Author Archives: Rabbi Elliot Rose Kukla and Rabbi Reuben Zellman

Rabbi Elliot Rose Kukla and Rabbi Reuben Zellman

About Rabbi Elliot Rose Kukla and Rabbi Reuben Zellman

Rabbi Elliot Rose Kukla (left) has been an activist, writer, organizer and educator for more than a decade. He has taught widely about sexual and gender diversity in Judaism in the US, Canada and Israel. His articles on the intersections between Judaism and justice appear in numerous magazines as well as in anthologies. Rabbi Reuben Zellman (right) has taught about gender, sexuality and Judaism at many congregations, conferences and universities around the U.S. He is currently Assistant Rabbi and Music Director at Congregation Beth El in Berkeley. They are part of the creative team at TransTorah.org

Make Your Community All-Gender Inclusive

We hear from trans-activists (including on this blog – see yesterday’s interview with Nick Teich) that one impediment to transgender inclusion in the Jewish community is that many people are unsure what trans inclusion actually looks like. The suggestions below provide a vital entry point for allies seeking tangible steps to make their community more transgender friendly.

All-Gender Bathrooms. Creative Common/Brian Russell

Creative Common/Brian Russell

These steps are excerpted from a pamphlet created by Rabbis Elliot Kukla, Reuven Zellman and TransTorah, in collaboration with the Institute for Judaism and Sexual Orientation and Jewish Mosaic, which in 2010 merged with Keshet.

Share these steps with friends, family, clergy, and others in your community.

Did we miss any? Add your suggestions in the comments section.

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Posted on November 21, 2012

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

To Wear is Human, To Live — Divine

Jews read sections of the Torah each week, and these sections, known as parshiyot, inspire endless examination year after year. Each week we will bring you essays examining these portions from a queer perspective, drawn from the book Torah Queeries: Weekly Commentaries on the Hebrew Bible and the Torah Queeries online collection. This week, Rabbis Elliott Kukla and Reuben Zellman examine parashat Ki Teitze, proving that clothes most certainly don’t make the person.

Clothes don't make the person

Creative Commons/Mark Pike

For all those who have ever struggled with how to discipline children’s bad behavior, this week’s parashah, Ki-Teitze, offers an easy answer: stone them to death! (Deut. 21:18-21)

Thankfully, Jews have recognized for over a thousand years that this is an unacceptable solution to a common problem. In fact, we learn in the Talmud (Sanhedrin 71a) that this apparent commandment of the Torah was never once carried out. Our Sages refused to interpret this verse literally, as it conflicted with their understanding of the holiness of each and every human life.

With this scenario in mind, let us look at another verse in our parashah: “A man’s clothes should not be on a woman, and a man should not wear the apparel of a woman; for anyone who does these things, it is an abomination before God.” (Deut. 22:5) Just as classical Jewish scholars reinterpreted the commandment that says rebellious children should be stoned to death, they also read this portion’s apparent ban on “cross-dressing” to yield a much narrower prohibition.

The great medieval commentator Rashi explains that this verse is not simply a prohibition on wearing the clothes of the “opposite gender.” Rashi writes that such dress is prohibited only when it will lead to adultery. Maimonides, a 12th-century codifier of Jewish law, claims that this verse is actually intended to prohibit cross-dressing that is for purposes of idol worship (Sefer haMitzvot, negative mitzvot 39-40). In other words, according to the classical scholars of our tradition, wearing clothes of “the wrong gender” is proscribed only when it is for the express purpose of causing harm to our relationship with our loved ones or with God. The prohibition that we learn from this verse is very specific: we must not misrepresent our true gender in order to cause harm. Otherwise, wearing clothing of another gender is not prohibited. The Talmud puts it most succinctly: v’ein kan toevah — “there is no abomination here” (Babylonian Talmud, Nazir 59a-b).

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Posted on August 27, 2012

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

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