• Kol Isha Atop the Mechitza: Finding a Women's Voice in Jewish Transgender Activism

      Alpert, Rebecca (Temple University. Libraries, 2020)
      Just over a decade ago, the seminal anthology “Balancing on the Mechitza” marked the start of an era of tremendous growth in Jewish transgender life and activism. This paper explores how this movement has experienced its own form of “kol isha,” the restriction placed on Jewish women’s voices within traditional Jewish law. By applying parallels that the author finds in the work and experiences of Jewish lesbian-feminists, and in particular reading the Jewish lesbian anthology “Nice Jewish Girls” against “Balancing on the Mechitza,” the author attempts to forward insights about the ways in which Jewish trans activism has brought limited liberation for Jewish trans women. It explores what Jewish trans spaces might be able to learn from this history to further liberation not only for trans women, but for Jewish women more broadly. Utilizing the feminist concept that an author’s own position is not only inevitably represented within the work, but also of critical importance, it bridges this theoretical analysis with the authors experiences in Jewish trans spaces and advocates material changes to how these spaces are organized—including the democratization of power and authority, a renewed focus on the gendered division of labor, and a prioritization and exploration of women’s practices, both traditional and innovative. Drawing upon the work of Black feminists, it emphasizes the challenging nature of coalition work, and advocates a shared empathy and compassionate accountability between marginalized groups which inevitably replicate systems of oppression which they do not create. Rephrasing a question by Jewish lesbian-feminist Irena Klepfisz asked about Jewish lesbian oppression in the lesbian movement, it both proposes and explores: do I feel that by asking other trans people to deal with misogyny or transphobia I am draining the movement of precious energy that would be better used elsewhere? In doing so, it attempts to claim space for a woman’s voice.