Blessed are the transgendered, say S.F. rabbi and the Reform movementby
joe eskenazi & ben harris,
special to j.
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This is not your father’s blessing — or, as the case may be, your mother’s.
A pair of brachas sanctifying the sex-change process penned by San Francisco Rabbi Elliot Kukla appears in the Union of Reform Judaism’s latest edition of “Kulanu,” the movement’s 500-page resource manual for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender inclusion.
Kukla, the summer rabbi-in-residence at Sha’ar Zahav and a chaplain at UCSF Medical Center, wrote the blessing at the request of a friend who was undergoing testosterone treatment in the midst of a sex-change.
“Throughout Jewish history, people have written newer blessings to mark moments that don’t come up from [the biblical] time period,” said Kukla, 32, formerly known as Eliza.
“All the key moments in Jewish life have that blessing structure.”
While support for gay and lesbian inclusiveness is commonplace across broad swaths of the liberal Jewish community, even the Reform movement has never gone as far as to bless — literally — the notion of changing one’s gender.
“There was a conversation about what we should and shouldn’t include,” said Rabbi Richard Address, one of Kulanu’s editors and the director of the union’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns. “This was going to be a little bit out there.”
Kukla’s blessing — which “may be recited before any moment in the transitioning process” — has two parts.
Part one: Baruch Ata Adonai Eloheinu Melech Ha’Olam Ha’Mavir L’Ovrim (Blessed are You, Eternal One, our God Ruler of Time and Space, the Transforming One to those that transform/transition/cross over).
The second part: Baruch Ata Adonai Eloheinu Melech Ha’Olam sh’asani b’tzelmo v’kirtzona (Blessed are You, Eternal One, our God Ruler of Time and Space who has made me in His image and according to Her will).
An additional Kukla blessing can be recited “for special events taking place for the first time or for the first time in this season.”
First published in 1996, the original version of Kulanu was a 150-page collection of texts intended as a resource for gay and lesbian inclusion. The updated version is significantly expanded and includes liturgy for same-sex union ceremonies, a divorce document for same-sex couples and a prayer for coming out regarding one’s sexual identity.
The issue of transgender Jews was first addressed in 1978 when the Central Conference of American Rabbis deemed it permissible for those who have undergone a sex-change operation to be married according to Jewish tradition. In 1990, CCAR allowed such individuals to be converted. In 2003, the union retroactively applied its policy on gays and lesbians to the transgender and bisexual communities.
Still, those involved in designing Kulanu — Hebrew for “all of us” — wondered if the movement, even with its trailblazing history on these issues, was prepared to sanctify sex-change procedures.
Along with the liturgy, the new version has essays by Kukla and Reuben Zellman, who in 2003 became the movement’s first transgender rabbinical student, aimed at making congregations more sensitive. The material instructs congregants in matters of using the proper pronoun and encourages synagogues to install a gender-neutral rest room.
“Things are really changing right now in regards to gender,” said Kukla. “People are asking how much room each of us has to live as authentically as possible.”
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