Wednesday, May 25, 2016

My Great Journey Part 8C

My Great Journey Part 8C

In the previous section, we explored the important of life in Jewish tradition and law.  We saw that to save a life is so important that it actually supersedes observance of Sabbath and other Mitzvot (commandments, or religious obligations). In the next section, we will explore some of the specific Mitzvot that we must transgress, in order to live as transgender people, i.e. to live authentically and to our full potentials.

Recently there have been several doctors and psychologists who have written about or run programs designed to dissuade transgender people from transitioning, and to try to “convert them” to force them to detransition.  These include Paul McHugh, MD, from Johns Hopkins University.[1] McHugh stated that transgender people should not be allowed to access Gender Confirming Surgery (GCS).  His thesis is that because of the very high suicide rates and rates of other mental health issues in the transgender community, allowing GCS is wasting precious medical resources that could better be expended elsewhere.

McHugh’s work has been discredited, because he ignores a very significant factor in his paper.  He fails to take into account all the external stressors that transgender people face.  These include cost and inaccessibility of treatment, stigma, societal hurdles such as North Carolina’s HB2, etc.  It is not, as he asserts, that transgender people are mentally ill, but rather that society drives transgender people to desperation.

The Torah teaches (Lev 19:14):

יד   לֹא-תְקַלֵּל חֵרֵשׁ וְלִפְנֵי עִוֵּר לֹא תִתֵּן מִכְשֹׁל וְיָרֵאתָ מֵּאֱלֹקיךָ אֲנִי ה':

Lo t’kalel heireish, v’lifnei iveir lo titein mikhshol, 
v’yareita mei’elokekha, ani H’.

You shall not curse the deaf, nor shall you put a stumbling block before the blind;   you shall fear your God, I am H’.

Rashi[2] on this verse states:

  לא תתן עצה שאינה הוגנת לו

Lo titein eitzah she’einah hogenet lo.

Do not give advice that is not appropriate for the person.

This is critical here.  McHugh is giving extremely bad advice in his article (and no doubt did in his clinic as well), which can lead to transgender people experiencing significant mental health crises. So, we see from our verse and its interpretation, that it is a huge failing to knowingly give people bad advice; this is especially true if that bad advice will lead to severe emotional trauma, and perhaps even loss of life.

Another provider who has been discredited, who was harmful to transgender people was Kenneth J. Zucker, of Toronto.  He is noteworthy for advocating so-called “conversion therapy”.  Conversion therapy tries to convince a transgender person that they are in fact not transgender, and that they should be able to live in the gender they were assigned at birth. Conversion therapy has been proven to be ineffective and dangerous.  Zucker has been discredited and removed from his position.

Providers such as McHugh and Zucker, as well as past providers such as Money, did irreparable harm to many transgender people, by forcing them to live in genders different from their true gender.  This actually results in the very mental illness these providers claim to be curing.

Torah is very clear, that we must choose life, and that we must not do things to people, in the name of Torah, medicine, or any other authority, that puts them in a greater risk of losing their lives.

The best possible thing that one can do to enhance the life of a transgender person is to support their transition, to the endpoint that they deem appropriate. This is true at every level of society, from birth families, to friends, employers, medical providers, and ultimately to clergy and government at all levels.

It is true that certain religious laws are transgressed when a transgender person transitions.  However, Jewish law is clear.  One must transgress a Mitzvah (Commandment) rather than die, with the exception of murder, sexual immorality or idolatry. In other words, if someone holds a gun to your head and tells you to curse God, commit murder or adultery, you must refuse and sacrifice your life.  For EVERY other Mitzvah in Torah, you are OBLIGATED to transgress them, if to do so means that you will live, but if you follow them you will die.  

This will be a vital consideration as we consider, in the next chapter, the traditional Torah law that creates hurdles for transgender people.

As a side note, regarding saving lives, if you or another transgender person you know, is in a significant crisis, or just needs more information, please contact, or urge them to contact, the Trans Lifeline,

US: (877) 565-8860;        Canada: (877) 330-6366.

[2] 11th Century French commentator on Bible and Talmud.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

My Great Journey Part 8B

My Great Journey Part 8B

In Part 8A, we explored the origins of humanity, as told in the Hebrew Bible.  We saw how human existence can be understood to exist on a spectrum of identity.  This is as opposed to the standard belief that we exist in a binary state of man OR woman.  We also saw that humanity is created in God’s image. For us, this means that as God has a multitude of characteristics, so do we; and as God has a multitude of responsibilities, so do we.

In this part I would like to explore the importance of Living our lives, as stated in the Hebrew Bible.  This is vital to transgender existence, because, as we will see, to LIVE by Torah supersedes other commandments.

The first creation story in Genesis is completed with Ch. 2:1-3:

א   וַיְכֻלּוּ הַשָּׁמַיִם וְהָאָרֶץ וְכָל-צְבָאָם: 

ב   וַיְכַל אֱלֹקים בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי מְלַאכְתּוֹ אֲשֶׁר עָשָֹה וַיִּשְׁבֹּת בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי מִכָּל-מְלַאכְתּוֹ אֲשֶׁר עָשָֹה: 

ג   וַיְבָרֶךְ אֱלֹקים אֶת-יוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי וַיְקַדֵּשׁ אֹתוֹ כִּי בוֹ שָׁבַת מִכָּל-מְלַאכְתּוֹ אֲשֶׁר-בָּרָא אֱלֹקים לַעֲשֹוֹת:

1.     Vayekhulu hashamayim v’ha’aretz, v’khol tz’va’am.

2.      Vay’khal El-him bayom ha’shvi’i m’lakhto asher ‘asah; vayishbot bayom ha’shvi’i mikol m’lakhto asher ‘asah.

3.     Vayevareikh El-him et yom ha’shvi’i  vay’kadeish oto, ki vo shavat mikol m’laktho asher bara El-him la’asot.

1.     The Heavens and the Earth and all their host were completed.

2.     On the Seventh Day, God completed all the work God did, and God rested on the Seventh Day, from all God’s work that God did.

3.     God blessed the Seventh Day and sanctified it, because on that Day, God rested from all God’s work that God created to do.

The Sabbath Day is, in Judaism, considered the holiest day of the Jewish Calendar.  God completed the acts of creation on the Universe on the Seventh Day and rested.  It is important to note that “day” in this sense does not mean, as we know it, a period of 24 hours of 60 minutes. Rather, in the creation epic, “day” refers to a unit of time of creation.

Nonetheless, we rest on the Seventh Human Day, as we experience the day.  We make this day Holy, and celebrate it with beautiful prayers, wonderful meals and, most importantly, rest from creative work. We do this for two reasons.  The first is that we are commanded to do so, in a number of places in Torah.  Perhaps more important, however, is the concept of, as expressed in Latin, Imatatio Dei, doing what God did.  God ceased from creative work on the Seventh Day and rested.  Because, as we learned in Part 8A, we are created in God’s image, so we too must rest.

But, you may be asking, what does Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath Day, have to do with living or being transgender?

In Lev 18:5 we find the following:

ה   וּשְׁמַרְתֶּם אֶת-חֻקֹּתַי וְאֶת-מִשְׁפָּטַי אֲשֶׁר יַעֲשֶֹה אֹתָם הָאָדָם וָחַי בָּהֶם אֲנִי יְהוָֹה:

U’shmartem et hukotai, v’et mishpatai asher ya’aseh otam ha’adam vahai bahem, Ani H’.

You shall guard My statutes and laws, through which humans live, by doing them, I am H’.

This verse, from the Holiness codes of Leviticus teaches that to follow Torah, God’s laws, of various types brings life; conversely violating these laws can bring death.  However, the rabbis in the Talmud (Yoma 85B) make an exception to this.  First, regarding our verse, they state 

...”through which humans live by doing them”, and NOT to DIE by them.

This is amazing!  The rabbis are telling us that we cannot risk our lives by following most requirements of Torah.  The exceptions are if we are told to commit murder, blasphemy or sexual immorality, or we face death at human hands, we are to accept death.  For all other commandments of Torah, we are OBLIGATED to violate them, if to do so means to save a life; ours or someone else’s.

          Thus, as we see in Ramban’s[1] commentary on our verse:

וחי בהם, ולא שימות בהם, ללמד על פקוח נפש שדוחה את השבת והמצות.

V’hai bahem, v’lo sheyamut bahem; L’lameid, al Pikuah Nefesh shedoheh et HaShabbat v’hamitzvot.

(regarding) “And live by them” That you should not DIE by them.  This teaches, regarding life saving acts, that they over-ride the Sabbath and Commandments.

          We are obligated to live by Torah, and not die by it (outside of the three exceptions I’ve noted), even if it means breaching the Sabbath or other commandments.  This is such an important precept, that in Israel, and with certain ambulance services in New York, the most observant Jews serve as the Emergency Medical Personnel on these ambulances, on Sabbath, since lifesaving is so important.  Likewise, doctors, nurses and other medical personnel work on Sabbath, since if there is even doubt about whether the act is life saving, one must do it.  This is true, even if, after the fact, it turns out that the act was not necessarily life saving.

          Thus, the importance of life saving acts is paramount.  God completed the Acts of Creation of the Universe by observing the Sabbath Day, and so are we obligated.  This is the holiest day in the Hebrew calendar, yet we are commanded to violate this obligation to save life.

          How much more so, then, when it comes to life saving acts that do NOT violate Sabbath requirements?  In the next section, we will explore specific Biblical prohibitions that can be seen as prohibiting transgender transition, and explore why we should be thus obligated to transition.

[1] Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman, 13th Century Spain commentator on Hebrew Bible