This week we enter into the Torah portion Ki Teitzei
, Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19; it contains a total of 74 mitzvot
or commandments. There are 613 commandments listed in the Torah and this week’s Torah portion contains the greatest number. This parshah
is always read in the Jewish month of Elul as we prepare for Rosh Hashanah. With all of the commandments mentioned in this week’s Torah, it serves as a reminder to us as we end the year and prepare for the next, we must be especially careful about our behavior towards others.
One of the commandments listed in this week has been used to harm those who identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer or Questioning, Intersex, Asexual (LGBTQIA) and Gender Non-Conforming folks. In Deuteronomy 22:5 it reads:
A man’s attire shall not be on a woman, nor may a man wear a woman’s garment because whoever does these [things] is an abomination to the Lord, your God.
Historically, many used this text to support laws banning cross-dressing, aka men wearing women’s clothes and women wearing men’s clothing. It’s still probably used today by some to condemn members of the LGBTQIA community and harm people who don’t fit neatly into the gender binary.
Here’s the funny Jews have never interpreted this text in such a narrow way. The Great Medieval Rabbi Rashi
explained that this verse is not simply a prohibition on wearing the clothes of the “opposite gender.” Rashi writes that such dress is prohibited only when it will lead to adultery. Maimonides
, a 12th-century codifier of Jewish law, claimed that this verse is actually intended to prohibit cross-dressing that is for purposes of idol worship. In other words, wearing clothes of the opposite gender is forbidden only when it is for the express purpose of causing harm to our relationship with our loved ones or to God. Otherwise, wearing clothing of the opposite gender is not prohibited, and it’s not an abomination.
The Torah is asking us not to misrepresent our true selves, which we can understand as using external garments to conceal our inner selves. Unfortunately, many LGBTQIA people often feel forced to hide their true selves. In our society, the penalty for expressing oneself as fully as LGBTQIA people is often severe and can include verbal, sexual, and physical abuse and discrimination. Many straight folks often feel the need to conform to gender norms and don’t feel they have the freedom to express their true selves.
Our Jewish tradition teaches us that each and every soul is created in the multifaceted image of the Creator. When we try to conceal who we are, we cause ourselves harm. And when we cover up our true souls and muffle our divine reflection underclothes that feel “wrong,” we are harming God’s creation; this is what is actually prohibited in the Torah.