This page is an introduction for those seeking information on transgender Jews in Torah observant, traditional, and orthodox communities.
What does transgender mean?
Transgender describes people whose internal sense of their gender identity differs from the gender they were assigned at birth. For the vast majority of people, their gender identity – their internal sense of being male or female — matches this assignment. For a small percentage, their internal sense of their gender identity does not match this assignment. These individuals are transgender.
The American Psychological Association summarizes what it is and is not to be transgender in the resource “Transgender People, Gender Identity and Gender Expression”.
What does it mean to transition?
For their medical and psychological health, transgender individuals may align their external gender presentation with their internal gender identity. This may include changing their names and pronouns, how they dress and undergoing medical treatment. This is called transition.
Transgender people realize and reveal their gender identity at different times in their lives. Some do so at a younger age, while others do so later in life. Many fear losing friends and family, rejection by community institutions, and the loss of a job or income. Others are in communities where they find support to transition and live their lives.
What is a halachic approach to transgender Jews?
All human beings are created in the image of Hashem, and are to be treated with dignity and respect, כבוד הבריות. Embarrassing, harassing, or demeaning someone who is transgender causes emotional distress. Transgender Jews in Orthodox communities often confront emotional, communal, and psychological challenges that can cause pain and suffering to them and their families. Rabbis and communities have an opportunity to be sensitive and empathetic to transgender Jews and their families to ensure they are supported.
Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, Executive Vice President Emeritus of the Orthodox Union, has spoken in public and given interviews on how Jewish communities might keep transgender Jews healthy and close to Torah. Rabbi Weinreb discusses some of the halachic questions raised by transgender Jews in Torah-observant communities accessible on YouTube as “Transgender in the Jewish Community.”
The Jewish Journal wrote the following about Rabbi Weinreb’s discussions in the article “Orthodox rabbi addresses transgender issue,” published in 2016:
“[Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb] said, nobody should reject a Jew from a religious congregation or community because he or she is transgender. The rabbi also encouraged compassion for transgender people, saying he personally knew several transgender Jews who are “very sincere in their desire to worship the Almighty and to observe His Torah and mitzvot” and should be encouraged to “remain within the fold of observant Judaism.” Last, the rabbi said, while “there are guidelines in our religion for how to disagree, hatred is not OK.”
Rabbi Weinreb references ספר דור תהפוכות by Rabbi Idan Ben-Ephraim, published in Hebrew in 2004, and with haskamot from leading poskim. Rabbi Ben-Ephraim discusses the Halachot of gender transitions and the practical mitzvot for communities. The book is not available in English translation and is available for purchase here.
Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom Ephraim Mirvis has issued hashkafic and practical guidance to all Jewish religious schools in the United Kingdom on how to welcome and care for their LGBT+ students including those who are transgender. The full guide may be viewed and downloaded at “The Wellbeing of LGBT+ Pupils: A Guide for Orthodox Jewish Schools.”
Chief Rabbi Mirvis writes:
“Young LGBT+ people are particularly vulnerable to bullying and harm, as are children of LGBT+ parents. It is of great importance that all members of staff should have the knowledge, skills, and confidence to address the needs of these pupils and their families, providing support and guidance in a Torah framework.”
Risks + Dangers
Transgender individuals are often at higher risk for depression, physical violence, and self-harm.
Self-Harm + Suicide
The difference between a transgender person’s innate sense of their gender and their external appearance can be a source of internal emotional distress and pain. It is estimated that 42% of transgender women and 46% of transgender men attempt suicide according to “Suicide Attempts among Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Adults,” a study by the Williams Institute at UCLA’s School of Law in 2014.
Abuse and social stigmatization increase a transgender individual’s risk of self-harm reports a 2015 study by researchers at Columbia University. Friends, family, and community members who are empathetic and kind can help reduce the risks of depression and suicide among transgender individuals.
Individuals experiencing suicidal feelings and thoughts of self-harm can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline available 24 hours every day at 1-800-273-8255.
Verbal Abuse + Physical Violence
Transgender individuals report experiencing higher rates of verbal harassment and physical violence. Following the physical assault of a transgender young person in Ashkelon in 2019, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported, “Orthodox rabbis in Israel send letter of support to bullied transgender teen.” Rabbi Dr. Weinreb and Chief Rabbi Mirvis warn against the denigration of transgender Jews in our communities.
Jewish leaders continue to refer transgender individuals to reparative and conversion therapy programs. These programs can be further damaging to transgender Jews. The Journal of the American Medical Association Psychiatry highlights the increased risk of suicide from gender identity conversion therapies and the American Medical Association warns of its dangers and cautions against its use. The Israel Medical Association prohibits its members from endorsing these therapy programs.
Resources + Help
These organizations in North America and Israel support Torah-observant, traditional, and Orthodox trans Jews, their families, and communities with multiple resources. All respect confidentiality.
- Eshel, eshelonline.org, supports Orthodox LGBTQ+ Jews and their families in the US and Canada. Eshel offers resources for trans Jews, as well as their families, educators, and rabbanim, and communities, including its Welcoming Shuls initiative.
- JQY (Jewish Queer Youth), jqyouth.org, an organization supporting LGBTQ Jewish teenagers and their families in Orthodox communities in the United States and Canada.
- חברותא, havruta.org.il (Hebrew), Organization serving Orthodox and traditional LGBTQ Jews in Israel.