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Judge Orders JONAH, a Jewish Gay Conversion Therapy Group, to Shut Down

Good riddance

Jonathan Zalman
December 22, 2015
Sarah Rice/Getty Images
An image from the 43rd annual San Francisco Pride Parade, June 30, 2013. Sarah Rice/Getty Images
Sarah Rice/Getty Images
An image from the 43rd annual San Francisco Pride Parade, June 30, 2013. Sarah Rice/Getty Images

In June, JONAH, an organization that purports to “wor[k] with those struggling with unwanted same-sex sexual attractions (SSA) and with families whose loved ones are involved in homosexuality,” was found guilty of consumer fraud. In that case, five plaintiffs—three former JONAH clients, and two of their mothers—were awarded damages after having filed suit in 2012. Now, the organization continues to dissolve.

Last Friday, a judge gave the organization a 30-day window to shut down. Additionally, reported Haaretz, the organization “must remove its websites and online listservs, often used as a support system for Jewish gay men trying to become straight. JONAH will also have to liquidate its assets and permanently dissolve as a corporate entity within six months.”

Tablet contributor Rachel Benaim attended the June hearing and heard the testimony of former JONAH clients, including Chaim Levin, who “was asked by his counselor to remove his clothes in front of a mirror as a way to rectify “body shame,” while his counselor stood behind him and watched. Downing, his counselor, the instructed him to touch “his manhood.””

The defense claimed that their methods—including “Journey into Manhood” weekends where much of the time was spent doing different naked “processes”—were scientific and did in fact help clients of JONAH who “put in the work.” JONAH brought in witnesses to testify to the success of these exercises. One witness testified to having a happy sex life, but also said he had a “wet noodle,” or had trouble getting an erection for his wife. When the jury was not in the courtroom, the judge responded to a defense witness, “Frankly, I don’t even know how this was a success story.”

The defense, on the other hand, “argued that according to Jewish Torah values, homosexuality is a spiritual disorder, and as such, could be treated through teshuva, meaning Jewish repentance, which they translated as healing, and therapy.”

At the time, a juror told Benaim that “the defense just wasn’t there. The [type of therapy] just wasn’t right its just not something that’s therapy.”

And now JONAH, at least as an incorporated, service-giving organization, is no more.

Jonathan Zalman is a writer and teacher based in Brooklyn.