New Web site provides ark of services to trans Jews

When Micah Bazant first began to transition from a female to a male, he started looking for biblical breadcrumbs that would help him find his place in the Jewish tradition.

One day, while flipping through “The Joys of Yiddish,” he found a reference to “timtum,” a term that had come to imply someone was a numskull. However, in the Mishnah, it originally referred to a person whose sex is not determinable when the genital areas are concealed.

“And I thought, ‘Wow, that means there were people of indeterminate gender in the Jewish community centuries ago!’ ” he recalled.

The Oakland resident was floored. He found a few other “slivers of information” within various Jewish texts, and soon began to feel inspired by and connected to a religion that had been only a small part of his childhood and adolescence.

Now, years later, Bazant is a part of a  loose collective of Bay Area transgender Jews who have created

The Web site provides resources for people of all genders, and it also assists synagogues looking to better welcome transgender people into their congregations.

“My gender transition was totally interwoven with reconnecting to Judaism,” Bazant said. “You’re just getting in touch with your n’shema [soul], with your true spirit, and you’re going through this intense transformation. I think for a lot of trans people, this very intense process reconnects them with their religion.”

The Web site went live in November. In the first week, more than 1,000 people visited the site, said Bizant, a graphic designer who had a short-lived zine called Tim Tum eight years ago.

The TransTorah team also includes Maggid Jhos Singer of Berkeley; Reuben Zellman, a Congregation Sha’ar Zahav rabbinical intern; Rabbi Elliott Kukla of the Bay Area Jewish Healing Center; and Max Strassfeld, a Judaic studies doctoral student at Stanford University.

The site is a collection of sermons, liturgies, articles, personal essays, educational materials and ritual ceremonies that “include and affirm” people of all gender identities, the site says.

The Web site idea was conceived two years ago, after Kukla and Zellman became inundated with requests for gender-inclusive sermons, articles and ritual ceremonies they had collected and put together.

For example, Kukla got an e-mail from a trans person in Little Rock, Ark. looking to convert to Judaism and wanting “guidance in how to sanctify that moment,” and a synagogue in Utah once contacted him for suggestions on how to welcome new members  who were transgender. “We realized we had created a lot of materials, and we wanted it to be reachable to everyone,” Kukla said.

The TransTorah team emphasizes that the site does not represent or speak on behalf of all trans individuals, but that it is simply the tip of “an incredibly beautiful iceberg,” Bizant said.

Karen Erlichman, regional director of the LGBT nonprofit Jewish Mosaic, praised the site for making accessible a huge variety of resources.

“Imagine some isolated Jewish trans person looking for a community, for resources and spiritual care, who can now … find,” she said.

The site’s creators admit that their various textual interpretations may be embraced or rejected. Nonetheless, Singer said at the very least the Talmud is quite clear that Judaism recognizes genders beyond the male-female binary.

“Jewish tradition has a long, long history of recognizing that there is a very broad spectrum of gender expressions with human populations,” Singer said. “I think it is safe to say that the rabbis of old realized what we call transgender today was a part of the Jewish community then.”

Stacey Palevsky

Stacey Palevsky is a former J. staff writer.