Speaking for the “Broader Jewish Community”: On Trans Rabbis


What's a rabbi supposed to look like?

Over sandwiches, enjoying the gorgeous weather on a Dupont Circle patio, my friend told me about his exclusion from rabbinical school.

He was told in fairly clear terms that his rejection notice came not because he is a Jew by choice or that they questioned his depth of Jewish learning, but because he’s trans.

The school, considered one of the more “liberal,” was just not so sure about him – Had he really fully developed all his ideas about being a man yet? Was he a “transsexual” rabbi or a rabbi who was trans? Has he considered that maybe he just wasn’t sure about being a man yet?

And did he really think the “broader Jewish community” would accept him?

Yeah, he really does think that they would.
As do I.
As do a lot of people.

This worry about the “broader Jewish community” came from faculty and administrators who, at one time, were themselves rejected from rabbinical schools because they are women, or people of color, or Jews by choice. They, themselves, had others concerned that the “broader Jewish community” would never want them. That their difference was “too much.”

Beyond the fact that they had no right or reason to question how sure he was about his gender identity any more than they’d question anyone else’s, their questions hit at something much deeper:

At what point do we stop throwing each other under the bus in regards to difference? When do we stop letting others work hard to gain acceptance for pieces of our own different identities, and then turn around and try to shut the door behind ourselves? Each step we take forward does not have to come at someone else’s expense – a lesson trans people know all too well, from within the LGBT community itself – because we are so worried about some imaginary version of the broader community and what we think it will accept.

That is not my version of the Jewish community.

As a Jew, I am deeply offended that these people presume such a level of bigotry in the broader Jewish community, especially when I see so much evidence to the contrary around me, in communities ranging from secular to observant. It’s insulting to all of us who care about social justice and equality and valuing everyone, AND see them as vital tenets of our Jewish identities.

Further, by using that phrase, the school’s committee members separate themselves, saying that their reputation for being more open and welcoming may exist, but that “other Jews” wouldn’t be so open-minded.

Our actual Jewish communities include many rabbis and leaders who do not look like some stereotypical version of what a rabbi “should” look like – we are Jews of color, women, non-Ashkenazi, Jews by choice… and yes, even lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender or genderqueer (LGBT). To think that the “broader Jewish community” wouldn’t accept such a rabbi, erases the existence of other queer and trans folks as members of our communities already.

When they thought of “Jewish life,” their image clearly didn’t include any LGBT people as part of that life. If they had, it would’ve been obvious to them that there are plenty of people who would be interested in my friend as their rabbi – not just because he’s warm and intelligent and spiritually-engaged – but precisely because he’s trans.

Part of the reason that GLOE exists is because in too many places Jews have been made to feel that they can either be Jewish OR that they can be LGBT; we stand as evidence that these pieces are far from mutually exclusive.

It is not incidental that we are part of a larger Jewish organization.
That we are embraced by that larger Jewish organization.
That we are active in all parts of both Jewish and LGBT life here - still LGBT in Jewish spaces, and we bring our Jewishness to LGBT life in the city.

This year, at GLOE’s National Rainbow Seder, we will highlight heroes of various freedom and equality movements throughout history. Many of those heroes were queer Jews, though frequently that fact remained unknown in their lifetimes. They understood that Passover’s lessons of working toward freedom don’t exist in a vacuum, separate from who we are. Rather, those intersections are where we  – where we all – gain strength and gain power.

To pretend that it is anything less critical, less significant, hurts everyone. That is to say, it hurts the broader Jewish community.

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