Bind These Words

Tzitzit

Creative Commons/Robert Terrell

Jews read sections of the Torah each week, and these sections, known as parshiyot, inspire endless examination year after year. Each week we we will bring you regular 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, Ari Lev Fornari examines parashat ekev, which includes the second paragraph of the Shema.


Chest Binder
: an undergarment worn by female-to-male (FTM) transexual, transgender and genderqueer people, and anyone else who chooses to flatten the appearance of their breasts.


Talit Katan
: an undergarment traditionally worn by Jewish men which has knotted fringes tied to its four corners to be a reminder of the 613 mitzvot found in the Torah.

“Therefore impress these My words upon your very heart: bind them as a sign on your hand and let them serve as a symbol on your forehead.”
—Deuteronomy 11:18

“B’shem mitzvat tzitzit v’mitzvat hityatzrut” (“For the sake of the mitzvah of ritual fringes and the mitzvah of self-formation.”)
—Rabbi Eli Kukla, Director of Education, Jews for Racial and Economic Justice

I say this bracha (blessing) quietly to myself, as I bind these words, as I tighten the Velcro fabric that presses my breast flat. Let them be a sign: that I am not a woman, I think, that I am maybe a man, I hope, that I am holy Jewish and genderqueer, I know.

This week, in Parashat Ekev, we read the second paragraph of the Shema prayer. I hold these words close in my prayers as I tie my tzitzit (ritual fringes) the edges of my chest binder.

Instructions: There are sixteen strands in a pack – four long ones and twelve short ones. Separate these into four groups with one long one and three short ones in each. The longer one is called the shammash and is the one used for the winding.

There are four knotted strings that hang from the corners of my chest binder. “Speak unto the children of Israel, and bid them that they make them throughout their generations fringes in the corners of their garments.” (Numbers 15:38) It has been one year since I started wearing clothing that compresses my chest and asking people to use both male and female pronouns. Sometimes this feels empowering and exciting, but a lot of times the thick, sweaty fabric is just uncomfortable, making it difficult to breath and making my sternum ache.

Posted on August 10, 2012

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