Ex-Hasidic and trans rabbi Abby Stein seeks the opportunity to let other LGBTI Jews know they’re not alone.
Stein, 26, was raised in Brooklyn’s tight-knit Hasidic community. She is a descendant of the the Baal Shem Tov, which founded the Hasidic movement in Poland 250 years ago. What’s more, she’s the first openly transgender woman raised in a Hasidic community.
Stein received her rabbinical degree 2011 from the Viznitz Yeshiva in Kiamesha Lake in the Catskills, making her the first openly trans woman to be ordained by an Orthodox institution.
Coming out and leaving the Hasidic world
She left her Hasidic family in 2012 and has had minimal contact with them since. In fact, some have even shunned her.
In 2015, Stein founded the first support group for trans people coming from an Orthodox background. Stein has since given over 150 lectures about her experience leaving the Hasidic community to audiences across the United States and Israel.
Stein wears many hats as a rabbi, author, speaker, blogger, educator, activist, and model. She currently studies political science and gender studies at Columbia University.
‘I definitely don’t feel like I’m part of that community anymore, and they obviously don’t see me as such,’ Stein told the Jerusalem Post following a visit to her great grandfather’s synagogue in the Hasidic Mea She’arim area of Jerusalem.
Nevertheless, as a Jew, Stein still has a connection to Israel despite being ex-communicated from her family.
‘It’s something personal. And that is a big part of the reason why so much of what’s going on here, the problems, bother me so much more.’
Secret Google searches
From a young age, Stein says she felt like a girl. She didn’t know that being transgender was a possibility until she secretly used the internet for the first time at age 20. On a computer at the public library, she Googled ‘how does a boy become a girl?’
In Stein’s Hasidic community, which she describes as ‘the most gender-segregated society in North America and likely the world,’ she was forced into rigid gender roles. This meant that, aside from family, one was not to interact with members of the opposite sex. She became ordained as a rabbi at age 18, got married at age 19, and had her first child at age 20. Shortly after this, she began her transition.
Since leaving the Hasidic community, Stein has noticed how the LGBTI community is largely ignored in those circles.
‘If they started hating us, that’d mean recognizing we exist,’ she joked.
LGBTI and Rabbinical literature
During her recent lecture in Tel Aviv, Stein reviewed various Rabbinic literature discussing gender. The Mishnah, for instance, describes six distinct sexes. The same goes for Shulhan Aruch, which also permits cross-dressing during the holiday of Purim.
Since coming out as trans, Stein has attempted to share these texts with her father, who is still convinced that Judaism and LGBTI acceptance are incompatible.
Nevertheless, Stein is determined to show the world that Judaism and the LGBTI community can go hand-in-hand.
‘You are not alone. You can do it. We can do it,’ she said.