Rabbi’s NYT op-ed misleadingly claims that Jews recognized six genders

March 21, 2023 • 10:15 am

Here we have another example of what I call the “reverse appeal to nature”, except that it’s a “reverse appeal to Judaism”. The former trope goes like this, “What my ideology says is good is what I must find in nature.” That is, if you’re a gender activist, you must argue that since there is no sexual binary in humans (a false assertion, of course), then there is no sexual binary in animals in general (another false assertion).

Here we have a subspecies of that bias evinced by a Jewish rabbi and gender activist, who claims that Judaism has long recognized a whole range of genders—six, to be exact.  This is also false, for the “genders” adduced by rabbi Elliot Kukla, a transgender man, are not socially enacted sex roles but what doctors call “disorders of sex development”( DSDs): very rare conditions when the development of sexual characteristics goes wrong (DSDs, despite Anne Fausto-Sterling’s claim, are not “new sexes”). These ancient Jewish categories do not correspond to the kind of genders people recognize today—and Rabbi Kukla admits it.  The fallacy here is imposing onto one’s historical religion what what sees as good today: the recognition and approbation of different genders. (Unlike biological sex, which comes in only two forms in humans, genders can be multifarious, as they are social roles or identities assumed by biological males or females.) Somehow the Rabbi thinks it gives succor to the social justice movement to show that Jews recognized people who were victims of sex-trait development gone awry.

The article identifies Kukla as “a rabbi who provides spiritual care to those who are grieving, dying, ill or disabled. He is working on a book about grief in a time of planetary crisis.” Wikipedia also notes that he’s “the first openly transgender person to be ordained by the Reform Jewish seminary Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles.”

Read his op-ed by clicking on the screenshot below, or you can find an archived copy here for free.

There are two issues with Kukla’s article, both involving misleading data. The first one involves transgender people have higher rates of suicide due to oppression or misgendering. But none of the data he adduces shows that “oppression” of transgender people, or calling them by the wrong pronoun, actually causes their suicide.  Here are a couple of his statements:

Over the past few years there have been countless stories in the news of trans and nonbinary young people’s deaths by suicide. In San Diego, a 14-year-old, Kyler Prescott, died after being repeatedly misgendered by hospital staff members in the psychiatric unit that was supposed to be helping him. Leelah Alcorn, a 16-year-old transgender girl from Ohio, was rejected by her parents after coming out. In her online suicide note she wrote, “The only way I will rest in peace is if one day transgender people aren’t treated the way I was.”

More than half of young people in the United States who are transgender and nonbinary seriously considered suicide in the past year, according to a survey conducted by the Trevor Project, a suicide prevention organization for L.G.B.T.Q. youth. This figure is staggering, but the Trevor Project’s data also points to what can help. The same 2022 survey found that trans and nonbinary youth who report having their pronouns respected by all or most of the people in their life attempted suicide at half the rate of those who didn’t. And a 2019 Trevor Project survey found that transgender and nonbinary young people who live with even one accepting adult were 40 percent less likely to report a suicide attempt in the previous year.

A 2021 study published by The Journal of Adolescent Health found that for people younger than 18, receiving gender-affirming hormone therapy was associated with nearly 40 percent lower odds of having had a suicide attempt in the previous year. It’s not being transgender or nonbinary that kills young people; it’s the shunning, lack of acceptance and transphobia they encounter in the struggle to be who they truly are.

Now it’s certainly true that some transgender people are driven to suicide by ill-treatment from others, but we have to realize that the incidence of mental illness and suicidality among transgender people is sky-high to begin with, and the desire to change genders may be one solution people see to their mental problems. If they’re told they’re in the wrong body, or that’s in the air, then they may feel that a mental illness that precedes transition can actually drive people to transition. It’s important to recognize that changing gender is often deeply associated with mental illness; it’s not the same kind of thing as changing jobs.

As one paper reports, “Data indicate that 82% of transgender individuals have considered killing themselves and 40% have attempted suicide, with suicidality highest among transgender youth.”  I am not claiming that being transgender is a form of mental illness, but that it may be a way that people resolve their mental illness. And in some cases it works: in general, transgender people report themselves happy that they transitioned. But note that in none of the cases above do they separate confounding variables of desire to transition from mental illness.

People who kill themselves after being misgendered, for example, may be those with more severe mental illness, and thus are more sensitive and more likely to take an extreme action after being misgendered.  As far as I know, the relationship between gender-affirming hormone therapy and suicide is controversial, as the most severely ill adolescents may not be given puberty blockers because they’re not deemed stable enough to medically transition yet. (Jesse Singal has bored in on the weakness of studies connecting well being and lowered suicide with “affirmative care”; you can see one of his discussions here.)

And as for the “people who live with even one accepting adult” committing suicide less often, the paper really show that the condition tested was NOT “living with one accepting adult”, but having one adult to whom you disclosed your trans status accepting it. From the cited paper:

Youth were first asked whether they had disclosed their sexual orientation to any of the following adults: parent, family member other than a parent or sibling, teacher or guidance counselor, and doctor or other healthcare provider. As a follow-up, youth were asked to what extent they were accepted by the adult(s) to whom they disclosed their sexual orientation. A variable was created that indicated whether youth felt accepted by one or more of the adults to whom they disclosed or did not feel accepted by any adult(s) to whom they disclosed. Past year suicide attempt was assessed with the question “During the past 12 months, did you actually attempt suicide?,” which was asked of youth who reported having seriously considered suicide in the past 12 months. A logistic regression model was utilized to predict past year suicide attempt based on the presence of an accepting adult while controlling for the impact of youth age, gender identity, and race/ethnicity.

Note that all of these are self-reports, so the data are based on whether the trans adolescent “felt accepted”, not “was accepted”. Nor is there anything about living with the accepting adult. The confounding variable here is the self report: even if trans youth are accepted, more severe mental illness may make them feel unaccepted and more severe mental illness may make them more suicidal. Alternatively, those youth who are stable enough to seek and get help might be less likely to attempt suicide because they have less severe mental illness.

I am not dismissing all this research out of hand, but pointing out three things. First, there are confounding variables when it comes to transgender youth that could make certain factors look like they cause suicide when they don’t (or are not as responsible for suicide as proper data would show). Second, the behaviors said to cause suicide may hide the real causes of suicide: mental illness, or may be correlated with the degree of such illness (like sensitivity to being misgendered).

Since the risk of suicidality is a big reason why gender-affirming activists urge parents and therapists to transition children as quickly as possible, it’s very important to figure out the reasons why transgender youth have such high suicide rates—especially the connection with mental illness independent of “affirming” medical care or misgendering.

Third, the rabbi ignores these confounding factors, though I’m not even sure why half of his article, which is pitched as about “six genders of Jews”, is really about suicide

On to the real topic. Did Judaism historically recognize six genders? The answer is, well, not really, for the “genders” were actually disorders of sexual development (DSDs): conditions wheb external genitalia or other secondary sex characteristic did not align with a person’s biological sex. (As always, I construe biological sex as whether someone has the equipment to produce large, immobile gametes [females] or small, mobile gametes [males)].) These ancient Jewish genders don’t at all correspond to the hundreds of genders that people use in modern society.

Rabbi Kukla tells us what those genders were:

In my own tradition, Judaism, our most sacred texts reflect a multiplicity of gender. This part of Judaism has mostly been obscured by the modern binary world until very recently.

There are four genders beyond male or female that appear in ancient Jewish holy texts hundreds of times. They are considered during discussions about childbirth, marriage, inheritance, holidays, ritual leadership and much more. We were always hiding in plain sight, but recently the research of Jewish studies scholars like Max Strassfeld has demonstrated how nonbinary gender is central to understanding Jewish law and literature as a whole.

When a child was born in the ancient Jewish world it could be designated as a boy, a girl, a “tumtum” (who is neither clearly male nor female), or an “androgynos” (who has both male and female characteristics) based on physical features. There are two more gender designations that form later in life. The “aylonit” is considered female at birth, but develops in an atypical direction. The “saris” is designated male at birth, but later becomes a eunuch.

There is not an exact equivalence between these ancient categories and modern gender identities. Some of these designations are based on biology, some on a person’s role in society. But they show us that people who are more than binary have always been recognized by my religion. We are not a fad.

When you look up these four other “genders,” you find that they’re disorders of sex development, and, contrary to the rabbis’s claim, are indeed all based on biology. You can, for example, see a list here that gives the same genders described by the rabbi:

  • “Zachar”, This term is derived from the word for memory and refers to the belief that the man carried the name and identity of the family. It is usually translated as “male” in English.
  • “Nekeivah”, This term is derived from the word for a crevice and probably refers to a vaginal opening. It is usually translated as “female” in English
  • “Ay’lonit”, is a female who does not develop at puberty and is infertile.
  • Saris“, is a male who does not develop at puberty and/or subsequently has their sexual organs removed. A saris can be “naturally” a saris (saris hamah), or become one through human intervention (saris adam).
  • Androgynos“, someone who has both male and female sexual characteristics. This would refer to certain intersex conditions, but in terms of gender in the modern day it is closest to androgyne or bigender.
  • Tumtum” A person whose sexual characteristics are indeterminate or obscured.

The first two are “genders” that correspond to behaving according to your biological sex: man and woman. The other individuals, except for true hermaphrodites for gametic tissue, (perhaps “androgynos” would be one of those), are indeed male or female in the biological sense (e.g. “saris” is male, and “ay’lonit” is female). These may have been “genders” among Jews in the sense that if your sex was indeterminate, you would have to decide which, if any, sex role to play: male, female, or something else. But they are not genders in the modern sense, nor do they have anything to say about adopting sex roles when you don’t have a DSD.

But these conditions are rare: as I say in an upcoming co-authored paper:

Developmental variants are very rare, constituting only about one in 5600 people (0.018%), and also don’t represent “other sexes”. (We know of only two cases of true human hermaphrodites that were fertile, but one individual was fertile only as a male, and the other only as a female.)

There are certainly more than 1 in 5600 people today who claim they’re of a “non-male or non-female gender”: a Pew study shows that 5% of young American adults say their gender does not correspond to their biological sex. These individuals are nearly 300 times more common than the Jewish “genders” noted by Rabbi Kukla.

That’s pretty much all I have to say. These kinds of disorders would probably have been about as rare in ancient Jews as they are today, and so we can say with some confidence that the four DSD “genders” of Judaism do not at all correspond to modern genders that people assume. Even the good Rabbi himself admits that when he says:

There is not an exact equivalence between these ancient categories and modern gender identities.

And he misrepresents the genders, which are all based on biology, that is, on development going awry.

I needn’t say more except that some orthodox Jews have refuted Rabbi Kukla’s contention in a piece at the Jewish News Syndicate, but since they include Ben Shapiro, whose very name is often used to reject an argument, I’ll let you read them for yourself.

This crazy article is a prime esxample of a someone exaggerating or misrepresenting nearly all the data he adduces with the aim of showing people that the ancients accepted a diversity of genders.  He fails to show that those genders aren’t the same as modern genders, though that’s really his aim: to validate the latter by citing the former. He also fails to fairly assess the meaning of high suicidality in transgender youth.

I’ll add one more bit of confirmation bias from the rabbi:

In fact, Judaism sees us as so ancient that according to one fifth-century interpretation of the Bible, the very first human being, Adam, was actually an androgynos. This explains why Genesis says, “And God created humankind in the divine image, creating it in the image of God,” referring to Adam, the first person, with a singular pronoun. But then, the very same verse says: “creating them male and female.” (1:27). “Them,” in this ancient interpretation, also refers to Adam: a single person who is both male and female. In other words, in this reading of the creation story, the first human being is described with a singular “they” pronoun to express the multiplicity of their gender.

All I’ll say here that this is “according to one fifth-century representation of the Bible.”  Way to cherry-pick, Rabbi Kukla! What about all those other theologians who see Adam and Eve as separate people in the story: a man and a woman created by God?

h/t: Luana


The Jews who loved Christmas

December 22, 2022 • 11:15 am

People who wish me a “Happy Hanukkah” don’t realize that I never celebrated the Jewish holidays, the one exception being my mother lighting one candle per night on a menorah.  Otherwise, we celebrated Christmas like the goys: we had a Christmas tree, which my father called “The Hanukkah bush”, exchanged presents on Christmas morning, and had a big Christmas lunch, often featuring ham.

I don’t remember going to synagogue at all, though I did go to Hebrew school to learn the language for a bar mitzvah I never had. I flunked out of Hebrew school, and as a result was put into the all-girl class, whose instruction was less rigorous because you don’t need much Hebrew for a bat mitzvah. I was, at 12, ashamed to be in a class with all the girls, and simply left Hebrew school. That was my last connection with the faith, which I lost completely in 1967 (see here for the story, or go below the fold).

This is all a prelude to showing you two photos that my sister sent me yesterday. Apparently she and her family visited my parents’ graves (they’re in Arlington National Cemetery since my dad was a veteran), and found them decorated them for the holidays.

Her caption: “The Jews who loved Christmas!!” (She is also a heathen.):

:As they say in Yiddish
לעבעדיק ניטל

Click “read more” for my deconversion story

Continue reading “The Jews who loved Christmas”

Anne Frank had white privilege?

August 13, 2022 • 1:15 pm

This isn’t a huge kerfuffle, because the morons espousing the thesis in the title aren’t numerous. And the kerfuffle was popularized by the “scandal site” TMZ. Nevertheless, it shows how crazily woke some people are.  Here’s the TMZ tweet which directs you to a clickbait-y article based entirely on tweets. (What would journalism do without Twitter? It would have to be more serious and do investigative reporting beyond scanning Twitter for faux controversies.)

Here are a few tweets and refutations of some of them. The crazy is heavy here (second tweet):

Another tweet and refutation. I don’t think Anne Frank hid behind her “whiteness”; she hid from the Jew-hating Nazis in the annex of an Amsterdam pectin factory.

Here’s someone observing a wider discussion in the UK:

Here’s a rabbi—a rabbi!—who pays lip service to “visible” Jews, but at the same time has to show her virtue, asserting that Jews “grabbed white privilege” (allowed to do so only because of anti-black racism) and thus are “conditionally white.” Grabbed white privilege? How do you do that?

As you see below, even Hannah Nikole Jones of the 1619 Project can see the fallacy of this claim! And that fallacy is simple: in Nazified Europe, Jews were not seen as white–as “Aryans”, the “master race”. Rather, they were an inferior “race”, more or less the equivalent of blacks in the post-bellum South before civil rights came around.  (I would disagree with Jones’s claim, though, that “race is a fiction”, as that needs severe qualification.)

But as I’ve said before, there is no object, no concept, no organization, and no activity that cannot be demonized by some crazied Wokesters. Anne Frank, for crying out loud!

Helen Mirren attacked for portraying Golda Meir because Mirren’s not Jewish

January 7, 2022 • 11:15 am

OY VEY!  DOUBLE OY VEY! Helen Mirren has been cast as Golda Meir in an upcoming film on the late Israeli Prime Minister, and people are beefing about it. About ten years ago this wouldn’t have raised an eyebrow, but now the Pecksniffs are tut-tutting about the choice because Mirren isn’t Jewish. I vehemently disagree.

Now sometimes there is a need for authenticity—and authenticity without insult. While Mirren required extensive makeup to look like Golda, I would not sanction a white man playing, for example, Martin Luther King, Jr. The history of blackface is too pernicious and racist to allow that.

But can a black woman play Golda Meir? I don’t think so, for it would affect the “suspension of disbelief” essential in watching any such movie. There has to be a degree of versimilitude to make the reader immerse himself in the movie’s reality. Could the Robert Redford of old play Truman Capote in the movie “Capote”? I don’t think so, for we know what Capote looked and acted like. Those images are burned too deeply into our neurons to make a Redford performance credible. Could a black man play Richard III? I’m not opposed to that simply because, although we know the King wasn’t black, we wouldn’t be preoccupied with the trope of “blacface” during the movie.

Can Helen Mirren play Golda Meir, even if she’s not Jewish? OF COURSE! So long as she looks sort of like Meir, and tries to adopt a sort-of Israeli accent, why should we beef? She is, after all, a wonderful actress.  Does knowing that Helen Mirren isn’t Jewish (she may be an atheist, for all I know) really detract from the movie? Only to the Pecksniffs. Yet they are here infesting the Guardian: click the screenshot to read:

Here they go:

Maureen Lipman has criticised the casting of Helen Mirren as Golda Meir in a forthcoming film about the former Israeli prime minister, saying that the character’s Jewishness is “integral”.

In comments reported by the Jewish Chronicle, Lipman said she “disagreed” with Mirren’s casting. She added: “I’m sure [Mirren] will be marvellous, but it would never be allowed for Ben Kingsley to play Nelson Mandela. You just couldn’t even go there.”

But there are good reasons not to go there, and it involves external appearance, not internal religious beliefs. Richard Burton, after all, played Thomas Becket in the eponymous 1964 movie, and Burton wasn’t a Catholic or an Anglican, but an atheist. So what? It was a good movie.

Here’s why the Pecksniffs object, but with the inervention of sanity:

The Jewish Chronicle’s piece cited a number of controversial instances of “Jewface”, including Tamsin Greig’s recent suggestion that she ‘probably’ should not have been cast in the sitcom Friday Night Dinner and the row over a stage production of the musical Falsettos in 2019, which contained no Jewish cast or crew members. It also quoted actor and comic Sarah Silverman’s comments on the mooted casting of Kathryn Hahn as Joan Rivers in a TV series: “Right now, representation fucking matters. It has to also finally matter for Jews as well. Especially Jewish women.”

In contrast, the playwright and director Patrick Marber was quoted in the Jewish Chronicle article as objecting to the primacy of “lived experienced” in casting decisions, saying: “I fucking hate that expression. Because ‘lived experience’ is sort of a denial of what creativity is and denies the actor the fundamental challenge and right to become someone else to impersonate another human being from another time, from another culture from another religion and another sexuality and other gender.”

Marber added: “I think a Gentile can play a Jew and a Jew can play a Gentile. I don’t like it when someone plays a Jew and gets it wrong. [But] I don’t like quotas.”

How can you “get it wrong” when you play a Jew? There are so many Jews on the world, many of them atheists, that I don’t see how someone can “get it wrong.” But kudos for Marber. His statement about “lived experience” is precisely right.

And Sarah Silverman objects! Seriously? It’s not as if Jews have been underrepresented in the movie industry! And remember, Dame Sarah, both Paul Newman and Sal Mineo, neither of them Jews, both played Jews in the 1960 movie Exodus I remember this scene well:


I’m a secular Jew, and I don’t think that “lived experience” is necessarily for great actors like Mirren. All that’s important is that they convince us they were the character. Here’s Mirren made up as Meir, unrecognizable as the actress.

Tonight: The University of Chicago’s world famous Latke-Hamantash Debate

December 17, 2020 • 10:45 am

The famous Latke-Hamantash Debate of the University of Chicago, now copied by a lot of wannabee schools, takes place tonight. (It started here in 1946.) I’ve been to it a couple of times, and it’s always a hoot. The premise is that local scholars, using only data and analyses from their own academic fields, debate the merits of the two Jewish foods latkes (potato pancakes) and hamantashen (triangular cookies filled with prune or apricot paste, usually eaten during Purim). The debate continues the classical disputations of Judaism, and, like those, cannot be settled.

The debaters, nearly always Jewish, are required to wear academic gowns.

Here’s the entire debate from 2016—the 70th debate. As usual, it begins with a musical piece, and then an introduction. Then the real fun begins: the arguments. They were good that year. Shadi Bartsch, a classical scholar, is also married to our University’s President.

This year, sadly, it’s a virtual debate, but the show goes on, as it has yearly since 1946, but I’m sure it’ll be as funny as ever. You can read about this year’s debate here, which begins tonight at 7 p.m. Central (Chicago) time, and you can register here for a free webcast link, and learn who the three speakers will be. Usually there are at least six speakers, and the debate always ends in a tie. Afterwards, the audience and speakers repair to the nearby refectory, where the two items at issue are served to all.

Latkes (with applesauce, though sour cream is a popular topping as well:

The estimable hamantash, here in the classic prune-filled version:

The post-debate nosh in years past:

Images from the 65th Latke Hamantash Debate at Mandel Hall at the University of Chicago on November 22, 2011. (Photo by Jason Smith)

A gangsta Hanukkah

December 12, 2020 • 1:15 pm

Happy Hanukkah! It’s the third day of the holiday and the second full day. It ends at sundown on Friday, and it’s a time to eat latkes.

I adore latkes, but they’re too laborious to make, so I almost never get them. (Trader Joe’s has frozen ones, but they’re dire.) Here we have two gangstas showing us how to make them properly.

This is pretty damn funny, though there’s one mistake. You never put both sour cream and applesauce on a latke. You’d have to be a meshugana to do that! The proper way is to put sour cream on one latke and applesauce on another, alternating to your taste, and until you’re sated.

(This duo has several other videos, too, including one for Passover.)

h/t: Moto