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Gender Diversity: Hinei Tov m'od

Updated: Nov 13, 2021

With gratitude to the scholarly work of Rabbi Nikki DeBlosi whose writing helped shape my thinking for this sermon. I rely heavily on her work in "Making Room for “They”: A Yes, And Approach to Nonbinary Inclusion and Single-Gender Spaces" which was co-authored by Rabbi DeBlosi and Bonz Swencionis. CCAR Journal Spring 2021.

There’s nothing like a new beginning--- and tonight, this Shabbat, offers us one in a beautiful package: parashat Bereshit invites us into imagine those first moments of existence.

It’s really stunning to imagine----

Tohu v’vohu.

Nothingness. Unformed chaos.

And then slowly--- l’at l’at.






Oceans and dry land.

Day by day, with each act of creation:

God speaks a diversity of life into being,

that quite literally exceeds the human minds capacity to grasp.

So much diversity: beasts of the field, fish in the sea, fowl to fill the sky with beating wings.

And then, us.

וַיִּבְרָ֨א אֱלֹהִ֤ים ׀ אֶת־הָֽאָדָם֙ בְּצַלְמ֔וֹ בְּצֶ֥לֶם אֱלֹהִ֖ים בָּרָ֣א אֹת֑וֹ זָכָ֥ר וּנְקֵבָ֖ה בָּרָ֥א אֹתָֽם

Verse 27 reads: And God created Adam in his image,

in the image of God, God created him, male and female, God created them.

The Hebrew is unavoidably gendered, and yet—despite how much we may want to ask

“but what’s the literal translation”, it’s tricky.

Those last four words have echoed down through the generations: for some, acting like a mirror to the world as they experience it. And for others, presenting a troubling representation of a human experience that is foreign for them.

Zachar u’nkeivah bara otam.

Male and female, (he) created them.

Somehow--- are we to imagine that God suddenly loses the creative urge?

That somehow God can create 10s of thousands of species of fish--- cheetahs, jaguars, leopards, tigers, lions, and cougars, more than 400,000 types of flowering plants---

but only male or female? .

Zachar u’nkeivah bara otam.

When I think about the beauty of the first chapter of Genesis,

we are missing out if we believe that God’s creative impulse ended

with the creation of simply male or simply female.

My teacher Rabbi Margaret Moers Wenig writes:

“Zachar un’kevah” is, I believe, a merism, a common biblical figure of speech in which a whole is alluded to by some of its parts. When the biblical text says, “there was evening, there was morn- ing, the first day,” it means, of course, that there was evening, there was dawn, there was morning, there was noontime, there was afternoon, there was dusk . . . all in the first day. the terms “evening” and “morning” are used to encompass all the times of day, all the qualities of light that would be found over the course of one day. So too in the case of this verse, the whole diverse pan- oply of genders and gender identities is encompassed by only two words, “male” and “female.” therefore, read not God cre- ated every human being as either male or female, but rather, God created humankind zachar un’kevah: male and female and every combination in between.

And even still, we know through our own experiences, that the binary is an all too natural default. My friend and colleague Rabbi Nikki DeBlosi explores those four words in a recently published article entitled “Making Room for “They”: A Yes, And Approach to Nonbinary Inclusion and Single-Gender Spaces”. She tells a story about her own childs’ experience in Kindergarten, when the teacher tells the class it’s time to return to their tables,

and says “ok, boys--- stand up first and head back to your table, and after that, girls, please stand up and go back to your tables.”. Her child sat frozen on the rug--- not misunderstanding the instruction, or being obstinate, but rather- as they later reported to their mother, “You know I’m a they, right? The teachers don’t make room for ‘they’”.

This is not only about gender pronouns--- though those are certainly a concrete and relevant example. I would invite you to consider with me for a moment what it means to make space for “they” both literally and figuratively--- How we might better make room for ‘they’ in our own communal spaces? How might our sanctuary, our classrooms, our choir rehearsals and lunch and learns yoga classes and meditation groups and Parent Associations and Hebrew classes become even better at making room for they?

There are concrete things we do--- and here at Hevreh we are always trying to do better.

Sharing our pronouns especially in spaces where we believe or know everyone to be cisgender, is a way of normalizing the practice. It also models the practice of those

with the most privilege using that privilege in order to create inclusive norms for everyone.

We try to offer inclusive and more gender-neutral greetings when speaking to a large group—leaning into Rabbi Hirsch’s Texan “Y’all” as preferential to “Good evening ladies and gentlemen.” And still we know we can do more, and better.

How might we make each person who enters our spaces feel that this community is “prepared for their existence?”[1] Not that they are an afterthought to a space

that is binary by default, but they are entering into a community

that is prepared for everyone. Torah is prepared to hold the multiplicity of existence that makes up the human experience. The question is, are we? As Rabbi DeBlosi notes in her article,we cannot do nothing for fear of failure.

She writes,

“especially for those new to the conversation around sex and gender diversity, it may seem impossibly delicate …we cannot let our fear of offending or failing obstruct our ethical aim. Performing inclusion “perfectly” is not the goal; engaging with the process well, and in good faith, is. [A] key first step is to listen without defensiveness to the ex- perience of trans and nonbinary folx who have already made their stories and expertise public.”[2]

As many of you heard me talk about on Yom Kippur, I am keenly interested in thinking about belonging, and what it means for us as a community. In my mind, belonging is different than inclusion--- belonging is about co-creating a space, rather than simply inviting people to fit into a space that already exists. Around the conversation of gender, I think this means asking “how might we encode this into the DNA of our community rather than waiting for someone to show up and say “I’m non-binary, or I’m trans or my pronouns are he/they”

and then hoping we get it right?

And so, in the spirit of sharing and trusting the expertise of non-binary and trans-folx

who have made their wisdom publicly available,I want to conclude with a beautiful take on our question that is offered by a Christian thinker who is non-binary. I want to note, in the spirit of expanding our notion of where expertise might come from, that this was a thread they posted on twitter, that received more than 1,500 retweets.

Michaela Nicole wrote:

“i'm nonbinary.

how does this reconcile with the verse, "male and female he created them," you may ask?

the variety in God's creation emphasizes God's creativity as an artist. Genesis gives us several examples of this.”

They go on, saying:

“God made "day and night." this sounds like a binary, similar to "male and female," right? that isn't quite all we experience in 24 hours. sunrises and sunsets do not fit into the binary of day or night. yet God paints the skies with these too.On the second day God separated the sky from water. seems like another binary.

yet the clouds hold water for us in the sky, the condensation and rain cycle refreshing our earth constantly.

the sky, separate from water,

contains and releases water.

God also said "Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear."

that isn't the full story, either.

consider marshes, swamps, bogs, and fens.

not fully land, not fully waters.

there is such glorious variety in God's creation.

We see another binary in the celestial bodies God made: "the greater light to rule the day

and the lesser light to rule the night."

and then, almost as a footnote, "and the stars."

there is more than just sun and moon in outer space. planets, asteroids, black holes, supernovae.

"God created the great sea monsters"

and "every winged bird of every kind."

a split again between water and sky.

yet we see creatures like penguins that are definitely a "winged bird," but do not fly and instead walk and swim.”[3]

וַיִּבְרָ֨א אֱלֹהִ֤ים ׀ אֶת־הָֽאָדָם֙ בְּצַלְמ֔וֹ בְּצֶ֥לֶם אֱלֹהִ֖ים בָּרָ֣א אֹת֑וֹ זָכָ֥ר וּנְקֵבָ֖ה בָּרָ֥א אֹתָֽם

Zachar u’nkeivah bara otam. Male and female, (he) created them.

V’gam, and also: transwomen and men. Non-binary folx. Gender fluid people. Intersex. Androgynos. Bara Otam. God created them.

V’gam, and also: women who aren’t quiet and sweet, men who cry, boys who prefer to dance and girls who can score a touchdown. Bara Otam. God created them.

And let us not forget the first half of that verse:

וַיִּבְרָ֨א אֱלֹהִ֤ים ׀ אֶת־הָֽאָדָם֙ בְּצַלְמ֔וֹ בְּצֶ֥לֶם אֱלֹהִ֖י

And God--- Elohim, that plural name for God

containing multitudes, created humans in God’s own image--- in the image of God were they created. With each day of creation, we read that God surveys all of that divine handiwork and declares “Vayehi tov”--- this is good. A sense of gratitude and appreciation

For the full range of creation, in all of it’s varied glory is encoded within the Jewish tradition--we read that when God creates human beings, they are created b’tzelem Elohim- in the image of God.

Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu melech ha'olam, m'shaneh habriyot

Blessed are You, Adonai our God, ruler of the universe,

who makes your creations different.

Hinei Tov M’od--- and that, is very good.

[1] DeBlosi article [2] DeBlosi [3] Twitter.

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