Controversial syndicated radio-show host and public advocate of Orthodox Judaism Laura Schlessinger -- "Dr. Laura," as she is known to her 12 million daily listeners -- confessed on air this month that she will no longer practice Judaism.
Although Schlessinger -- who very publicly converted to Judaism five years ago -- said she still "considers" herself Jewish, "My identifying with this entity and my fulfilling the rituals, etc., of the entity -- that has ended," she said on "The Dr. Laura Schlessinger Program" on Aug. 5.
Syndicated nationally since 1994, Schlessinger has won over listeners with her hard-edged advice and razor-sharp tongue. Yet her brash style, not to mention her espousal of a strict "moral health" code -- including controversial condemnations of homosexuality as "a biological error" -- put her at odds with wide swaths of the Jewish community. Many found her moralist, black-and-white, you're-with-me-or-against-me stance to be more representative of evangelical Christians than of Jews, who were often among her most outspoken critics.
Schlessinger's office said she was unavailable for comment.
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."
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."
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."
Born to a Jewish father and an Italian Catholic mother, Schlessinger was raised in Brooklyn in a home that was without religion. Approximately 10 years ago, prompted by a question from her son during a viewing of a Holocaust documentary, Schlessinger, 56, began exploring her Jewish roots.
She underwent a Conservative conversion in 1997, and later decided to undergo an Orthodox conversion instead.
"I still see myself as a Jew," Schlessinger said on the air. "But the spiritual journey and that direction, as hard core as I was at it, just didn't fulfill something in me that I needed."
Even Schlessinger's detractors were shocked by the news. "I can't tell you how significant this is," said fellow Jewish media star and "Kosher Sex" author Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, who has sparred with Schlessinger over her comments on homosexuality.
"Dr. Laura always equated her morals and ethics with Jewish morals and ethics," he said. "That placed the American Jewish community in a real fix; on the one hand, she made Judaism very popular, on the other, she made it vilified and hated by many people."
"It seems incredible that an ethicist and moralist of her standing would invoke such shallow arguments," added Boteach, who was en route to an appearance on the syndicated television show "Blind Date." "I never got great applause for my work from the Jewish community -- but my people are my people, whether they love or hate me."