Joy Ladin: Judaism Unbound Episode 151 - Judaism from a Transgender Perspective


Joy Ladin, author of The Soul of the Stranger: Reading God and Torah from a Transgender Perspective, joins Dan Libenson and Lex Rofeberg for a conversation about being transgender, being Jewish, and how the two intersect. [1]

Image Credit: Joy Ladin

Image Credit: Joy Ladin

(0:01 - 14:33): To begin the episode, Joy Ladin reflects on her childhood, highlighting the challenges of growing up with a female gender identity, while society perceived her to be male. [2] Continuing on to the recent past, she looks back at the reaction of her employer (Yeshiva University), and her students there, when she came out as transgender. She names her struggles with depression and suicide, and how gender transition was not about becoming happy, but rather was the only way to survive. [3]

(14:34 - 33:48): Ladin explores the ways in which her gender identity and Jewishness flowed together quite seamlessly. [4] While surprising for many people, who ask about “reconciling” the worlds of being Jewish and being trans, the Torah (and God in particular) were actually modalities that provided a rare form of affirmation for her. In other words, because God transcended human gender categories, and struggled to relate to human beings, Ladin found in the Bible a role model that she failed to find in other realms of her life. She also considers the idea of being created “in the image of God,” arguing that, because God is incomprehensible, the part of each human being that is most “in the image of God” is the part that is most incomprehensible to one’s fellow human beings. [5]

(33:49 - 50:19): To look at the tension between individual identity and communal belonging for many Jews, Ladin looks at the case study of the Nazirite vow. [6] She explores what it means, in the Bible, for individuals to place their relationship with God over their relationships with human beings, and what we can apply from that ancient question to contemporary questions of gender identity. She then calls for Jews to understand and embrace their satisfaction with existing manifestations of Judaism, so that they can play a role in shaping more satisfying Judaisms of the future. Closing the episode, Ladin offers up the simple and related ideas that, first, being trans is a “flavor of being human,” and that, second, “being a transgender Jew is one flavor of being Jewish.”

[1] Learn more about Joy Ladin by visiting her website. Purchase any of her books, including The Soul of the Stranger and Through the Door of Life: a Jewish Journey Between Genders, here.

[2] To familiarize yourself with important vocabulary, we highly recommend this glossary of terms from TransStudent.org.

[3] Lex references the book Twice Blessed, which looks at related questions of being both Jewish and Gay or Lesbian. The book is available at this link, and you can access a previous podcast that explores some of its themes by listening to Episode 35: Twice Blessed - Joshua Lesser.

[4] Ladin references Moses Maimonides in this section. Learn more about Maimonides, and his theology, by clicking here.

[5] Learn more about what a Nazirite vow was (and in some cases, is!) by clicking here.