The teachings of the Torah have been the cornerstone of Jewish morality and ethics. Some believe that many of the teachings in the Torah or outdated. I disagree. The teachings are timely reflections on contemporary society. Ki Teitzei, a portion rich in its commandments, provides an opportune moment to contemplate issues of identity, especially in light of the transgender community and the many politicians trying to pass laws aimed at hurting people.
Today’s transgender community is under attack because of lies and misinformation; trans people deserve basic human rights. Some have used the verse Deuteronomy 22:5 to weaponize and hurt trans people and non-binary folks. The verse reads:
A woman must not put on man’s apparel, nor shall a man wear woman’s clothing; for whoever does these things is abhorrent to the LORD your God.
Some will also use this verse to delegitimize the experiences of transgender and non-binary people. However, such interpretations are reductive and fail to appreciate the depth and nuance of Jewish thought.
A transgender woman wearing a dress is not a man wearing women’s clothing; she is a woman wearing women’s clothing. The same goes for a transgender man wearing a suit.
Both Rashi and Maimonides, seminal Jewish scholars from different generations, have indicated that the prohibition is not about the act of wearing clothing traditionally assigned to another gender. Instead, it’s about intent and the potential outcomes of such actions. If a person cross-dresses with the intention of committing adultery or idol worship — essentially, actions that lead one away from God and harm relationships — then it becomes a concern. Transgender people, in expressing their true gender identity, do so to be more authentic to themselves and, in many ways, to be closer to the image of the Creator in which they were made.
To regard transgender individuals as simply “cross-dressing” or misrepresenting themselves is a grave misunderstanding. A transgender woman wearing a dress is not a man wearing women’s clothing; she is a woman wearing women’s clothing. The same goes for a transgender man wearing a suit. They are not misrepresenting themselves but rather aligning their external appearance with their true, inner self.
By supporting transgender people in their journey, we acknowledge that every soul is a reflection of the Divine and deserves to express that image in its fullest, most authentic form.
It’s worth noting that many transgender individuals describe their pre-transition period as a time of immense concealment and misrepresentation. In essence, when they were not allowed or did not have the means to express their authentic gender, they felt they were in violation of the Torah’s spirit, having to hide their Divine reflection.
In light of this, supporting transgender rights becomes not just a secular or political stance but a deeply spiritual and Jewish one. By supporting transgender people in their journey, we acknowledge that every soul is a reflection of the Divine and deserves to express that image in its fullest, most authentic form. We should remember that every morning, we are to take upon ourselves the commandment of the Creator to love my neighbor as myself. In supporting and standing beside our transgender brothers and sisters, we embody this commandment.
Let us strive to cultivate understanding, empathy and solidarity. Let us recognize the Divine image in every individual, irrespective of their gender identity, and support their right to live authentically and joyously.
An earlier version of this piece first appeared on Rabbi Sandra Lawson’s Substack blog, “My Musings,” July 18, 2023.