What is groundbreaking in the rest of the country may hardly raise eyebrows in the Bay Area, especially when it comes to sexuality. But while people have become much more comfortable with gays and lesbians over the years, that is not the case when it comes to those who identify as transgender.
Reuben Zellman of Oakland has made history as the first transgender person to be accepted to rabbinical school.
The Reform movement began accepting openly gay and lesbian applicants in 1990, and by now, Reform rabbis who are gay or lesbian are well-represented in the Bay Area. The Reconstructionist seminary accepts gays and lesbians as well. The Conservative movement is currently grappling with the issue, and the attention surrounding the admission of Zellman might affect that movement's debate.
Those who know Zellman have no doubts about his commitment to Judaism. This is a young man with a passion for Torah, for learning, for teaching — all of the qualities a rabbi should have.
Unfortunately, though, he is also someone who is used to others' discomfort with him. No doubt, there will be those who have a hard time seeing beyond "the transgender rabbi."
Zellman knows he will have to educate people on the issues transgender people face. But as he pointed out, essentially, a rabbi is a teacher.
There are numerous queer-identified synagogues around the country that will hire Zellman after he is ordained. And if views toward the LGBT community continue to liberalize around the rest of the country, there might be other Reform congregations that would hire him as well.
As Zellman himself said: "Being close-minded shuts out a lot of good people. If you don't ordain [and we would add 'hire'] gays and lesbians, you lose some of your most talented and committed Jews."