On June 14th, 2022, the Jewish news and culture outlet Tablet Magazine published an article by Jennifer Bilek — an openly transphobic writer known for advocating against medical transition — entitled The Billionaire Family Pushing Synthetic Sex Identities.” The following is an open letter written by Mishkan’s Directors and Rabbinic Team.


Letter to the Editor —

The Torah teaches that life and death are in the power of the tongue (Proverbs 18:21). Our tradition is unequivocal: when presented with this choice, we choose life, and we do that for every human being regardless of race, religion, nationality, and, certainly gender identity or expression. We use our words carefully because we know that words can stoke hatred and fear, and contribute to real violence done to real people.

We were sickened to see Jennifer Bilek’s piece “The Billionaire Family Pushing Synthetic Sex Identities (SSIs)” on your site in the News section this past week. Its combination of transphobia and anti-semitic tropes, would have been more fit for Breitbart or Der Stürmer. Bilek’s article promotes discrimination and violence against trans and non-binary individuals by calling their existence into question. By arguing for an immutable, dimorphic definition of sex, the author not only contradicts the preponderance of evidence supported by major medical bodies (such as the American Association of Pediatricians) but the wisdom of our own tradition. Judaism has long understood that people cannot be neatly divided into the categories of male and female. In fact, the rabbis of the Talmud recognized at least eight different ways that sex and gender might express itself – including intersex individuals, who account for 1 to 2 out of every 1000 births in this country. These are real people. By delegitimizing or denying their existence, Bilek – and by association, Tablet Magazine – have chosen death: giving power to the kind of hatred that pushes discriminatory legislation through our governmental bodies and emboldens those who would harm us.

2021 was the deadliest year on record for transgender and non-binary Americans, with 57 documented murders. We are already on track to surpass that number this year. This fact is particularly sobering during a month when we celebrate the incredible gains that the LGBTQ+ community has experienced over the past few decades, understanding that there is still work to be done. Discriminatory legislation targeting trans and non-binary folks is at an all time high — and much of it is aimed at the most vulnerable among us: children, BIPOC, and the under-resourced. In these moments, what we say matters. 

There is no place in our community for transphobia. It is neither legitimized by what we know to be true about sex and gender today nor does it find support in what we have known to be true about sex and gender for millennia, which Jewish tradition recognizes and reflects in our own sources, which this author takes no pains to mention. We are shocked and saddened to see that Tablet would publish such a piece on your site, playing into the worst stereotypes of Jews and into the most binary and inaccurate understandings of gender. 

At Mishkan, we choose life – to use our words and actions to protect, support, and affirm our trans and non-binary siblings, all of whom are images of the divine. You are welcome here. And if you were harmed in reading this piece, we hope you know whether it’s an LGBTQ+ affirming synagogue, or a Jewish queer affirming organization like SVARA or Keshet, you are loved, and you belong.

With hopes that you make teshuvah for this piece in some meaningful way,

Rabbis Steven Philp, Lizzi Heydemann, and Deena Cowans, along with the entire staff of Mishkan Chicago, which includes amazing people who teach and practice Judaism to our large and diverse community of trans, cisgender people, and non-binary people.