Dear Rabbi Fried,
I, like so many others, am troubled by the new trend being set by the government to force public schools and institutions to allow transgender males by birth to use female restrooms.
Putting the legal and sociological issues aside, I would like to know what traditional Judaism says about people who decide to make these changes; is it something that one has the right to choose? Does traditional Judaism give credence to the new philosophy of “gender fluidity”?
— Nikki C.
It is not my position to comment on the legal and sociological ramifications of this debate which is currently raging among the lawmakers of this country, whether this is considered an overreach of federal powers, if the issue should be a matter for individual states to decide and the like. I assume it will be hammered out in Congress what is the best way for society to deal with this.
It is also not my place to judge individuals for their own, personal choices. We recently learned the lesson from the four sons in the Haggadah that every individual Jew, regardless of background, affiliation or religious observance, has a place in Judaism. Torah demands from us the compassion to reach out to every Jew. I am not about to pass judgment on another’s pain they may suffer over being gender challenged.
The question I feel we can discuss is the concept of “gender fluidity” and if it has a place in Torah thought. This question encompasses many other deep philosophical questions. To what extent does one have dominion or ownership over their own body and do they have the right to change it at will? To what extent can one “play God” over what they were given at birth? If they do make a transgender change, does Torah law consider them to now be of the gender they have become, or are they still the gender they were at birth?
I think it would take at least a number of columns to cover this thorny, emotionally charged issue fully, if not a book. The first things we need to remember is that (in the context of the holiday of Shavuot which is just around the corner) we were given the timeless gift of the Torah as our moral compass by the Creator of all morality.
The power of a compass is that, when you are taking a long hike through an unchartered forest, whichever way you twist and turn, the compass continues to show you the direction you need to take. It’s not the job of the compass to readjust its reading of north every time you face a new, unexplored hill or mountain; you would never make it back to home base! Its job is to continue to show the same direction despite all the vicissitudes, twists and turns of your hike and keep you on track.
In our generation more than any other we are facing new moral dilemmas which, on a regular basis, challenge the norms of our beliefs and tradition on a daily basis. Just when we thought we’ve seen it all, the next new norm comes along to threaten or shatter that which has traditionally been an axiomatic truth. How can we possibly know what is right or wrong … or if there really even is a right or wrong?
For that we have the moral compass that was given to us at Sinai by One who is above time and all that blows along with the winds of time. When we are walking through this morally unchartered forest, we need a timeless compass that’s above it all to continue to show us True North so we never veer off the path and continue marching through time as the Eternal Nation, the nation that has withstood moral challenges and kept us intact for thousands of years.
Once we have established that the Torah is the moral compass we need to consult to see if a concept or movement is measured against to determine if it is in line with Jewish thought, we can approach the deeper understanding of the human body and what it represents. This is the underlying key to approaching some of the questions we posed above, which we will hopefully attempt to touch upon in the upcoming columns.
Dear Rabbi Fried,