Dr. Ladin holds the David and Ruth Gottesman Chair in English at Stern College of Yeshiva University; she is the first openly transgender professor at an Orthodox Jewish university.
Dr. Ladin will speak on “Knowing the Soul of the Stranger: Trans Identity, Religious Community, and Making a Place for God.”
Combining personal experience and Biblical interpretation, Joy Ladin will explore how the perspectives of transgender people and other “hyper-minorities” – people seen as profoundly different from most members of their communities – can help us understand the difficult relations between God and humanity we see in much of the Hebrew Bible. Focusing on the Book of Numbers, this talk will argue that the recurring conflicts between the Israelites and the God enshrined at the center of their camp resemble those experienced by human hyper-minorities and their communities. Despite God’s centrality to the Israelites’ lives, like human hyper-minorities, God is always seen as a stranger by the Israelite community, different in ways that are hard to accommodate or understand. From this perspective, God’s insistence that the Israelites identify with “strangers” (gerim, resident aliens and converts) by remembering that they “know the soul of a stranger” and experienced estrangement in Egypt offers a communal spiritual practice that helps us make a place, in our communities and in our lives, for the ultimate stranger, God.
This talk will explore how the perspectives of transgender people and other “hyper-minorities” – people who are seen as profoundly different from most members of their communities – can help us understand the difficult relations between God and humanity portrayed in much of the Hebrew Bible. Focusing on conflicts between God and the Israelites in Numbers, this talk will argue that though the Bible portrays God as absolutely different from human beings, in these conflicts, God is portrayed as an integral, though problematic, part of the Israelite community, whose difficulties in being accommodated and understood resemble those experienced by human hyper-minorities. Like human hyper-minorities, God is always seen as a stranger by the community in which God dwells. From this perspective, God’s paradoxical insistence that the Israelites identify personally with gerim, members of the community they see as strangers, by remembering that they “know the soul of the stranger” is a communal spiritual discipline, a practice that prepares religious communities to make a place for God. Drawing on personal experiences of being both a hyper-minority – the only openly transgender person at her Orthodox Jewish university – and someone who lived for decades as a middle-class white male, Dr. Ladin will discuss how the ways we relate to those we see as strangers affects the way we relate to the ultimate stranger, God.
This invites us to consider how the position of God in the Israelite community, and the misunderstandings and conflicts that arise from it, resemble those of human hyper-minorities.