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

“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

An American Withdrawal from Iraq Would Hand Another Victory to Iran

Since October 7, the powerful network of Iran-backed militias in Iraq have carried out 120 attacks on U.S. forces stationed in the country. In the previous year, there were dozens of such attacks. The recent escalation has led some in the U.S. to press for the withdrawal of these forces, whose stated purpose in the country is to stamp out the remnants of Islamic State and to prevent the group’s resurgence. William Roberts explains why doing so would be a mistake:

American withdrawal from Iraq would cement Iran’s influence and jeopardize our substantial investment into the stabilization of Iraq and the wider region, threatening U.S. national security. Critics of the U.S. military presence argue that [it] risks a regional escalation in the ongoing conflict between Israel and Iran. However, in the long term, the U.S. military has provided critical assistance to Iraq’s security forces while preventing the escalation of other regional conflicts, such as clashes between Turkey and Kurdish groups in northern Iraq and Syria.

Ultimately, the only path forward to preserve a democratic, pluralistic, and sovereign Iraq is through engagement with the international community, especially the United States. Resisting Iran’s takeover will require the U.S. to draw international attention to the democratic backsliding in the country and to be present and engage continuously with Iraqi civil society in military and non-military matters. Surrendering Iraq to Iran’s agents would not only squander our substantial investment in Iraq’s stability; it would greatly increase Iran’s capability to threaten American interests in the Levant through its influence in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon.

Read more at Providence

More about: Iran, Iraq, U.S. Foreign policy