When it comes to the acceptance of transgender Jews, the American Jewish community is itself in a moment of transition.
In 2008, Joy Ladin became the public face of transgender Judaism when she transitioned from male to female after receiving tenure at Yeshiva University’s Stern College for Women. Five years later, there are at least six transgender rabbis and rabbis-in-training across the United States. Both the Reform and Reconstructionist movements have programs on transgender inclusion at synagogues and in seminaries.
Still, the tiny community of transgender Jews and their advocates say that the mainstream Jewish world has been slow to reach out to them. Even as non-Orthodox Judaism has embraced lesbians and gay men, transgender individuals pose a unique challenge to an ancient faith built on strict gender roles. “Parents who are perfectly liberal in most other respects don’t necessarily want a trans person to be their kid’s bar or bat mitzvah tutor or teach the teen youth group or to be hired as a rabbi,” said Rabbi Jacob Staub, a professor at Reconstructionist Rabbinical College who co-founded a student and faculty group on transgender issues. “Inclusion will take time.”