My Great Journey Part 8D
In the previous sections, we explored the story of Creation, the notion of spectrum of identity, the obligation to save lives, and the obligation not to harm people’s chances of living. In this section, we will explore the specific commandments that seem to prohibit transitioning, and by seeing their true meanings, understand that there IS room in Biblical tradition, for transitioning to our true genders, above and beyond the overriding requirement of living, and not dying by them.
The Biblical (Tanakh) commandments in question are:
ה לֹא-יִהְיֶה כְלִי-גֶבֶר עַל-אִשָּׁה וְלֹא-יִלְבַּשׁ גֶּבֶר שִֹמְלַת אִשָּׁה
כִּי תוֹעֲבַת ה' אֱלקיךָ כָּל-עֹשֵֹה אֵלֶּה:
Lo yih’yeh khli gever al isha, v’lo yilbash gever simlat isha;
Ki to’avat H Elokekha kol oseih eileh.
Deut 22:5: Women shall not wear men’s clothing (lit. men’s instruments – i.e. weapons) and men shall not wear women’s clothing – because all who do this are (carrying out) an abomination to H’ Your God.
וְלֹא תַשְׁחִית אֵת פְּאַת זְקָנֶךָ:
V’lo tashhit eit p’at z’kanekha.
Lev. 19:27b: Do not destroy the corners of your beard.
לֹא-יָבֹא פְצוּעַ-דַּכָּה וּכְרוּת שָׁפְכָה בִּקְהַל ה'
Lo yavo f’tzu’a dakah u’khrut shofkhah bik’hal H’.
Deut. 23:2: There shall not be (lit. he shall not go) wounding by crushing (testicles) and cut off male organs in H’s congregation.
Simply put, destroying male genitals is prohibited.
Lastly there is a rabbinic edict on Holiness:
מעלין בקודש ואין מורידין.
Ma’alin b’kodesh v’ein moridin.
We raise our Holiness, and do not lower it.
This is found in the Babylonian Talmud in three tractates: Yoma 12B, Megillah 9B and Menahot 39A.
Now, how do we make sense of these, aside from the teaching that saving lives overrides all other concerns?
First, we’ll examine Deut. 22:5 Women shall not wear men’s clothing (lit. men’s instruments – i.e. weapons) and men shall not wear women’s clothing – because all who do this are (carrying out) an abomination to H’ Your God.
First off Rashi:
לא יהיה כלי גבר על אשה - שתהא דומה לאיש כדי שתלך בין האנשים, שאין זו אלא לשם ניאוף:
Lo yih’yeh kli gever al isha: she’t’hei domeh l’ish k’dai sh’teiliek bein ha’anashim, she’ein zo ela l’sheim n’iuf.
Women shall not wear men’s clothing: so they would be like men, and go among the men; the only purpose for this is (to commit) adultery.
So, Rashi has no trust of women and thinks they will go to sexual immorality.
Ib’n Ezra states:
נסמכה בעבור צאת למלחמה, כי האשה לא נבראת כי אם להקים הזרע
Nis’m’kha b’avur tzeit l’milhama; ki ha’isha lo nivreit ki im l’hakim hzara.
An insistence on going to war; (this is forbidden) since woman was created only to raise children.
The commentators say far less about men wearing women’s clothing, but ultimately come to the same conclusion; that the only purpose for this is sexual immorality.
It is important to remember that roles of men and women were different in Biblical and Rabbinic times than in modern times, so judgement needs to be suspended. Ibn Ezra’s comment is based on the literal translation of Kli Gever; which is instruments of might, i.e. weapons. This understanding ultimately comes from the Midrash, Sifri, which states:
. ר׳ אליעזר בן יעקב אומר שלא תלבש אשה כלי זיין ותצא למלחמה
Rabbi Eliezer ben Ya’akov omer she’lo tilbash isha kli zayyin v’teitzei l’milhama.
R’ Eliezer son of Jacob says that a woman should not wear weapons and go to war.
Thus, whether you take Rashi’s view or that of the Midrash (and the Targum, a very early Aramaic commentary on Bible), the bottom line is that this is meant to ensure people live a proper life and fulfill the roles they were created for. As we have already established, transgender people were created with souls that do not match their bodies, so we transition, in order to fulfill our proper roles in life. Further, transgender people don’t wear cross gender clothing for sexual purposes, we wear them to fulfill our lives as who we really are.
Next is Lev. 19:27b. “Do not destroy the corners of your beard.”
The verse that follows states “and do not cut your skin (in grief over death of) a soul.”
There is a principle of exegesis we will explore in more detail in a future section, which states that adjacent verses are related in topic. Thus by this understanding, the command to refrain from destroying the beard must be over an expression of grief, and NOT over removing it for other reasons.
In fact, there are many Orthodox Jewish men who are clean shaven, so clearly removing the beard under ordinary circumstances is not prohibited.
Due to brevity constraints, this discussion will be continued in the next section, where we will explore the commandment regarding removing male genitals, and the principle of not reducing holiness.