Dear TEE community,

Something I love about studying ancient Jewish texts is the way they challenge my assumptions about the world. For example, most of us were brought up to believe that human beings are created, in the familiar words of Genesis, “male and female.” But Jewish tradition makes it clear that this phrase is more complicated than it seems. It may indicate separate and distinct types of people but the rabbis also wondered whether we should read the phrase as “male-and-female,” in other words, what we might now call an androgynous person. In addition to these categories of male, female, and androgynous, the sages also refereed to three additional groups which we would now understand as intersex, trans women and trans men.

Recent decades have seen a growing awareness of the rich diversity of human gender and sexuality, both inside and outside the Jewish community. At the same time, we have come to recognize the continued discrimination and violence directed at those who don’t conform to the dominant binary of male and female, especially transgender people. In recognition of this, since 1999, November 20th has been designated as Transgender Day of Remembrance.

This year November 20th falls on a Friday night and with Reform Jews throughout the country, we will be observing Transgender Shabbat. Writing on the website, Rafi Daugherty encourages us to see Transgender Shabbat as a time to consider:

  • How can we make our community the type of community where a transgender child or adult will feel that they can safely express who they are and not only will we not shun them, we will love and embrace them, and encourage them down their chosen path?
  • How might we bring awareness to the issue of bathroom safety for gender non-conforming individuals in our institutions?
  • How can we widen the arms of our communities’ embrace so that it can enfold the most stigmatized and ostracized individuals and bring them closer to G-d, to Judaism, and to themselves?

Our observance will be an opportunity to acknowledge and mourn the victims of transgender violence but it will also celebrate the lives and significance of transgender Jews, provide an opportunity to study and discuss those rabbinic texts about gender, and demonstrate our commitment to being a truly inclusive and welcoming community.

I hope you will join us for this important celebration.

Be well / Zei gesunt / Sano,

Rabbi Drorah Setel