How synagogues can make transgender Jews feel welcome

Rabbi Leah Jordan
29 October 2015
The Jewish Chronicle

In the past few months, transgender people have moved from the twilight into the spotlight.

Thanks to celebrities including Laverne Cox, Caitlyn Jenner and Kellie Maloney, transgender people and issues have found their way into the mainstream press and have been trending on social media. Amazon TV series Transparent has received multiple awards for its portrayal of a Jewish family man coming out as a woman named Maura Pfefferman.

For many years, the Jewish community was not somewhere transgender people could find belonging and religious meaning. However, that is now changing, especially within the Progressive Jewish world.

Within the Liberal Jewish community, a growing number of people have openly identified as trans. Liberal Judaism has even launched the pioneering Lottery-funded oral history project Twilight People, exploring the intersection of gender identity and faith.

The movement, its rabbis and communities are also working hard on the practical life-cycle issues around being transgender, including name changes and wedding ceremonies. When marriages have taken place, the only practical difference for the rabbi is finding out which gender the couple identify as. Once that is known, the marriage ceremony is prepared like any other, with the language and prayers reflecting whether the couple are of the same or different genders.

Rabbi Mark Solomon, the associate chairman of Liberal Judaism’s Beit Din, said: “The only occasion so far when transgender issues have arisen with the Beit Din itself is regarding a change of name on a status certificate, and the Beit Din was very happy to respond positively to the request. As a Liberal Beit Din, we would always respond in a respectful, open way, respecting people’s gender identity.”

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