The Biblical Injunction against Cross-Dressing, and the Difference between the Sexes

March 22 2022

“A woman may not don man’s apparel,” commands the book of Deuteronomy, “nor shall a man don woman’s clothing; for whoever does these things is abhorrent to the Lord your God.” As Moshe Kurtz explains, talmudic scholars have debated the reasons for, and applications of, these prohibitions—known in rabbinic scholarship by the Hebrew phrase lo yilbash (he shall not don). To an extent unusual in Jewish law, most rabbis agree that what constitutes male or female dress changes over time and should be determined by societal norms. Yet, Kurtz argues, such flexibility does not imply that the tradition views sex differences themselves as infinitely malleable:

While at one juncture it was exclusively masculine to wear pants, today it is not so. . . . Nonetheless, it is imperative, [according to the rabbinic consensus], to maintain proactively some form of gender marker.

The imperative to maintain the integrity of gender norms remains more relevant today than ever, and it should encourage us to err on the side of caution in our observance of this halakhah. While the details and applications of lo yilbash are debatable, the ethos is undeniable.

Midrash Tanḥuma, [an ancient homiletical work], relates that when [the Roman proconsul] Turnus Rufus challenged Rabbi Akiva as to why God did not create baby boys pre-circumcised, the latter replied that “God gave the mitzvot to the Jewish people in order to refine them,” meaning that God wished to partner with humankind in the endeavor of perfecting His creation. One must be careful not to uproot God’s will from our world, but rather to accept His sacred charge to . . . enhance and build upon the foundation that He has created.

A critique of Kurtz’s argument, although not of his broader conclusions, can be found here.

Read more at Lehrhaus

More about: Halakhah, Judaism, Rabbi Akiva, Sex


Syria’s Druze Uprising, and What It Means for the Region

When the Arab Spring came to Syria in 2011, the Druze for the most part remained loyal to the regime—which has generally depended on the support of religious minorities such as the Druze and thus afforded them a modicum of protection. But in the past several weeks that has changed, with sustained anti-government protests in the Druze-dominated southwestern province of Suwayda. Ehud Yaari evaluates the implications of this shift:

The disillusionment of the Druze with Bashar al-Assad, their suspicion of militias backed by Iran and Hizballah on the outskirts of their region, and growing economic hardships are fanning the flames of revolt. In Syrian Druze circles, there is now open discussion of “self-rule,” for example replacing government offices and services with local Druze alternative bodies.

Is there a politically acceptable way to assist the Druze and prevent the regime from the violent reoccupation of Jebel al-Druze, [as they call the area in which they live]? The answer is yes. It would require Jordan to open a short humanitarian corridor through the village of al-Anat, the southernmost point of the Druze community, less than three kilometers from the Syrian-Jordanian border.

Setting up a corridor to the Druze would require a broad consensus among Western and Gulf Arab states, which have currently suspended the process of normalization with Assad. . . . The cost of such an operation would not be high compared to the humanitarian corridors currently operating in northern Syria. It could be developed in stages, and perhaps ultimately include, if necessary, providing the Druze with weapons to defend their territory. A quick reminder: during the Islamic State attack on Suwayda province in 2018, the Druze demonstrated an ability to assemble close to 50,000 militia men almost overnight.

Read more at Jerusalem Strategic Tribune

More about: Druze, Iran, Israeli Security, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy