Joy Ladin on the Torah and Transgender Jews
November 1, 2012 by Sharon Groves, Director, Religion and Faith Program
A while back I had the distinct privilege of hearing Joy Ladin talk about the power the Torah held for her as a transgender Jew. Joy Ladin is a trusted advisory member for HRC’s soon to be released Jewish Organization Equality Index (JOEI) and a good friend to HRC’s Religion and Faith program as well. This talk is an example of the kind of rich truth telling, vulnerability, and generosity of spirit those of us who are fans of Joy’s work have come to expect from her.
The first time I met Joy was at a poetry reading at the Jewish Community Center in Washington, DC when she read from her then new book of poetry, Transmigration. I had heard the news reports about Joy as the first openly transgender employee of an Orthodox Jewish Institution and was intrigued to hear her story. (Joy teaches English at Stern College of Yeshiva University and currently holds the David and Ruth Guttesman Chair in English there). I was not prepared to encounter such an extraordinarily gifted poet who took her readers and listeners to places of raw vulnerability few are willing to go and yet did so with an extraordinary gentle and healing spirit.
With the piece, “Reading Between the Angels: How Torah Speaks to Transgender Jews,” I have gotten a glimpse of how pivotal the Torah has been as a foundation, a sacred space, for her gentle yet unwaveringly truthful spirit. We learn in this piece how for her, like many transgender Jews, the Torah has served as a source of liberation when nothing else seemed too. This is in sharp contrast to how Scripture has, sadly, so often been used by its followers as a tool of entrapment and repression.
At this time when we are all in the throes of a painfully close election and working to get out from under a frightening hurricane, I thought a reflective piece about why the Torah matters to those most marginalized in our communities might offer a grounding message of hope we all might need right now.
If you like this piece, please check out Joy’s many books including her most recent memoir, Through the Door of Life: A Jewish Journey Between Genders (U. of Wisconsin Press).
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