The Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association, at its annual meeting, overwhelmingly approved an expansive resolution affirming the full inclusion, equality, and welcoming of all transgender, non-binary and gender non-conforming individuals. (The full text of the resolution is included below.)
The resolution commits the RRA to work for “full inclusion, acceptance, appreciation, celebration and welcome of people of all gender identities in Jewish life and in society at large.” The document also “strongly advocates for the full equality of transgender, non-binary, and gender non-confirming people and for equal protections for people of all gender identities under the law, at all levels of government, in North America and Israel.”
In keeping with the ethos of Reconstructionist Judaism, the resolution’s passage followed a democratic and deliberative process. Over the past year, representatives from Reconstructionist congregations, as well as the Board of Governors of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, approved similar resolutions. All of the central organizational bodies representing Reconstructionists have now raised their collective moral voice.
The RRA vote comes about a year and a half after the Union for Reform Judaism passed its Resolution on the Rights of Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming People. Our association congratulates the URJ on their leadership on these issues, and we also thank the various Jewish advocacy organizations that have worked for years now developing resources and providing skillful advocacy on these issues. We are pleased to join the ranks of a growing number of Jewish religious and cultural institutions formally affirming transgender inclusion and establishing new policy guidelines. At a time when the newly achieved civil rights of transgender, non-binary, and gender non-conforming people are under attack in the U.S., a large portion of North American Jewry is speaking loudly and clearly on this issue.
Our resolution aims to be much more than words on a page or a screen. It’s a blueprint for action. Already, our movement has taken great strides. The Reconstructionist Rabbinical College has graduated rabbis who identify as transgender, non-binary or gender non-conforming. The culture of RRC has benefited enormously from a student body that approaches the full diversity of the progressive Jewish experience.
Individually, congregations have been taking steps toward the full inclusion of people of all gender identities. Congregation Bet Haverim in Atlanta is in the process of creating a fully-inclusive hevra kadisha (burial society) that will ensure that Jews of all genders will have access to respectful and traditional rites throughout their entire life-cycle. Other congregations have been experimenting with methods of calling people up to Torah using non-binary and gender-neutral language.
Under this resolution, efforts will be made to aggregate and share these innovations among the approximately 100 congregations and 350 rabbis of the Reconstructionist movement. In addition, the movement’s searchable website for ritual resources, Ritualwell.org, will be expanding its existing resources giving expression to all-gender-inclusive values.
“We are also committed to being in the forefront of efforts to keep the hard-won rights the trans community has recently gained and working to expand them through our advocacy and political work,” said Rabbi Elyse Wechterman, RRA Executive Director. “Trans rights, like LGBQ rights, women’s rights, rights for the disabled and people of color, are human rights. We are committed to bringing our understanding of Betzelem Elohim (the creation of all humanity in God’s image) into the public square, especially at a time when all those rights are increasingly being threatened.”
The RRA is the professional association and rabbinic voice of over 350 Reconstructionist Rabbis. It provides professional development, resources, collegial connections and a leading voice for Reconstructionist Judaism in North America.
The following resolution was passed by the plenum of the Reconstructionist movement on December 4, 2016, and approved by the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association at its convention on March 28, 2017.
Whereas one of the core principles of Torah asserts that all humanity is created b’tzelem Elohim, in the image of God; and
Whereas throughout human history several cultures have recognized a diversity of genders; and
Whereas the Jewish people, in the literature of halakhah, from early midrash, the Mishnah and onward, bears witness to and acknowledges a variety of non-binary genders, concluding that people of transgender experience have the obligations and privileges of all Jews; and
Whereas people of non-binary gender expression, transgender, and gender non-conforming people individually and collectively contribute positively to the quality of life, faith, Jewish study and tikkun olam work within various institutions affiliated with the Reconstructionist movement and throughout the Jewish world; and
Whereas transgender, non-binary, and gender non-conforming people provide valuable rabbinic, educational, pastoral, and lay leadership within the Reconstructionist movement and in other arenas of Jewish life; and
Whereas a growing number of Jewish secular and religious organizations have recognized the Jewish moral imperative of affirming, supporting, and fully welcoming transgender, non-binary, and gender non-conforming people;
Therefore, be it resolved that we commit to the full inclusion, acceptance, appreciation, celebration and welcome of people of all gender identities in Jewish life and in society at large; and
Be it further resolved that we condemn and grieve all instances of bias, discrimination, violence, hatred, and intimidation against transgender, non-binary, and gender non-conforming individuals; and
Be it further resolved that the Reconstructionist movement strongly advocates for the full equality of transgender, non-binary, and gender non-conforming people and for equal protections for people of all gender identities and expressions under the law, at all levels of government, in North America and in Israel; and
Be it further resolved that we encourage all programs affiliated with the Reconstructionist movement, including the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association, all Reconstructionist affiliates and Camp JRF, to continue to educate themselves, their employees and their constituencies about the needs and rights of transgender and gender non-conforming people, so as to create fully inclusive settings; and
Be it further resolved that we encourage all Reconstructionist movement bodies and affiliated groups to learn about people of all gender identities and expressions, including learning about the gifts, aspirations, realities and needs of transgender, non-binary, and gender non-conforming people; and
Be it further resolved that we encourage all those involved in the Reconstructionist movement to work towards the goal of creating gatherings that are fully welcoming, safe spaces for transgender, non-binary, and gender non-conforming people, and towards those ends, to evaluate and, where necessary, to modify physical sites and workplaces in an effort to ensure dignity and safety for people of all gender identities and expressions. We urge Reconstructionist-affiliated groups to ensure, as soon as is feasible, the availability of all-gender restrooms in all facilities and at all events as one example of this commitment; and
Be it further resolved that we encourage Reconstructionist communities and organizations to learn about emerging practices in the Jewish community that seek to integrate the presence and experiences of transgender, non-binary, and gender non-conforming people into our liturgy and expressions of worship. We also encourage Reconstructionist rabbis, educators, and lay leaders to contribute to and continue their development of these kinds of new liturgical and ritual expressions; and
Be it further resolved that we encourage Reconstructionist organizations to educate themselves and their constituencies about the need of transgender, non-binary, and gender non-conforming people to be known by the identity, name, and pronoun of their choice, and to learn about ways that everyday language choices can be modified so that they are fully inclusive of gender non-conforming and transgender people; and
Be it further resolved that we encourage, and will endeavor to support, all Reconstructionist-affiliated institutions to begin or to continue to work with secular and/or Jewish transgender, lesbian, gay and bisexual organizations to create inclusive and welcoming communities for people of all gender identities and expressions and to spread awareness and increase knowledge of issues related to gender identity and expression. This work may include trainings for religious school and administrative staff, community education programs on gender identity and expression, divrei torah on these topics, development of non-discrimination policies which include gender identity and gender expression, and the creation of membership and other forms that eliminate the need to select a gender and/or offers more than two gender options, and more; and
Be it further resolved that the Department of Affiliate Support at RRC/Jewish Reconstructionist Communities will endeavor to provide Reconstructionist affiliates with resources and opportunities for education and training about welcoming and supporting transgender and gender non-conforming people; and
Be it further resolved that we commend the courageous and helpful work of Jewish and non-Jewish organizations that advocate and educate for the full inclusion of transgender, non-binary, and gender non-conforming people, including but not limited to such organizations as the National Center for Transgender Equality, TransTorah, Keshet, The Youth & Gender Media Project, Ritualwell, the tGq at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, and other organizational bodies within other movements of Judaism.
Expected outcomes include: the strengthening of the Reconstructionist movement and all affiliated groups through deepening our commitments to honoring the dignity of all people and the divine image in every human being; the enriching of Reconstructionist Jewish study and leadership as transgender, non-binary, and gender non-conforming community members are better supported and encouraged to fully realize their potential to contribute to the flourishing of Reconstructionist Judaism; the increase of righteousness in society as the human and civil rights of gender non-conforming and transgender persons are addressed.
Funding for the implementation of this resolution will be made in accordance with the overall mandates of the affected organizations and the funds available.