Modern Orthodox rabbi rules against gay conversion therapy

Israel Prize laureate Daniel Sperber slams rabbis and doctors who claim practice works, warns it can cause serious long-term damage

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

Rabbi Professor Daniel Sperber at the June 9, 2015, ordination celebration of the first cohort for Har'el Beit Midrash. (Sigal Krimolovski)
Rabbi Professor Daniel Sperber at the June 9, 2015, ordination celebration of the first cohort for Har'el Beit Midrash. (Sigal Krimolovski)

A prominent Modern Orthodox rabbi in Israel issued a religious ruling against the use of gay conversion therapy on Sunday, lambasting spiritual leaders who claim the practice can be effective and warning that it can have severe, long-term consequences.

“This treatment, according to competent evidence, is not effective at all. It can cause great, physical and psychological suffering, even long-term consequences of severe damage,” rabbi and professor Daniel Sperber wrote in a response to a query from the Israel Society for Sex Therapy.

The religious ruling came as LGBT rights groups across the country were gearing for mass protest rallies in several large cities on Sunday that will take the place of the traditional pride parade celebrations that have been canceled due to concerns relating to the coronavirus. The position paper also came just a year after Israel’s education minister purported to have carried out the practice before walking back his comments amid criticism from across the political spectrum.

Gay conversion therapies, also called reparative therapies, have been strongly discouraged in Israel, the US and elsewhere, with major health organizations criticizing what they term pseudo-scientific methods and the treatment of homosexuality as a mental illness.

Members of the LGBT community hold a banner reading in Hebrew “A Homophobic Racist Has to Quit” during a rally against Education Minister Rafi Peretz in Tel Aviv on July 14, 2019. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

Sperber, an Israel Prize-winning Talmud and Jewish Studies scholar at Bar-Ilan University, wrote that “some of the conversion therapy methods involve torture, and therefore important international bodies have” outlawed its use.

Sperber called out rabbis, religious figures and fringe members of the medical community who “think there is a benefit in their actions.”

Asked to determine whether conversion therapy is acceptable within the confines of halacha, or religious law, Sperber determined that the answer was “simply” no, adding that both conducting and funding the practice is prohibited. He added that even if an individual requests the treatment, it still should not be utilized.

Last month, the Israeli Medical Association and the Tel Aviv municipality announced the creation of a new hotline for reports and complaints of so-called conversion therapy.

Though discouraged by the Health Ministry, the practice remains legal in Israel, and is still accepted in some conservative and Orthodox circles.

Callers to the hotline will be directed to welfare services and the police if necessary and will receive help in dealing with the authorities if they wish.

The hotline can be reached at 03-7244660, and is available from 8 a.m. until 3 p.m., Sunday to Thursday.

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