Shabbat Service is a weekly bit of Torah-inspired do-gooding, brought to you by Repair the World and our grantee-partner American Jewish World Service (AJWS). Read on to see how these ancient stories can apply today. Seem far fetched? Check it out:
The story: This week’s parsha (Torah portion), Ki Tetze, contains an unusual commandment (actually it contains 74 commandments, but this one is particularly noteworthy): “A man’s apparel should not be on a woman, and a man should not wear a woman’s clothing, for whoever does these things is an abomination before Adonai your God.” At first glance it’s a confusing and rather offensive commandment, especially for people who identify as transgender.
But as this week’s AJWS dvar tzedek author, Sigal Samuel, writes, “according to rabbinic interpretation [however], this law is not about preventing people from wearing clothes traditionally associated with another gender. It is about preventing deception—the veiling of our true identities—and the harmful results of gaining access to restricted spaces by means of that deception. Read in this light, the verse urges us to ensure that we create spaces that are safe, appropriate and consensual for everyone.”
The “takeaway”: Put simply, the commandment can be read as a biblical encouragement to be our full, authentic selves – whoever that is – and not be afraid to share that with other people. Around the world, however, GLBTQ people have faced a great deal of discrimination while simply attempting to be who they are. Sigal writes, “For many transgender and gender non-conforming people across the globe, particularly in developing countries, this translates into crippling social and economic hardship. India, for example, is home to approximately one million transgender people. Because the majority of them are denied access to job, education and housing opportunities, they are forced to inhabit slums and engage in sex work to survive.”
And yet slowly, gains are being made – like Burma’s first International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, which was held this past May.
The “to-do”: Support a world where everyone feels comfortable sharing their true and full selves, regardless of who they are or how they identify. Support the work of transgender advocacy organizations in America (like these) and abroad (like these).
Read the full Torah commentary, on which this excerpt is based, over at AJWS’ website. And for more great texts, commentary and Jewish learning resources on social justice, check out the On 1 Foot database.