Shabbat Ki Teitzei

Early this week, Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs shared a video profile of Talleen Abu Hama, who will be representing Israel in the Miss Trans International pageant this week. It’s a fascinating story about a Nazareth-born man who found that the Jewish State was the safest place for him to embrace his true gender and transition in order to identify as a woman. You can read more about Talleen here.
The fluidity of gender identity has been a hot topic in Jewish educational environments, with several day schools establishing gender-neutral restrooms. Every stream of the American Jewish community has been raising awareness and sensitivity about Trans Jews. With the popularity of the award-winning internet TV show Transparent, the matter of gender identity has become of national interest.
The Law Committee is just beginning to address the halakhic ramifications of gender reassignment surgery. The questions are particularly relevant this week, not only because of current events, but because this week’s Torah portion provides two passages that will need to be addressed. One is the Torah’s prohibition against cross-dressing: “A woman must not put on man’s apparel, nor shall a man wear women’s clothing;” the Torah even goes so far as to call such wardrobe violations a to’evah, an abomination. (Deuteronomy 22:5)
The second issue is most relevant to individuals who were born male and seek gender reassignment surgery: “No one whose testes are crushed or whose member is cut off shall be admitted into the congregation of the LORD” (Deuteronomy 23:2). From what I have heard, this is the crux of the halakhic argumentation in the forthcoming CJLS repsonsum.
On Shabbat morning, I’ll share some relevant classical sources, and also address what is indeed of deeper concern–the role of Jewish communities in supporting people whose gender identity can be a source of deep pain and alienation from Judaism.
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wise