Monday, January 24, 2011

Cross-dressing

Question:
I am interested in learning what traditional Judaism has to say about the following Biblical verse: "A woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman's garment; for whosoever doeth these things is an abomination unto the LORD thy God" (Deuteronomy 22:5 - translation: Jewish Publication Society, 1917). Would you give me a basic overview of the subject and recommend some sources that discuss this matter?

Answer:
Deuteronomy 22:5 and the laws derived from it, are discussed (among other places), in the following rabbinic works:
- Sifre, Devarim, piska 226
- Talmud Bavli, Nazir 58b-59a
- RaMBaM's Mishneh Torah, Sefer Mada, Hilkhot Avodah Zarah, chpt. 12, halakhot 9-10
- Sefer ha-Hinukh, mitzvah 542 and 543
- Shulhan Arukh, Yoreh Deah, chpt. 182

For a short, historically oriented, overview, in English of the topic, see Louis M. Epstein’s Sex Laws and Customs in Judaism [New York : Bloch, 1948 – p.64-67].

According to Jewish law, it is forbidden for a male to wear a “female-type” garment or for a female to wear a “male-type” garment. Furthermore, it is generally forbidden for males to engage in certain female practices - such as shaving the armpits or dyeing the hair, or for a female to engage in certain male practices - such as bearing weapons. This is a very general overview of the laws involved. There is much discussion in rabbinic texts regarding (among other things):
- which practices are forbidden from the Torah and which are forbidden by rabbinic decree;
- whether the intent of the person doing the act makes a difference in the law (e.g. is it permissible for a woman to put on a man’s garment to protect her from the rain);
- to what extent the customs of a particular place effect what is considered a male or female garment or act;
- if there is any reason to permit the temporary cross-dressing often done on Purim.

The modern work, Sefer Kedushat Yisrael, by Rabbi Itamar ben Aharon Mahfud [Ashdod : Itamar Mahfud ; Yavneh :  ĽAmutat "Binah la-shavim", 765 (2005) – chpt. 6], has an extensive discussion (with many citations) of the issues. All queries related to actual practice should, of course, be directed to a competent Rabbinic authority.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Jews and the American Revolution

Question:
Would you recommend books that discuss the contribution of Jews (besides the famous Haym Salomon) to the Revolutionary War?

Answer:
Here are a list of books owned by the JTS library that deal with the connections between Jews and the American Revolutionary War:
- Hirschfeld, Fritz. George Washington and the Jews [Newark : University of Delaware Press, c2005]
- Schwartz, Laurens R. Jews and the American Revolution : Haym Salomon and others [Jefferson, N.C. : McFarland & Co., 1987]
- Korn, Bertram Wallace. Jews and the revolutionary struggle for American freedom [Philadelphia, Pa. : Gratz College, 1975]
- Rezneck, Samuel. Unrecognized patriots : the Jews in the American Revolution [Westport, Conn. : Greenwood Press, 1975]
- Marcus, Jacob Rader. The Jew and the American Revolution [Cincinnati : American Jewish Archives, c1974]
- Peters, Madison Clinton. The Jews who stood by Washington : an unwritten chapter in American history [New York : The Trow Press, 1915]