United Synagogue rabbi: transgender people welcome in shul

Where a transgender person sits in an Orthodox synagogue is not a big halachic issue


A United Synagogue rabbi said it mattered little where a transgender person sits in an Orthodox shul.

Rabbi Daniel Roselaar addressed the status of transgender people in Jewish law in a recent lecture at the London School of Jewish Studies. “I recognise a person who is transgender and who is still coming to an Orthodox shul has gone through many challenges and on so many levels,” he said.

Exactly on which side of the mechitzah  — the partition which separates men from women — they sat was “such a small halachic issue,” he said.
“I don’t think we need to give that person more tzores (trouble) in their life to turn that into a big issue.”

Rabbi Roselaar, who is rabbi of the Alei Tzion community in Hendon, explained “the presence of women in the men’s section or men in the women’s section doesn’t necessarily invalidate the tefillah (prayer)”.

According to Jewish law, a person’s gender is determined by their sexual organs at birth, he said. 

Gender reassignment was not permitted because of the biblical prohibitions against removing sexual organs and against dressing in the clothes of a different gender.
But he observed that a “not insignificant” percentage of people challenged by gender dysphoria commit suicide. And where there was a risk of suicide, “then gender reassignment surgery and wearing clothes of the opposite sex become not necessarily permitted, but superseded by the obligation to preserve life.”

Providing support to make sure people did not become suicidal was something “the religious establishment needs to take seriously”, he said.

If it suited a trans woman who had transitioned from being a man to sit in the women’s section of a synagogue, “we are not to witchhunt people”. If they dressed as a woman, the women’s section was probably the best place.

From a halachic point of view, they remained male. When asked if he would count such a person towards the minyan of ten men if necessary, he replied it would depend on how the person felt. “I could understand a trans woman who identifies totally as a woman and says no, I don’t identify as a man and it is hurtful to me. I’d go and look for a tenth man somewhere else. If they were relaxed about it, then yes.”

There would be more challenges for a man who had transitioned from being a woman sitting in the men’s section. He would still be considered female from a halachic perspective and therefore could not be counted in the minyan or called to the Torah.

But Rabbi Roselaar professed he did not know how developments in British law on transgender status might affect synagogue practice. Posing the question of a trans man who became vice-chairman of an Orthodox shul, he said the vice-chairman usually sat in the warden’s box. “What the legal position would be in that case, I have got no idea. These are issues to be tested and addressed with great sensitivity.”

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