Shimon Cowan – Western Civilization, No Homosexuality, Bigotry and A Letter



Dear LM:

I have a couple of suggestions for you about the Shimon Cowan article (“Rabbi urged to face facts about sexuality”.) The suggestions are relevant if you have the ability to amend past posts. If not, just ignore them.

  • You have posted the AJN article about the reaction to Cowan’s book as a .jpg image. I have observed that it is too small to read properly at its original size and, if you enlarge it, the resolution is too poor to read it enlarged. Why don’t you upload the pdf copy of the article (which has a much better resolution) to your site and turn the jpg image into a clickable link that can be used to download the pdf or open it in another browser tab. To facilitate that, I am attaching the pdf for you.
  • Please see my comments below:

The rabbi who is the subject of the attached article from this week’s Jewish News is Shimon Cowan (son of the late former Governor General, Sir Zelman Cowan.) His extremist attitudes are the hallmark of the religious zealotry that often characterises the ‘born-again’ who either adopt religion or change their religious allegiance to (ultra-)Orthodoxy in middle adulthood.

This was the case with Shimon Cowan, and it so happened that I, unwittingly, played a tiny role in that transition of his. It was back in the distant days when I was still (at least to some degree) part of the Yeshivah community. I was in the Yeshivah shule on the evening of Tisha B’Av, and the reader, the late Reb Isser Kluwgant, noticed that I was the only one there in possession of a book of Kinnot with an English translation. (It contained the Book of Lamentations and other elegies comprising the special evening service that ushers in that fast.) He pointed to a stranger about my age and asked me to sit with him so he could follow the English translation of the service from my book. If I ever get the opportunity to remind (the now Rabbi) Cowan of that evening, I will tell him that I regret having played any part, however minor, in that transition of his, for it turned him into an intolerant bigot.

This is not a sudden conclusion that I came to from reading the attached article; I came to it gradually many years ago, and it was subsequently reinforced a little over a decade ago when I made the acquaintance of a former victim of his bigotry. She was then a Melbournite, but is now living in Israel. She goes by the Hebrew name Devorah, but that is not her birth name, for she was born anatomically male. I gradually became acquainted with her story. For years she struggled with her identity and against the body she felt imprisoned in, knowing even in early childhood that she felt female, but not knowing of the medical solutions to her very severe quandary until after attaining adulthood, when she surgically transitioned. For many years afterwards, she struggled to maintain her former allegiance to Orthodox religious belief and practices in the face of rejection by some, or at best, a cold, distant, awkward tolerance by others. But none approached the hostility with which she was treated by Shimon Cowan.

The late Rabbi Yitzchok Groner, to his credit, had issued a halachic ruling that she be accommodated in the women’s section of Chabad House services, and not be shunned or driven away. Despite this ruling, Rabbi Cowan summoned her to his house – a summons she dutifully obeyed, albeit with some trepidation, and he unceremoniously and most uncharitably challenged her motivation, bluntly asking, “why are trying to infiltrate the frum community?” To which she tearfully responded, “I’m not trying to infiltrate, I’m just trying to remain frum (observant).” By the time I met Devorah, a little over a decade ago, this was all past history for her. But I happen to know, because we remained in touch over the intervening years, that she kept trying to maintain that allegiance until only a few years ago, when the repeated rejections she encountered finally defeated her. She still identifies with Judaism, but not with Orthodoxy.

So, at long last, Shimon Cowan has had his victory. I hope to acquaint him of this fact some day and to also give him a piece of my mind about it, just as honestly as he has revealed his true mind in his new book, “Homosexuality, Marriage and Society,” which has engendered the responses reported in the attached article. If only Chabad had shown him the same kind of “welcome,” all those years ago when he was dipping his toe into Chabad-style Orthodoxy, the rejection might have changed his mind and some of those who were the subsequent victims of his acquired bigotry and intolerance might have been spared many tears.



3 thoughts on “Shimon Cowan – Western Civilization, No Homosexuality, Bigotry and A Letter

  1. It’s his favorite topic, bashing gays. I’ve never heard him bashing his parents and relatives for not keeping Shabbos which is the same level of non observance. He should at the very least keep his mouth shut. Or a lobotomy would also work as mentioned on the other thread.

  2. As a transgender woman myself, facing much of the same “push away with both hands” from a nominally liberal frum community, my heart breaks for Devorah above, and erev rav Cowan needs to be reminded that there are far too few frum Jewish people, and we need to hold on to every precious one.

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