In this decade, more people are identifying as transgender, this has led to changes in all aspects of life. Debates are being held by government, trans activist and individuals on gender neutral terminology, gender neutral pronouns, and the education of the public towards these issue. Judaism has begun debates as well, to best be able to tackle and provide for the community regarding this issue. The Conservative and reform movements have been the most pro trans rights, ranging from accepting transgender individuals as well as advocating for their right publicly. What’s really astonishing is even the more Orthodox movements our now beginning to talk about the placement of trans jews in an orthodox society. The main three branches of Judaism falling under orthodox, conservatism and reformism, each branch have different ways of approaching and arguing for their perspective on transgenders.
Reform Judaism has accepted and supports the rights of Transgender and gender non conforming people. Since the late of 2015 Reform Judaism has been the “largest religious denomination to welcome transgender individuals” due to the Union of Reform Judaism adopting “a resolution affirming the rights of transgenders and gender non conforming people”. The resolution was passed with the majority of votes in favor, and no surprise there.
One of the main tenets of reform Judaism is “having a longstanding commitment to bringing in people who have been on the margins of society” according to Rabbi Rick Jacobs the president of the Union of Reform Judaism. The URJ does not in any way approach this topic from a halachic perspective but rather a cultural one. No religious reasons are argued for trans rights or participation in synagogue because the URJ is more about cultural tolerance.The URJ believes in an all inclusive accepting and tolerant religious experience, most advocates and members of Reform Judaism can be found protesting against discrimination and advocating for transgender rights in their cities and by proxy countries. Conservative Judaism has always been the middle ground between the extreme and lenient side of Judaism , extreme being orthodox and lenient being reform. Recently the conservative movement has also accepted a resolution affirming the rights transgender and non gender conforming individuals. The Conservative Rabbinical Assembly called upon every institution including synagogues and any institution affiliated with the Conservative movement to make sure that facilities meet the needs of transgender people as well as having the polite etiquette of using said person correct pronouns. Inside the actual text of the resolution some reasons given to why the resolution is being passed is quite interesting.
The resolution starts off with the assertion from the Torah that “all Humanity is created b’tzelem Elohim(In G-ds divine image)” it follows by stating “the rabbinic tradition strongly emphasizes the importance of kvod habriyot(human dignity)”. This implies that disrespecting a trans individual, be it any individual is likened to disrespecting G-d. It is even stated by a Committee on Jewish Law and Standards that “kvod habriyot” should supersede the rabbinic prohibitions relating to homosexuality”. The resolution states several other points about the discrimination and the upholding of marginalized groups by the conservative movement and brings up an interesting point. “even the literature of halakhah, from the Mishnah to contemporary responsa, affirms the variety of non binary gender expression through history, granting transgender people the obligations and privileges of all Jews”. This argument is ironically used by the orthodox to discredit transgenderism, interesting how for one movement text can be proof and the next it can’t.
When issues such as gender based mitzvot arise the answer is simple, the proper halachah should be applied to the adopted gender. Every conservative synagogue is well accepting of trans individuals and alongside reform shulls are very accepting and tolerating. No real acceptance can be found in orthodox Judaism but there is a push for it from several different rabbis. In halacha there are four genders male, female, androginos(containing both reproductive organs) and tumtum(someone whos reproductive organ is concealed). Despite the four categorizations the “androginos and tumtum do not selfdefine their genders they are treated with the stringencies of men and women”.
The gender you receive at birth is the one that sticks with you until you die. In “Devarim 22:5 two seperate prohibitions are stated against crossdressing on for men not to wear women’s clothes and vice versa” this quote is used by the conservative to show that transgenders aren’t crossdressers, however the more orthodox view this as being against the gender reassignment. The push for a more inclusive orthodox community comes from people like Rabbi Tzi Hersh Weinreb who is the executive vice president of the Orthodox Union. In an interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency(JTA) he said “transgenders are going through difficulties. How do we reach out to them compassionately as human beings, as fellow Jews, as people we don’t want to lose from the Orthodox community”. These sentiments seem very genuine and compassionate as opposed to the ones that one would assumed be given from an orthodox sect of Judaism. The Tzit Eliezer who passed in 2006 before state that gender was determined by their anatamoy, if a married person had his or her anatomy surgically altered to that of the opposite sex, no divorce would be needed because same sex marriage is impossible in Orthodox Law.
This provides and interesting loophole and does in some ways validate transgenderism but the Tzit Eliezer’s views do not come into consensus with other members of the Orthodox authority. In cases of potential suicide, pikuach nefesh(saving a human life) supersedes the restrictions of castration or cross dressing therefore allowing it as a last resort. The main issue recently transitioning individuals go through is because the transition alters their anatamoy in the eyes of Jewish law what gender are they, and what obligations should they follow.
This is really up to the individual rabbinic opinions that one may follow. It is clear that most transgender individuals aren’t necessarily asking the permission to undergo hormonal therapy or even gender reassignment surgery. They are just asking to be welcomed and accepted in their own communities, and this is still up to the individual communities and synagogues.