September 24, 2018

The Torah and the Transgendered

Is the Torah really the best guide?

Most Jews do not believe the Torah is a divine document, but rather that it is entirely man-made. For that reason, among others, most Jews do not think that the Torah is an appropriate guide to life. How many non-Orthodox Jews, when deciding what position to take on an issue, say: “Before deciding, I first want to know what the Torah says”? Undoubtedly very few.

[RELATED: A response to Dennis Prager]

To their credit, many Jews — especially those affiliated with Jewish institutions — out of respect for the Torah’s status as an iconic Jewish symbol, will not say out loud that the Torah is essentially useless as a guide to living. But that is what they believe.

Therefore, whenever most Jews differ from the Torah, they assume that the Torah is wrong.

To cite a contemporary example, the Torah prohibits men from wearing women’s clothing, and women from wearing male garb. For the Torah, the distinction between men and women is fundamental to creating civilization. When the human being is created, the Torah emphasizes: “Male and female He created them.” And that distinction is made manifest in the commandments against men and women wearing the clothing of the opposite sex.

But for most modern Jews, the Torah’s male-female distinction is anachronistic at best and bigoted at worst.

That is, of course, what much of secular society now believes. Therefore, men who feel that they are women — even if they remain fully male anatomically and biologically — are now admitted to all-women’s colleges. And a biological and anatomical male can play on women’s sports teams, thereby depriving a natural woman of a place on the team and giving their team an unfair advantage in almost any sport.

Likewise, a Southern California synagogue has hired as its director of education a biological female rabbi who identifies as male, wears masculine clothing, is referred to as male and insists on being called by her/his given female name. Obviously, the congregation and the rabbi believe that the Torah’s view on gender distinction is irrelevant.

So, then, here is the question: How do Jews who support ending gender distinctions — electing boys as homecoming queens, admitting males who believe themselves to be females into high school girls’ locker rooms and into all-women colleges, allowing anatomical males to play on women’s sports teams, hiring as rabbis females who identify as males and yet insist on being called by a female name — know that they are right?

Or, to put the question in another way: What do these Jews use as their guide?

They will likely answer “compassion.” This is entirely understandable. One has to have a callous heart not to feel compassion toward anyone who suffers from gender dysphoria. It is surely awful to go through life thinking one’s body is of the wrong sex.

But compassion, while one of the beautiful traits in personal life, is almost never sufficient to determine social policy.

Take the problem of admitting anatomical males into girls’ locker rooms. It may be compassionate to allow the male who identifies as a female to do so — but it isn’t compassionate to the girls who do not wish to have a naked male in their bathroom or locker room. Why is their privacy and why are all their feelings of no importance? Is that compassionate?

Or take race-based affirmative action. It seems compassionate to Blacks to lower academic admissions standards on their behalf given America’s history of racism. But this policy has hurt far more Black students than it has helped. As study after study, and common sense, have shown — most recently by Stuart Taylor Jr. of the Brookings Institution — too many Black students have been admitted to universities in which academic standards are at a higher level than their K-12 education has prepared them for. One result has been a disproportionately low college graduation rate among Black students. Had these often promising and hard-working young Black men and women been admitted to colleges with academic demands commensurate with their academic background and abilities, they would have prospered.

But liberals generally believe that compassion suffices in determining social policies.

Now, admittedly, those of us who use the Torah as our guide also have issues to confront — most obviously with regard to capital punishment for crimes other than murder. (There is a solution to that problem, but that is for another column.) But at least we have a guide beyond ourselves.

If the Torah is not our guide, who or what will be? By dropping the Torah and substituting compassion as standards, we are creating a Brave New World in which definitions of male and female no longer have meaning, are regarded as subjective and are completely interchangeable. If you think this a better world, the Torah is indeed essentially useless as a guide to life. If, however, you think we are playing with fire and that future generations will pay a big price for this unprecedented experiment, the Torah will have, once again, proven itself indispensable.

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Dennis Prager’s nationally syndicated radio talk show is heard in Los Angeles on KRLA (AM 870) 9 a.m. to noon. His latest project is the Internet-based Prager University (prageru.com).