Just like with most religions of a certain size and scope, Judaism has many different denominations. All denominations within their religion are about how best to interpret the faith, and each denomination does so as they see fit. The denominations in Judaism tend to form a sliding scale of conservativeness, or of traditionalism. Sliding from Orthodox, considered to be the more traditional and conservative, to Reform, generally viewed as the most progressive or liberal of the denominations. Obviously there are many denominations that fall in between those two and a few that are outside the sliding scale all together.
During the last few years I’ve been reading more and more about the Reform denomination, which is technically mine, and what they have been doing to fall more in line with the needs of the modern Jewish community. From what I’ve been reading, large sections of the Jewish community are accepting gays and lesbians not only as active members of the community but as rabbis and cantors. Many support same-sex commitment ceremonies. When I told a friend, and Pagan activist, this he informed me that, “Sure, they say that, but we’ll see.”
For the record, at the beginning of August I attended a same-sex wedding in Massachusetts, where it’s legal by state law, and the ceremony was performed by an actual rabbi, making it legal by Jewish law. So put that in your smudge pot and puff on it!
For all of these progressive moves on the part of Reform Judaism, the community had never taken a stance on the transgender community…until now.
On August 7, 2007 the Union for Reform Judaism released the second edition of “Kulanu”, the union’s 500-page resource manual for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender inclusion. One of the additions was blessings for transitioning genders.
“I believe that gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Jews in our midst—our children, our relatives, and our friend—are in great need, as are we all of spiritual support,” said Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism in the “Statement of Purpose” for the new edition. The Union for Reform Judaism website states, “Among the items included in the guide are services for same-sex commitment and marriage ceremonies, a prayer for the transitioning of genders, and classroom lessons focusing on the spiritual needs of both GLBT members and the community.”
According to the Jerusalem Post, “The issue of transgender Jews was first addressed in 1978 when the Central Conference of American Rabbis deemed it permissible for one who had undergone a sex-change operation to be married according to Jewish tradition. In 1990, the CCAR allowed such individuals to be converted. And in 2003, the union retroactively applied its policy on gays and lesbians to the transgender and bisexual communities.” When you consider that the ball started rolling in 1978, it seems like it has taken forever to get here. Of course when you compare it to many faiths, and even other Jewish denominations, Reform Judaism is moving at lightning speeds.
Let me say that I agree with Rabbi Eric Yoffie, we are all in need of spiritual support. Those faiths that would deny that support because of something as truly insignificant as person’s sexual orientation or desire to change gender, well, I highly doubt that is truly something their faith would agree with.
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