You wrote: “… do they have the right to change it (the body) at will?”
The false assumption you’re making is that gender fluidity, like homosexuality, is something a person actively chooses. For more information, see here — http://www.apa.org/topics/lgbt/transgender.pdf
Perhaps a halachic view might encompass the realization that while HaShem never makes mistakes (the avocado pit, notwithstanding), He does assign tasks and tests to each one of us much like Abraham Avinu. HaShem will not break us, but he may cause us to bend mightily.
In passing — the bathroom nonissue is a “red herring.” It has little, if anything, to do with transgender people using a specific toilet. It has much more to do with homophobia and outright intolerance. Remember, we’re not that many years from “Whites Only” bathrooms and drinking fountains, or requirements for Jews to wear yellow stars.
“Just because someone takes a different path than me, does not mean they’re lost.”
I appreciate your comments because they indicate just how much this is an emotionally sensitive, or explosive, issue, as I am getting such comments before I have even said anything on the issue … just by implying I might have something to say about it! I have said that the Torah is our moral compass by which we, as Jews, need to measure all challenges, moral and other, that come our way.
Before we actually discuss this issue directly, I think it is important that we first preface it by discussing the Torah view of the human body. There are several aspects to this discussion, such as, are our bodies purely physical or are there spiritual aspects to our physicality? What do our bodies reflect about our souls? Is it possible for one to have a male/female body and a female/male soul? Do each of us truly have ownership of our bodies which allows us to make changes or manipulations at our will?
Or, conversely, do we have no ownership whatsoever of our bodies and are we merely entrusted with their safekeeping during the period in which they are enjoined with our souls (i.e., the period of our lifetime)? Would that mean we have no right to make any lasting manipulative changes to our bodies? What about plastic surgery to correct an embarrassing nose or a face-lift to enhance beauty?
Is that different from the issue at hand … is there a difference between enhancing the beauty of the body and changing its gender? If the body is purely physical, why does it need to be buried with such ceremony? Is it acceptable to have the body cremated if that would save money for the family or minimize its imprint on nature? Does the way Judaism views the body have any bearing on our discussion?
All of these questions are important; we don’t want to jump to any hasty conclusions about an issue which is so crucial, is so emotionally charged, and affects the lives of so many people.
Let us begin by defining the body vis-à-vis God’s relationship to the world and to our lives.
We find numerous references in the Torah and Prophets to God performing acts which imply physicality: “with an outstretched arm,” the “hand of God,” “God’s finger,” “God’s eyes are upon us,” God spoke to Moses “face to face” … and the list goes on. The classical commentaries for well over a thousand years have all raised the question of the meaning of these many verses. Since one of the foundations of our belief system is that God has no physicality, no body, what do these verses mean?
Many of those commentaries explain that the Torah is employing the concept of anthropomorphism. This means that these verses are not at all to be taken literally; they are rather simply a way to express actions of God in terms that we humans can perceive. Since we live a world of physicality and actions are carried out by the body, we can have a better understanding of what God wants us to learn from His actions by defining those actions in physical terms.
The Kabbalists, however, offer us a much more profound reconciliation of this conundrum, which actually interprets these verses as literal, despite ensuring the integrity of our belief that God has no physicality. How is this possible? We shall leave this for the next column where we will hopefully have the space necessary to dedicate to this profound concept.
Why Torah defines God’s directions in physical terms