By Rabbi Jonathan Freirich
Purim is almost here!
Costumes, celebrations, and caring – the three “C’s” of Purim – dressing up, gathering for joyous festivities, and sending gifts of sustenance to friends and those in need. This is a great Jewish celebration.
And, on top of all of that, Rabbi Mike Moskowitz, Scholar-in-Residence for Trans and Queer Jewish Studies at Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, the world’s largest LGBT synagogue, reminds us in his wonderful teaching, that Purim is the reason that traditional Judaism is pro-cross dressing.
Yes, you read that correctly – Rabbi Moskowitz, an ultra-orthodox rabbi – shows that in traditional readings of Jewish texts, we have an inclusion of people dressing how they feel, and the fundamental reason is the practice of Purim. You can read his full article here.
In order to advocate for a “come as we really are” practice, we need to deal with this verse from Torah, Deuteronomy 22:5, which says, “A woman must not put on man’s apparel, nor shall a man wear women’s clothing, for whoever does these things is abhorrent to God.”
That seems explicit, and yet, no less a scholar and authority than Rashi, one of the most important Medieval Jewish commentators, writes about this verse: “The Torah does not forbid cross-dressing, only that which leads to something abhorrent.”
What the Torah forbids is disguising oneself for the sake of pursuing something immoral. Cross-dressing, in the words of the Shulchan Aruch, the great Jewish Legal work, “On Purim for happiness,” is entirely permissible. [Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 696:8]
Purim helps us celebrate who we really are. We are encouraged to explore ourselves and become more fully that self.
Wishing everyone opportunities to celebrate and be who we really are, even in these difficult times.
Rabbi Jonathan Freirich is the spiritual leader at Temple Beth Zion.