Redeeming Religion from Slavery by Rabbi Mike Moskowitz
“If she wants to wear a dress and sit in the women’s section, she is welcome to come to shul”, said the Rabbi of my [old] synagogue, in Lakewood, NJ informing me of the new policy of trans-exclusion. Using the wrong pronoun to help reinforce his transphobic reality, the Rabbi told me that congregants were complaining and he had assured them that he would take care of it – “it” being a trans child, wearing a yamukah and tzitzis, praying quietly next to his father in shul.
I was prepared for my response, but not for his. As soon I began to defend the permissibility and obligation of trans-inclusivity, from within Jewish Law, he quickly interrupted me by saying “This is not about Halacha; it is about people feeling uncomfortable.”
“People”, evidently, is a rabbinic term limited to include only those who have socially constructed rights and are afraid of losing them. This Rabbi wants to create a safe space for the privileged, entitled, and empowered so they can continue with their exceptional experience of comfort at the expense of those who are the most marginalized, discriminated against, and oppressed.
Today is Rosh Chodesh Nissan, the month whose name comes from a breakthrough of the miraculous into the natural order, transforming subjugation and constraint into equality, both in Biblical times and today. “נס” the Hebrew root of the month’s name, alludes to revolting against the status quo of oppression, rising up, and elevating the downtrodden. These two letters invite us to be part of the miraculous revolution of restorative religion.
In the alphabetic acrostic of psalm 145, Ashrei, the letter “נ” is absent because it represents נפילה falling. It is for that reason that the next line starts with “ס”, “Supporting all those who have fallen.” The “ס”, resemboling a circle, is the ubiquitous symbol for equality, in that every place on the circumference is equidistant from the epicenter. This is the banner (also נס in Hebrew) of our national struggle and the charge of today’s spiritual resistance.
The “ס” is also the 15th letter in the Hebrew alphabet and corresponds to the 15 steps in the Haggadah that we read on the 15th of this month, when the moon is most full to reflect the light of its source and inspire us to do the same. This year, the first day of Passover is also Trans Day of Visibility.
When conversations about access to sacred spaces have nothing to do with God, then there is nothing sacred about the space or the conversation. However, if we can recenter our priorities, seeing the physical needs of another as part of our spiritual service then even in mondane spaces, there is much holiness. Nissan is a call to refocus our sights on those who have been denied equality and free all those who are still enslaved by the many systems of oppressions. When you are accustomed to discrimination, equality feels like liberation.