Skip to comments.[Laura Schlessinger] Dr. Laura Renounces Jewish Orthodoxy
Posted on 08/15/2003 5:10:35 PM PDT by Destro
[Laura Schlessinger] Dr. Laura Renounces Jewish Orthodoxy
Item 3999 Posted: 08/13/2003 Weblogged by Religion News Blog
Forward, Aug. 15, 2003
By LISA KEYS, FORWARD STAFF
With 12 million Americans tuning in daily, controversial syndicated radio- show host Laura Schlessinger known to all as "Dr. Laura" is arguably the best-known Orthodox Jew in the United States.
Rather, she was.
In a little-noticed pronouncement, Schlessinger who very publicly converted to Judaism five years ago opened her radio show, "The Dr. Laura Schlessinger Program," with the revelation that she will no longer practice Judaism. Although Schlessinger says she still "considers" herself Jewish, "My identifying with this entity and my fulfilling the rituals, etcetera, of the entity that has ended."
And with that, Orthodox Judaism lost its loudest mouthpiece and its most prominent "rabbi," as it were, with the largest American pulpit with the exception of, perhaps, presidential candidate Joseph Lieberman.
Syndicated nationally since 1994, Schlessinger has won over listeners with her hard-edged advice and razor-sharp tongue. Yet her brash style, not to mention her espousal of a strict "moral health" code including controversial condemnations of homosexuality as "a biological error" put her at odds with wide swaths of the Jewish community. Many found her moralist, black-and-white, you're-with-me-or-against-me stance more representative of evangelical Christians than of Jews, who were often among her most outspoken critics.
Nonetheless, even Schlessinger's detractors were shocked by the news. "I can't tell you how significant this is," said fellow Jewish media star and "Kosher Sex" author Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, who has sparred with Schlessinger over her comments on homosexuality. "Dr. Laura always equated her morals and ethics with Jewish morals and ethics. That placed the American Jewish community in a real fix; on the one hand, she made Judaism very popular, on the other, she made it vilified and hated by many people."
"I think Judaism is better off not being saddled and directly associated with Dr. Laura's means," he said, adding, "although she is still a Jew."
Schlessinger began her program last Tuesday by noting that, prior to each broadcast, she spends an hour reading faxes from fans and listeners. "By and large the faxes from Christians have been very loving, very supportive," she said. "From my own religion, I have either gotten nothing, which is 99% of it, or two of the nastiest letters I have gotten in a long time. I guess that's my point I don't get much back. Not much warmth coming back."
Schlessinger even hinted at a possible turn to Christianity a move that, radio insiders say, would elevate her career far beyond the 300 stations that currently syndicate her show. "I have envied all my Christian friends who really, universally, deeply feel loved by God," she said. "They use the name Jesus when they refer to God... that was a mystery, being connected to God."
In her 25 years on radio, Schlessinger said she was moved "time and time again" by listeners who wrote and described that they had "joined a church, felt loved by God and that was my anchor."
Michael Medved, a conservative, nationally syndicated, radio talk-show host, celebrated the Sabbath with Schlessinger about a year ago. "We had talked about having Shabbat again," he said. When he heard of Schlessinger's defection, "My first response was to pick up the phone and try and expedite [the visit]."
"I think it's a shame," he said. "Though, of course, she was controversial in some eyes, she is one of the most admired women in America. Having the most admired woman in America speak joyously about Passover, Shabbat and Jewish lifestyle events all of that was quite wonderful."
Of her conversion to Judaism, "I felt that I was putting out a tremendous amount toward that mission, that end, and not feeling return, not feeling connected, not feeling that inspired," Schlessinger said. "Trust me, I've talked to rabbis, I've read, I've prayed, I've agonized and I came to this place anyway which is not exactly back to the beginning, but more in that direction than not."
"Was Laura naive to think, 'gosh, I'll be the queen of the Jews?' Yes, she was naive," said Medved. "Part of that comes from not growing up in the Jewish community. It's so rare to find a celebrity embrace of Jewish religiosity of any kind, I can see why Laura would think her very public embrace would have led to a more enthusiastic reaction. But given all the crosscurrents and controversies that divide our community, I can see why that expectation was wrong."
In 2001, despite the controversy surrounding her, the National Council of Young Israel honored Schlessinger for her "traditional American values." Rabbi Pesach Lerner, the executive director of Young Israel, was surprised by Schlessinger's defection but declined to comment on it.
Born to a Jewish father and an Italian Catholic mother, Schlessinger was raised in Brooklyn in a home that was without religion. Approximately 10 years ago, prompted by a question from her son during a viewing of a Holocaust documentary, Schlessinger, 56, began exploring her Jewish roots.
Yet last week's revelation was far from the first time Schlessinger has been wracked with religious doubts. Lacking a religious background, she has spent a lifetime searching for that missing something, and "each thing I tried left me feeling empty," she told Philadelphia's Inside magazine in 1998. Having already undergone a Conservative conversion in 1997, after a debacle with the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas a now-legendary affair in which she allegedly rejected three hotel suites, wouldn't ride in taxis and offended the entire audience at a $500 plate fundraiser Schlessinger was tempted to give up on Judaism completely, but decided to undergo an Orthodox conversion instead.
"A large part of me wanted to make a statement after that experience, to stand even taller about Jewish values," she told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in 2001. "Besides, if you don't have an Orthodox conversion, you can't get buried in Israel. I want to be close to ground zero."
Rabbi Reuven Bulka, a fellow radio host who presided over Schlessinger's Orthodox conversion, said he was "stunned" by his friend's 180-degree turn. "It didn't make my day, shall we say."
"She obviously has a tremendous impact," said the congregational rabbi from Ottawa, Ont. "When she went through the evolutionary stage of her journey, a lot of people were inspired by her own excitement about it. I can't tell you I know 100 people who became Sabbath observant because of it, but certainly it was a feel-good message for a lot of people. That these feel-good messages won't be coming anymore is certainly a loss."
Other Jews within earshot are far from sad to see her go. "I don't think this is any great loss to the Jewish universe," said Susan Weidman Schneider, the executive editor of Lilith magazine. "I don't think she was a particularly effective or useful spokesperson. She doubtless alienated more people than she drew toward Judaism."
"So, let her say she's no longer a practicing Jew," she added. "Let her be just a garden variety, anti-choice conservative."
"I still see myself as a Jew," Schlessinger said on the air last week. "But the spiritual journey and that direction, as hardcore as I was at it, just didn't fulfill something in me that I needed."
"All I know is, in my experiences with her which have been considerable I haven't known her to do anything less than 100%," Bulka said. "Anything she did, she did fully. The scary thing is if she said she's leaving, it's very forboding."
"I thought she was a tough little lady I didn't think she'd chicken out so easily," said Rabbi Isaac Levy, the chairman of Jews for Morality, who has staunchly supported Schlessinger's conservative agenda. "She's gotten a couple of kicks in the chin and she's succumbed to it."
"It seems incredible that an ethicist and moralist of her standing would invoke such shallow arguments," said Boteach, who was en route to an appearance on the titillating syndicated television show "Blind Date." "I never got great applause from my work from the Jewish community but my people are my people, whether they love or hate me."
Her conversion sounds more like a career move than a deeply-felt religious experience. She tried Judaism, but her Jewish fans were, apparently, not appropropriately sycophantic, so now she'll see if she gets the "proper respect" from her Christian fans. What a superficial lady. # 72
You think that Dr. Laura chose to be Jewish to increase her fan base?!
We live in America, not Israel, veronica. If Dr. Laura wanted a large fan base, she'd have a ready-made foundation for wealth and respect by chosing to be a Christian. It's worked for hundreds of television preachers.
Dr. Laura chose the Jewish religion while working in a Christian nation. She chose Judaism even though most Christians "know" that Jews killed Christ. That took moral courage. Her choice of Judism demonstrates that she uses neither political nor monetary considerations in her search for truth.
She's an honorable lady.
Slavery isn't illegal anyway, Antoninus. The word "except" means "with the exclusion of." Slavery is allowed for those convicted of a crime in a court of law.
Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
exodus - She chose Judaism even though most Christians "know" that Jews killed Christ
I am a Christian, dennisw.
Jews did not kill Jesus; Romans with the help of corrupt Jewish politicians killed Jesus.
Still, you're being dishonest if you claim that most Christians of the world, or even of our own nation, don't blame the Jews for Jesus's death.
I don't think her conversion had anything to do with her career. It was her personal search for meaning. Orthodox Jews usually discourage conversion anyway.
True Christians know we all killed Christ.
I'm a Christian, and I don't know what you're talking about.
The Gospels are clear... Jesus had Jewish followers and Jewish enemies. Some of those enemies persuaded the Romans to crucify Jesus. "Jews" didn't collectively do any one thing or another with regard to Jesus and His crucifixion.
You'd best be careful with your rhetoric, because your phrasing as quoted above is dangerously inflammatory, at the least.
Dr Laura is writing a new book. For that book she had asked listeners to send her faxes regarding what is meaningful in their lives, or how they have turned their lives around (I'm basing this upon hearing the show off and on and only hearing random comments about the faxes).
In reading these faxes, Dr Laura has noticed a great number of her listeners have been able to beat addictions, turn around emotional angst, overcome difficult childhoods,and seen the quality of their lives improved by having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
Dr Laura has obviously been searching for spirituality. She began with Judaism in general, and when it wasn't helping to fulfill her she dove more deeply into it, hoping to understand better the law, and probably be "better" at it, believing it was a deficit in her which kept her from feeling whatever it was she hoped to feel.
She's obviously never reached what she hoped to find. But is seeing that there may be another path to it. Maybe Dr Laura will never find what she seeks. But then, maybe she will. That she continues the journey in the face of criticism is admirable.
I don't listen to Dr. Laura (or ANY radio psychobabbler), but here is what I heard elsewhere:
Schlessinger is Dr. Laura's maiden name. It is also the name of her son. Dr. Laura has said that a woman should take her husband's name, as should the children. But she made an exception in her case. Her reason is that her husband has nephews, so his family name will live on. But unless Dr. Laura's son took her name, her name would die out.
Still, it strikes me as yet another example of her hypocrisy.
Very tolerant. But what are your (or other FReepers) views on Islam?
She does that alot, doesn't she - "do as I say not what I do."
As far as Islam is concerned, I never gave it much thought until 9-11, and the recent intifada.
Truth be told Islam seems more like a cult than a religion to me, and what cannot be disputed is that it has been hijacked by radicals, and not just a few radicals - LOTS of them. And they kill people. Sure you have the odd Christian or Jew who goes wiggy, and turns violent or fanatical, but not to the degree Islamists have. So the question arises, what is it about Islam that has spawned so many violent fanatics??
All of the professed Christians that I know, don't "know" anything of the kind. Or at least don't hold it against me. I'm Jewish, by the way.
This is America in the 21st century. Not really a Christian nation, though there are plenty of Christians. And the USA was never officially Christian, though they were once the majority.
Nearly all the anti-Jewish stuff that I see comes from the non-Christian left, including sad to say, some Jews. The rest is from a few left over Ku Kluxers and the like. OK those guys claim to be Christians, but Christians in general don't think they are.
That took moral courage. Her choice of Judism demonstrates that she uses neither political nor monetary considerations in her search for truth.
It's forbidden in Jewish law to question the sincerity of a convert. Is it also forbidden to question the former sincerity of an ex-convert? According to some Orthodox authorities, she's still Jewish according to Jewish law. She can be an apostate, but can't go back to being a Gentile.
Now I'm not sure I buy into that, but I submit it for your consideration as a possible position you might not have been aware of.
I don't think she converted for political power or money, but her disappointment with the lack of touchy-feely-ness causes me to raise an eyebrow.
At the risk of sounding like a liberal, the Third World's violence may be seen as growing pains as it industrializes and modernizes. The West suffered severe growing pains on the path to modernization (Europe's Thirty Years War between Catholics and Protestants, English and American Civil Wars, French and Russian Revolutions, bloody labor strikes, two World Wars).
The Third World, much of which is Muslim, is simply catching up. But if you look at the numbers, only a small % of them are violent. And the West still has plenty of violence in its inner cities and such, it's just a different kind of violence than terrorism. But I see nothing inherent in Islam that necessarily makes it more violent, or that would prevent it from modernizing over time. For instance, Iran had a modern middle class under the Shah, and many middle class Iranians still exist, in the US and in Iran. I've met Westernized Muslims from Iran, as well as Burma.
exodus - You think that Dr. Laura chose to be Jewish to increase her fan base?! We live in America, not Israel, veronica. If Dr. Laura wanted a large fan base, she'd have a ready-made foundation for wealth and respect by chosing to be a Christian. It's worked for hundreds of television preachers. Dr. Laura chose the Jewish religion while working in a Christian nation. She chose Judaism even though most Christians "know" that Jews killed Christ. That took moral courage. Her choice of Judism demonstrates that she uses neither political nor monetary considerations in her search for truth. She's an honorable lady.
Yes, the Bible doesn't say that the Jews killed Jesus, but until a few years ago, the Catholic Church did; and Bible-thumpering Protestants throughout the United States and Europe said so, too. Almost every Christian denomination has blamed Jews for the death of Jesus sometime in the past.
It's only been in recent history that Jews have been given the benefit of the doubt in this regard.
If you don't know what I'm talking about, Sabertooth, it's only because you deny history. The Inquisition and the Holocost were justified by attributing Jesus's death to the Jews.
I am a Christian also, and I don't believe that the Jewish people killed Jesus. A simple reading of the Bible shows that all of Jesus's first followers were Jewish, as was Jesus himself, and that Jesus was killed by the Romans, at the urging of corrupt politicians. That doesn't change history; for centuries, laymen have been told that Jesus was murdered by Jews.
It's just been in the last half-century that false belief has been challeged by Christian leaders, and the belief that Jews murdered Jesus is still widespread today.
Excuse me, but I must beg to differ with you here. My faith teaches that Christ dies for our sins and that it was the will of God. If that is the case it's hardly right to say he was killed by the Jews. He happened to be Jewish himself, he was born a Jew and he died a Jew. The men involved were merely bending to God's will. If you remember, the night before he was taken he asked God to take away this bitter cup. It was not to be. Therefore, everyone played their parts exactly as God wished. Be mad at the particular priests, not an entire people.
To: Commie Basher
The Jews themselves have been guilty of fanaticism, for example when they killed every man, woman, and child in God's name, and even all the domestic animals, when entering Caanan.
The Spanish Inquisition wasn't an "odd" institution, it had the support of the Spanish people and government. They considered Judism a "cult," and happily murdered anyone who wouldn't "voluntarily" convert to Christianity.
The same thing happened with the Christian Crusades, hundreds of thousands of Christian fanatics killing heathen Moslems and Jews by God's holy name.
You would do better to ask "what is it about peace-loving religions that has spawned so many violent fanatics?"
The answer is that religions are not composed of saints, they're made up of ordinary people who sometimes get carried away by their beliefs, or get deceived by corrupt leaders.
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