02 March 2011

Transgender Orthodox Rabbis?

Yesterday another prof in my secondary job told me about an interesting article she read in the Jewish Forward.  Given that the Socialist Party, once strongly allied with the newspaper, is all but non-existent in the US now and the overall rightward drift of popular discourse, the Forward remains a surprisingly liberal--and, at times, even balanced--newspaper.

Well, this prof--I can't decide whether she's maternal or friendly--had an adulthood epiphany that led to her living on a kibbutz and marrying an Orthodox man.  That, and motherhood, she says, have shaped her outlook.  The result of it is that she really does (or seems to) accept people who are different from herself as readily as she likes to believe she does.

And so I wasn't surprised at what she told me.  Actually, I'm not sure of whether it's what she told me or the fact that it was she who told me that I find less surprising.

According to the article she mentioned, there are now transgendered candidates for the Orthodox rabbiniate.  What's so intriguing about that, at least to me, is that it's happening in a segment of Judaism in which the sexes are segregated in many arenae.  I experienced one example firsthand when I taught in an Orthodox yeshiva.  It was an all-boys' school; in fact, the only female (if you don't count some guy named Nick who was years away from "coming out"  or any other woman manque who may have been there) was the secretary, who was the head rabbi's mother.

Every once in a while I think of what it might be like to revisit that yeshiva.  For all I know, the head rabbi and the other rabbis who were there when I taught may not be there anymore.  They may even be dead:   After all, they weren't young guys back then.  But if they're still there, I wonder whether they'd recognize me. 

What's really ironic is that, even though I'm not religious, much less Jewish, I can almost see myself as a rabbi sometimes.  In some ways, I teach like them:  I often answer a question with a question and show my students that the truth is not a destination; rather, it is something found in increments and pieces, and by degrees, along the way.

Plus, my students look to me for counsel on all sorts of matters, some entirely unrelated to the studies at hand.  It seems to me that rabbis do something like that, too:  they are counselors in things secular as well as spiritual.

But I assure you:  As exciting as the news is, I'm not going to rabbinical school.  Well, not yet, anyway! ;-)