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Conservative Rabbis Group Backs Transgender Rights

— The international association of Conservative rabbis passed a resolution declaring its embrace of transgender people, and called on Jewish institutions and government agencies to ensure their full equality.

The Rabbinical Assembly resolution passed last week expresses “the full welcome, acceptance, and inclusion of people of all gender identities in Jewish life and general society.”

The group in its Resolution Affirming the Rights of Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming People makes a legal case for its position, arguing the spectrum of Jewish text “affirms the variety of non-binary gender expression throughout history.”

“Since Talmudic times, our people have recognized that the human condition is not just binary,” said Rabbi Gil Steinlauf, the gay spiritual leader at Adas Israel in Washington, D.C., in an interview with the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBT advocacy group. “I hope this resolution will go far in promoting this deep truth of our religion in our society and in the world.

The resolution will impact Conservative synagogues, camps, schools, communal and professional organizations. It follows a similar resolution passed by the Union for Reform Judaism in November.

The Rabbinical Assembly, which comprises 1,700 rabbis, encouraged institutions affiliated with the Conservative movement to assess policies, physical facilities and language to become “safe spaces” for transgender and gender non-conforming people. It also encouraged employees of the institutions to educate themselves and their constituencies about the needs of transgender and gender non-conforming people, including, for example, using an individual’s preferred pronoun.

“That is always the first job of the religious community, the faith community: to bring our Jewish values to bear on our real-life situations and the real people around us,” Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, the executive vice president of the assembly, told the Washington Post.

Over the weekend, transgender Jews and Jewish LGBT organizations celebrated the resolution. Schonfeld said she has not heard of any resistance to it.

“I don’t believe there was opposition to it at all,” she said. “I think it really comes out of a basic set of values, to see the infinite and equal worth in every human being. I think it speaks very directly to Jewish values. This is one of the examples of how the Torah’s fundamental values keep reasserting themselves as society grows and matures.”

The resolution comes in the wake of a tense national conversation on transgender rights. In March, the North Carolina legislature passed a law banning transgender people from using bathrooms that do not match the gender on their birth certificate. A backlash from businesses followed, and President Barack Obama responded in May with a directive instructing public schools to allow transgender students to use the restroom of their choice, igniting a nationwide debate.

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