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Tahara for Every Body: Rethinking Jewish End-Of-Life Rituals
11/10/2016 @ 7:00 pm - 9:00 pm CST
A Workshop with Noach Dzmura, editor of Balancing on the Mechitza: Transgender in Jewish Community
Ritual washing (tahara) at the end of a Jew’s life is a way the community honors the deceased body, the ‘meit/a.’ Traditionally, cis-men perform the ritual for cis-men; cis-women perform the ritual for cis-women (see glossary, below). Who performs this ritual for binary transgender and non-binary or gender non-conforming bodies? Even if the tahara team’s intention is to honor the lived-experience of the gender non-conforming person, how do you determine what the person’s gender is, if their body shape does not tell you? What does halacha (Jewish law) say about transgender and gender non-conforming bodies? How can a person who has a non-binary or trans gender identity serve on a tahara team? Who has the authority to say? How do we, as chevra kadisha members, prepare ourselves to provide k’vod hamet (honoring the deceased person) when we may not know all aspects of the person’s identity until we walk in the tahara room?
Our ultimate goal for this workshop is to learn from the lived experience of transgender people, working together to formulate a rationale for re-thinking Jewish gender and tahara practices. Noach will explore halachic aspects of gender, chevra kadisha authority and autonomy, and the customs (minhagim) that support historical tahara practices , which have excluded binary transgender and non-binary gender non-conforming bodies. What changes do we need to make to allow for cis- and trans- people to participate in this ritual in a way that honors trans and gender non-conforming bodies? What can trans- and gender non-conforming Jews do to help have their lived experience honored at the time of their deaths? What strategies can we put in place in Chicagoland to educate local tahara teams, and to form trans-inclusive, gender nonbinary, or mixed gender tahara teams?
Glossary: cisgender: denoting or relating to a person whose self-identity conforms with the gender that corresponds to their biological sex;
Noach Dzmura lives carefully and intentionally between many worlds. He is editor of the Lambda Literary Award winning anthology, Balancing on the Mechitza: Transgender in Jewish Community (2010, North Atlantic Books). He spent time in Israel at a pluralist Orthodox yeshiva as an ‘out’ transgender man. He received an MA in secular Jewish Studies from Berkeley’s Graduate Theological Union while at the same time learning mysticism and spirituality as a participant in Jewish meditation, Jewish shamanism and Sufi zikr (embodied prayer). He received private smicha (rabbinic ordination) from transwoman Rabbah Emily Aviva Kapor-Mater in 2012. Noach works to move Jewish culture away from an empty language of ‘tolerance’ and toward a practical, functional ‘openness’ that requires change on both sides of the equation.
Sponsored by the Anshe Emet Chevra Kadisha, Chicago Jewish Funerals, the Oak Park Chevra Kadisha, the Progressive Chevra Kadisha, Mishkan Chicago, and Svara: A Traditionally Radical Yeshiva. This workshop is free to the public, but pre-registration is encouraged.