Bullying in the Name of God

Gender, identity, and expression have all been in the news this week, not for good reasons. The Faith and Freedom Coalition of Georgia held their legislative luncheon this week, and the Southern Regional Director, Virginia Galloway, spoke about their priorities.

Georgia House Bill 40 would provide a legal framework in which to prohibit bullying and provide a mechanism for reporting and tracking incidents of harassment in schools. Among the enumerated categories of bullying that would be prohibited are perceived or actual race, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, and other identifiable characteristics. Galloway had this to say about HB40:

Let's be clear: Bullying based on what some may perceive to be "biblical principles" is expressly forbidden by Jewish law. That's not what we do. In fact, Judaism teaches that human dignity is so sacred we are not only permitted - sometimes we are commanded - to violate certain commandments in order to preserve it. (Brachot 19b)

Further, our sages say:

To even suggest that it would be permissible - and in Galloway's case, defensible - to bully someone based on their narrow (and incorrect) interpretation of biblical texts is an affront to God.  

To turn to the texts, it's important to note that Judaism has never shied away from discussing matters of gender in its legal texts. The Talmud, Mishna, and other texts explore the concepts of the "androgynous" (both and/or neither male nor female; sometimes interpreted as hermaphrodite, sometimes intersex, and sometimes a person with no discernible gender markers, and "tumtum", a person with no visible genitalia.) No, not all of the discussions are positive, but, we have never shied away from the understanding that being agender, genderqueer, or gender non-conforming are real and valid expressions of ourselves.

Over at the terribly homophobic and anti-trans website, Public Discourse, Carlos Flores writes what he calls a "Stern but Necessary Critique of Transgenderism" [content warning: suicide, misgendering, transphobia, anorexia]. In reality, his comments devolve into a tragic diatribe against the LGBT community for encouraging our children to live their lives as God intended them to be.

Make no mistake - this is the type of bullying that the Faith and Freedom Coalition wants to ensure is present in our schools for our children to face every day. They are not fighting for the right to live their lives according to their beliefs; they are fighting for the right to impose those beliefs on others, in every context, especially where children should feel safe to learn, grow, try new things, and come into their own - and that goes directly against biblical teachings.

At the most basic level of all of our laws, we learn: 

We are taught in Leviticus 19:1-2 that we are expected to be like God - holy. We are to love freely, encourage without reserve, and nurture toward success. To claim that God would want us to be bullies in the name of religion is so far outside the realm of God's plan for us it is absurd to proclaim otherwise. Virginia Galloway and the Faith and Family Coalition should be ashamed of themselves.




For more resources and texts on gender, identity, and expression in Judaism, visit Trans Torah and Keshet.





Robbie Medwed

Robbie Medwed began working with SOJOURN when it was known as The Rainbow Center as a volunteer in 2008. He served as chair of the TRC Advisory Board and as co-chair of Purim off Ponce (2010, 2011) before moving into his current role as Assistant Director, where he oversees SOJOURN's educational programming and outreach, including our award-winning workshops and training seminars. Robbie holds a master's degree in Jewish education from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and has written curricula and nationally-recognized inclusive programs for the Marcus JCC of Atlanta, BBYO, USY, Camp Ramah, the Jewish Teen Funders Network, Babaganewz, and JewishGPS. Robbie is also a certified personal trainer, group fitness instructor, and cyclist. Robbie can be reached at robbie@sojourngsd.org.