In September 2000, The Jewish Homemaker, a magazine published by Organized Kashrus Laboratories, published In Defense of Dr. Laura, an essay praising the talk-show host and describing her journey to an Orthodox Jewish conversion.
According to the article, Rabbi Reuven Bulka, of Ottawa, shepherded her through the conversion process. When her speech before a secular Jewish group got a frosty reception, Rabbi Bulka “was on the phone every afternoon, trying to talk me through this. He told me, ‘I don’t want to go down in history as the rabbi who lost Dr. Laura!’”
Well, I hope the good rabbi can find some other way to make his mark in history. According to the Forward:
In a shocking if little-noticed revelation, Schlessinger — who very publicly converted to Judaism five years ago — opened “The Dr. Laura Schlessinger Program” on August 5 with the confession that she will no longer practice Judaism. Although Schlessinger said she still “considers” herself Jewish, “My identifying with this entity and my fulfilling the rituals, etc., of the entity — that has ended.”
Schlessinger began her August 5 program 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.”
Of her conversion to Judaism, Schlessinger said, “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. 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.”
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.
In the Jewish Homemaker article, the remark that got Schlessinger into trouble was “the benign observation that the only thing missing from a fund-raising video about the group was the fact that giving charity is a mitzvah. In her words, ‘It doesn’t matter if you feel’ like giving; tzeddakah is mandatory.” Now, however, Schlessinger has discovered that she doesn’t feel like following Jewish rituals, so she won’t do it any more.
I thought that if you’re an Orthodox Jew, you call yourself a Jew and you observe the mitzvot because you are fulfilling commandments that were given to you by the Powerful, Great, Mighty, and Awesome God, who took you out of the Land of Egypt to serve Him. Apparently, Schlessinger thought she was signing on to a different kind of Orthodox Judaism, one in which you’re “identifying with this entity” and as “fulfilling the rituals, etc., of the entity” as long as the rest of the Jewish community pats you on the head, or as long as you are “feeling connected” and “feeling inspired.”
Her conversion was (as far as I know) halakhically valid, and I shouldn’t rejoice in any Jew’s announcement that he or she is no longer performing a mitzvah, so I can’t say “good riddance.” But … sheesh! Can someone find this lady a therapist, a real one?
By the way, I would be interested in hearing Schlessinger, or the rabbis who praised her, explain why Jewish ethics permit someone with a doctorate in physiology to call herself “Doctor” on a radio show in which she dispenses psychological advice. Aren’t there issues of geneivat da’at here?