Cross-Dressing through the Ages (Beit Midrash)

This DIY program provides a sample source sheet for a text study which would examine the line in Deuteronomy which calls cross-dressing a to’evah (usually translated as “abomination.”) These texts trace the surprising evolution of this topic from Deteronomy to Talmud, to Rashi, to Maimonides, to Isserles, all the way to present day Rabbi Lisa Edwards. Text studies are traditionally in hevruta (or study pairs) but this structure may be modified as needed for the target group.

March 12, 2012

By JP Payne

Cross-Dressing through the Ages (Beit Midrash) Submitted by JP Payne

 

 Short Summary of Event:

A beit midrash (literally “house of study”) is a place for people to come together and engage with Jewish texts, from Torah, to Talmud, to the medieval sages, and up through modern voices. This event provides a sample source sheet for a text study which would examine the line in Deuteronomy which calls cross-dressing a to’evah (usually translated as “abomination.”) These texts trace the surprising evolution of this topic from Deteronomy to Talmud, to Rashi, to Maimonides, to Isserles, all the way to present day Rabbi Lisa Edwards. Text studies are traditionally in hevruta (or study pairs) but this structure may be modified as needed for the target group.

 

Materials Needed:

Two source sheets are provided: one is for the group leader (if there is one) which gives background information on the sources and suggests time intervals, and the other is for the participants.

Number of Participants: 10 – 25 participants

Time needed: The time allotments are for a two hour session and may be modified as needed for your group.

 

Goals for the Event:

  1. Examine and discuss the original verse of Deuteronomy, noticing any textual anomalies or
  2. Examine and discuss the classical commentaries on cross-dressing. Consider the implications these commentaries have on your own modern day
  3. Consider your own reaction to the Biblical verse and its subsequent commentaries, and reflect on the significance of these voices to your own understanding of gender and gender

 

Outline of Event:

1.) Introductions
Introduce the topic. It may be helpful for the group to explore the various nuances of the term cross-dressing at this time. Also please note that the sources themselves do not define the term.

Allow people to find a hevruta (usually a pair of learners.) In some groups, it may be helpful to pair according to preferred language of reading.

2.) Key Terms
cross-dressing — one definition may be, “wearing the clothes of a gender other than the one you identify most closely with”
to’evah — often translated as “abomination.” Another translation may be “taboo.”
minhag hamakom — Hebrew for “the custom of the place”
d’oraita — a Torah law; see leader’s source sheet for more information
d’rabbanan — a rabbinic law; see leader’s source sheet for more information

3.) Text study
Allow time for both hevruta (pairs) and group discussion.

4.) Conclusion
Allow participants to voice closing thoughts. Examples may include what significance they see for their community in the text, or what insight may have been gained from studying the evolution of the texts.

 

Source Sheet: Leader

THE TORAH SAYS

לֹא יִהְיֶה כְלִי גֶבֶר עַל אִשָּׁה וְלֹא יִלְבַּשׁ גֶּבֶר שִׂמְלַת אִשָּׁה כִּי תוֹעֲבַת יְיָ אֱלֹהֶיךָ כׇּל עֹשֵׂה אֵלֶּה

The items of a man should not be upon a woman; nor should a man wear the dress of a woman—for it is a to’evah [a thing completely off limits] to YHVH your God, everyone who does these things. 

Questions for discussion:
10 minutes for hevruta, 20 minutes for group discussion.

  1. Look at the structure of the sentence. In what way is it parallel or not parallel? What significance do you find in the sentence structure, if any?
  2. To’evah is often translated as “abomination.” The word appears in a few different contexts in the Bible. A few of them are: Hebrews eating with Egyptians (which is called to’evah to the Egyptians); eating nonkosher animals; a man lying with a man as with a woman. How do you see the relationship between these various acts, all called to’evah?
  3. What interest might our ancestors have had in upholding this commandment? What interest might some modern Jews have? What interest might God have?
  4. This verse appears in the context of a passage that deals with sacred obligations to each other and to God. How are outer garments and inner holiness related? Do the choices you make about clothing feel sacred to you? Does your relationship to other people and/or to God impact the way you choose to clothe yourself?

THE RABBIS EXPLAIN
Babylonian Talmud Nazir 59a (2nd-4th century CE)

 

The Talmud, also called the Oral Torah, is the founding text of Jewish law. Originally transmitted orally, it is the collection of rabbinic conversations that occurred in two or three centuries following the turn of the millennium. The conversations covered a wide range of topics from Torah commentary, to legal intricacies, ethics, philosophy, customs, anecdotes, and history. It was redacted (written down) around the years 500-700 (500 for the Mishnah, 700 for the Gemara).

 

תַּלְמוּד בַּבְלִי מַסֶּכֶת נָזִיר דַּף נט עַמּוּד א
רָבִּי אֱלִיעֶזֶר בָּן יַעֲקֹב אוֹמֵר: מִנַּיִן שֶׁלֹּא תֵּצֵא אִשָּׁה בִּכְלִי זַיִן לַמִּלְחָמָה? ת”ל לֹא יְהִי כְלִי גֶבֶר עַל אִשָּׁה, וְלֹא יִלְבַּשׁ גֶּבֶר שִׂמְלַת אִשָּׁה – שֶׁלֹּא יְתַקֵּן אִישׁ בְּתִקּוּנֵי אִשָּׁה

 

Rabbi Eliezer ben Yaakov says: “From where do we learn that a woman may not go out bearingweapons of war? We learn it from the verse: ‘A woman should not put on the apparel of a man’ [And the rest of the verse? How should we understand it?] ‘Nor should a man wear the clothing of a woman,’ [means that] a man should not adorn himself with women’s accessories.”

תַלְמוּד בַּבְלִי מַסֶּכֶת נָזִיר דַּף נט עַמּוּד א
לֹא יְהִי כְלִי גֶבֶר עַל אִשָּׁה – מַאי תַּלְמוּד לוֹמַר? אִם שֶׁלֹּא יִלְבַּשׁ אִישׁ שִׂמְלַת אִשָּׁה וְאִשָּׁה שִׂמְלַת אִישׁ, הָרֵי כְּבָר נֶאֱמָר תּוֹעֵבָה הִיא, וְאֵין כָּאן תּוֹעֵבָה! אֶלָּא, שֶׁלֹּא יִלְבַּשׁ אִישׁ שִׂמְלַת אִשָּׁה וְיָשַׁב בֵּין הַנָּשִׁים, וְאִשָּׁה שִׂמְלַת אִישׁ וְתֵשֵׁב בֵּין הָאֲנָשִׁים

“A woman should not put on the apparel of a man.” What does the Torah mean by this verse? You might think that it simply means that a man may not wear a woman’s garment and a  woman may not wear a man’s garment. And behold, it has already been said [by previous commentators in reference to this verse] that it is to’evah, completely off-limits! But there is no to’evah here! [Therefore], the verse must mean that a man may not wear women’s clothes in order to sit amongst women, and a woman must not wear men’s clothes and sit amongst men.

Rashi(c. 11th century)

Rashi was a French rabbi and author of extensive commentaries on the Torah and Talmud. We owe much of our understanding of these texts to Rashi’s commentary.

רָשִׁ”י דְּבָרִים פֶּרֶק כב פָּסוּק ה
לֹא יִהְיֶה כְלִי גֶבֶר עַל אִשָּׁה – שֶׁתְּהֵא דּוֹמֶה לְאִישׁ כְּדֵי שֶׁתֵּלֵךְ בֵּין הָאֲנָשִׁים, שֶׁאֵין זוֹ אֶלָּא לְשֵׁם נִאוּף, וְלֹא יִלְבַּשׁ גֶּבֶר שִׂמְלַת אִשָּׁה – לֵילֵךְ וְלִֵיְשַׁב בֵּין הַנָּשִׁים…כִּי תּוֹעֲבַת – לֹא אָסְרָה תּוֹרָה אֶלָּא לְבוּשׁ הַמֵּבִיא לִידֵי תּוֹעֵבָה

“A woman should not put on the apparel of a man. . .” that she will  resemble a man and go out amongst men for the purpose of adultery. “Nor should a man wear the clothing of a woman…” in order to sit amongst the women. As we learned [in Nazir 59a]. “It is completely off-limits behavior…” [Therefore] the Torah is not forbidding it except when garments lead to such off- limits behavior.

Question for Discussion:
1o minutes for hevruta, 20 minutes for group discussion

None of the classical commentators understand this verse literally as a Torah based ban on wearing the clothes of another gender. How do they understand this verse? Why do you think they reject a literal reading? What are each of the commentators concerned about? What kind of boundary(s) is each of them trying to protect?

 

MINHAG HA’MAKOM: HOW DO WE DEFINE CROSS-DRESSING?

Rambam, Sefer Hamitzvot, Lo Ta’aseh 40 (12th century)

סֶפֶר הַמִּצְווֹת לָרַמְבָּ”ם מִצְוֹת לֹא תַּעֲשֶׂה לט
וְהַמִצְוָה הל”ט הִיא שֶׁהִזְהִירָנוּ גַּם כֵּן מֵהֶמְשֵׁךְ אַחַר חֻקּוֹת הַכּוֹפְרִים שֶׁתִּהְיֶינָה הַנָּשִׁים לוֹבְשׁוֹת בִּגְדֵי הָאֲנָשִׁים וְתִתְקַשֵּׁטְנָה בְּתַכְשִׁיטֵיהֶם וְהוּא אָמְרוּ יִתְעַלֶּה (תֵּצֵא כב) לֹא יִהְיֶה כְלִי גֶבֶר עַל אִשָּׁה. וְכָל אִשָּׁה שֶׁתִּתְקַשֵּׁט בְּאֶחָד מִתַּכְשִׁיטֵי הָאֲנָשִׁים הַמְּפֻרְסָמִים בָּעִיר הַהִיא שֶׁזֶּה הוּא תַּכְשִׁיט מְיֻחָד לַאֲנָשִׁים לוֹקֶה

This commandment also forbids us to follow the customs of the heretics, in regard to women wearing the clothing of men, or their adornments. As [God] said [in the Torah]: “A woman should not put on the apparel of a man.” Any woman, who adorns herself in a way that is publicly known to be men’s accessories in the city where she lives, becomes liable to whipping.

סֶפֶר הַמִּצְווֹת לָרַמְבָּ”ם מִצְוֹת לֹא תַּעֲשֶׂה מ
וְהַמִצְוָה הָאַרְבָּעִים הִיא שֶׁהִזְהִיר הָאֲנָשִׁים גַּם כֵּן מֵהִתְקַשֵּׁט בְּתַכְשִׁיטֵי הַנָּשִׁים וְהוּא אָמַר וּיִתְעַלֶּה (שם) וְלֹא יִלְבַּשׁ גֶּבֶר שִׂמְלַת אִשָּׁה. וְכָל אָדָם שֶׁהִתְקַשֵּׁט גַּם כֵּן אוֹ לָבַשׁ מָה שֶׁהוּא מְפורסם בַּמָּקוֹם הַהוּא שֶׁהוּא תַּכְשִׁיט הַמְּיֻחָד לַנָּשִׁים לוֹקֶה. וְדַע שֶׁזֹּאת הַפְּעֻלָּה, כְּלוֹמַר הֱיוֹת הַנָּשִׁים מִתְקַשְּׁטוֹת בְּתַכְשִׁיטֵי הָאֲנָשִׁים אוֹ הָאֲנָשִׁים בְּתַכְשִׁיטֵי הַנָּשִׁים, פְּעָמִים תֵּעָשֶׂה לְעוֹרֵר הַטֶּבַע לְזִמָּה כְּמוֹ שֶׁהוּא מְפֻרְסָם אֵצֶל הַזּוֹנִים וּפְעָמִים יֵעָשֶׂה לַמִּינִים מֵעֲבוֹדַת עֲבוֹדָה זָרָה כְּמוֹ שֶׁהוּא מְבֹאָר בַּסְּפָרִים הַמְּחֻבָּרִים לְזֶה. וְהַרְבֵּה מַה שֶׁיֻּשַּׂם בִּתְנַאי בַּעֲשִׂיַּת קְצָת הַטּלאסם וְיֵאָמֵר אִם הָיָה הַמִּתְעַסֵּק בּוֹ אָדָם יִלְבַּשׁ בִּגְדֵי נָשִׂים וְיִתְקַשֵּׁט בְּזָהָב וּפְנִינִים וְהַדּוֹמִים לָהֶם וְאִם הָיְתָה אִשָּׁה תִּלְבַּשׁ הַשִּׁרְיֹן וְתִזְדַּיֵּן בְּחֲרַבוֹת. וְזֶה מְפֻרְסָם מְאֹד אֵצֶל בַּעֲלֵי דַּעַת זֹאת

 

This commandment also forbids men to adorn themselves with women’s accessories. As God said [in the Torah]: “Nor should a man wear the clothing of a woman. . .” Any man who adorns himself in a way that is publicly known to be women’s accessories in the place where he lives becomes liable to whipping.

 

Questions for Discussion:
10 minutes for hevruta, 20 minutes for group discussion.

  1. In the first paragraph, the author restates the original prohibition, with an addendum. What addendum is made? Why is it significant?
  2. What is our custom according to the place(s) we live in? How are the rabbinic contexts we have already discussed different from ours?
  3. What might account for these changes over time? How might those changes impact how we interpret and live out this verse?

WHEN IS CROSS-DRESSING PERMITTED?

 Moses Isserles, commentary to the Shulchan Aruch (16th century), Orach Chayim 696:8

Moses Isserles, born in Poland in the 1500s, was a rabbi, Talmudist, and posek, renowned for his writings on halacha, entitled ha- Mapah (lit., “the tablecloth”), an inline commentary on the Shulkhan Aruch.

The Shulchan Aruch (literally the “set table”) is the most authoritative legal code of Judaism. It was authored by Yosef Karo, also in the 1500s. Together with its commentary ha-Mapah, it is the most widely accepted compilation of Jewish law ever written.

שֻׁלְחָן עָרוּךְ אוֹרֵחַ חַיִּים סִימָן תִּרְצוּ סְעִיף ח
מֻתָּר לִשָּׂא אִשָּׁה בְּפוּרִים. הָגָה וּמַה שֶׁנָּהֲגוּ לִלְבֹּשׁ פַּרְצוּפִים בְּפוּרִים, וְגֶבֶר לוֹבֵשׁ שִׂמְלַת אִשָּׁה וְאִשָּׁה כְּלִי גֶּבֶר, אֵין אִסּוּר בַּדָּבָר מְאַחַר שֶׁאֵין מְכַוְנִין אֶלָּא לְשִׂמְחָה בְּעַלְמִא וְכֵן בִּלְבִישַׁת כּלאים דְּרַבָּנָן

In the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayyim 696:8) we read: “It is permitted [for a man] to dress as a woman on Purim.”

Rabbi Isserles comments on this text: “. . .so too the practice of dressing up in masks on Purim,  a man wearing the attire of a woman, and a woman wearing the accessories of a man—there is no prohibition of this, since what they are intending is merely joy, and furthermore the [prohibition of] wearing adornments is d’rabanan (1) (a rabbinic prohibition) [and is therefore of a lesser level of concern here].”

Rabbi Lisa Edwards, sermon (21st century)
Rabbi Lisa Edwards was ordained in 1994 by Hebrew Union College. She currently serves at Beth Chayim Chadashim, one of the world’s first LGBT outreach synagogues, in Los Angeles.

 

 . . .I want to draw our attention not only to this verse, but also to the seemingly unrelated verses that immediately precede it … The translation of these verses that we are most used to say: “If you see your fellow’s ox or sheep gone astray, do not ignore it; you must take it back to your fellow.” A bit later it says about returning any lost thing to your fellow: “you must not remain indifferent.” And finally it says “if you see your fellow’s donkey or ox fallen on the road, do not ignore it; you must help him lift it up.” [Deuteronomy 22:1-4]

The Hebrew actually says hitalamtah and l’hitaleim—not “ignore” or “be indifferent,” but rather a literal translation is, “do not hide yourself.”

“Ignore” and “be indifferent” are nice interpretations, but they are not translations. Hiding yourself is different from ignoring something or being indifferent to someone else’s plight, don’t you think? Hiding yourself is not only about shirking responsibility—it’s about closeting yourself. It’s about hoping no one will notice you, maybe it’s about hoping you won’t notice yourself— won’t notice who you really are. . . Perhaps this verse [when read in its fullest context] is about: not hiding yourself behind clothes that do not belong to you that do not show who you are, that do not allow you to feel like yourself when you are wearing them.

D’rabbanan refers to decrees issued by the rabbis after the Torah was given. It is considered to be as equally binding as Torah law (d’oraita). When considering the difference between d’oraita and d’rabbanan, it is important to note that d’oraita, or Torah law, refers to laws found explicitly in the Torah or laws derived from Torah by halakhically- sound exegetical methods. For example, the commandment to do no work on the Sabbath is d’oraita, as are the 39 categories of work forbidden. (The former is stated explicitly in the text, while the latter is derived from the text.) A very common subcategory of d’rabbanan is known as “gezeirah”, which refers to the category of law which “draws a fence around the Torah.” A gezeirah is a law issued by the rabbis to help people observe a Torah law. For example, the law not to write on Shabbat is d’oraita. However, the law not to touch a writing implement is d’rabbanan.Although both categories of law are considered by halacha (Jewish law) to be equally binding, there are some very important differences between the two when it comes to special cases, such as instances of doubt, extenuating circumstances, or conflicting laws. A Torah law is not considered changeable. A rabbinic law, in rare cases, may be subject to modification or revocation.

 

Questions for Discussion:
10 minutes for hevruta, 20 minutes for group discussion.

  1. Why does Isserles say cross-dressing is permitted on Purim? What is the purpose of cross- dressing on Purim?
  2. What might be surprising about Isserles’ statement that the prohibition is d’rabanan?
  3. How is R. Edwards’ commentary diverge from previous explanations? How does it build upon them?
  4. Considering the texts studied in this session, how do these sources’ understanding of gender presentation through compare with our society’s understanding? How do they compare with your own understanding of gender presentation?

 

Source Sheet: Participant

 THE TORAH SAYS

 Deuteronomy 22:5

לֹא יִהְיֶה כְלִי גֶבֶר עַל אִשָּׁה וְלֹא יִלְבַּשׁ גֶּבֶר שִׂמְלַת אִשָּׁה כִּי תוֹעֲבַת יְיָ אֱלֹהֶיךָ כׇּל עֹשֵׂה אֵלֶּה.

The items of a man should not be upon a woman; nor should a man wear the dress of a woman—for it is a to’evah [a thing completely off limits] to YHVH your God, everyone who does these things.

 

Questions for discussion:

  1. Look at the structure of the sentence. In what way is it parallel or not parallel? What significance do you find in the sentence structure, if any?
  2. To’evah is often translated as “abomination.” The word appears in a few different contexts in the Bible. A few of them are: Hebrews eating with Egyptians (which is called to’evah to the Egyptians); eating nonkosher animals; a man lying with a man as with a woman. How do you see the relationship between these various acts, all called to’evah?
  3. What interest might our ancestors have had in upholding this commandment? What interest might some modern Jews have? What interest might God have?
  4. This verse appears in the context of a passage that deals with sacred obligations to each other and to God. How are outer garments and inner holiness related? Do the choices you make about clothing feel sacred to you? Does your relationship to other people and/or to God impact the way you choose to clothe yourself?

 

THE RABBIS EXPLAIN

 Babylonian Talmud Nazir 59a (2nd—4th century CE)

תַּלְמוּד בַּבְלִי מַסֶּכֶת נָזִיר דַּף נט עַמּוּד א
רַבִּי אֱלִיעֶזֶר בָּן יַעֲקֹב אוֹמֵר: מִנַּיִן שֶׁלֹּא תֵּצֵא אִשָּׁה בִּכְלִי זַיִן לַמִּלְחָמָה? ת”ל: לֹא יִהְיֶה כְלִי גֶבֶר עַל אִשָּׁה, וְלֹא יִלְבַּשׁ גֶּבֶר שִׂמְלַת אִשָּׁה – שֶׁלֹּא יְתַקֵּן אִישׁ בְּתִקּוּנֵי אִשָּׁה

 

Rabbi Eliezer ben Yaakov says: “From where do we learn that a woman may not go out bearing weapons of war? We learn it from the verse: ‘A woman should not put on the apparel of a man’ [And the rest of the verse? How should we understand it?] ‘Nor should a man wear the clothing of a woman,’ [means that] a man should not adorn himself with women’s accessories.”

תַּלְמוּד בַּבְלִי מַסֶּכֶת נָזִיר דַּף נט עַמּוּד א
לֹא יִהְיֶה כְלִי גֶבֶר עַל אִשָּׁה – מַאי תַּלְמוּד לוֹמַר? אִם שֶׁלֹּא יִלְבַּשׁ אִישׁ שִׂמְלַת אִשָּׁה וְאִשָּׁה שִׂמְלַת אִישׁ, הָרֵי כְּבָר נֶאֱמָר תּוֹעֵבָה הִיא, וְאֵין כָּאן תּוֹעֵבָה! אֶלָּא, שֶׁלֹּא יִלְבַּשׁ אִישׁ שִׂמְלַת אִשָּׁה וְיָשַׁב בֵּין הַנָּשִׁים, וְאִשָּׁה שִׂמְלַת אִישׁ וְתֵשֵׁב בֵּין הָאֲנָשִׁים

“A woman should not put on the apparel of a man.” What does the Torah mean by this verse? You might think that it simply means that a man may not wear a woman’s garment and a  woman may not wear a man’s garment. And behold, it has already been said [by previous commentators in reference to this verse] that it is to’evah, completely off-limits! But there is no to’evah here! [Therefore], the verse must mean that a man may not wear women’s clothes in order to sit amongst women, and a woman must not wear men’s clothes and sit amongst men.

Rashi (c. 11th century)

רָשִׁ”י דְּבָרִים פֶּרֶק כב פָּסוּק ה
לֹא יִהְיֶה כְלִי גֶבֶר עַל אִשָּׁה – שֶׁתְּהֵא דּוֹמֶה לְאִישׁ כְּדֵי שֶׁתֵּלֵךְ בֵּין הָאֲנָשִׁים, שֶׁאֵין זוֹ אֶלָּא לְשֵׁם נִאוּף: וְלֹא יִלְבַּשׁ גֶּבֶר שִׂמְלַת אִשָּׁה – לֵילֵךְ וְלִישַׁב בֵּין הַנָּשִׁים…כִּי תּוֹעֲבַת – לֹא אָסְרָה תּוֹרָה אֶלָּא לִלְבֹּשׁ לְבוּשׁ הַמֵּבִיא לִידֵי תּוֹעֵבָה

“A woman should not put on the apparel of a man. . .” that she will resemble a man and go out amongst men for the purpose of adultery. “Nor should a man wear the clothing of a woman…” in order to sit amongst the women. As we learned [in Nazir 59a]. “It is completely off-limits behavior…” [Therefore] the Torah is not forbidding it except when garments lead to such off- limits behavior.

Question for Discussion:

None of the classical commentators understand this verse literally as a Torah based ban on wearing the clothes of another gender. How do they understand this verse? Why do you think they reject a literal reading? What are each of the commentators concerned about? What kind of boundary(s) is each of them trying to protect?

 

MINHAG HA’MAKOM: HOW DO WE DEFINE CROSS-DRESSING?

 Rambam, Sefer HaMitzvot, Lo Ta’aseh 40 (12th century)

This commandment also forbids us to follow the customs of the heretics, in regard to women wearing the clothing of men, or their adornments. As [God] said [in the Torah]: “A woman should not put on the apparel of a man.” Any woman, who adorns herself in a way that is publicly known to be men’s accessories in the city where she lives, becomes liable to whipping.

סֶפֶר הַמִּצְווֹת לָרַמְבָּ”ם מִצְוֹת לֹא תַּעֲשֶׂה לט
וְהַמִצְוָה הל”ט הִיא שֶׁהִזְהִירָנוּ גַּם כֵּן מֵהֶמְשֵׁךְ אַחַר חֻקּוֹת הַכּוֹפְרִים שֶׁתִּהְיֶינָה הַנָּשִׁים לוֹבְשׁוֹת בִּגְדֵי הָאֲנָשִׁים וְתִתְקַשֵּׁטְנָה בְּתַכְשִׁיטֵיהֶם וְהוּא אָמְרוּ יִתְעַלֶּה (תצא כב) לֹא יִהְיֶה כְלִי גֶבֶר עַל אִשָּׁה. וְכָל אִשָּׁה שֶׁתִּתְקַשֵּׁט בְּאֶחָד מִתַּכְשִׁיטֵי הָאֲנָשִׁים הַמְּפֻרְסָמִים בָּעִיר הַהִיא שֶׁזֶּה הוּא תַּכְשִׁיט מְיֻחָד לַאֲנָשִׁים לוֹקָה

This commandment also forbids men to adorn themselves with women’s accessories. As God said [in the Torah]: “Nor should a man wear the clothing of a woman. . .” Any man who adorns himself in a way that is publicly known to be women’s accessories in the place where he lives becomes liable to whipping. …

סֶפֶר הַמִּצְווֹת לָרַמְבָּ”ם מִצְוֹת לֹא תַּעֲשֶׂה מ
הַמִצְוָה הָאַרְבָּעִים הִיא שֶׁהִזְהִיר הָאֲנָשִׁים גַּם כֵּן מֵהִתְקַשֵּׁט בְּתַכְשִׁיטֵי הַנָּשִׁים וְהוּא אָמְרוּ יִתְעַלֶּה (שָׂם) וְלֹא יִלְבַּשׁ גֶּבֶר שִׂמְלַת אִשָּׁה. וְכָל אָדָם שֶׁיִּתְקַשֵּׁט גַּם כֵּן אוֹ לָבַשׁ מָה שֶׁהוּא מְפֻרְסָם בַּמָּקוֹם הַהוּא שֶׁהוּא תַּכְשִׁיט הַמְּיֻחָד לַנָּשִׁים לוֹקֶה. וְדַע שֶׁזֹּאת הַפְּעֻלָּה, כְּלוֹמַר הֱיוֹת הַנָּשִׁים מִתְקַשְּׁטוֹת בְּתַכְשִׁיטֵי הָאֲנָשִׁים אוֹ הָאֲנָשִׁים בְּתַכְשִׁיטֵי הַנָּשִׁים, פְּעָמִים תֵּעָשֶׂה לְעוֹרֵר הַטֶּבַע לְזִמָּה כְּמוֹ שֶׁהוּא מְפֻרְסָם אֵצֶל הַזּוֹנִים וּפְעָמִים יֵעָשֶׂה לַמִּינִים בַּעֲבוֹדַת עֲבוֹדָה זָרָה כְּמוֹ שֶׁהוּא מְבֹאָר בַּסְּפָרִים הַמְּחֻבָּרִים לְזֶה. וְהַרְבֵּה מַה שֶׁיֻּשַּׂם בִּתְנַאי בַּעֲשִׂיַּת קְצָת הַטִּלָּאסָם וְיאמר אִם הָיָה הַמִּתְעַסֵּק  בּוֹ אָדָם יִלְבַּשׁ בִּגְדֵי נָשִׂים וְיִתְקַשֵּׁט בְּזָהָב וּפְנִינִים וְהַדּוֹמִים לָהֶם וְאִם הָיְתָה אִשָּׁה תִּלְבַּשׁ הַשִּׁרְיֹן וְתִזְדַּיֵּן בַּחֲרֵבוֹת. וְזֶה מְפֻרְסָם מְאֹד אֵצֶל בַּעֲלֵי דֵּעָה זֹאת:

 

Questions for Discussion:

  1. In both passages, the author restates the original prohibition, with an addendum. What addendum is made? Why is it significant?
  2. What is our custom according to the place(s) we live in? How are the rabbinic contexts we have already discussed different from ours?
  3. What might account for these changes over time? How might those changes impact how we interpret and live out this verse?

WHEN IS CROSS-DRESSING PERMITTED?

Moses Isserles, commentary to the Shulchan Aruch (16th century), Orach Chayim 696:8

שֻׁלְחָן עָרוּךְ אוֹרחַ חַיִּים סִימָן תרצו סְעִיף ח
מֻתָּר לִשָּׂא אִשָּׁה בְּפוּרִים הגה: וּמַה שֶׁנָּהֲגוּ לִלְבֹּשׁ פַּרְצוּפִים בְּפוּרִים, וְגֶבֶר לוֹבֵשׁ שִׂמְלַת אִשָּׁה וְאִשָּׁה כְּלִי גֶּבֶר, אֵין אִסּוּר בַּדָּבָר מְאַחַר שֶׁאֵין מְכַוְנִין אֶלָּא לְשִׂמְחָה בְּעָלְמָא: וְכֵן בִּלְבִישַׁת כּלאים דְּרַבָּנָן.

 

In the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayyim 696:8) we read: “It is permitted [for a man] to dress as a woman on Purim.”

Rabbi Isserles comments on this text: “. . .so too the practice of dressing up in masks on Purim,  a man wearing the attire of a woman, and a woman wearing the accessories of a man—there is no prohibition of this, since what they are intending is merely joy, and furthermore the [prohibition of] wearing adornments is d’rabanan (a rabbinic prohibition) [and is therefore of a lesser level of concern].”

Rabbi Lisa Edwards, sermon (21st century)

. . .I want to draw our attention not only to this verse, but also to the seemingly unrelated verses that immediately precede it … The translation of these verses that we are most used to say: “If you see your fellow’s ox or sheep gone astray, do not ignore it; you must take it back to your fellow.” A bit later it says about returning any lost thing to your fellow: “you must not remain indifferent.” And finally it says “if you see your fellow’s donkey or ox fallen on the road, do not ignore it; you must help him lift it up.” [Deuteronomy 22:1-4]

The Hebrew actually says hitalamtah and l’hitaleim—not “ignore” or “be indifferent,” but rather a literal translation is, “do not hide yourself.”

“Ignore” and “be indifferent” are nice interpretations, but they are not translations. Hiding yourself is different from ignoring something or being indifferent to someone else’s plight, don’t you think? Hiding yourself is not only about shirking responsibility—it’s about closeting yourself. It’s about hoping no one will notice you, maybe it’s about hoping you won’t notice yourself— won’t notice who you really are. . . Perhaps this verse [when read in its fullest context] is about: not hiding yourself behind clothes that do not belong to you that do not show who you are, that do not allow you to feel like yourself when you are wearing them.

 

Questions for Discussion:

  1. Why does Isserles say cross-dressing is permitted on Purim? What is the purpose of cross- dressing on Purim?
  2. What might be surprising about Isserles’ statement that the prohibition is d’rabanan?
  3. How is R. Edwards’ commentary diverge from previous explanations? How does it build upon them?
  4. Considering the texts studied in this session, how do these sources’ understanding of gender presentation through compare with our society’s understanding? How do they compare with your own understanding of gender presentation?

 


 

Keshet

National Office

284 Amory Street
Boston, MA 02130
Phone: 617.524.9227

New York Office

368 9th Avenue
New York, NY 10001

San Francisco Office

2625 Alcatraz Ave
#275
Berkeley Ca, 94705

Chicago Office

4411 N Ravenswood Avenue
Suite 300
Chicago, IL 60640