November 18, 2022

This week has been Transgender Awareness Week, which is a time for us to honor and celebrate the trans community. We have seen an increase in proposed legislation against the trans community both here in Ohio and around the country. Of particular concern are legislation that would allow anyone to challenge the gender of a female athlete and would ultimately require a body exam and proof female body parts. There have been various resolutions proposed to the Ohio Board of Education regarding expansion of Title IX protections for LGBTQ+ students. In October, a resolution was proposed to limit protections for LGBTQ+ students and this week, a resolution was proposed to expand those protections of discrimination.

We know that students in our schools have been victims of discrimination for both their sexual and gender identity. Transgender awareness week is a time to honor the challenges that many in the trans community have faced and also to celebrate the positive stories of trans people across the country. There have been various moments in which trans people have faced barriers in receiving medical treatment, as well as discrimination in housing and employment practices. Part of raising awareness is to ensure that trans people are protected from discrimination.

Sunday, November 20, is the annual day of Transgender Commemoration in which we honor the memories of trans people who have lost their lives because they were transgender. For many years, too many people have felt uncomfortable with coming out because they were afraid of what the community might say or do. Far too often, such fear led to people taking their own lives. I believe it is important for all of us to be welcoming and to celebrate everyone regardless of they identify. At Beth Tikvah, we have begun asking people to let us know their preferred pronouns so that we may welcome individuals properly.

Being in a religious community, we often hear that religion has always said that people are either born as a boy or girl. For thousands of years Judaism has offered teachings that are contrary to that notion. In the Mishnah, a legal document from the first century of the common era teaches, “An Androginus is similar to men in some ways and to women in other ways, in some ways to both, and in some ways to neither.” (Mishnah Bikkurim 4:1) The Mishnah continues by further explaining the similarities and differences.

Additionally, an Israeli Orthodox rabbi known as Rabbi Eliezer Waldenberg (1919-2006) wrote in his Orthodox Responsa entitled the Tzitz Eliezer a number of different references regarding the transgender community. Responsa literature is Jewish legal literature in which a rabbi is asked a question and then provides a legal decision based on Jewish teachings. First, he was once asked if there was a woman who became a man, does that man need a get (Jewish divorce document) because when he got married she was a woman? The Tztitz Eliezer rules that there is no need for a get because he is now a man and not a woman. Additionally, the Tzitz Eliezer states, “The identity and birthright of a human is not expressed by the separate organ parts of his body—and this will be the most important—but by the spirit and the soul which are within them.” What he is saying is that we should not focus on the body parts but the soul and spirit of a human being which is sacred.

As you can see, Judaism, for thousands of years, has recognized diversity with gender identity. Such acceptance continues in modern times, according to at least one Orthodox rabbi.

As we honor Transgender Awareness Week, it is important to celebrate and honor the stories of the transgender community and also recognize the many hardships. It is also important for everyone to know that Beth Tikvah is a welcoming place in which we will honor and celebrate everyone’s identity.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Rick Kellner