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THE TORAH AND TRANSGENDERISM

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The survey of 500 participants was conducted last week amid festivities for Tel Aviv Pride Week WIKI COMMONS PHOTO
WIKI COMMONS PHOTO

In our liturgy, the Torah is referred to as the “tree of life.” But although it’s rich in general guiding principles, the Torah is paradoxically terse or mute on several of our era’s hottest issues: abortion, gay marriage and transgenderism.

These issues share two common denominators: all reverse or thwart natural procreation, and all have become litmus tests for left-wing ideologues. As a result, they’ve been artificially harmonized with mainstream Jewish life by left-leaning Jews. But philosophically speaking, these issues try to force fit square pegs into round holes.

On abortion itself – a non-issue in 1200 BCE – the Torah has almost nothing to say, other than a section on how a woman should be compensated for a miscarriage caused by violence.
In principle, however, the Torah vigorously endorses procreation and the sanctity of human life. So theoretically, especially with the advent of ultrasounds, the question of when life begins and the morality of abortion should be a hotly debated issue for Jews.

But I have yet to hear a sermon in any synagogue of any denomination in which concern is expressed over the banalization of abortion, or even over the obscenity of sex-selective abortions. Progressives consider any deviation from unfettered abortion a form of misogyny – for them, the subject is closed. But unpoliticized Jews should support regulating abortions.

On sexual preferences, the Torah is crystal clear regarding male homosexuality – it’s an “abomination” – but does not say anything regarding lesbianism. Lesbians in antiquity married and produced children, so the question needn’t have arisen. And lesbians today tend toward procreation. Male homosexuality, on the other hand, precludes, or minimizes, fertility. That is problematic for nation-building, a core Jewish imperative, and therefore just as valid a reason for the Torah to label it an “abomination.”

READ: IT’S TIME TO SHIFT THE TONE ON LGBT ISSUES

Homosexuality is certainly a hot topic in liberal Jewish forums, but only grappled with as something to be ignored or laundered as an alleged aberration from authentic Judaism. That’s not logically tenable. Justice is a Jewish ideal, which stems from the Torah. Social justice is a progressive ideal. Sometimes the twain meet, but not here. Civil unions are justice. But kiddushin is a literal act of sanctification. Ritual solemnization of gay marriage is mikveh-dipped progressivism, not Judaism.

Will transgenderism go the same fake-Jewish route? It isn’t expressly mentioned in the Torah, but there is a proscription against cross-dressing, which powerfully suggests that if the rare phenomenon of true gender dysphoria had been considered in Judaism’s formative stages, it too would have been classed as an abomination. After all, the most significant feature of gender transitioning is the obligatory commitment to permanent, artificially imposed sterility. This is ineluctably unJewish.

Progressive Jews are unlikely to view trans affirmation through a Jewish lens. But Orthodox rabbis are forced to address questions like: Can transgendered people marry the newly opposite sex?

Can a biological male with his penis removed convert to Judaism without a circumcision? When called to the Torah, is a female-to-male alluded to as “son of”?

The most challenging cases, Jewishly speaking, are the escalating numbers of people who identify as “non-binary” – neither male nor female. Torah Judaism spurns ambiguity, both in morality and in quotidian functions. Postmodernism notwithstanding, categorization is the basis of all cognitive knowledge. The Torah exemplifies that principle in the story of creation, in its resolutely binary gender perspective and in the laws of kashrut, with its elaborate checklists of edible and forbidden creatures. (Interestingly, amphibious animals like frogs and snakes, which are at home both in water and on land, are forbidden foods. Non-binary is non-Jewish.)

We are presently experiencing a social mania, in which early affirmation of gender-nonconforming children as trans has become the pedagogical and even legally compelled norm (see Bill C-16). As Jews, we should resist this ideological fad (which it will eventually prove to be). To channel Sholom Aleichem, from a Jewish point of view, it’s no sin to be dysphoric, but it’s no great honour, either.

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  • Joe Q.

    The author continually refers to the Torah and what it says, but seems not to know that we don’t decide “correct” Jewish practice directly from it. She seems to be unaware of the more extensive discussions in the Rabbinic literature (in the time of Chazal, the Rishonim and later authorities) that address her pet issues in more detail, including abortion, female homosexuality, people of “uncertain gender”, etc. These discussions are way more nuanced than anything the author presents here.

    In her zeal to condemn those who she disagrees with, the author also ignores elephants in the room. She condemns gender reassignment surgery and its “commitment to permanent, artificially imposed sterility” as “ineluctably unJewish” but ignores vasectomy — which also constitutes “permanent, artificially imposed sterility”, is absolutely prohibited by halacha, and must be hundreds of times more common than gender reassignment surgery. There have to be hundreds of Jewish men in Canada permanently sterilizing themselves every year, which is also “ineluctably unJewish”, but nary a peep about that here.

    Even Kashrut is a lot less black-and-white than the author makes it out to be.

    Overall, this is a strange column — polemical and simplistic at the same time. The author keeps trying to mix the theological / halachic with the political, without realizing that they don’t line up neatly. The result is a confused mess.

    • NorthernEagle

      Just because she didn’t mention vasectomy and it’s prohibition, doesn’t mean anything. As you said, it’s prohibited so any mention of it would only bolster her argument by providing yet more proof that the Torah is consistently for procreation and consistently against any practices that block it or minimize it. Not just male homosexuality.

  • Mark P. Behar

    The above commentary also seems confusing to me, and I certainly do not agree with it’s foregone conclusions. However, the author is invited to please address and comment on the six genders mentioned in ancient/classic Judaism:
    http://www.sojourngsd.org/blog/sixgenders
    https://www.sefaria.org/sheets/37225

  • Dianne S

    Funnily enough, I agree with Kay that Judaism has unreasonable and bigoted opinions of homosexuality and transgenderism. That’s one (of many) reasons I no longer practice Judaism. I’m not about to be shackled to ignorant Bronze-age understandings of these issues. If Kay chooses to do so, good luck to her, but society is moving on.

  • Gary Rose

    Although I too share reservations about the current normalization of transgenderism, I don’t abide by using Torah as the ultimate guide either in making up my mind about the totality of what is acceptable human experience, and how I should respond as a compassionate Jew.

    As a Jew, wrestling with moral issues is what I do, and as modern educated person, I also understand that many once stated and accepted facts given in the Torah have been replaced with indisputable truths that renders a large portion of Torah facts not worthy of serious consideration. The Torah may be a source to provoke moral discussion, but it certainly contains so much outdated knowledge that it should no longer be used to limit the boundaries of exploring moral truth.

    Barbara Kay does a disservice to all deep thinking Jews who wrestle with moral issues. Are we all fake-Jews because we have opted to reject creationism, see keeping kosher as a rabbinical ruling designed to prevent association outside of the fold, or are OK with accepting a loving relationship over a dysfunctional one – even if it is same sex? I think not.

    Kay may be correct in her assessment of transgenderism, but justifying her view from a Judaic perspective as she does is weak, and insults the intelligence of all compassionate Jews who are grappling with the moral issues involved. Life is not black and white, even if the Torah sometimes says it is.