Tuesday, September 17, 2019

My Great Journey – Elul 5779 Edition

I have not written about my transition for a while. We are in the Hebrew month of Elul, a time of Ḥeshbon HaNefesh, of deep introspection, as we approach Rosh HaShannah, less than two weeks from now. I have written about this topic a little bit before but it’s been on my mind lately so I thought I’d write about it today.

I am frequently around amazing younger women. Some are trans. Some are cis. Some queer, some not. But when I’m around them, the feeling I have is usually the same. I wish for the impossible – I wish I could be who I am now, but younger, able bodied, single, and free of my obligations.

When I came out as trans, a lot of people asked me if I would now engage in open or polyamorous relationships. I have been in a monogamous relationship for close to 36 years now. I asked them why they would ask me that. The answer was pretty common. I was transgressing societal norms by transitioning, so wouldn’t I also transgress other societal norms?

So let’s look at “societal norms”. These are largely imposed by “The Church”. That may be the Vatican, or the Anglican. We’ve heard terms like Puritanical, Victorian and the like. In fact Church law has deeply affected Judaism.

Anyone who has read the Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible, knows that polygamy was originally allowed in Judaism. It wasn’t until the Takanah, the deep decree of Rabbeinu Gershom in the Tenth Century that polygamy was outlawed for Ashkenazic (western) Jews. It is still practiced by some Eastern Jews however. This was Jewish Law imposed by the Church.

Note that Jewish Law never allowed polyandry (more than one husband). The Torah mentions cultic Pagan rituals as the reason why. Presumably, also the issue of determining paternity would be a factor. We didn’t have DNA testing back then. Patrilineal descent determined inheritance, so knowing the father with certainty was a must. BUT, we do not justify Torah law with science or logic. Neither do we override it with the same, no matter how strong these arguments might seem.

In any case, people were asking me if I would transgress societal, e.g. Church norms. But I’m not a Christian. I’m a Jew. In fact, I’m a rabbi. As such, I’m expected to live to a higher standard, to be a moral example for society. Every Jewish movement has moral and ethical expectations for their clergy. Even if they acknowledge and accept certain things from members at large, clergy are held to a higher standard.

I am a pluralistic rabbi, ordained from the original Pluralistic Seminary, The Academy for Jewish Religion. We have ethical and moral standards as well.  So being unaffiliated with a religious movement does not free me to act as I want.

Pirke Avot, the last tractate of the Talmud, asks, “Who is the mighty person? The one who manages their inclinations.” I make no claims of might, but I do try to manage my inclinations.

I do personally believe, as the Torah describes, that people were intended to have more than one mate, and that monogamy is an artificial state. But the civil law, religious law and ethical standards are things I am obliged to follow. In addition, I’m a retired military officer. A recent Supreme Court decision states that I am subject to recall to active duty for Courts Martial if I violate the Uniform Code of Military Justice.  All this to say that even if I WANT to be in a polyamorous relationship, it’s inadvisable.

Susan and I have discussed it, too.  She does not support the idea. We have been together too long, and I value our relationship too much. So despite my desires and beliefs, I continue to manage my inclinations, using whatever might I may have, and toe the line.

In any case it’s an impossible dream to be young and healthy, and I’m sure that those amazing young women aren’t really interested in a broken old trans woman anyway.

May we all be blessed with health, happiness, pleasure and all permissible good things in the coming New Year!

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