Excerpt - Introdction

A. Introduction

This is a book about my being a transgender woman. But it doesn’t follow the usual format of autobiographies of trans women. That’s because I’m not your usual trans woman. One of my dear friends in the community called me the “Trans-Nuclear-Rabbi.” I know of several trans people who were nuclear-qualified in the Navy, others who are clergy, but none that I am aware of, beside myself, who are all of these. I like to do things differently; it makes life exciting.

The Mishnah[1] (b. Sanhedrin 4:5) states: “So, to tell of the greatness of the Holy Blessing One; when a person makes many coins from one mold and all are alike, and the Ruler of All Rulers, the Holy Blessing One, formed all people from the mold of the original Adam, not a single person is like another person.”

We all come from one mold, yet we are created uniquely. That is such an important message. And it is one that needs to be heard loud and wide. Because far too many do not see it that way. There are many who think humanity is created in a narrow window of conformity and those who dare transgress that conformity are corrupting the Holy work of creation.

But again, we are ALL the works of God’s hands!

In the Talmud[2] (B. Sanhedrin 39B) the Rabbis recount a Midrash (exposition on Torah) that when the Sea crashed in on the Egyptians, the Heavenly Angels began to sing. God rebuked them. These are My children too (literally the works of my hands) and you would sing in celebration?

Some astute readers may argue, but isn’t the idea of “God’s children” a Christian one? Perhaps. However, in Judaism, we have a number of prayers which refer to God as our parent, such as the penitential prayer “Avinu Malkeinu” Our Parent, Our Regent (literally, Our Father, Our King). So if we, as Jews, see God as our Parent, then clearly we must see ourselves as God’s children.

Just as the Egyptians, who tormented Israel for centuries of hard slavery and were punished by Heavenly death were God’s children, so are all queer people, including transgender (trans for short). See Appendix 1 for definitions of terminology. In the Torah, in the book of Genesis, we find the following verse. While most texts are presented in English only, this verse is presented in Hebrew as well because of a unique textual feature.

בראשית א:כז וַיִּבְרָ֨א אֱלֹהִ֤ים ׀ אֶת־הָֽאָדָם֙ בְּצַלְמ֔וֹ בְּצֶ֥לֶם אֱלֹהִ֖ים בָּרָ֣א אֹת֑וֹ זָכָ֥ר וּנְקֵבָ֖ה בָּרָ֥א אֹתָֽם:

Gen. 1:27 God created the Adam in God’s image; in God’s image God created the Adam; male AND female God created them.

There are several features to note in this verse. First off the fact that humans (the Adam) were created in God’s image is stated in chiastic[3] parallel. This gives extreme emphasis to this. God has infinite characteristics. And, just as God does, so does the Adam – that is humanity.

Second is the bolded text. People unable to access the Masoretic (traditional) Hebrew text assume this means the creation of a biological sex binary. But that is not correct. If one looks closely at the bolded Hebrew, one sees two diacritical marks under the Hebrew, two curves. Those are cantillation marks, and they indicate that these two words, זָכָ֥ר וּנְקֵבָ֖ה, male and female, are a single textual unit. That is God created the Adam having both (or all) biological sexes. Thus with the final unit of the verse, created them, it states God created all possible biological sexes in the Adam.

This is solidified when we go to the Midrash, Bereshit Rabbah[4] 8:1:

Rabbi Yirmiyah ben Elazar said, at the time the Holy Blessing One created the First Adam, God created them Intersex, as it is written male AND female God created them.

Further, in various places in the Talmud, the rabbis discuss various theoretical biological sexes that they use to determine status for purposes of determining Jewish law. These include zakhar – assigned male at birth; nekeiva – assigned female at birth; androgynous – one who has both male and female external genitals; tumtum – one who has no external genitals; saris – one who was assigned male but lost the ability to procreate; aylonit – one who was assigned female and lost the ability to procreate. So to the rabbis of the Talmud, the idea of binary sex, and thus binary gender identity, would be preposterous.

While it seems clear to me that God created us with infinite ways of being, not all religious scholars agree. Famously, Pope Francis, in August 2016, stated, in a private meeting, regarding transgender identity: ““We are living a moment of annihilation of man as image of God.” He added that his predecessor, Benedict XVI, had labelled current times “the epoch of sin against God the Creator”.[5] This was particularly disappointing for two reasons. The first is that it shows a deliberate ignorance of the Hebrew text. The second is that it shows deliberate ignorance of the scientific principles the Pope studied prior to becoming a priest. But of course this is not at all new.

The Church has a long history of changing, to put it politely, the Hebrew text, to make a point. A case in point is Isaiah 7:14.

Thus God will give you a sign, behold a young woman will become pregnant and bear a son, and she will call him “Imanu El” (God is with us).

The Hebrew word in the text is עלמה ‘A’lmah, which means young woman. Yet the Vulgate changes it to virgo[6], virgin. Hence the Christian rendering: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin will conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”[7] Interestingly, though, the Revised Standard Version corrects it thus: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, a young woman shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Imman'u-el.”[8]

The Hebrew for virgin is בתולה, betulah. Obviously this is a completely different word. The Church deliberately changed this for the purpose of having a Polemic against Israel by showing our Bible to prophecy the birth of Jesus, something it never did.

Another example of this is found in the Ten Commandments. The Sixth in Hebrew is לא תרצח, Lo Tirtzah, You Shall Not Murder. Yet The Christian rendering is typically You Shall Not Kill. (Cf KJV, RSV). There is a significant difference. Murder means the unsanctioned killing of a person by a private individual. Kill means any death, including that by an agent of the government, religious body, police authority, or a private individual. This is critical because the Church used this as a polemic against Jews due to the Torah commanding the Death Penalty and certain wars, stating it was self-contradictory. It was no such thing, since the Torah prohibits murder, not killing.

There is a long history of oppression of people of smaller groups by people of larger groups. As a Jew I know this history all too well. Likewise as a disabled person. I am also a transgender woman, and that is the purpose of this book.

Throughout this work, we will explore my story, with divergences to study biblical and rabbinic works where relevant. We will also look at information about transgender and queer theory where it helps understand my story. In addition, we will see a number of original works that I have written over the last several years, that have parts of myself in them. These works explore people in the Bible that can be read as queer in some way, or stories in the Bible that can be read in a queer way.

In the appendices, the reader will find a glossary of queer and trans terms. This is useful for the reader unfamiliar with the language used in this book. Please bear in mind that this language is constantly evolving, so what is in this book is only a snapshot of the language present at the time of publication.

The reader will also find a paper published separately by my Seminary, the Academy for Jewish Religion, in their journal, G’vanim. I am grateful to them for permission to reprint it. Titled, “Traditional Sources Against Prohibiting Trans Jews from Transitioning Gender”, this paper explores many of the religious and sociological issues that Transgender Jews must consider in making the decision to transition gender. It also notes that to obstruct gender transition is akin to spilling innocent blood. This is something for people to take note of. For people who do not follow a religious tradition, or who follow a different one, the message is still clear.

We will also explore various examples in both the Hebrew and Christian Bibles, of texts where well known and lesser known characters exhibit queer tendencies. Some of these are explicit in the texts. Others must be seen through interpretation. I am grateful to my Christian colleagues who helped me identify suitable Christian texts to consider and explore.

The reader will find that this book is very much unlike any other book about transgender people, transgender theory, or transgender or queer Bible study. I hope you enjoy it.


[1] A recounting of Oral Law by Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi circa 200 CE (AD) in Yavneh Israel

[2] A record of the rabbinic debates and discussions over the Mishna, circa 6th Century CE Babylonia (modern day Iraq)

[3] This is a Biblical feature where in the second double the order of the text is reversed forming an “X”

[4] Written by the same rabbis as the Babylonian Talmud

[5] https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2016/aug/2/pope-francis-gender-ideology-annihilation-man-imag/

[6] http://sacred-texts.com/bib/vul/isa007.htm#014

[7] http://sacred-texts.com/bib/web/isa.htm

[8] https://quod.lib.umich.edu/cgi/r/rsv/rsv-idx?type=DIV1&byte=2608974