Book Review of “Light in the Closet: Torah, Homosexuality, and the Power to Change”

Author says implicit message in Torah is that “one who goes astray retains the ability to find the way back”

FALLS CHURCH, Virginia, October 28, 2009 ( – A fourteen-year-old boy is taken to a respected therapist after experiencing prolonged depression and violent mood swings. The root of his problems, he eventually confesses, is that he fears he is gay.

While exploring the young man’s background, Stanford psychiatrist Dr. James Lock notes the distant demeanor of the teenager’s father that likely left him longing for genuine male bonding. Lock also describes his patient’s enmeshment with his mother, sensitivity, mistreatment by male peers, and shame over his own body image – a pattern of emotional need common among males developing a same-sex attraction.

Lock’s therapy, however, does not seek to heal the young man’s relational wounds, which are treated as inconsequential. Rather, the focus remains almost exclusively on resolving what he calls the boy’s “severe internalized homophobia”: in other words, his repugnance at the notion of being intrinsically and irreversibly homosexual. The young man, known as J, is encouraged to embrace homosexuality through various means.

J himself expresses an aversion of Lock’s idea of wellness: the therapist notes that J felt ill at ease among the members of a local gay teen support group, saying it was “not me,” and felt “dissociated and distant from himself” following a sexual encounter with an older male. Lock concludes from J’s disgust towards homosexual sex that the young man is “still quite homophobic,” and thus his attempts at such relations are “premature.”

According to Lock’s notes, after two years of “homosexuality-affirming” intervention, J did not improve, but fell deeper into depression. After four years, J left his therapist to attend a university – chosen partially for its billing as “gay friendly.”

Had J gone to another therapist, might his story – and his ultimate choice of self-identification – been radically different?

The true story of J is recounted in the new book, “Light in the Closet: Torah, Homosexuality, and the Power to Change,” in which board certified counselor and relationship specialist Arthur Goldberg notes that J’s scenario is nothing short of epidemic for individuals with unwanted same-sex attraction (SSA). Light in the Closet, originally published in 2008 by Heifer Press, came out in a second edition in July of this year and is available at several online book retailers.

“If Dr. Lock were some kind of fringe radical, we might simply dismiss J’s story as an isolated example of what can happen when an unfortunate subject walks into the wrong office,” writes Goldberg. However, “Dr. Lock’s approach to treating J’s condition is quite typical of a substantial sector of the mental health community.”

Several more personal testimonies presented by Goldberg reveal the deep turmoil of those who experience unwanted SSA, but who feel trapped by both society and medical professionals who insist that they are irreversibly homosexual.

Goldberg is the co-founder and co-director of the organization JONAH (Jews Offering New Alternatives to Homosexuality), which offers outreach, counseling and referrals to homosexual and conflicted members of the Jewish community and their families. He tackles the question from the unique perspective of a professional deeply committed to the moral guidance found in the Torah – the Old Testament to Christians. He concludes that those with unwanted SSA can find both spiritual and psychological healing in conjunction with the wisdom of God’s law.

Directing his dialogue to those who express a conscious desire to reject homosexual impulses, Goldberg sets out the case for the traditional psychological understanding of homosexuality as stemming from prior psychological and emotional wounds. For example, several testimonials from SSA individuals describe their homosexual sex lives as a paltry attempt to satisfy a deep hunger for true acceptance by the same sex – a state of limbo that leaves them “emotionally functioning as an adolescent.”

Yet the modern difficulty with homosexuality does not end there: Goldberg throws light on not only the internal causes of homosexuality, but also the nature and history of the homosexualist movement, explaining the gradual and deliberate change in the public’s concept of homosexuality from activity, to characteristic, to identity. Far from helping individuals with SSA, he says, the movement has “placed many of their own in situations of unbearable ambivalence, conflict, suffering and mortal danger” by casting the notion of healing as impossible and absurd.

“The moral relativists, in league with the gay rights movement and the ‘politically correct,’ have done much to hide or misrepresent the answers, to obfuscate the issues, and, indeed, to smear traditional religion – especially Judaism – as hostile and discriminatory toward homosexuals,” writes Goldberg.

“The gay activists have, in effect, turned off the light in the homosexual closet.”

Goldberg’s analysis hits upon the crux of the contradiction in perhaps the most common argument for homosexual rights: that consenting adults ought to be allowed a right to privacy. At least for some individuals with SSA – a condition that can rend the deepest parts of one’s moral identity – the mere assertion that they have “consented” to homosexual activity hardly closes the book on their total, willing embrace of the homosexual lifestyle.

“What does a person’s ‘consent’ actually entail?” Goldberg questions. “Is the consent whole-hearted, or is only one part of the person’s psyche (or body?) doing the consenting, while the other part is cowed or drugged into silence? Under what circumstances does a person’s ‘consent’ truly represent his or her fully informed and rational decision?”

In other words, when a man can’t even trust himself, where is he left to turn? For Goldberg, the answer is obvious.

The solution for those struggling to break free of the mental and physical fetters of the homosexual culture, he says, can essentially be found in the Torah – where God’s moral law offers a sure path out of confusion toward self-awareness, maturity, and healing.

Goldberg says that one key to reaping the benefits of such Torah-centered therapy is understanding the true meaning of the Hebrew word to’eivah. The word is often translated as “abomination,” but Goldberg insists that “straying” or “being led astray” is both more accurate to the original meaning and more apropos of the SSA struggler’s situation.

“The rallying point for this push is, and has been, ‘discrimination against homosexuals,'” Goldberg writes. “However, as is evident from the text itself, when the Torah uses the word, to’eivah, it is condemning a behavior, not an individual. … Implicit within this understanding [of to’eivah] is a simple fact: one who goes astray retains the ability to find the way back.”

Though deeply indebted to his moral tradition, Goldberg denies claims current among orthodox Judaism that healing can be accomplished solely through religious piety or observance. Instead, he says, both teshuvah (the “turning back” to God’s plan) and psychological healing through gender-affirming programs must proceed “in lock step.”

“Such corrective action can be, and has been, accomplished – and with a rate of success that is much too high to ignore,” Goldberg writes, “through a guided process involving professional counseling, self-discovery and a combination of gradual spiritual and behavioral self-adjustments characteristic of teshuvah.”

Goldberg told that he hoped anyone conflicted on whether to listen to his message would discover that it not only sets out “a knowledgeable path of healing and hope for those who are sexually confused, but will also assist anyone whose values have been confused by our politically correct culture.”

“I wrote the book to pull together diverse information and resources, much of which is unknown by most,” he said, “and to develop a unique model that integrates psychological secular healing with Biblical commandments, thereby empowering people to overcome today’s sexually exploitive culture.”

It’s a kind of empowerment that is long overdue.


Related Articles

Archive Search

Search the world's largest online archive of material about Jewish diversity.

Archive Search

Search the world's largest online archive of material about Jewish diversity.