Over the past decade the Jewish community has been blessed with the increased visibility of trans, intersex, non-binary, and gender non-conforming folks in our communities. The unique lives, bodies, and experiences of this growing subset of our community demands a new halakha (pathways and practices of Jewish expression). The Trans Halakha Project, housed at SVARA: A Traditionally Radical Yeshiva, aims to curate existing resources that have been developed for trans Jews and by trans Jews, identify new areas of halakha that have yet to be developed, and finally to create opportunities for developing new halakhic literature and practice guides that speak directly to these areas of need. Are you a trans Jew?! Take our survey!
We hope to, first and foremost, provide concrete resources to trans Jews that will nurture affirming and joyful pathways into Jewish expression.
Our goal is to understand the landscape of trans Jews’ needs and curiosities about Jewish law and Jewish rituals of all kinds. We want to know what questions trans Jews are asking — or not asking — about their relationships to these aspects of Jewish tradition in order to open up new conversations that will help trans Jews engage more fully and more creatively with Judaism. Our method for data collection will include mapping trans-related Jewish resources (texts, commentaries, readings, etc.) that already exist, surveying trans Jews about their experiences with and relationships to halakha, and conducting 1:1 interviews with trans Jews throughout the U.S.
Additionally, bringing pre-existing ritual together will relieve the pressure that individual trans leaders experience each time they are asked a question about a name change, gender affirming surgery, menstruation, being called to the Torah, and other ritual moments. This work is necessary in continuing the work of building a Jewish community and tradition that celebrates all Jews, regardless of their gender.
From Becky: As a trans rabbi with over a decade of experience supporting LGBTQ identified Jews directly and by working for a more celebratory Jewish community, I am excited by the possibility of providing concrete resources to our community. Trans Jews want to know how their lived experience can reflect the best of the Jewish tradition, how that tradition can be used to bring meaning into their lives. Addressing their questions directly in a way that is grounded in tradition and my own lived experience as a trans person is the best way to provide affirming and joyful pathways into Jewish expression. This work is necessary in continuing the work of building a Jewish community and tradition that celebrates all Jews, regardless of their gender.
Rabbi Becky Silverstein (he/him) believes in the power of community, Torah, and silliness in transforming the world. He strives to build a Jewish community and world that encourages and allows everyone to express their full selves. Becky is a SVARA Fellow and the chair of SVARA’s Board of Directors.
From Laynie: In my learning and teaching with this rad and beautiful queer yeshiva, I meet with SVARA-niks regularly who express confusion, curiosity, anger, excitement about how to relate to embodied Jewish practices in their lives in ways that feel euphoric and dignified. Our community does not yet have the support it needs to hold our unique experiences and full exploration of halakha. I believe that halakha can and must speak to and through us, and that trans Jews need space and resources to explore our own questions about embodied practices, gendered mitzvot, and how we can transform our tradition.
Laynie Soloman (they/them) is SVARA’s Associate Rosh Yeshiva. They believe deeply in the power of Talmud study as a healing and liberatory spiritual practice, and they love facilitating Jewish learning that uplifts the piously irreverent, queer, and subversive spirit of rabbinic text and theology.