Tuesday, June 21, 2016

My Great Journey Part 8G

My Great Journey Part 8G

In previous sections we have explored specific Biblical verses that impact on Transgender life.  In several of these we saw the word תועבהto’eivah - abomination. These are things that are described as abominable to God in Bible.   But – what does this mean?

We previously explored one of the hermeneutical principles of R’ Ishmael.  To explore this word adequately we must first explore another principle – גזירה שווהGezeirah Shavah – (lit. a similar decree) – this is context derived from the identical word or phrase found in different situations.

I was reminded by a mentor, colleague and friend of mine, Rabbi Peg Kershenbaum, that it is often helpful to review a word in Brown Driver Briggs (B-D-B) the quintessential Biblical dictionary, for help in understanding.  Such is the case here.  In addition, it is important to remember that we read the Bible with the lens of the time in which it occurs.
We previously explored two verses with this word, 

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.

Note that in this verse, the word exists in the construct form to’avat which means abomination of/to...

ואת זכר לא תשכב משכבי אשה תועבה הוא:

V’et zakhar lo tishkav, mish’k’vei ishah, toeivah hee.

Lev. 18:22 And (you, male) do not have (penetrating) sex (lit. lie down) with (another) man, in the WAYS of having penetrating sex with a woman; it is an abomination.

In the discussion of cross dressing, we found that the rabbis were concerned with sexual immorality regarding this verse.  In the Biblical world, women could only be with one man. We can infer reasons for this, and of course many today, who are polyamorous, are not comfortable with these restrictions. Further complicating this is that men can be with more than one woman.  So the concern with men was that they would come to have relations with someone else’s wife.

But what does this say about Leviticus 18:22?  It’s not talking about women who go outside their marriage, yet B-D-B[1] links this verse to ethical lapses and sexual immorality, and cites related verses, including:

כִּי תוֹעֲבַת ה' אֱלֹקיךָ כָּל-עֹשֵֹה אֵלֶּה כֹּל עֹשֵֹה עָוֶל :

Kee to’avat H’ El-kekha kol oseih eileh, kol oseih avel.

Deut: 25:16 It is an abomination to H’ your God, all who do these,
all who do this injustice.

This verse is the conclusion of a section that discusses corrupt business practices.

יא   וְאִישׁ | אֶת-אֵשֶׁת רֵעֵהוּ עָשָֹה תּוֹעֵבָה וְאִישׁ אֶת-כַּלָּתוֹ טִמֵּא בְזִמָּה וְאִישׁ אֶת-אֲחֹתוֹ בַת-אָבִיו עִנָּה-בָךְ

V’ish et eishet rei’eihu asah to’eivah, v’ish et kalato timei v’zimah, v’ish et ahoto bat-aviv ‘inah vakh.

Ez. 22:11 A man (who has relations with) the wife of his fellow committed an abomination, and a man (who has relations with) his daughter-in-law defiles her with depravity, and a man (who has relations with) his sister, daughter of his father, has humiliated you.

This section explores idolatry and sexual depravity that occurred in the Land of Israel, for which Ezekiel is bringing rebuke. Those who have studied Lev. Chapter 18 know that it discusses a whole host of sexual acts that most find troubling.  These surround rape and incest. By that context, Lev. 18:21 (child sacrifice) and Lev. 18:22 (gay sex) which don’t really fit overtly, must still fit.  So those verses are talking about very depraved acts, likely surrounding cultic practices, as discussed.

We see that acts of incest are also called To’eivah – abomination, as are unethical business dealings.  B-D-B also cite other verses surrounding sexual immorality using this word. We have heard unethical business dealings called “worshipping Mammon”, a form of idolatry as well.

I doubt there are very many around today who would say that cheating at business deals, rape, incest and child sacrifice are good things.  Most would agree they are reprehensible acts.  But we still have Lev. 18:22, regarding gay sex in this mix.  Using these contexts, one might also infer that Lev. 18:22 is discussing some kind of family violation, or that it involves some kind of corrupt business dealing, such as selling a man into sexual slavery.
But what would seem very clear, from all the possibilities I’ve provided in the past sections and this one, is that for something to rise to the level of abomination means it must be truly horrible.  Gay sex just isn’t at that level.

The difficulty with Hebrew Bible is that we cannot KNOW with certainty why anything is prohibited. We can make inferences.  So, for instance, there are those who will say that pork is prohibited because of trichinosis, but that isn’t the reason. It’s a spiritual reason, and one that we don’t know.

Likewise, we really can’t KNOW why Bible prohibits any of the verses I’ve explored over the last several sections.  However, what the rabbinic explorations of these verses have in common, is that we are talking about huge levels of depravity, to the point of selling your child for sexual slavery or burning them alive.  

Clearly, aside from the reality that we, as transgender people are commanded to LIVE (as are all people) and so we are told that some things can be superseded, the verses we’ve explored discuss really awful things, things one might do in the heat of idolatrous fervor, for example.  Carrying out certain acts so that we can live are not only allowed by the commandment to live, but as I’ve shown, for the reasons we do them, they aren’t really prohibited anyway, and are really required.


Rabbah Rona Matlow, MAJEd, MAJS, MEM © 2016

[1] Brown et al, The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon. Peabody MA: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc. 2000. P. 1073a.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

My Great Journey Part 8F

My Great Journey Part 8F

In the previous section, we explored the specific Biblical commandments that impact on transgender living, and how we can see, through classical interpretation, that they really do allow for being a transgender person.  In this section, I’d like to explore what is likely the most unpopular verse in all of Torah (and it’s repeated in the Christian Bible and the Qur’an as well).

ואת זכר לא תשכב משכבי אשה תועבה הוא:

V’et zakhar lo tishkav, mish’k’vei ishah, to'eivah hee.

And (you, male) do not have (penetrating) sex (lit. lie down) with (another) man, in the WAYS of having penetrating sex with a woman; it is an abomination.

On the surface, this seems to be saying that men should never have sex with men. But this really requires exploration.

To do that first requires exploring a rabbinic tool of Biblical Exegesis. 

רבי ישמעאל אומר בשלש עשרה מדות התורה נדרשת...

 דבר הלמד מעניהו ודבר הלמד מסופו

Sifra – Leviticus, 1:1: Rabbi Yishmael omer b'sh'losh esreih midot haTorah nidreshet...

Davar halameid mei’inyano v’davar halameid misofo

Rabbi Ishamael states that Torah can be interpreted in 13 ways (including)...An item that is explained by its context or the passage that follows.

So, let’s take a look at Leviticus 18:21:

כא   וּמִזַּרְעֲךָ לֹא-תִתֵּן לְהַעֲבִיר לַמֹּלֶךְ וְלֹא תְחַלֵּל אֶת-שֵׁם אֱלֹקיךָ אֲנִי ה':

U’mi’zar’akha lo titein l’ha’a’vir l’molekh, v’lo t’haleil et Sheim El-kekha, ani H’.

Do not cause (lit. give) your children to pass (through fire) to Molekh, and do not disgrace the name of your God, I am H’.

It is not clear what or who Molekh was, but what is clear is that this is a cultic ritual, that Torah believes was committed in the Land of Canaan.  Multiple times in this section of Torah, we are commanded not to follow the cultic rituals of Egypt and Canaan.

By the law of context, one must infer, then, that 18:22, which immediately follows this obvious cultic practice, must be referring to a cultic practice as well.  Many rabbis in modern times have addressed this interpretation of our verse.  If it is about cultic practices it is certainly not about private sex between two partners. 

Further, in the following verses, the Torah states that the inhabitants of the Land are expelled for performing To’eivot, the plural of To’eivah in our verse.  The context is clear that this is about cultic practices.

But there is another textual issue with our verse as well, which leaves it open to exploration.  If you were to ask any Orthodox rabbi they would tell you that this verse is clear and unambiguous, and that it means private penetrating sex between two men.  However, I respectfully disagree.  Had the verse simply said: 

ואת זכר לא תשכב, תועבה הוא:

V’et zakar lo tishkav; to’eivah hee.

You (man) are not to have penetrating sex with another man, it is an abomination.

This then would be clear and unambiguous. But our verse has a strange phrase in it:

משכבי אשה

Mis’k’vei Isha

The Ways of having sex with a woman...

What does this mean?!  A woman has three organs that can be penetrated by a phallus: The mouth, the anus (in common with men) AND the vagina.  Men do not have a vagina.  So, how can they have sex in the (all the) WAYS of having sex with a woman?  So let’s explore a commentary:

Rabbeinu Hananeil[1] states regarding our verse:

יש מי שיחדש בגופו לצורת אשה.

Yeish mee sh’y’hadeish b’gufo l’tzurat ishah.

There (could be) a man who changes his body to the form of a woman.

This is extraordinary! Rabbeinu Hananeil is proposing, in the Tenth Century, that someone might have Gender Confirming Surgery...  

And let’s dig a little deeper. Ibn Ezra[2] goes further with this comment:

יש מי שיחדש בגופו לצורת אשה, וזה לא יתכן בתולדה.

...V’zeh lo yitakhein b’toldah

...This cannot happen in Nature.

Ibn Ezra ultimately goes on to reject this idea for other reasons as well, however there is a super-commentary to this comment:

והתורה לא תאסור מה שאיננו בטבע.[3]

V’haTorah lo te’esor mah she’eineinu b’teva.

And the Torah DOES NOT prohibit what cannot be in nature.

This is absolutely extraordinary.  This super-commentary is saying that the Torah does not prohibit things that can’t happen in nature.  To be fair, we can’t possibly know what any of these great rabbis would say about Gender Confirming Surgery if they lived in the 21st Century with us.

What is clear, however, is that there are problems with our verse. Classical and modern rabbis have worked hard to find what this verse really means, because of the odd phrase “In the ways of having sex with a woman”. 

The bottom line is, however, that I think we can safely say that neither gay sex, nor gender confirming surgery, in order to live in the way God created us (c.f Part 8A of this series), is a sin or an abomination.  We are commanded to live, so live we must.  To not transition is NOT to live.  It is merely to exist, and it is hell...[4]

Rabbah Rona Matlow, MAJEd, MAJS, MEM © 2016

[1] Chananel ben Chushiel, 10th Century Tunisia
[2] Abrahan son of Ezra, 11th Century Spain
[3] Chumash Torat Chaim. Jerusalem: Mossad HaRav Kook. 1990. P.168
[4] C.F. Through the Door of Life. Professor Joy Ladin. Madison WI: The University of Wisconsin Press, 2012 for more on the idea of living rather than merely existing. I think Prof. Ladin’s book truly exemplifies the hell that transgender and transsexual people go through before being able to be themselves.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

My Great Journey Part 8E

My Great Journey Part 8E

In the previous sections, we began to explore the specific commandments that transgender people need to transcend in order to transition.  There were three Biblical commandments; cross-dressing, destroying the beard, and destroying male genitalia.  The Rabbinic edict was that we always strive to increase our holiness. We have already worked to make sense of the prohibitions against cross-dressing and destroying the beard.

The next commandment to confront is the commandment against destroying the male genitals:

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.

So, how do we make sense of this? Clearly for a transwoman to have Gender Confirming Surgery (GCS), the genitals must be destroyed.  Further, even in procedures such as the Baylor procedure where the head of the penis is preserved, the Brit Milah, the scar of ritual circumcision, is no longer visible.  So does this create an additional impediment to transwomen receiving GCS?

The rabbis, in the Talmud[1], Tractate Yevamot, deal with this question.  Yevamot deals mainly with the status of women whose husbands die without having fathered any children. In the Mishna to Yevamot, 8:2, we find the following statement:

פצוע דכא וכרות שפכה מותרין בגיורת ומשוחררת ואינן אסורין אלא מלבא בקהל

Patzua daka u’khrut shofkha mutarin v’gioret umshukhreret v’einan asurin ela mi’lavo 
bik’hal (H’). 

One with wounded testicles or cut off male organ is permitted to marry a woman who converted to Judaism, and freed slaves, and they are only prohibited in entering the Congregation of H’.

So, the rabbis are saying that men with removed genitals may marry women of reduced status.  The rabbis viewed natural born Jews differently from converts and freed slaves.  This is despite the Biblical prohibition of taunting converts since we were residents in Egypt (from the word Ger, which means a stranger) or slaves, since we were slaves in Egypt.  

But, does this prohibition from the Bible even apply to a transwoman?  After all, if a transwoman is seeking GCS, they are living as a woman, not a man, and this is a prohibition for men.  The late Rabbi Eliezer Waldenberg of the rabbinical court in Jerusalem ruled that after the fact, someone who had GCS was to be considered the new gender, in accordance with Halakha (Jewish Law).  So if someone has transitioned from male to female (the only case of damaged genitals explored in Biblical or Rabbinical law) they are no longer male, and thus this prohibition does not apply.  This is in addition to the laws of saving lives, that we have discussed earlier.

The reason for this prohibition is that men are commanded in Genesis to be fruitful and multiply. Clearly without genitals (and before the days of banking sperm), this is not possible.

However, there is another consideration here.  For this we go to the Prophetic book of Isaiah:

וְאַל-יֹאמַר הַסָּרִיס הֵן אֲנִי עֵץ יָבֵשׁ:       ד   כִּי-כֹה | אָמַר ה' לַסָּרִיסִים אֲשֶׁר יִשְׁמְרוּ אֶת-שַׁבְּתוֹתַי וּבָחֲרוּ בַּאֲשֶׁר חָפָצְתִּי וּמַחֲזִיקִים בִּבְרִיתִי: ה   וְנָתַתִּי לָהֶם בְּבֵיתִי וּבְחוֹמֹתַי יָד וָשֵׁם טוֹב מִבָּנִים וּמִבָּנוֹת שֵׁם עוֹלָם אֶתֶּן-לוֹ אֲשֶׁר לֹא יִכָּרֵת:

3b: V’al yomar hasaris, hein ani eitz yaveish. 4: Ki-kho amar H’ lasarisim asher yishm’ru et shab’totai uvaharu ba’asher hafatz’ti, umahazikim biv’riti. 5: V’natati lahem b’veiti uv’homotai yad vasheim, tov mibanim umibanot, sheim olam eten lo asher lo yikareit.

Is. 56:3b-5: The eunuch shall not say “behold, I am a dried out tree”. Because thus says H’ to the eunuchs who observe my Sabbaths and who choose what I prefer, and hold to My covenant.  I shall give to them, in My house and inside My walls, a hand and a name, better than men and women, I give him an eternal name that shall never be destroyed.

This is absolutely stunning.  The Prophet is quoting God as saying that eunuchs (men with their genitals removed, for any reason) who follow Torah, that God will give them an everlasting place in God’s Kingdom.  This clearly states, then, that even if one is male and has had genitals removed, they are not barred from being in God’s congregation.

It is important to note a consideration regarding the sections of Tanakh. In traditional Judaism, the Torah (Five books of Moses) is considered to have been dictated to Moses by God. Thus this section has a higher degree of holiness and importance than the remainder of the Tanakh.  Yet, in rabbinic writings, all verses of Bible have importance, and all are used in determining law.  Remembering that Judaism is a religion of rabbinic laws, we can consider the Isaiah verse of equal importance to the verse in Deuteronomy.

For those who don’t accept the tradition of God’s writing Torah, it becomes even easier to equate Torah and Prophetic verses in importance.  Either way though, the Prophet clearly gives hope to men with removed genitals, that they are to be included.

For transwomen, this is not an issue however, since after surgery they are considered to be female so this law does not apply.  And, if a transwoman should de-transition, that person would still not be excluded, because of this prophetic verse.

In coming sections, we will explore the notion of increasing holiness, and then explore the most hated verse in Bible for LGBTQ+, Leviticus 18:22, which seems to bar gay male sex.

[1] Each Talmud consists of two parts; the Mishna, written down by R’ Yehuda HaNasi, in the Second Century CE, and the Gemara, which was compiled in the Sixth Century CE, and presents virtual discussions and debates between rabbis of many generations.