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QUESTION

New York, NY

I asked the Rosh Yeshiva this question on phone, but thought people might benefit. A chevrah kadisha wanting to be sensitive to transgender issues, who do they assign for the taharah of a transgendered meit?

ANSWER

My tentative answer – and this is really a policy question more than a halakhic one – is that we have to have a chevrah of the same gender as the meit‘s identity – to do otherwise would be a tremendous pegiah in kevod HaMeit and a tremendous delegitimization and erasure of the trans community and the identity of its members. The reason for having a chevrah kadisha with the same sex as the meit has to do with tzeniut, comfort and appropriateness. In this case, if we are dealing with, say, a trans woman who has had surgery – then there is none of these concerns if the chevra is female. If, however, she has not had surgery, things are more complicated. Let’s assume she has breasts but also a penis. I would say, cover up the penis, have the female chevrah do the taharah on the rest of the body, have them then cover up the rest of the body, have a man come in, uncover the penis, do a taharah on that, and then cover it up and leave. I think (maybe naively) that the meit and the trans community would be okay with that. The use of the female chevrah affirms the female identity of the meit, and the issue around the penis reflects an understandable issue of discomfort for a woman to be handling a penis (particularly in this ritual, holy context).

After writing this, I received thoughtful feedback, that given the halakha that a woman can do a taharah for a man, since she is not so likely to be sexually aroused by that experience (YD 352:3), then we should have women doing taharot for all transgender people, since having them do so would not indicate in any way how we are treating the gender of the the person who has died. I think this is a truly elegant solution.