Trans Rabbis


Questions of transgender inclusion become even more complex when Jewish law comes into play. In 2003, the Conservative movement deemed sexual reassignment surgery an essential component of gender transition. But many trans people never receive surgery, and so their transitions go unrecognized by the movement.

Rabbi Leonard Sharzer, a bioethicist at the Jewish Theological Seminary, has written a Jewish legal opinion that counters the Conservative ruling, saying that Jewish law should consider trans Jews according to the gender they identify with regardless of surgical status. He plans to submit his opinion to the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, the Conservative movement’s law-making body.


All six rabbis and rabbis-in-training are actively involved in creating Jewish ritual for gender transition, from a prayer for binding the chest to a prayer for taking hormones. It remains to be seen whether these individuals will gain long term employment as Jewish leaders. But they’ve already become sought-after voices on panels at synagogues and in community centers on the topic of gender transition and Judaism.

I’m still surprised when I hear people refer to Judaism as if it’s a monolith, and it is so much not so. If anything, debate and argument and interpretation are at the heart of the religion, which leads to all sorts of splits and rifts and factions.

3 Replies to “Trans Rabbis”

  1. Yes i agree that SRS need not be sole criteria for recognition, But it is lot better than other religions, where it is not all accepted

  2. Thank you for posting this Helen. I’m going to see if I can find a link to the source but if you have one handy could you post it? As a Conservative Jew and “middle pather,” this is rather significant for me. I have been painfully moving away from organized religion for a number of reasons but having that rabbinic opinion telling me it’s OK to be trans but only if I do it their way certainly was part of the decision.

  3. Here’s a note from the author of the piece above:

    Thank you for your comments and posting (Aug 6th) of the articles I sent you from the Jewish Daily Forward. I note that one of your followers, Debglam, has asked for Further information and citations. I have finally been able to locate the Responsa (Policy Statement / commentary) from the Committee of Jewish Law and Standards of the Rabbinical Assembly (RA) of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judiasm (USCJ). They have changed the web archive format for their “older” responsa, making it hard to find . Keep in mind that this was issued way back in 2003.


    I would suggest you discuss this with a local rabbi. If you do, do not use an orthodox rabbi They will dismiss this out of course because there were women on the committee. The responsa uses the ancient protocols for rabbinic discussion, which can be very complicated and tedious in terms of relating to past laws and ruling. Here they use the laws of divorce as the thread of legal precedence. So understand:
    • a “get” is the formal bill of divorcement.
    • only the husband (man) can issue a get.
    • the wife (woman) may not divorce the husband.
    • if the wife needs protection and the husband will not issue a get, the local rabbinical court (Beth Din) may torture the husband to issue a get.
    • a woman who was married (even by common law) may not have contact with another man unless she has received a get. She is committing adultery.
    • the man, even if he is married, may have contact with any other woman except one who is married to another or is an incestuous relative.
    Again the Talmudic discussions can become very complicated.

    There was also an interpretation to the verse in Deuteronomy regarding the act of cross dressing which was not mentioned here. It was issued in the mid to late 1950’s by the Conservative Beth Din (Rabbinical Court) here in Chicago, Illinois. The controversial Rabbi David Graubart, o.b.m., was the head of the court at that time. (Rabbi Graubart was a dear and long time friend of the family and my teacher.) His court’s interpretation of the verse is that the Biblical verse’s Hebrew, which is very convoluted linguistically, actually means a man may not take the dress (garment) BELONGING TO A SPECIFIC woman and wear it. It does not prohibit a man from going out and buying for himself HIS OWN dress (woman styled garment) and wearing it. Therefore, Conservative Jews in the Chicago, Milwaukee, Gary metroplex are permitted this type of crossdressing. Unfortunately, most of the Courts rulings and documents of the Graubart decades have been lost, but I will keep looking.

    I hope you find this of use and interest to you. Please continue your fine and enjoyable writings.

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