I’ve been getting some requests to respond to some comments made by my teacher, R. Moshe Tendler as reported in today’s NYPost. For this latest YU controversy, the Post reports that one of YU’s faculty members recently underwent a sex-change operation:
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.1
Naturally some of YU’s religious faculty are none too pleased with this arrangement. Hence the quote from R. Tendler:
“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.”
Let me state for the record that although I am his student, I am in no way R. Tendler’s spokesperson – he is quite capable of expressing himself without my help and the following explanation does not necessarily represent his views.
That said, in the past R. Tendler has often provided quotes, which when taken as soundbites may seem fanatical. However, his quotes are usually the summation of a logical and coherent (although occasional controversial) argument which does not often get reported.
In this case, I believe that R. Tendler is making two arguments. The first is that Jewish law does not recognize sex changes as a legitimate change in one’s halakhic status; if someone was born male, then Jewish law considers him to be a male regardless of any subsequent medical procedures. That being the case, R. Tendler’s second point is that independent of any potential halakhic problems with the sex-change operation itself, a man who lives and acts as a woman would wind up violating multiple prohibitions as well as the moral spirit of Jewish law.
While certainly not politically correct, R. Tendler’s position is defensible. Gender, according to Torah Law, is not (only) a social construct but a biological designation and thus not subject to change. Furthermore, as we have discussed elsewhere, the dual Torah is particularly sensitive and restrictive regarding matters of sexual impropriety such that by living as a woman Prof. Ladin would no doubt be violating some part of the Torah. As a prominent figure within a religious institution, R. Tendler is certainly within his rights to express this pesak.
The next question is why R. Tendler would give such a quote in the first place, given the expected backlash. Politically speaking, even if one were to agree with R. Tendler’s statements, it would probably be wiser not to voice them in such a tone in a public forum. As the article notes, it is unlikely that YU will risk yet another sex discrimination related lawsuit by firing Prof. Ladin, and I doubt R. Tendler thinks he’s going to change anyone’s mind.
My sense is that R. Tendler felt the need to set the record straight regarding what he saw as YU condoning something which he sees as halakhically unacceptable. Furthermore, I am guessing R. Tendler is reacting adversely to society’s increasing acceptance and tolerance of GLBT lifestyles, not so much as a matter of an illegitimate identity, but of being violations of Jewish law as he sees it.
I have no doubt that R. Tendler’s comments will generate much discussion and likely criticism and ridicule.
I can also predict that R. Tendler will not care one bit.
1. Though from the looks of the Post’s picture, the skirt does appear to cover the knees.
Forgetting for a moment about the political correctness aspects, what about the double standard here?
Is Prof. Ladin Jewish? If not, what’s the basis for saying Ladin is doing anything against the Torah? I’m no expert, but intuitively it seems like a pretty big stretch to call kli gever/beged ish(a) one of the sheva b’nei noach.
And let’s assume Ladin is Jewish. Why is this any worse than any of the many born-Jewish professors at YU who are openly michallel shabbat, eat treif, profess anti-religious views, etc. I was in the YU system for almost a decade, and while I heard R’ Tendler offer outspoken opinions on many, many subjects, he never said a word about this, and often spoke or co-hosted events with secular Jewish professors.
In short, how can R’ Tendler pick and choose which aveirot secular professors can indulge in without sounding bigoted rather than a kanai for Hashem?
Please also note the “context” around the quote in the article.
If they had led into the the quote with “Some Rabbis were concerned as to the effect this may have on the University’s adopted mission of “Torah U’maddah” (translate any way you like…)”
As opposed to “shock” the teacher was still on the faculty. (They did not quote R’ Tendler expressing shock or that he would advocate firing the professor at this point).
Hillel – Great point if he’s Jewish, I’m assuming the answer is yes for the moment.
The question of picking and choosing is a little more complicated. I’m sure if a reporter asked R. Tendler what his thoughts were on Jewish YU professors who don’t keep kosher, R. Tendler would also provide a quotable response. R. Tendler does not shy away from controversial comments, but it’s not his style to seek out reporters to vent his frustrations with YU – even for something with which he disagrees strongly.
In terms of the tone of this comment, I conjecture that the differences are 1. the Torah’s general stringencies in matters of ‘arayot and 2. the overt and visible nature of the action in question. Meaning, R. Tendler may be more critical of a Jewish professor who eats treif in the classroom than one who does so privately.
In the realm of sexual ethics do you think he should be commenting given the problem he is having with two of his own children?
Do you think R’ Tendler would co-host a YU event w/Prof Ladin? Would he speak jointly with Ladin at a YU event? [He has done these things with secular professors at YU] On the flip side, if a reporter called him up and asked what he thought about secular professor X eating treif and violating shabbat, would he say that professor “represents a kind of amorality which runs counter to everything Yeshiva University stands for” and is “in massive violation of Torah law, Torah ethics and Torah morality”?? [I agree he’d say something quotable, but do you believe he’d say something that extreme?]
I personally think the answer is no to all these questions, which is why I feel there’s a double standard; some really asur things (which are common in society) are accepted as OK, but other really asur things (which are uncommon) evoke visceral reactions. That’s not right.
You, however, know R’ Tendler far better than I do. What do you think his response would be to those situations?
PS: When I say above “accepted as OK”, I don’t suggest anyone thinks they’re mutar, just that there’s a begrudging live-and-let-live approach to some aveirot and a zero-tolerance approach to others. The problem is that the approach taken has nothing to do with the significance of the aveira in Torah terms (where michallel shabbat is presumably far worse than kli gever), but in terms of what ‘we as a society’ (with all its non-Jewish influences) consider to be bad or wrong or ‘abnormal’.
Jonboy – I’m sure many other people are making similar arguments, but I’ve generally been opposed to that line of reasoning. One of my teachers explained the gemara in B. Shabbat 114a that a Hacham who has a stain on his shirt is hayav mita as referring to any “mark” on someone’s character or credibility, such that when the Haham would issue a pesak, his detracters would point to his personal stain, effectively saying “yeah but…” etc.
I don’t know the details of his sons’ cases, but I’m sure R. Tendler does not approve of inapropriate actions, and just because he does not condemn his sons publically does not mean that he condones any prohibited behavior. What his sons may or may not have done does not, to my mind, impact the validity his halakhic argument.
The Tzitz Eliezer rules that a woman whose husband had sex changing surgery would not require a get. Qiddushin is defined as involving a man and a woman, and there is now two women.
The difference is that this professor is taking hormones, but did not have surgery. His spouse would be married to an androgynous, at most.
I agree with Hillel’s observations that our priorities do not match the Torah’s. Homosexuality is called “to’eivah”. Well, so it merely owning the tools to be dishonest in business (see Rashi, “even va’aven” does not refer to actually using the two sets of weights). And yet, while we recoil at one to’eivah, the guy we all know is doing the other will use those ill-gotten gains to “buy himself” a position on our school’s or shul’s board and a seat on its east wall…
Why is no one discussing the controvery of this person wearing those shoes with that outfit? If I were going to have my likeness splashed across a newspaper and the orthodox world I would have at least worn a cute little kitten heel or something.
I know that this is a really old post, and maybe one of your myriad readers has already pointed this out. I think there is an error of interpretation in your entry that may or not affect the arguments you’ve made. You write that
For this latest YU controversy, the Post reports that one of YU’s faculty members recently underwent a sex-change operation,
quoting the NY Post article to support this:
A Yeshiva University professor left two years ago as a man – and returned last week as a woman.
In fact, Prof. Ladin has NOT yet undergone a “sex-change operation,” as the vulgar and mean-spirited reference in the article to Ladin’s memoir delightfully points out.