“A woman should not put on the apparel of a man; nor should a man wear the clothing of a woman – for whoever does these things – it is a to’evah [completely off-limits behaviour] to the Eternal your God.” (Deuteronomy 22:5)
This one verse in the Torah is sometimes cited as support for modern strictness around the gender binary.
Some take the opinion that there are two fixed genders, and second that there are clear and agreed-upon rules for how those two genders should be expressed, especially where clothing is concerned.
However Keshet, the organisation that works for full LGBTQI+ equality and inclusion in Jewish life writes of this verse: “All of the mitzvot that are nestled around our verse point to a world of compassion, where we are careful not to damage relations between beings…
“According to Rashi this verse prohibits sexual betrayal, while for Rambam this verse prohibits idolatry. All of these readings understand the prohibition to be not about cross-dressing per se, but about damaging relationships between us, our neighbours, loved ones or God.”
Rabbis Elliot Kukla and Reuben Zellman further argue that Deuteronomy 22:5 teaches us we must not misrepresent our true gender to deceive someone else or in order to cause harm.
“When we try to conceal our uniqueness,” they write, “we cause ourselves pain. And when we ask others to obscure themselves, we cause harm to them.”
This echoes Rabbi Ethan Tucker who states that Jewish law makes allowance for difference and diversity and insists that we not erase our own.
Liberal Judaism celebrates this diversity as seen through ground-breaking projects, such as Twilight People, which celebrates the hidden history of transgender and gender-variant people.
Rabbi Leah Jordan is Liberal Judaism’s student chaplain