An influential body of rabbis passed a resolution last week calling for synagogues to be “explicitly welcoming” to transgender people.
As the country debates which bathrooms transgender people can use, the rabbis of Conservative Judaism officially declared their support of transgender rights.
Three Christian denominations and two other Jewish denominations have made similar statements in favor of rights for those whose gender identity does not match their sex identified at birth.
The rabbis’ resolution begins by stating, “Our Torah asserts that all humanity is created b’tzelem Elohim, in God’s Divine Image.” It discusses historical evidence of “non-binary gender expression” in Jewish texts dating back to the third-century Mishnah, and points out current-day discrimination against transgender Americans in employment, medical care and voting rights.
The Rabbinical Assembly called on synagogues, camps, schools and other institutions affiliated with the Conservative movement to make sure their facilities meet the needs of transgender people and to use the names and pronouns that people prefer. It also encouraged Conservative institutions to advocate for national and local policies on behalf of transgender people.
“That is always the first job of the religious community, the faith community: to bring our Jewish values to bear on our real-life situations and the real people around us,” said Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, the executive vice president of the organization of 1,700 rabbis.
The Conservative branch of Judaism, less stringent than the Orthodox, is the second-largest denomination in America. The largest, the more liberal Reform movement, passed a similar resolution last year, and the small Reconstructionist movement is similarly supportive.
Michael Toumayan, the pro-LGBT Human Rights Campaign’s Religion and Faith Program Manager, said that among Christian denominations, the Episcopal Church, United Church of Christ and Metropolitan Community Churches have stated their support.
Schonfeld said she did not hear of any synagogues that opposed the rabbis’ statement. And several people in the transgender and nonbinary community applauded the resolution on Twitter.
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Schonfeld said Conservative synagogues may find ways to be more welcoming to transgender people within the community’s religious life — for instance, using someone’s preferred name when he or she is called to the Torah.
“I don’t believe there was opposition to it at all. I think it really comes out of a basic set of values, to see the infinite and equal worth in every human being. I think it speaks very directly to Jewish values,” she said. “This is one of the examples of how the Torah’s fundamental values keep reasserting themselves as society grows and matures.”