Transgender Jews Seek Place at Table

Conference Aims To Break Communal Silence on Issue

Speaking Up: Transgender Jews celebrate shabbat at a California synagogue.
Speaking Up: Transgender Jews celebrate shabbat at a California synagogue.

By Chanan Tigay

Published November 14, 2012, issue of November 16, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 3)

Tanner, a spoken-word artist, saw other links between his conversion to Judaism and his gender transition. Before sex reassignment surgery, transgender people must live in the gender to which they are transitioning. Similarly, Tanner, though still studying to become a Jew, is already living as a Jew.

Retreat participants took part in Sabbath services, as well as in seminars with names like “Being a Jewish Gender Outlaw,” “Being Transgender Is Kosher: Beyond the Binary in Ancient Jewish Texts” and “Does Judaism Love Your Body?” They also joined “heart circles” in which they spoke in highly personal terms about their own experiences. That such a gathering was taking place — and in public no less — was seen as a mark of progress, however sluggish. “It’s slowly changing from the perspective of many trans Jews,” said Joy Ladin, an English professor at Yeshiva University who was picked for this year’s Forward 50. She is the first openly transgender employee of an Orthodox Jewish institution. “But if you think about Jewish history being about 3,000 years long, there’s been rapid change.”

The changes have gathered pace over the past 10 to 15 years. Both Orthodox and Conservative rabbis, for example, have issued teshuvas, or religious opinions, on sex reassignment surgery. The Reform movement has ordained transgender rabbis, and the Reconstructionists are currently doing so — and both movements have made efforts to integrate issues of transgender into their curricula. In 2000, the Reform movement launched the Institute for Judaism, Sexual Orientation & Gender Identity.

Moreover, a network of organizations has emerged to work on behalf of transgender Jews. Jewish Transitions, a consultancy, provides guidance to transgender people on conversion and burial; Keshet, a co-sponsor of the shabbaton, works for the inclusion of the LGBT community in Jewish life; TransTorah.org makes trans and gender-queer Jewish resources available online, and Eshel supports LGBT people in traditional Jewish communities. A growing number of Jews and Jewish institutions are now asking questions that would have been unimaginable a short time ago about how Judaism does, and should, approach gender-nonconforming Jews.

Questions like: On which side of the mechitza, the partition dividing men and women, should a transgender person sit? Does a person who has transitioned from female to male need to undergo some kind of circumcision? If a male transitions to female, is a get, a Jewish divorce, required for that person to obtain a divorce? And when a trans-woman’s daughter is called to the Torah as a bat mitzvah and identified as “daughter of” Parent A and Parent B, should the trans-parent’s former — male — name be used or her new name?


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Sigal Samuel's family amulet isn't just rumored to have magical powers. It's also a symbol of how Jewish and Indian rituals became intertwined over the centuries. http://jd.fo/a3BvD Only three days left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • British Jews are having their 'Open Hillel' moment. Do you think Israel advocacy on campus runs the risk of excluding some Jewish students?
  • "What I didn’t realize before my trip was that I would leave Uganda with a powerful mandate on my shoulders — almost as if I had personally left Egypt."
  • Is it better to have a young, fresh rabbi, or a rabbi who stays with the same congregation for a long time? What do you think?
  • Why does the leader of Israel's social protest movement now work in a beauty parlor instead of the Knesset?
  • What's it like to be Chagall's granddaughter?
  • Is pot kosher for Passover. The rabbis say no, especially for Ashkenazi Jews. And it doesn't matter if its the unofficial Pot Day of April 20.
  • A Ukrainian rabbi says he thinks the leaflets ordering Jews in restive Donetsk to 'register' were a hoax. But the disturbing story still won't die.
  • Some snacks to help you get through the second half of Passover.
  • You wouldn't think that a Soviet-Jewish immigrant would find much in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the famed novelist once helped one man find his first love. http://jd.fo/f3JiS
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.