New Conservative Jewish Transgender Responsum

I was a contributing editor to the new Rabbinical Assembly Teshuva on transgender people in Conservative congregations. The text may be found here.

There were issues raised by colleagues that have led to discussion of this Teshuva.  Following is my letter to Rabbi Elliot Dorff, noted BioEthicist and chair of the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards of the RA.

Dear Rabbi Dorff, we met many years ago, when you received an honorary degree at Gratz College.  I am one of two transgender women rabbis in the PNW and only a handful globally.  I was Rabbi Sharzer’s student in BioEthics at AJR, and he sought me out to assist on this teshuva, when he started working on it.

By way of background, on July 15, it will be two years since I began my gender transition, and I still have a tremendous amount to learn. I truly regret that I did not pick up on this issue when working with Len on preparation of the teshuva.  But I would like to lay out the issues as I understand them:

1)    Milah is incumbent on the Father to perform on the SON at 8 days, as per Avraham Avinu being commanded to do so on Yitzchak.  Where this is not possible, it becomes incumbent on the SON to perform at adulthood.  Likewise for a MAN undergoing GEIRUT, it is incumbent on him to have Milah.

2)    This Teshuva establishes that MEDICAL transition is not required to establish status in the new correct gender (in this case that of WOMAN).  Social transition alone is adequate.  Thus most transgender women who have not had Gender Confirming Surgery (GCS) will have some sort of penis.

3)    It is internally inconsistent to require transgender WOMEN to undergo Milah, since WOMEN CANNOT undergo Milah, only MEN can.

4)    Further, requiring Milah puts transgender women at risk medically.  The reason for this is that the foreskin is used in creating the neo-vaginal vault during GCS.  For women with smaller anatomy, this is critical.  Absent the foreskin, the woman might need to have a skin graft performed.  The usual sites for the donor are the inside of the forearm, leaving a huge ugly scar, or by taking a section of intestine (a hugely risky procedure). In either case, the risk for infection, graft failure, etc, is huge.

5)    Thus from the standpoint of medical issues and the standpoint of emotional issues, this requirement puts transgender women at RISK, and by your own work in BioEthics, should not be required to undergo this surgery.

6)    All of this is completely outside the issue that Jane has correctly raised regarding invasion of a woman’s person, women’s rights, privacy, etc.

Thus, for all these issues, I strongly believe that the teshuva as written must be amended to remove the requirement for Milah for any Transgender WOMAN undergoing Geirut.

Thank you for your consideration,


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