cover image The Soul of the Stranger

The Soul of the Stranger

Joy Ladin. Brandeis Univ., $29.95 (200p) ISBN 978-1-5126-0293-7

English professor Ladin uses her own experience as a transgender Jew to deliver keen readings of the Torah in this outstanding theological work. She opens with a transgender reading of the Genesis creation story that pushes against notions of inherent gender. The second chapter highlights other stories in the Torah in which individuals temporarily exceed or question their traditional gender roles, such as Jacob’s outmaneuvering of his second-born status, Sarah’s belated pregnancy, and Isaac’s painful support for the patriarchal system that nearly kills him. Ladin also masterfully argues that the voluntary Nazarite vow found in Numbers 6 and Passover’s concern with the errors of either-or thinking have potential as models for accepting those who transition. She concludes with a chapter that uses both W.E.B. Du Bois’s theory of the hyper-minority and the Torah notion of stranger or resident alien to build persuasive ethical imperatives for both transgender and cisgender believers. Throughout these arguments, Ladin explores how her powerful connection with a God who is not intelligible in human terms helped her navigate her years of dysphoria and pain as she felt similarly unrecognizable to others. This heartfelt, difficult work will introduce Jews and other readers of the Torah to fresh, sensitive approaches with room for broader human dignity. (Nov.)