Torah, Gender, and Clothing

Image: JoJo the toy poodle does not wear clothes, which solves the problem.

לֹא־יִהְיֶ֤ה כְלִי־גֶ֙בֶר֙ עַל־אִשָּׁ֔ה וְלֹא־יִלְבַּ֥שׁ גֶּ֖בֶר שִׂמְלַ֣ת אִשָּׁ֑ה כִּ֧י תוֹעֲבַ֛ת יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֶ֖יךָ כָּל־עֹ֥שֵׂה אֵֽלֶּה׃ (פ)
A woman must not put on man’s apparel, nor shall a man wear woman’s clothing; for whoever does these things is abhorrent to the LORD your God. — Deuteronomy 22

For the past few months, I have been accompanying a young woman as she goes through the grueling process of preparing for gender affirming surgery. There are still many months ahead of her, and I am committed to accompanying her through those as well.

I do not pretend to be anything but a support person and a learner. Most of what I have learned is a deep respect for those individuals who choose the life-affirming path of owning their proper gender, whatever medical modalities they choose or do not choose to employ. They begin in a painful, confusing situation. They have to figure it all out despite opposition that may be psychologically and/or physically violent.

So when I read this week’s Torah portion and the quotation above unrolled before me, I immediately thought of all the ways it has been used to hurt people dealing with gender dysphoria.

It’s one of those lines that seems so obvious we don’t look twice. “No crossdressing!”

Except — what if it is actually a commandment to respect the gender identity of others? If my young friend is certain she is a woman, then according to this verse, forcing her to wear men’s clothing is a to’evah — an abhorrent thing!

Ben Bag Bag said, “Turn it and turn it, for everything is in it.” Our first impressions of verses from Torah may be clouded by many elements, including our prejudices. May we continue to “turn it and turn it” until our understanding is in line with the main thrust of Torah, which calls for peace and wholeness for all!

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Rabbi Ruth Adar is a teaching rabbi in San Leandro, CA. She has many hats: rabbi, granny, and ham radio operator K6RAV. She blogs at and teaches at Jewish Gateways in Albany, CA.

4 thoughts on “Torah, Gender, and Clothing”

  1. I love how you flipped the conversation/the teaching to fit our modern-day perspective, yet keeping it with the spirit/intent of the law. Thank you for sharing your wisdom.

  2. This part of Deuteronomy seems to get cherry picked and trotted out by folk who are trying to build support for their particular point of view. Then there is the whole argument of what is mens clothing and what is womens clothing. Certainly at the time of writing men were not wearing trousers, tunics were the fashion of the day. So does this refer to women wearing trousers today? And if you go into a shop and buy trousers in the womens section, are you wearing mens or womens clothing? If people are so keen on this particular quote, I wonder what their views are on Deuteronomy 22: 13-29. Are they equally supportive of proving a bride’s virginity, stoning women raped in a city to death, stoning to death adulterers, and forcing women raped in the countryside to marry their rapists?

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