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.

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