Politics, Sex & Gender

First Transgender Employee at Religiously Conservative University in America

Yeshiva University’s David and Ruth Gottesman Chair in English and Literature professor Joy Ladin has returned from a two year hiatus. Usually a teacher’s return to work isn’t a big news item. But Ladin has made headlines as the first transgender employee at a religiously conservative university in America (according to the National Center for Transgender Equality).
Boston’s CJP has picked up the unfortunately headlined NYPost article, but it’s still worth the read (just try to read between the sensationalized lines):

A Yeshiva University professor left two years ago as a man – and returned last week as a woman.Literature Professor Joy Ladin, formerly known as Jay Ladin, 47, showed up for her first day of school sporting pink lipstick, a tight purple shirt and a flirty black skirt. She cheerfully strutted through the doors of the Midtown campus’ main building, where she oversees the writing center.
Many at the Jewish university are horrified by the presence of the transgender professor. Some fear the news could cut alumni donations.
Ladin and the school won’t comment on the situation, but some rabbis are shocked that she’s still a member of the faculty.
“He’s not a woman. He’s a male with enlarged breasts,” said Rabbi Moshe Tendler, a senior dean at Yeshiva’s rabbinical school and a professor of biology and medical ethics. “He’s a person who represents a kind of amorality which runs counter to everything Yeshiva University stands for. There is just no leeway in Jewish law for a transsexual.
“There is no niche where he can hide out as a female without being in massive violation of Torah law, Torah ethics and Torah morality.”

But that’s just not true, as students who took my course on the many genders in the Mishna at the NHC Summer Institute could tell you. There are inclusive, welcoming tshuvot on the topic of Jewish transsexuals which can be found in some of the denominations of Judaism. Even Orthodoxy has a couple not-horrifically-negative tshuvot on transgender and intersex individuals. So Rabbi Tendler is clearly speaking from his own place of narrow opinion.
Over on Queerty, a transgender YU grad has commented on the article about Ladin. Her final sentence, “I’m not sure whether I wish for Professor Ladin to stay or be fired,” shows the complexity of this issue – even for supporters of transgender rights. I wish her much luck and strength as she navigates her place of employment.

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