Friday, September 12, 2008

Halacha vs Immorality

This is a far cry from my usual life update- navel contemplation, but I feel like I need to step up on my soapbox about something.

Over on Wolfish Musings (and, yes, I desperately need to update my blogroll), Wolf was talking about the statement of Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz saying that YU is acting "like Amalek" by allowing a professor of modernist American poetry, Jay Ladin to return after a two year absence during which he has begun taking hormones and has transformed himself into Joy Ladin.

Do I agree with Professor Ladin's behavior? It's an interesting question. I think if I were a parent and my child made that choice, I would be quite upset. As someone whose life is completely unaffected by it, I really can't judge... and that's my point here.

Rabbi Lipschutz may be able to say that there is a halachic problem with it. Transvestism is absolutely forbidden by the Torah, "A woman must not put on a man's apparel (beged ish), nor shall a man wear woman's clothing; for whoever does these things is abhorrent to the L-rd, your G-d." (Thanks, Jewish News Weekly, for the translation.)

However, lighting a fire on Shabbat is also forbidden. We may say that one is labelled as abhorrent (to'eva) while the other isn't, but it is abhorrent to HASHEM, not to humanity.

Transvestitism and homosexuality are, simply put, not moral issues. They are religious issues. It is true that these are non-standard behaviors, but as long as all related acts are between consenting adults, the ramifications should be left between the doers and G-d. It is not our place to judge people, any more than we should judge a person who drives on Shabbat or eats a cheeseburger. We may cry out for their neshama, but we do not have a right to mistreat them or hurt them.

For Yeshiva University to fire this professor while there are other professors on staff who eat non-Kosher, drive on Shabbat, aren't careful about nidda, or are careless about lashon hara would be, simply speaking, hypocritical.

For the Jewish community to raise outcry against a transgendered person while child molesters are still not being properly dealt with is beyond hypocrisy. It is evil!


Commenter Abbi said...

when i was in ramaz and there was an uproar about a gay shul marching in the israeli day parade and many frum schools were debating about whether to or actually did pull out.

rabbi lookstein too the stance in your post, stated it publicly and we marched without question. I agree with it; unfortunately, in light of today's increasing charedism, it's a very minority stance.

BB said...

I totally disagree. I went to YU and I would have been horrified if Jay had taught me one year and then came back as Joy. You're right that there may be people who are less observant on the staff and there may even be non-Jews but YU tries to have their teachers be role models for their students. Of course I'm no spokesperson for YU but just as someone who went there. Would you want your kid sitting in a class being influenced by someone like this? He/She could say all kinds of things to mess up your mind. College is a sensitive time in many people's lives. They are in many cases still formulating who they are and what they believe in. I see a huge difference between having a professor who doesn't dress tzniusly and doesn't keep shabbos or kashrus and having someone who is a transvestite. It's just disturbing. It is a toeva and isn't the same as the other mitzvot I mentioned. Maybe you could say that the person who doesn't keep shabbos and kashrus is a tinok sh'nishba. They aren't a rebel who is shaking off the yoke of Torah and therefore they can teach in YU. But someone who "changed" so drastically isn't someone that I would want to be learning anything from.

Most people who go to YU know that you've got to check out the teachers before you just sign up for their courses. Those of us who are more careful did a lot of research into the content of the classes and the hashkafa of the teachers themselves.

The truth is that I'm sad to hear that this happened to this professor and I feel bad for him. We have to hope that one day he'll learn from his mistakes and do teshuva.

Anonymous said...

There is another difference as well. What people do on their "private time" is different than something as glaringly obvious as this. I dont know, but if a professor started conspicuously munching a cheeseburger in class at YU he might be spoken to.

Nicole Then said...

wow, I think I would definitely be shocked if a prof came back as a woman when I knew him as a guy. But I do agree that it is hypocritical. it could be that they sacked him not just because it's against religious law but for other reasons like sch reputation or smthg

... Is the Window to Our Soul said...

wonderful post. glad you addressed it.

shelly said...

There's a difference between cross-dressing to pass as a different gender and changing one's body to change one's gender. The transgendered person feels out of sync with his or her body. The process of changing one's gender is the process of aligning one's inner self with one's outward expression of that self. Beginning hormone therapy and changing one's dress are steps towards changing one's gender expression. So while this person's genes may read "XY," her body is in the process of becoming female.

It seems the naysayers define gender by simple genotype: XY=male, XX=female; whereas, by definition, transgendered people define their gender from the inside out, with help from modern science. (Incidentally, what about the people in between: the XXYs, the XYs born physically female, the intersexed? Are these people also to be regarded as statistical aberrations who must repent for the sin of being born? Clearly not, as original sin doesn't exist in Judaism. So is an XXY person to be regarded with compassion while a transgendered person is to be abhorred and reviled?)

But anyone who has ever picked up a history book, read poetry, looked at a painting probably knows that gender bending is much older than modern science, and gender dysphoria probably is too. Yes, there is a DSM certified condition called gender dysphoria. In order to transition from one gender to another, a person must undergo psychological treatment for at least a year in order to determine whether or not he or she suffers from gender dysphoria. Physically changing one's gender expression is a common treatment for gender dysphoria.

I'm not sure how a person is meant to do "teshuva" for a mental disorder, but I suppose that may be one reason I'm no longer religious.

Those of you who object to the professor's treatment can surely find other classes to attend.

Peace and tolerance to all, in this our new Jewish year.