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."
Of course all human institutions, religious and secular, are prone to error, evil, and even violence. Duh!
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.
I agree, McGavin999; except that it wasn't Jewish priests, it was Jewish politicians who also were priests, corrupt politicians, who were collaborating with their Roman masters.
Come on, people. Can't anyone read here??
Jesus was not killed by the Jewish people.
Still, lots of Christians have been taught that the Jews killed Jesus.
Dum dum dum and dumb enough to let your true feelings show. Thanks for the non-wisdom.
I don't think Exodus, or anyone here, said the Jews killed Christ. Exodus put it in quotes, implying he didn't endorse that view.
Well of course religions are not composed of saints. Neither are atheists...Of course all human institutions, religious and secular, are prone to error, evil, and even violence. Duh!
That should be easy to understand.
Well of course religions are not composed of saints. Neither are atheists (which include Stalinists, as well as more peaceful Objectivists and libertarians).
I'm a libertarian, Commie Basher. I'm also a Christian.
Political belief doesn't determine religious belief. Believe it or not, there are conservative Republicans who don't believe in God, and communists who do believe in God.
Our Founding Fathers were libertarian, and I don't think anyone would ever accuse them of being atheists.
Thank you, Commie Basher.
exodus - You think that Dr. Laura chose to be Jewish to increase her fan base?! 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.
As you say, Salman, some Christians "know" that Jews killed Christ, but they don't hold it against you personally.
If they would actually read the Bible, they would know that Jews were the Christians in the early years of the faith. Christianity was just a "cult" denomination of the Jewish faith, according to the Romans.
Corrupt politicians killed Jesus. The Jewish people, the "multitudes," loved Jesus. They cheered his entry into Jerusalem, and caused the politicians to fear loosing power to the upstart from Nazareth.
Salman - 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. 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.
It was just a few years ago that the Pope finally officially declared that the Jews could no longer be blamed for Jesus's death. The belief in Jewish guilt by Christians is still widespread, but it is of course not "Politically Correct" to mention that belief in public.
As for the Ku Kluxers who "claim" to be Christian, as far as I'm concerned, if they claim to be a Christian they are a Christian. It's not my place to judge the sincerity of their belief.
In regard to Dr. Laura, I would never question that she is a Jew; she said she's a Jew, so she is a Jew. Here on this thread, I was defending her right to define her own belief in God. It's not our place to tell her what to believe.
As to Dr. Laura's "lack of touchy-feely" feedback from her audience, that was just carping on Dr. Laura's part. From my reading of the article it had nothing to do with her decision to stop active participation in the Jewish religion. I understood that she didn't feel fulfilled by her belief in the rightness of the Jewish faith, that she still had questions about God that weren't being answered, and that she was considering looking into the Christian religion to see if it has those answers.
I consider her very brave for conducting her search for truth in public this way. It might not be very smart business-wise, but it is without doubt completely honest.
As a rule, I avoid going where the water is warmer. I know how it got that way ;) (I also avoid bubbly water).
farmer18th - Theoretical religion is the arena of pastors and rabbis. Applied religion is the arena of the faithful. (Dr. Laura) probably saw the real thing in those letters
Theoretical religion is not the exclusive provence of religious leaders, farmer18th. I study the theoretical basis of religion on my own, and if I decide a point in a certain way, no "leader" is going to change my mind based upon his authority to proclaim the truth. He'd better be able to show me why his understanding is better than mine.
Also, applied religion is not exclusively the arena of the faithful (followers). If that teacher doesn't apply religion in his own life, he isn't worthy of his title.
dennisw, of course Dr. Laura will leave Judism, "go where the water is warmer," if she finds a different religion has more truth to offer. Anyone would, except those hypocrites who don't believe anyway, those who just mouth the correct words to fit in with their friends, or to gain money and power.
This is correct. Why the venom?
Why the venom?
I don't understand your question, Salman.
I'm well aware of all of the above. Even so, a disproportionately large number of librtarians are also atheists. It's partly due to the historic roots of the recent (past 30 years) libertarian movement, which was led or influenced by secular/atheistic Jews (e.g., Murray Rothbard, and the Objectivist influence of Rand, the Brandons, Piekoff), and less so by secular/atheistic Catholics (Jerome Tuccille). Karl Hess (a Protestant?) was also not much into religion.
Of course there are "Bible-believing Christian" libertarians, but they are relatively latecomers to modern libertarianism.
Our Founding Fathers were libertarian, and I don't think anyone would ever accuse them of being atheists.
Oh, you'd find disagreement on both scores. Not everyone would call them libertarians, and many of them were deists, which some contend was a cover for atheists. I've also heard Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and Tom Paine accused of atheism, although I'm not sure how accurately.
exodus - Our Founding Fathers were libertarian, and I don't think anyone would ever accuse them of being atheists.
All I've read about deists says that even if they weren't mainstream Christians, they certainly weren't atheists. They believed in God.
Ben Franklin called himself a Christian, but he noted that he had serious problems accepting that Jesus and God were the same person. I share his skepticism on that point, but I am a Christian just the same.
My requirement for the title "libertarian" is a belief in the Rights of Men, and in the Rule of Law. Our Founders qualify.