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    Transsexuality – Ask the Rabbi

    Q. What is the Jewish view of transsexuality?

    A. The Talmud contains many references to the “androgynos”, who has characteristics of both sexes, and the tumtum, the person of indeterminate sex.

    Transsexuality is a different problem. It is analysed from a halachic perspective in an essay by J David Bleich, a prolific writer on modern halachic issues, published in “Jewish Bioethics”, edited by Fred Rosner and himself.

    Bleich points out that sex-change operations involving the removal of genital organs are forbidden on the basis of the prohibition against “anything which is mauled, crushed, torn or cut” (Lev. 22:24).

    A further prohibition in Deut. 22:5, proscribes not only cross-dressing but any action uniquely identified with the opposite sex, and this would also apply to an operation to transform sexual characteristics.

    If nonetheless a sexual transformation has been carried out, new problems arise in halachah.

    Is a man still a man or a woman still a woman from the halachic point of view?

    A number of authorities state that surgery cannot change a person’s birth identity. However, a man who has lost his male genitalia may, according to Rabbenu Asher (Besamim Rosh 340), not enter into a marriage as a man: nor, it appears, could he in his new identity as a woman enter into a marriage as a woman because of the lack of true female genital organs.

    Would the wife of a former male need a gett? Rabbi Eliezer Waldenberg (Tzitz Eliezer, X, 25:26) says that if the former male can no longer enter into a marriage as a male, the new situation automatically terminates any existing marriage.

    Rabbenu Chananel, quoted by Ibn Ezra on Lev. 18:22, says that intercourse between a normal male and a former male who has an artificial vagina is homosexuality in the eyes of halachah. A former female who has an simulated penis does not require circumcision even if the new organ is physiologically similar to that of a male in every respect (She’elat Yavetz 1:171; Yad Ne’eman).

    All of this material makes it clear that whilst there are major personal problems when a person feels trapped in a body of the wrong gender, transsexuality is not the answer as far as Judaism is concerned.

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