse than the driving teshuvah--and he served on the committee after that. Roth responded that he was a kid when the driving teshuvah came out. That this decision was not worse, but rather on par with the driving teshuvah and that he served on the committee to try to prevent anything like that from happening again, which it did. He notes that both the authors of the homosexuality teshuvah and the driving teshuvah had pure intentions, but were irresponsible. Roth said he will continue to pasken if asked his opinion on an issue. He also noted that many people asked him to reconsider his decision so he is doing that--reconsidering. He has not made any decisions yet about returning to the CJLS. Once again though it sounds clear that the resignation was solely from the CJLS and Roth does not seem to have any intention of leaving either JTS or the movement.


  1. Anonymous9:01 PM

    Taken directly from the teshuva:

    Myth #5: Same-sex attraction (sexual orientation) cannot be changed through therapy
    This position has been forwarded by mental health organizations such as the APA and has come to be accepted as dogma.
    Fact #5: While it is true that many people who have attempted to change their sexual orientation through therapy have failed to do so, and many of them have been harmed in the process, there are people who report that their sexual orientation has changed following therapy.
    The credibility of many of these reports was confirmed in a study by Dr. Robert Spitzer, the psychiatrist who edited the DSM-III and was instrumental in removing homosexuality as a diagnosis. Dr. Spitzer started the study skeptical of the possibility of changing sexual orientation but after conducting interviews with the 200 subjects of the study, he became convinced their claims to "have made major changes from a predominantly homosexual orientation to a predominantly heterosexual orientation" were credible, in his opinion. The major changes were "not limited to sexual behavior and sexual orientation self-identity," but also “encompassed sexual attraction, arousal, fantasy, yearning, and being bothered by homosexual feelings. The changes encompassed the core aspects of sexual orientation. Even participants who only made a limited change nevertheless regarded the therapy as extremely beneficial. Participants reported benefit from nonsexual changes, such as decreased depression, a greater sense of masculinity in males, and femininity in females, and developing intimate nonsexual relations with members of the same sex”.
    Spitzer continues:
    “The findings of this study have implications for clinical practice. First, it questions the current conventional view that desire for therapy to change sexual orientation is always succumbing to societal pressure and irrational internalized homophobia. For some individuals, changing sexual orientation can be a rational, self-directed goal. Second, it suggests that the mental health professionals should stop moving in the direction of banning therapy that has as a goal a change in sexual orientation. Many patients, provided with informed consent about the possibility that they will be disappointed if the therapy does not succeed, can make a rational choice to work toward developing their heterosexual potential and minimizing their unwanted homosexual attractions. In fact, the ability to make such a choice should be considered fundamental to client autonomy and self-determination”.

    These findings of considerable benefits and no obvious harms in the study sample suggest that the current recommendation by the American Psychiatric Association (2000) that “ethical practitioners refrain from attempts to change individuals sexual orientation” is based on a double standard: It implies that it is unethical for a clinician to provide reparative therapy because there is inadequate scientific evidence of effectiveness, whereas it assumes that it is ethical to provide gay affirmative therapy for which there is also no rigorous scientific evidence of effectiveness and for which, like reparative therapy, there are reports and testimonials of harm.
    When people are distressed by their same-sex attractions and seek professional help in dealing with them, it is extremely important to carefully follow ethical guidelines to minimize the potential harm that could come from any treatment, whether its goal is to help the person accept his or her same-sex orientation or to attempt to reduce or eliminate the SSA and help develop or increase opposite-sex attraction.

    Reference: Robert L. Spitzer, M.D., “Can Some Gay Men and Lesbians Change Their Sexual Orientation? Participants Reporting a Change from Homosexual to Heterosexual Orientation,” Archives of Sexual Behavior 32, no. 5 (October 2003): 403–17

  2. Hi there, Anonymous, and welcome to the blog. Are you related to the Teaneck Anonymouses?

    Thanks for the reminder about the use (or misuse) of carefully selected scientific literature in the Roth teshuvah. I would make the following comments.

    First off, I haven't read the Spitzer article in its entirety; I read an abstract. However, I do not think that the article supports the claims made for it by Roth, and I especially disagree with his characterization of this single piece of research as "attested claims [plural in original] of marked success [sic]."

    The article represents the experiences of 200 self-selected homosexuals -- self-selected, that is, and thus not representative of gays and lesbians as a whole, let alone an attestation of the credibility of "many of the reports" of "reparative therapy." Roth is incorrect that the study implies no obvious harm to such therapy - since it seems the question of harm at some future time was not addressed (I don't think the subjects were followed up after the original study).

    In other words, we don't know any of the following: which gays and lesbians such "therapy" is indicated for and whether such therapy is beneficial in the long term. "Marked success" seems to be overstating the case a touch.

    (I should note in passing that some of the benefits accruing to the successful "patients" are somewhat odd at first glance. A greater sense of masculinity in males is presumably not the goal of reparative therapy. Unless, that is, one holds that gay men are by definition effeminate -- a complicated claim in itself and one I hope Roth is not making.)

  3. is this joel roth the one that is a melamed in vienne yeshivah in williamsburg or a menahel in vienne yeshivah? i need to know

  4. Not unless R. Joel Roth of the (Conservative movement's) Jewish Theological Seminary is moonlighting elsewhere.