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The LGBTQ community has been part of the Torah's society since the very beginning
'The Rape of Dinah,' by Giuliano Bugiardini, circa 1554. (Wikimedia Commons)
'The Rape of Dinah,' by Giuliano Bugiardini, circa 1554. (Wikimedia Commons)

How many of the children of Israel were trans? I mean that literally. In this week’s Torah portion, Jacob’s household grows by four wives, 11 sons and one daughter. The Talmud has some interesting things to say about that daughter, Dinah, whose name is not explained in the Torah.

R. Joseph challenged this: “And afterwards she bore a daughter and called her name Dinah” (Gen. 30:21). What is meant by ‘afterwards’? Rav said: After Leah had passed judgment (dana din) on herself, saying, ‘Twelve tribes are destined to issue from Jacob. Six have issued from me and four from the handmaids, making 10. If this child will be a male, my sister Rachel will not be equal to one of the handmaids’. Forthwith the child was turned to a girl, as it says, “And she called her name Dinah!”

(BT Berachot 60a)

According to the Talmud, Dinah’s very name alludes to the fact that she was changed from male to female, due to her mother Leah’s prayer during her seventh pregnancy. Midrash Rabba states this even more starkly, as Rabbi Abba states: “The root of her creation was male, but she was turned into a female through Rachel’s prayers when she said, ‘The Lord add to me another son (v. 24).'” Rabbi Hanina adds: “All the matriarchs assembled and prayed: ‘We have sufficient males; let her [Rachel] be remembered'” (Genesis Rabba 72:6). The Jerusalem Talmud (Berachot 9:3) concurs.

While these sources differ as to whose prayers change Dinah’s sex and when, everyone agrees that Jacob’s only daughter started out male.

One source goes even further, as Targum Pseudo-Jonathan renders the verse as follows:

Before God, Leah’s prayer was heard, and the fetuses were switched in their wombs; Joseph was placed in Rachel’s womb and Dinah in the womb of Leah.

This is actually cited in halachic works, such as Responsa Tzur Yaakov (Rabbi A.Y. Horowitz of Probizhna), which explains (ch. 28):

Certainly, this means that Joseph’s body in Leah’s womb was transformed into a female, while Dinah’s body in Rachel’s womb was transformed into a male, and their souls were transferred from each womb to the other.

According to this view, not only was Dinah a trans woman, but Joseph was a trans man! At least Jacob still had enough cis boys to make a minyan…

Indeed, Dinah does exhibit some traditionally male behavior, such as “going out to see the daughters of the land” (Gen. 34:1), while Joseph exhibits some traditionally female behavior, as the Midrash notes (Genesis Rabba 84:7): “He exhibited girlish behavior: he would make up his eyes, turn up his heel and fix his hair.”

Midrashic exegesis is not meant to reflect the simple meaning of the text, but it is meant to teach us important moral lessons. Going back to the days of the Twelve Tribes of Israel, we see that gender is not as simple as we might have been led to believe in Parasha class.

We Jews, especially those of us who are more traditionally observant, have a long way to go before we grasp what it means to accommodate the LGBTQ community in the spirit of the Torah. The approach at this link would not be it. The first step is acknowledging that this community is part of our society — and has been since the very beginning.

About the Author
Yoseif Bloch is a rabbi who has taught at Yeshivat HaKotel, Yeshivat Har Etzion and Yeshivat Shvilei Hatorah and served as a congregational rabbi in Canada. He currently works as an editor, translator and publisher. As a blogger and podcaster, he is known as Rabbi Joe in Jerusalem.
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