Monday, September 08, 2008

Transgender Professor

The news is reporting that a tenured professor at Yeshiva University returned last week as a transgender individual (link). It seems that some rabbis are vocally opposed to this. R. Moshe Tendler is quoted as stating that there is no room at the university for a transgender professor.

I will defer to my teachers (whose opinion on this I do not yet know), but I fail to see a reason for outrage. Yeshiva, long ago, at the initiative of R. Dov Revel and continued by his able successors, made the decision to hire professors who are not necessarily Jewish nor necessarily religiously observant. The primary criterion for selecting professors is the quality of education for students. R. Aaron Rakeffet-Rothkoff writes in Bernard Revel: Builder of American Jewish Orthodoxy (p. 82), "Regardless of religion, Revel sought to engage the best instructors available, for he wanted a faculty that would enhance the status of the young college." That is the longstanding policy of YU, as set by a Torah giant. I seem to recall hearing that R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik also agreed with this policy, although I can't recall where I heard this second-hand information so take it with a grain of salt.

There is, technically, a prohibition of allowing a heretic or gentile to teach in a school because there is a concern that the teacher will lead the student away from Judaism (Yoreh De'ah 153:1). I do not know what permission there is to be lenient. However, there must be some rationale because this rule is routinely violated in the secular studies departments of Jewish schools throughout the country. If so, I'm not sure why a transgender professor is any worse than a devout Christain professor.

Yes, there is an element of sensationalism with this professor's non-religious behavior (although, if he isn't Jewish, it's not clear to me that he has done anything technically non-religious). But, assuming that issues of yichud, bathrooms, etc. are handled properly, I don't understand why this would even be a news item. He certainly isn't the first non-religious professor at Yeshiva.

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