A transwoman joined a minyan – but it had the potential to cause great pain

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Progressively Speaking

A transwoman joined a minyan – but it had the potential to cause great pain

Rabbi Roderick Young reflects on last week's story from Liverpool, about a transgender woman who was accepted into an Orthodox minyan

Princes Road synagogue.
Princes Road synagogue.

At Liverpool’s Princes Road Synagogue, the rabbi recently asked a transgender woman if she would consent to be counted as the 10th man in a minyan.
The rabbi is quoted as saying: “We took into account her sensitivities. I asked her permission
so as not to offend her. She was fine with it.”

But, however sensitive the rabbi was, he misgendered this woman, potentially causing great pain.

My Hungarian husband has Jewish antecedents on both sides of his family. He was told of their Jewish origin shortly after the fall of communism and he has lived a Jewish life ever since. He is not Jewish under Orthodox halachah. Some years ago, we spent Succot with a group of Orthodox, Masorti and Reform Jews, some of them rabbis. By consensus, all public spaces operated under Orthodox halachah.

After the festival started, it was discovered the oven had been switched off. My husband was approached by a rabbi who asked if he would be comfortable turning it on. The request was done extremely sensitively. It was made clear everyone would understand if he declined and that he should feel no pressure.

My husband is a lovely, accommodating and quiet man and he understood that a switched off oven was a disaster, so he turned it on. I can imagine some would cast this as a triumph of inter-movement cooperation and the rabbi as a caring soul for the way the request was made.

However, later that night my husband talked to me about his sense of hurt at the negation of his Jewishness. I do wonder how those closest to this transgender woman heard about the experience from her lips. Maybe she really was fine with it, but many other transgender folks would not have been.

What would happen if the same rabbi discovered a man with a big beard, who has just made the minyan, was born female? Will this man be sensitively humiliated as the Torah is speedily returned to the ark and the mourners told to cease their Kaddish? For that is surely what would need to happen by the same logic that allowed the rabbi to count a transgender woman in his male minyan.

Roderick Young is a freelance rabbi living in Norfolk

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