The Problem With How Jewish Leaders Are Defending Transgender People’s Rights

While it’s poetic to defend LGBTQ rights by citing the Torah verse that says all humans were ‘created in God’s image,’ this verse doesn’t engage specifically with the issue at hand, says Ayalon Eliach. Other passages, however, do.

North Carolina recently passed a law forcing people to use bathrooms that correspond to their “biological sex,” which must be either male or female. Many U.S. government officials, including U.S. President Barack Obama and Attorney General Loretta Lynch, and celebrities, including Itzhak Perlman, Bruce Springsteen, and Ringo Starr, have publicly opposed the law because it discriminates against transgender and gender-nonconforming people, who may not fit into a male-female binary of gender or sexual identity.

Jewish leaders have also voiced their opposition to the law. In an open letter, more than 40 rabbis from North Carolina condemned it, saying, “The Torah teaches that all human beings are created in the image of God and imbued with infinite value. In that spirit, we declare that our state should, under no circumstance, desecrate the holiness and dignity of any citizen”

While their rejection of the law is welcome – and surely appreciated not only by the LGBTQ community but also by many progressive Jews who support their rights – the sole biblical source these rabbis cite to justify their position is problematic. Not least because this exact same verse is used by proponents of the law, albeit in a slightly different way.

The Torah verse the letter refers to is the first half of Genesis 1:27, which states: “So God created humankind in God’s image, in the image of God, God created humankind…” In isolation, these words support the position that people should be treated with respect regardless of their gender presentation, or any other characteristics (rabbis have cited the verse’s assertion that people are created in the “image of God” to support many progressive causes ranging from universal human rights to marriage equality).

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