Last night I had 26 people join me for shabbat dinner. Not just any Shabbat… but a Transgender Shabbat. Not that Shabbat itself was trans (perhaps we welcomed a Sabbath Husband?), but we specifically invited the transgender community and their friends to join JQ International’s Trans Inclusion Committee for a potluck and icebreaker discussion of the intersection between Judaism and gender identity.
Rabbi Julie Pelc-Adler led the group in a discussion about terms for gender diversity used in classical Jewish texts including:
Zachar: This term is derived from the word for a pointy sword and refers to a phallus. It is usually translated as “male” in English.
Nekevah: This term is derived from the word for a crevice and probably refers to a vaginal opening. It is usually translated as “female” in English.
Angrogynos: A person who has both “male” and “female” sexual characteristics. 149 references (WOW!!!!) in Mishna and Talmud (1st-8th Centuries CE); 350 in classical midrash and Jewish law codes (2nd-16th Centuries CE).
Tumtum: A person whose sexual characteristics are indeterminate or obscured. 181 references in Mishna and Talmud; 335 in classical midrash and Jewish law codes.
All of these references within the text seemed to liberate a room full of people that have been told repeatedly that their identity was an obstacle for connection and home within the Jewish religion. The very fact that multiple Jewish authority figures consider the first human creation of G-d to be one of mixed or indeterminate gender seemed to show us all that in fact, the transgender Jew might have been THE first Jew. How fantastic!!! We were each asked to then by Trans Inclusion Committee member Kadin Henningsen to share “How does the idea that you were specifically created by G-d as you are (with both male and female characteristics) make you feel?”
As we dined together we shared together. A common theme of “freedom” was tied to many of our answers- that it was liberating to think that it wasn’t an accident. That straight, gay, trans, and unidentified individuals in the room all commonly struggle with the roles that others have assigned us. And most heartwarming for me- was that this discussion made many of us feel a certain amount of pride that it was actually within a religious space that we felt this liberation.
It was such an honor to host these amazing people in my home. It was a joy to have the parents of one of our Trans Inclusion Committee member’s join us and lead the blessing over the challah as a family. I felt such pride in JQ International for reaching out to the transgender community and inviting them and their friends/family to celebrate together. This type of interconnected, all-are-welcome, celebratory environment is exactly what I think a Friday night should be. It was what Shabbat should be. It is what Judaism should be.
And for me, last night was what Judaism is.