The Bible Says What? ‘Cross-dressing is not just a choice’

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The Bible Says What? ‘Cross-dressing is not just a choice’

Rabbi Aaron Goldstein takes a controversial topic from the Torah and looks at a Liberal Jewish response

“A woman must not put on a man’s apparel, nor shall a man wear woman’s clothing; for whoever does these things is abhorrent to the Eternal your God” (Deuteronomy 22:5).

This line was part of my barmitzvah portion, although I never read it. 

Having a Liberal rabbi as a father gave licence to choose the sections
I was to read, and so anything considered inappropriate was missed out.

We remain Liberal and skip where today we find irrelevancy, but this verse is one I feel worth examining.

Jewish tradition, as with most traditions, was patriarchal and interested in a simple life. Clutter was undesirable, unfussy categorisation far easier to manage. The overarching idea was that if you create boundaries to keep everyone in a box, it creates order.

This was also applied to our understanding of the divine will. In this case, a binary understanding of gender and sexuality views a clothing style that differs from the expected norm as altering ‘God’s design’. 

There is a rather obvious problem with this, at least if our understanding is that cross-dressing and other gender and sexuality issues are not choices, but something of our being. 

If this is the natural order or God’s design, how do we explain the fact
of people who wish to cross-dress?

Younger generations constantly challenge us and generally lead to progression in society when they get to make the rules.

We cannot say that allowing complexity, fluidity of boundaries and a breaking down of binary thinking is easy. Far from it, and perhaps we are all struggling with that.

Yet in questioning ourselves, we may find ourselves describing long-held categories as prejudicial.

We may find ourselves less judgmental and more able to live according to an individual’s merits. 

  •  Aaron Goldstein is Senior Rabbi at Northwood & Pinner Liberal Synagogue

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