Fare Thee Well, Dr. Laura

The recent statement by Dr. Laura that she will no longer practice Judaism has received much response and reaction within the Jewish -- especially the Orthodox Jewish -- community.

So many had felt pride when Dr. Laura converted to Judaism -- undergoing specifically an Orthodox conversion in 1998. It was seen almost as a victory. With the announcement that she was now leaving, especially with her praise of the warmth in Christianity, the tables had turned. Christians were suddenly using Dr. Laura's newly-found perception to foster their stand and thereby challenge Judaism. It is no wonder that the Jewish community responded. There were articles reaching out to Dr. Laura to reconsider. Some proclaimed that there is much warmth and love in Judaism; Dr. Laura just simply didn't experience it but if she sought it, she would find it. Some called upon her to recognize the unique dilemmas of being Jewish, to be more understanding and, with this recognition, to further commit to this unique destiny. Other articles attacked her for being flippant, describing her rejection of Judaism as reflecting more on Dr. Laura's problems than on Judaism's problems. I, on the other hand, found myself somewhat at peace. I had more problems with Dr. Laura becoming Jewish and identifying as an Orthodox Jew. Now that she and the positions she advocates cannot be identified with Torah, I am somewhat more content.

Let me step back. Dr. Laura was converted by an Orthodox beit din (court) under the auspices of an Orthodox rabbi whom I respect -- I, in no way, question that conversion. As such, Dr. Laura is and always will be a Jew. On this level, I am pained by her declaration that she will not observe mitzvot. It is indeed sad that a Jew is breaking away from her people and her destiny. But there always seemed to me to be a problem with Dr. Laura's approach to Judaism. She did not seem to be looking to Torah to be her teacher but rather her vindicator. She had very definite views on many issues and that was the yardstick by which she measured life.
She was the evaluator. One can contrast her attitude with that of Ovadiah the Ger, to whom Rambam wrote in one of the most important letters in Jewish history. Ovadiah approached Torah with humility; his objective was to learn God's Wisdom and apply it within his life. Dr. Laura, in contrast, always seemed to have the answer; she did not perceive herself to be the student. When she thought that Judaism met her standards, she decided to embrace it. Her movement away from Judaism followed the same yardstick; when Judaism did not meet her standard, she rejected it. The bottom line is that she did not turn to Torah for insight into life, morality and ethics. She had her opinions. When she thought Torah shared these opinions, she was all for it. When she now feels that Torah does not connect with her views, she rejects it.

The fact is that Torah is inherently incompatible with the fundamentalist attitudes of someone like Dr. Laura. On the surface, it may seem that Torah shares these rigid views, but the very nature of Torah -- with its foundation of study -- is not rigid. There is no place for fundamentalism within Torah. There is no place for sweeping simplistic views of the human condition within Torah. There is no place for dogmatism within Torah.
While Dr. Laura was still claiming to be the mouthpiece of Orthodox Judaism, I was continually faced with the challenge of explaining that her attitudes and opinions did not really reflect Torah. Now, baruch Hashem, I no longer have this problem!
There is no longer the possibility that the public will confuse Dr. Laura's views with the views of Torah.

My hope is obviously that a Jew will do teshuva. My hope is that Dr. Laura will return to the fold. But my hope is that she returns as a student of Torah and that thereby her views change as she allows Torah to permeate her being.


Rabbi Benjamin Hecht

2003 NISHMA