The Torah is often cited as the basis for religious communities to exclude, exile, and stigmatize transgender people—and even to deny us urgent medical care—but the Torah never commands, approves, or encourages such things. Even when Moses declares that those who cross-dress are “abhorrent” to God, he does not claim that God demands that they be “removed from camp.” Though there have always been people who do not fit into the categories of male and female, the Torah says nothing about us. It does not portray us as a threat or an abomination; it doesn’t declare us unclean or unfit to participate in communal worship or activities; it doesn’t demonize us, curse us, punish us, relegate us to the margins or the shadows, order gender surveillance to guard against our entry into the community or the Tabernacle, or organize searches to locate and expel us.
The Torah’s silence opened the door for the rabbis of the Talmud to adapt halakhah to enable intersex Jews to participate in Jewish communal life, and, more recently and locally, for Yeshiva University to tolerate my presence as an openly transgender professor. But because the Torah does not acknowledge that there are human beings who are not simply male or female, it shrouds us in silence and incomprehensibility.
The Torah’s detailing of defiling physical differences ensured that these differences could be recognized, spoken of, and understood by communities as part of being human. In order to fully include transgender people, Jewish communities have to follow the Torah’s example—to speak frankly about transgender identities, to recognize and pragmatically address our differences, and to face up to, and change, the communal policies, practices, and habits that, intentionally or not, lead so many of us to be removed, or to remove ourselves, from the camp.
— Joy Ladin