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[Laura Schlessinger] Dr. Laura Renounces Jewish Orthodoxy ^ | 08/13/2003 | LISA KEYS

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


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."

TOPICS: Culture/Society; Extended News; News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: drlaura; jewishorthodoxy; lauraschlessinger; spiritualjourney
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To: Lizavetta
That was in her feminist whacko days in her 20's, not "recently". Her son is 17 or 18 years old and I believe she's been married to the dad for at least that long. She has repeatedly and vociferously criticized her own behavior of that time on her radio show; are we all disallowed from lecturing our kids on sex and drugs if we ourselves engaged in them?

There's nothing worse to someone wallowing in their own filth, than when someone else decides to hose themselves off.
41 posted on 08/15/2003 10:35:52 PM PDT by Antoninus (In hoc signo, vinces )
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To: Antoninus
My knowledge base is (I dare say) more expansive than yours I bet...and it was still funny.
42 posted on 08/15/2003 10:52:09 PM PDT by Destro (Know your enemy! Help fight Islamic terrorisim by visiting
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To: Destro
Simple question: who cares?

What's next? "Dr. Laura chooses Doritos over Ruffles"?

43 posted on 08/15/2003 10:55:54 PM PDT by Fledermaus (Democrats have stunted brain development!)
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To: Fledermaus
I don't care but I thought other Freepers might.
44 posted on 08/15/2003 10:56:50 PM PDT by Destro (Know your enemy! Help fight Islamic terrorisim by visiting
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To: Destro
no no, I wasn't saying "who cares" to your post, just the concept that someone would write the article
45 posted on 08/15/2003 10:59:37 PM PDT by Fledermaus (Democrats have stunted brain development!)
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To: Excuse_My_Bellicosity
She conspicuously uses the title "Doctor" as if she's a clinical psychologist/psychiatrist when her doctorate degree is in secondary education.

Are you certain of this ?
Would you bet the ranch ?

46 posted on 08/15/2003 11:00:29 PM PDT by af_vet_1981
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To: Excuse_My_Bellicosity
A doctorate is a doctorate.

As to her chiding others about shacking up, did it ever consider to you that her conclusion now is based on the fact it was a bad experience for her?

Why is it we appreciate alcoholics teaching AA classes, cleaned up drug addicts giving testimony in high schools, etc. but we get "uncomfortable" when someone "preaches" against something because they too were there and realized the destruction?

I personally couldn't care less about Dr. Laura. But I'm not going to dump all over her for her failings and her past when she obviously reaches people. I don't see folks jumping all over Oprah for her views.

47 posted on 08/15/2003 11:05:52 PM PDT by Fledermaus (Democrats have stunted brain development!)
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To: truthkeeper
Amen. What a sad and poignant article. I'm only an occasional listener and I missed this. Thanks very much for posting it.

It appears Laura's search for the meaning of life will continue on another path, in another place. I wish her well.

I echo your sentiments.

48 posted on 08/15/2003 11:15:55 PM PDT by onyx (Name an honest democrat? I can't either!)
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To: Excuse_My_Bellicosity
She has a PhD in physiology, after obtaining a B.S. and and a masters. But she is a licensed marriage, family and child counselor which she mentions quite frequently, so I know she's not trying to mislead anyone. If you believe that only M.D.'s should be called doctors, you have a lot more people than her to be concerned with. I know many people with PhD's who are called doctor. (Even Bill Cosby who only has a honorary doctorate, I believe.) She was in private practice for 12 years with her MFCC, which is completely legitimate.

when she was recently living with a guy for seven years without being married.

Try getting your gossip straight. She has been married for about 20 years. But she is up front about her behavior in the 70s that she is not proud of. But she never lied about that-she talked about it for years.

49 posted on 08/15/2003 11:23:52 PM PDT by nickcarraway
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To: Catspaw
How sad that she chooses to reject her religion by the faxes her fans and listeners send her. It would seem her committment--or lack thereof--to Judaism is predicated on her fan base.

Don't jump to conclusions. The article tried to paint that as a reason for her problems, but that isn't necessarily the reason.

50 posted on 08/15/2003 11:25:15 PM PDT by nickcarraway
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To: Robert_Paulson2
My understanding was she got her license to counsel, AFTER it became an issue that she was NOT technically a "real" doctor offering "counsel" on the radio.

Your understanding is wrong. She was in private practice, and for better or for worse, her training is more than adequate based on what the state of California requires. Having said that, she constantly says it's not a therapy show, but one about ethical dillema's. And to be quite honest, a degree in philosophy, theology, or psychiatry does not give you what you need to be truly good at certain things.

51 posted on 08/15/2003 11:31:00 PM PDT by nickcarraway
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To: William Creel
Schlessinger is a rather common name.
52 posted on 08/16/2003 12:01:48 AM PDT by rmlew ("Millions for defense, but not one cent for tribute.")
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To: Destro
I consider myself to be quite conservative, but I always found Dr. Laura to be very irritating and way too judgmental and cruel towards psychologically wounded/desperate people that called her show. She has been off the air here in Chicago (WLS-AM) for about 3 years, and her "dismissal" is still seen as relief to most of those who listen to that radio station, and to those that still work there from her syndication years with that station where she is still mocked as a joke.
53 posted on 08/16/2003 12:15:09 AM PDT by Lockbar
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To: Destro
While I always defending her right to express her views, I have also always found Dr. Laura to be a preachy, judgemental shrew. Now it turns out she is a hypocrite on many levels.

She preaches family values, but ends up having posed nude, to say nothing of letting her mother die alone in an apartment, rotting away for weeks, undiscovered.

Now we find out her religious beliefs are paper-thin, and she' shopping for another way. She's a phoney.

54 posted on 08/16/2003 4:59:15 AM PDT by veronica ( - Confirm Daniel Pipes to USIPF ......sign this!)
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To: veronica
Ditto yours.


55 posted on 08/16/2003 5:00:22 AM PDT by Chancellor Palpatine ("what if the hokey pokey is really what its all about?" - Jean Paul Sartre)
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To: Destro
This admission by Dr. Laura has made my opinion of her go up 100%. I am not a fan of her show because I think she lacks compassion. I have heard her make statements that are needlessly harsh and are simplistic to say the least. I am happy to see that she does have the ability to examine herself. If your religion isn't working it isn't working and it takes personal integrity to admit that. She seems to be unwilling to live a lie. Many people stay in religions that do not meet their needs out of fear of a punitive God, fear of what others will think, fear of looking at themselves or just plain laziness. What they forget is that God looks upon the heart and he certainly knows a line of bull when he hears it. Maybe she will begin to realize that life is not always black and white and that sometimes the best choice is the one that appears wrong on the surface.

I believe that God honors honesty more that any other quality. By being honest with ourselves we open the door for change. Outward compliance to a faith one really does not believe in is a poisonous form of hypocrisy. I am in hopes that she will begin to see that real moral choices comes from a place deep in the heart not from Bible knowledge someone shoved in your head. Sometimes it is the process of getting there that is more important than doing what looks good to the outside world. The difficult path of making mistakes, getting it wrong, learning a better way is superior to having payed lip service to a moral code that has no true meaning to the individual

One of the main reasons I tend to turn away from the church is because I see a whole lot of Christan "look good". We all get together and make all the right noises. There is so much unspoken angst that one can almost chock in that atmosphere if they are the least bit sensitive. I would vastly prefer to hear people talk about what is really going on with them instead of trying to put on a theology they really don't believe in the hopes that it will fix them. what they don't realize is that it will never work because they are trying to sidestep the rather painful and difficult times that comes from self examination. They tend to think that others are a better expert on who they are than they are themselves. They tend to think their pastor can tell them everything they need to know about themselves and that somehow they will glen a meaningful faith. Pastor or those in religious leadership can certain offer ideas and insights but they can't do it for you. One must be willing to enter their own dark night of the soul with nothing but their faith in God to pull them through. Without this one will always be on the surface in terms of their relationship with God.

56 posted on 08/16/2003 5:02:07 AM PDT by foolscap
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To: Catspaw
How sad that she chooses to reject her religion by the faxes her fans and listeners send her..

Theoretical religion is the arena of pastors and rabbis. Applied religion is the arena of the faithful. She probably saw the real thing in those letters.

Moreover, Dr. Laura's migration from error to the truth has been an ongoing process. She's matured politically and spiritually every year she's been on the air. This is just part of that process.
57 posted on 08/16/2003 5:09:39 AM PDT by farmer18th
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Will Rogers once quipped that Christianity should not be judged by the actions of Christians. I think Dr. Laura, a person that I admire greatly, has made the same mistake regarding Judaism and Jews. My family and I have been abused by my fellow Jews in ways that my gentile friends would not dream of.

Much of the abuse I have taken lately is a result of my conservatism, and the unfortunate attachment of the majority of Jews to the Democratic party. Much of my family's abuse was as a result of our living in a small city, away from the Jewish neighborhood, which has set us apart.

My brother has made the same mistake as Dr. Laura, judging Judaism by the actions of those claiming to be Jewish, and he is now attending an evangalical church. I grieve over his decision, because, while I freely admit to being a sinner, my conservatism is affirmed by my Judaism, and my life principles are based on my Judaism, I also realise that my brother is getting a dose of Jewish life principles at the church, whether he knows it or not. We worship the same G-d, it's just that other guy he keeps mentioning that makes me involuntarily flinch.

I think, if Dr. Laura is looking for spiritual fullfillment, she is missing the whole point of Judaism. It is more rational than that. Loving the Lord does not mean getting a rush. It means following His law. I am distressed at her decision. but, I wish her well. She has done a great service for our country.
58 posted on 08/16/2003 5:23:10 AM PDT by Daveinyork
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To: farmer18th
The ultimate test of anyone's belief system is how they live, not what they preach. Talk is cheap. Dr. Laura appears to talk a good game, but in the end, her actions indicate that there is a hole in her soul. What is a more basic element of any religion, than honor thy mother and father? That most basic of human callings was beyond her ability to fulfill. That's pretty pathetic and revealing.
59 posted on 08/16/2003 5:24:27 AM PDT by veronica ( - Confirm Daniel Pipes to USIPF ......sign this!)
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To: bethelgrad
one of the reasons I'm not a big fan of hers is her lack of grace both in tone and rhetoric. her constant message is be perfect be perfect be perfect. i believe in living righteously, but people make mistakes and i think she could be more gentle in trying to pull people up

You have a very good point. If telling people to be perfect made them perfect we would have no problems in the word. I remember her discussion with one caller that was so harsh and judgmental it made my stomach turn. A young woman who was engaged to be married called and told Dr. Laura she did not feel she wanted to have children. Dr, Laura came down on her like a ton of brick. She told her she was selfish and that God mission for us was to be fruitful and multiply. I thought this gal was telling the truth about what was really in her heart and that since her fiancé wanted children it was better to end the engagement. The caller's point was valid it would be unfair to marry a man who wanted a family if you did not agree with the the game plain. It is much less selfish for her to make what was obviously a painful choice and allow this man to find someone who can help him meet his dreams for his own life. Having children you don't want to have because of outside pressure is very selfish no matter what Dr. Laura says

60 posted on 08/16/2003 5:27:38 AM PDT by foolscap
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