Local rabbis react to URJ announcement

BY MIKE SHERWIN, ASSISTANT EDITOR

Local Reform rabbis welcomed the Union for Reform Judaism announcement that it has added new prayers for transgender Jews. This month, the URJ published a revised version of Kulanu: All of Us, which is billed as “a manual for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender inclusion in Reform Jewish life.”

According to a URJ news release, the 500-page manual includes a “prayer for the transitioning of genders.”

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The JTA reports that the manual includes three blessings for people undergoing a sex change.

Rabbi Joshua Taub of Temple Emanuel said the URJ’s revised manual is “a logical next step in a journey that’s been going on for a long time.”

“I chuckle at myself because I’ve actually been in it long enough to actually see these kinds of changes,” Rabbi Taub said, noting that when he became ordained, the school would not ordain openly gay men and women.

“I was in the CCAR (Central Conference of American Rabbis) when we voted to no longer, as it were, discriminate against openly gay men and women with regards to acceptance into the rabbinic program. And not long after that, we began our discussions on rabbinic officiation at same sex marriages,” he said.

Rabbi James Bennett of Shaare Emeth said the Reform movement has long been seeking to become as inclusive as possible.

“The Reform movement for a long time has reached out to fully include members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community in formal and informal ways into the greater community of the people of Israel, so every Jewish person and every family member of every Jewish person is fully included,” he said.

Bennett said that the URJ’s revised manual did not necessarily represent a policy change as much as provide an explicit clarification on its position regarding inclusiveness.

“It’s one thing to say you’re inclusive, but it’s another thing to make certain that the language of our prayer books and the language of our literature that we publish and that the programs we put together really truly reflect that inclusive philosophy,” Rabbi Bennett said. “My guess is that some of the language [within the Kulanu manual] needed to be updated to be sure that the entire community is, in fact, included.”

United Hebrew’s Rabbi Howard Kaplansky echoed those sentiments. “I think that it’s very consistent with the spirit of the Reform movement to be inclusive and not to be inclusive in limited or judgmental ways, but to recognize the individual commitment of each person to a relationship with God and to be welcome in our Jewish community.”

Senior Rabbi Mark Shook said his congregation, Temple Israel, supports the URJ’s recent decision to include a prayer for transgender Jews. “The statement is part of a long and continuous effort on the part of the Reform movement, to be inclusive in every sense of the word.”

Rabbi Susan Talve said her synagogue, Central Reform Congregation, was founded with an overarching principle of openness, understanding and inclusiveness.

“Our goal in founding CRC was to never force anyone to check any part of who they are at the door in order to worship with us, but to embrace each of us fully, as we are, and not to shame anyone,” she said. “LGBT Jews are our family. They are our friends, children, our relatives, and our members, and they are in tremendous need of spiritual support, as we all are. If we close our eyes to that, we close our eyes to our fellow Jewish brothers and sisters.”

Rabbi Taub said that welcoming transgender Jews was part of a larger philosophy that defines one’s sexuality as something people are born with.

“Homosexuality is something that we generally see as divinely ordained. Someone is born gay; someone does not become gay,” Rabbi Taub said. “In that respect, I believe that it would make sense that there are some people who discover at some point in their lives that they are women trapped in men’s bodies or men trapped in women’s bodies, and in order to live sane lives, they need to physically change who they are.”

Rabbi Talve agreed. “We are made b’tselem elohim. If we’re made in God’s image, we’re all made in God’s image. And what the Torah is trying to teach us to do is to honor our nature: to be who we are. So, if you’re gay, be gay. If you’re straight, be straight. When it says two men shouldn’t lie together, I think it’s saying two straight men shouldn’t lie together, because that is not correct. But if you’re gay, that is honoring your nature,” Rabbi Talve said.

“It’s about allowing people full participation in their Jewishness, and having their Jewishness embrace who they are without judgment or shame. And understanding also that to be LGBT is not a choice. It’s who you are,” she said.

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