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Sermon on Trans Rights (from April 7, 2023)

05/11/2023 02:27:55 PM

May11

Student Rabbi Ora Jacobsen

I’m angry. Impassioned. Indignant. Outraged. There are not enough words to describe
the injustice, and lack of morality that is happening in this country with the persecution of on
behalf of the LGBTQ+ people, and the trans community in particular.


Last week was Trans Day of Visibility. Regretfully, I was not here with you then, but this
important issue needs to be raised. I need to raise it, because it’s personal.


There are people in my life who no longer feel safe working in some states for fear of
arrest. I’ve heard of others contemplating leaving their home state, the only home they’ve ever
known, because the anti-trans bills would prevent their child from receiving hormonal treatments
that affirm their gender identity.


Thus far in 2023, anti-trans bills have been proposed in 45 states.1 45 states. All within
the last 3 months. That is disturbing. That is unacceptable. It is a campaign to codify bigotry.
Trans rights are human rights, and respect for all people is a Jewish value. The Torah asserts
that all humanity is created b’tzelem Elohim2, in the image of God. Each one of us holds divinity.
All bodies are holy.


Many of us know the story in Genesis, that God first created Adam, and when God
realized that man needed a mate, Eve came forth from Adam’s rib. Adam first, Eve second.
However, this is actually the second of two creation stories in the bible!

In the sixth day of creation we read:
וַיִּבְרָא אֱלֹהִים אֶת־הָאָדָם בְּצַלְמוֹ בְּצֶלֶם אֱלֹהִים בָּרָא אתֹוֹ זָכָר וּנְקֵבָה בָּרָא אתָֹם׃
“And God created humankind in the divine image, creating it in the image of God - creating them
male and female.”3


Rabbi Elliot Kukla explains the subtlety of the Hebrew, “And God created humankind in
the divine image, creating it in the image of God,” referring to Adam, the first person, with a
singular pronoun. The first human being is described with a singular “they” pronoun to express
the multiplicity of their gender.”4

Rabbinic Judaism, from the early centuries CE, also recognised multiple genders. Max
Strassfeld writes that, “The rabbis never question that a variety of different kinds of nonbinary
bodies exist in the world. And for some rabbis, being born into a particular body is akin to saying
that a person’s body was created by God.”5


Last week we celebrated Passover, a time of reflection of our persecution in Egypt, and
the story of our journey to freedom. Every year at our seder tables we read that in every
generation we must see ourselves as having personally come out of Egypt. Jews know what it is
to be marginalized, excluded, unsafe. If we know what it feels like to be oppressed for being
who we are, how can we make someone else feel the same way?


Laws are being argued and implemented now. If there is a time to stand up with our
LGBTQ+ siblings it is this moment. Legislation in 45 states has been proposed this year. Acting
now, before these laws come into fruition is essential.


Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., reminded us that “The arc of the moral universe is long,
but it bends toward justice.” Yet, it is important to remember that the bend toward justice is not
automatic. We need to make it that way. We must do the bending. The possibility of justice lies
in our hands.


Not everything is bad. The understanding and respect of gender expression and identity
has grown in many places in recent years. Seeing pronouns on email signatures, name tags, or
zoom squares is more and more common in liberal circles. Moreover Svara, a queer yeshiva,
Has just published their first teshuvot, Jewish legal questions and answers, from its The Trans
Halakha Project.6 Our young people, too, have open minds, having been raised in a world
where the strict gender binary is questioned.


We have hope, and we have responsibility. And it is our duty as Jews, and as people, to
uphold the value that everyone is b'tzelem Elohim made in the image of God. All people deserve
dignity, equality, and belonging.


All people, all bodies. Ken y’hi ratzon. May it be so.


1 https://www.tracktranslegislation.com/

2 Genesis 1:27

3 Genesis 1:27, translation from Sefaria

4 https://www.nytimes.com/2023/03/18/opinion/trans-teen-suicide-judaism.html

5 https://therevealer.org/turning-to-the-talmud-to-find-gender-diversity-that-speaks-to-today/

6 https://www.jta.org/2023/03/17/religion/queer-yeshiva-to-publish-first-ever-collection-of-jewish-legal-opini
ons-written-by-and-for-trans-jews

Fri, February 23 2024 14 Adar I 5784