Torah For Today! This week: Olympic athlete Caster Semenya

Torah For Today! This week: Olympic athlete Caster Semenya

Rabbi Abel looks at a controversial topical issue and offers an Orthodox Jewish response

Rabbi Ariel Abel

Ariel Abel is rabbi of the Liverpool Old Hebrew Congregation

Caster Semenya
Caster Semenya

 Caster Semenya is a female athlete but has testosterone levels three times higher than normal, owing to a condition called hyperandrogenism. The International Association of Athletics Federations has ruled that the gold medal-winning sportswoman cannot compete in women’s events. So, what does the Torah say about this?

It instructs that no person with an unfair advantage, even if it is born out of suffering, should be allowed to exercise that advantage. Even a poor person must not be favoured by a judge and given special consideration.

Nowadays, the issues around lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and those who are intersex, which Semenya may be, add
a socio-political element to the argument on whether to simply accept the stated gender of a person.

The Torah is not interested in the identity itself regarding fairness, but rather the advantage it confers.

Therefore, the fact Semenya has a female partner who wore female
traditional dress to their wedding while she herself wore male dress does not impact on a question regarding whether Semenya has an advantage against other co-competitors they could not physically match.

In Judaism, medical data, not social or political commentary, would be the indicator to any form of physical bar or limit.

According to classical Judaism, women’s testimony has not been admissible to the Beth Din in judicial matters, except for in the most serious cases of personal status, such as claims over child parentage or a widow seeking permission to remarry. Paradoxically, despite the non-admission of female testimony in everyday civil cases, in matters most personal, a woman’s evidence is admissible.

Perhaps halacha will expand further its view on female testimony. Biblical practice shows that Deborah the prophetess acted as a judge, an example not of gender but the capabilities of a person that are assessed, as in Semenya’s case.

  •  Rabbi Abel serves Liverpool Old Hebrew Congregation and is padre to HM Armed Forces
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