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New Blessings Sanctify Jewish Transsexuals

by Kilian Melloy
Thursday Aug 9, 2007
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In an effort to remain inclusive to the faithful of all persuasions, the Jewish Reform sect has created blessings for the sanctification of gender reassignment.

According to a story posted today by jta.org, the Union for Reform Judaism published a new, second edition of its 500-page Kulanu (named after the Hebrew word for "all of us"), a resource dedicated to addressing the needs of the GLBT portion of Judaism.

Two new blessings, written by Rabbi Elliot Kukla, are provided for those undergoing sex changes.

Kukla--whom the article said had formerly been known as Eliza--had written the blessings for a friend, but thought they would be appropriate at different "moments of medical transitions" in the reassignment process.

In many branches of Judaism, GLBT persons are accepted as readily as heterosexuals, as rabbis, cantors, or members of the faith seeking the blessing of their union to a partner of the same sex.

Even so, blessings for sexual reassignment are something new.

"There was a conversation about what we should include and what we shouldn’t include," Rabbi Richard Address, who serves as an editor of Kulanu, said.

Added Address, who is also the director of the Reform Union’s Department of Family concerns, "This was going to be a little bit out there."

The blessings are in Hebrew, with one of them calling upon God as "the transforming one to those who cross over" from one gender to the other.

The other blessing--meant for recitation at the completion of the process--refers to God as the one "who has made me in his image."

A third blessing is the a traditional one, the Shehechiyanu, which is typically said on important benchmark occasions in life.

Kukla wrote an introduction to the blessings to explain that, "The midrash, classical Jewish exegesis, adds that the adam harishon, the first human being formed in God’s likeness, was an androgynos, an intersex person."

Continues Kukla’s notation, "Hence our tradition teaches that all bodies and genders are created in God’s image whether we identify as men, women, intersex, or something else."

The new edition is considerably heftier than the first edition, originally published in 1996. Whereas the new version is 500 pages, the original Kulanu was 150 pages; the extra text includes ceremonial recitations to mark occasions such as same-sex weddings and divorces, and publicly acknowledging one’s homosexual orientation.

Included, too, are essays by Kukla and by Reuben Zellman about the use of proper pronouns when speaking of transsexuals, and the need for unisex restrooms at synagogues.

Zellman is a notable figure insofar as in 2003, he became the Reform Union’s first rabbinical student who was also a transgendered individual.

Also included is a summary of the Reform Union’s four-decade tradition of inclusiveness toward LGBT individuals.

The blessings have their roots in events across nearly three decades. In 1978, the Central Conference of American Rabbis determined that individuals who had undergone gender reassignment could marry within Jewish tradition as a member of their new gender.

In 1990, the CCAR declared that transsexuals could be converted into the faith; in 2003, the Reform Union’s accepting positions on gays and lesbians were expanded to include bisexuals and transgendered individuals as well.

Said Address of the new blessings, "It’s a logical next step in this process."

Continued Address, "We are living in the midst of one of the greatest transitions in American Jewish life. And this is part of it."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor, writing about film, theater, food and drink, and travel, as well as contributing a column. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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