Trans­gen­der wel­come in syn­a­gogue — US rabbi

The Jewish Chronicle - - NEWS - BY SI­MON ROCKER

A UNITED SYN­A­GOGUE rabbi said it mat­tered lit­tle where a trans­gen­der per­son sits in an Ortho­dox shul.

Rabbi Daniel Rose­laar ad­dressed the sta­tus of trans­gen­der peo­ple in Jewish law at the Lon­don School of Jewish Stud­ies this week. “I recog­nise a per­son who is trans­gen­der and who is still com­ing to an Ortho­dox shul has gone through many chal­lenges and on so many lev­els,” he said.

Ex­actly on which side of the me­chitzah — the par­ti­tion which sep­a­rates men from women — they sat was “such a small ha­lachic is­sue,” he said.

“I don’t think we need to give that per­son more tzores (trou­ble) in their life to turn that into a big is­sue.”

Rabbi Rose­laar, who is rabbi of the Alei Tzion com­mu­nity in Hen­don, ex­plained “the pres­ence of women in the men’s sec­tion or men in the women’s sec­tion doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily in­val­i­date the tefillah (prayer)”.

Ac­cord­ing to Jewish law, a per­son’s gen­der is de­ter­mined by their sex­ual or­gans at birth, he said.

Gen­der re­as­sign­ment was not per­mit­ted be­cause of the bi­b­li­cal pro­hi­bi­tions against re­mov­ing sex­ual or­gans and against dress­ing in the clothes of a dif­fer­ent gen­der.

But he ob­served that a “not in­signif­i­cant” per­cent­age of peo­ple chal­lenged by gen­der dys­pho­ria com­mit sui­cide. And where there was a risk of sui­cide, “then gen­der re­as­sign­ment surgery and wear­ing clothes of the op­po­site sex be­come not nec­es­sar­ily per­mit­ted, but su­per­seded by the obli­ga­tion to pre­serve life.”

Pro­vid­ing sup­port to make sure peo­ple did not be­come sui­ci­dal was some­thing “the re­li­gious es­tab­lish­ment needs to take se­ri­ously”, he said.

If it suited a trans woman who had trans­gen­dered from be­ing a man to sit in the women’s sec­tion of a syn­a­gogue, “we are not to witch­hunt peo­ple”. If they dressed as a woman, the women’s sec­tion was prob­a­bly the best place.

From a ha­lachic point of view, they re­mained male. When asked if he would count such a per­son to­wards the minyan of ten men if nec­es­sary, he replied it would de­pend on how the per­son felt. “I could un­der­stand a trans woman who iden­ti­fies to­tally as a woman and says no, I don’t iden­tify as a man and it is hurt­ful to me. I’d go and look for a tenth man some­where else. If they were re­laxed about it, then yes.”

There would be more chal­lenges for a man who had trans­gen­dered from be­ing a woman sit­ting in the men’s sec­tion. He would still be con­sid­ered fe­male from a ha­lachic per­spec­tive and there­fore could not be counted in the minyan or called to the To­rah.

But Rabbi Rose­laar pro­fessed he did not know how de­vel­op­ments in Bri­tish law on trans­gen­der sta­tus might af­fect syn­a­gogue prac­tice. Pos­ing the ques­tion of a trans man who be­came vice-chair­man of an Ortho­dox shul, he said the vice-chair­man usu­ally sat in the war­den’s box. “What the le­gal po­si­tion would be in that case, I have got no idea. These are is­sues to be tested and ad­dressed with great sen­si­tiv­ity.”

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