From queer text study and institutional inclusion to profiles of queer clergy and youth voices, the Keshet blog features new ideas and reflections by and for LGBTQ Jews and their allies. The blog is produced by Keshet, a national organization with offices in the Bay Area, Boston, and New York that works for full LGBTQ equality and inclusion in Jewish life.
This Sukkot help us spread the word that the sukkah and the state of Massachusetts should both be safe places for trans Jews, and for every member of our communities. Download a poster for your Sukkah here.
Once a year we leave the safety and privilege of our homes and assume a posture of fragility by dwelling in a temporary, exposed, and vulnerable structure – the sukkah. We do this to remember what it was like to live that way. But every day, trans folks throughout the country are faced with this kind of vulnerability as their daily reality in locations without state legal protections.
In Massachusetts, there is a referendum on this November’s ballot that could roll back essential legal protections. In 2016 Massachusetts passed non-discrimination protections for transgender people in public spaces—any place we are when not at home, work, or school. Anyone voting in Massachusetts this November should VOTE YES to uphold these protections and ensure everyone is treated fairly.
The Torah explains the reason for sitting in a sukkah is: “So that your generations will know that I provided booths to dwell in when I took them from the land of Egypt.” (Leviticus 23:43.) Although we don’t all live in Massachusetts, this passage and the holiday of Sukkot remind us all that we were discriminated against in Egypt, that we were provided for, and as a people are obligated to fight against discrimination everywhere.
The Torah instructs us to dwell in a sukkah. The talmud understands that the verse (23:42) states it in the singular in order to teach us that one sukkah is enough for everyone. It implies that a sukkah that is not inclusive for all of us is a sukkah that is not fit for any of us.
There are three statements in the Torah that speak to a biblical expectation to sit in a sukkah (23: 42-43.) The Vilna Gaon points out that these represent three stages in conscious inclusivity and reference Abraham’s fulfillment of them, “to sit,” “to dwell,” and “to know”.
A sukkah also has three options for the construction of its walls. It can have 4 full walls, 3 full walls, or 2 full and part of another. This is alluded to in the Hebrew word for sukkah “סכה”, whose letters are formed with 4, 3, and 2.5 lines. It demonstrates that a holy space is one that is made out of different paths. A holy space is not made of just parallel lines, but of a connection with others, going in different directions. It is an open, inclusive, and inviting space like the letter “ה”, hey, itself.
The Talmud teaches that this world was created with the letter “hey,” which is open on the bottom and on one side. It shows that we have the freedom of movement and no one is meant to be denied entry.
The proof text is offered from Genesis 2:4 where the word for “creating” [earth], “,בהבראם” is parsed as ב – with , ה -the letter “hey”, בראם – [was] created. It is also the same letters as the phrase “for Abraham,” meaning that this world was created for Abraham, whose tent was open on all sides to make sure that everyone felt invited and welcomed, regardless of from where they were coming. The letter “hey” in the Torah here is small, an allusion to the tradition that the “hey” was added later by G-d.
One can “sit” in a sukkah, “feel comfortable there,” or reach a level to “know,” that just as G-d protected us when we were threatened in the desert, so too must we recognize our responsibility to fight for the protection of those being dehumanized now.
So this November, please join us in voting YES on 3 in order to uphold dignity and respect for transgender people – in Massachusetts and beyond.
Rabbi Mike Moskowitz is the Scholar-in-Residence for Trans and Queer Jewish Studies at Congregation Beth Simchat Torah.
Seth M. Marnin is a New York City based attorney, who served most recently as the Vice President for Civil Rights at the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). He serves on the board of Keshet.
Download a poster for your Sukkah here, to help us spread the word that the sukkah and the state of Massachusetts should both be safe places for trans Jews, and for every member of our communities.