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Queer yeshiva to publish first-ever collection of Jewish legal opinions written by and for trans Jews

(JTA) — In the midst of writing a 13-page analysis of a complex area of Jewish law, Rabbi Xava De Cordova found something she wasn’t expecting to see in the medieval-era sources: flexibility.

De Cordova is transgender and had long wondered whether she could feel a sense of belonging while studying reams of rabbinic writings on halacha, or Jewish law, which stretch back thousands of years and often prescribe different practices for men and women.

The laws of ritual purity, for example, prescribe specific behaviors for women on the assumption that they all menstruate. Trans women do not. De Cordova said that gap and others had her thinking, “I don’t really know if I can find a place for myself in this literature.”

But after digging into Jewish texts on the topic, De Cordova realized she’d sold the sages short: Medieval European rabbis were asking many of the same questions she was — and their answers reflected real-world complexity.

“I just found that the rabbis and the early halachic authorities’ understanding of niddah was so much more conceptual and vague and fluctuating than I ever realized before I started this particular work,” De Cordova said, using the Hebrew term for purity laws. Her conclusion: “Wow, there’s so much space for me within this literature.”

De Cordova’s realization is one of many that a dozen Jewish scholars and rabbis have had over the last year as they have scoured Jewish texts for guidance on how transgender Jews can adapt traditional rituals to their lived experience. Now, the group is preparing to release a batch of their essays, analyses of Jewish law called teshuvot, in hopes that they can inform the experiences of trans Jews who seek to live in accordance with traditional Jewish law.

The release of the essays comes at a time when lawmakers in dozens of states are targeting trans people and their rights, in some cases instigating fights that have heavily involved rabbis and their families.

In that climate, writing trans Jews into Jewish tradition “becomes an act of resistance because it’s about celebrating lives that are being demeaned and celebrating people who are being dehumanized in the public sphere,” said Rabbi Becky Silverstein, co-director of the Trans Halakha Project at Svara, the yeshiva founded in Chicago two decades ago to serve the queer community. The dozen rabbis and scholars are based at Svara and collectively form the Teshuva Writing Project.

Among the questions they have tackled: How could a trans man converting to Judaism have a bris, required for male converts? Is the removal of body tissue after gender-affirming surgery a ritual matter, given Jewish legal requirements for burying body parts? And is there a Jewish obligation, in certain cases, to undergo gender transition?

Just how widely their answers will be consumed and taken into account is a question. Most Jews who consciously adhere to halacha throughout their daily lives are Orthodox, and live in communities that either reject trans Jews or are reckoning with whether and how to accept them. Non-Orthodox Jewish denominations have made efforts to embrace trans Jews, but halacha is less often the starting point for most of their members. The Reform movement, the largest in the United States, expressly rejects halacha as binding.

Still, a growing number of Jews and Jewish communities strive to be inclusive while staying rooted in Jewish law and tradition. There are also a growing number of trans Jews who are connected to traditional communities, or who want to live in accordance with Jewish law.

“I think individual trans Jews who are not part of communities could use these teshuvot to guide their own decision-making,” said Silverstein, who was ordained at the pluralistic Hebrew College seminary. “We live in a time of religious autonomy in Jewish life, and where trans Jews actually are hungry for connection to tradition. And so they could use these teshuvot to help inform their own conversations.”

Organizations and initiatives such as the Jewish LGBTQ group Keshet; Torah Queeries, a collection of queer commentaries on the Bible; and have created rituals, readings, blessings and customs for trans Jews, and Svara runs a Queer Talmud Camp as well as intensive Jewish study programs throughout the year. But until now, no collection of Jewish legal opinions has been published by and for trans people.

“Halacha has to be informed by the real lived experiences of the people about whom it is legislating,” said Laynie Soloman, who helps lead Svara and holds the title of associate rosh yeshiva, in an approach that they said the group had adopted from the disability advocacy community. “That is a fundamental truth about halacha that we are holding as a collective and taking seriously in the way we are authoring these teshuvot.”

The teshuvot will be published later this month, and follow a long tradition of rabbis setting halachic precedent by answering questions from their followers. Those answers are traditionally based on an analysis of rabbinic texts throughout history. They can address questions ranging from whether smoking cigarettes is permissible to the particulars of making a kitchen kosher for Passover.

Some Jewish legal questions tackled by the group at Svara had not previously been answered, such as how to mark conversion for someone who is male but does not have a penis. In other cases, accepted Jewish law pertaining to gender can be painful for those who are nonbinary or trans, either because the answer is not clear or because the law does not match up with contemporary understandings that gender and sex are distinct.

“[Those are] areas where trans people are sort of most likely to either feel lost themselves or be interrogated by their community. … And so they’re sort of these urgent halachic needs,” said De Cordova, who was privately ordained by a rabbi from the Renewal Judaism movement. “And 99.9% of the literature about them so far has been written by cis people, about us.”

De Cordova concluded that trans women are obligated in niddah, the ritual purity laws. In her teshuva, she provides several approaches to emulate the complicated counting cycle that tallies the days a woman is considered ritually impure following menstruation. She suggests using a seven- and 11-day cycle originally proposed by Maimonides, the 12th-century scholar and philosopher. De Cordova also suggests that the imposition of a cycle not based in biology means ancient and medieval rabbis had some understanding of womanhood as a social construct.

“There’s many cases in which the rabbis sort of choose to orient niddah around their understanding of women, which I would call the social construction of womanhood by rabbis, rather than observable physical phenomenon or actual women’s experience,” she said.

For De Cordova, the experience of writing about niddah provided her with new insights about some of the oldest Jewish legal texts on the subject.

“They’re flexible enough and sort of responsive enough that I can really find a lot of freedom and space in working with them,” she said of the ancient sources. “And that was just a really sort of wonderful and freeing transition to go through.”

Last year, the Conservative Movement approved new language for calling up a nonbinary person to various Torah honors. The rabbis behind the opinion consulted with groups serving LGBTQ Jews and synagogues centered on them, but acknowledged that they were imperfect authors.

“When my coauthors and I published the teshuva, we wrote in it that we are all cisgender rabbis and that we hope that, increasingly, halachic work dealing with nonbinary and trans and queer Jewish life and identity and practice will… come from queer rabbis and scholars themselves,” said Guy Austrian, the rabbi of the Fort Tryon Jewish Center, a synagogue in upper Manhattan. “And I think the publication of the first batch of teshuvot from the Trans Halakha Project shows that that process is underway, and I think that that can only be a good thing for the Jewish world.”

Scholars at Svara, the queer yeshiva based in Chicago, have served the Jewish LGBTQ community for two decades and are now creating the first written set of Jewish law by and for trans Jews. (Jess Benjamin)

Adding to the question-and-answer tradition of Jewish legal opinions means trans Jews will now have new texts to guide their religious practice, Silverstein said. Trans Jews, the writers of the opinions acknowledge, already have their own ways of performing Jewish ritual that accords with their lived experience. But they say that when it comes to Jewish law, informal custom without a sourced legal opinion is not enough.

“I want cis[gender] clergy to realize that there are resources written by and for trans people that they can turn to when they’re trying to help a member of their congregation,” De Cordova said.

The authors of the legal opinions applied to be part of the collective and come from a religiously pluralistic group, ranging in affiliation from Orthodox to Conservative to Jewish Renewal. They have varying expectations for how far-reaching the impact of the new legal opinions will be.

Mike Moskowitz, an Orthodox rabbi and the scholar-in-residence for trans and queer Jewish studies at Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, which serves the LGBTQ community, said the teshuvot could provide a model for observant Jews who are also trans.

“I think it’s significant in modeling what an informed conversation can look like, which hasn’t really happened in Orthodox publications,” said Moskowitz, who was not part of the collective that composed the teshuvot on trans Jews’ practice. “I hope this models what can be done in other movements. What’s been tricky is that every movement has a different understanding of what halacha means.”

Even within Orthodoxy, conflicting opinions already exist, in a reflection of how halacha has always operated. For example, Talia Avrahami, a transgender Orthodox woman, follows the opinion of the late Rabbi Eliezer Waldenberg, known as the Tzitz Eliezer, who ruled that a trans woman who undergoes gender affirmation surgery is a woman according to Jewish law. But Avrahami was told she could not sit in the women’s section of her synagogue, because the rabbi who the synagogue follows does not accept Waldenberg’s opinion. Months earlier, Avrahami had also been asked to leave her teaching job at an Orthodox day school after students and parents learned that she was transgender.

Avrahami declined to comment on the new teshuvot, citing restrictions set by her current employer.

Silverstein says some Conservative rabbis have expressed interest in using the opinions to guide practice in their own congregations. But he is less sure if they will be adopted in the Orthodox community, which is the target audience for most traditional literature on Jewish law.

“When it comes to the Orthodox community, I’m not sure I am bold enough to dream that these teshuvot specifically are going to be adopted,” Silverstein said. “I’m not even sure I know what that means. But it is my hope that they will permeate throughout the Jewish community, at least through the Modern Orthodox community.”

The scope of the opinions written by the collective extends beyond the trans community. The first batch of answers, for example, includes an opinion about how to increase physical accessibility to a mikvah, ritual baths used to fulfill some requirements of Jewish law.

“Judaism thrives and Torah thrives when people are bringing their life experiences to the text and asking their questions of the text,” Silverstein said. “That’s how new Torah is uncovered in the world. And that’s how Judaism and Torah has stayed alive through so much of Jewish history.”

The post Queer yeshiva to publish first-ever collection of Jewish legal opinions written by and for trans Jews appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Canada’s economic growth projected to be about 1% in the first half of 2024

Canada is a country with a thriving Jewish community and has traditionally offered the security of a strong economy for residents. The national economic outlook is naturally something that everyone in Canada’s Jewish community keeps track of – especially those involved in business in the various provinces.

With this in mind, the July 2023 Monetary Policy Report from the Bank of Canada made for interesting reading, projecting a moderate economic growth figure of around 1% for the first half of 2024. This is in line with growth figures that had been forecast for the second half of 2023, and sees the country’s economy remain on a stable footing.

Steady projected growth for first half of 2024

Although projected economic growth of around 1% in early 2024 is not as impressive as figures of around 3.4% in 2022 and 1.8% in 2023, it is certainly no cause for alarm. But what might be behind it?

Higher interest rates are one major factor to consider and have had a negative impact on household spending nationally. This has effectively seen people with less spending power and businesses in Canada generating less revenue as a result.

Interest rate rises have also hit business investments nationally, and less money is being channelled into this area to fuel Canada’s economic growth. When you also factor in how the weak foreign demand for Canadian goods and services has hit export growth lately, the projected GDP growth figure for early 2024 is understandable.

Growth in second half of 2024 expected

Although the above may make for interesting reading for early 2024, the Bank of Canada’s report does show that economic growth is expected to pick up in the second half of the year. This is projected to be due to the decreasing effect of high interest rates on the Canadian economy and a stronger foreign demand for the country’s exports.

Moving forward from this period, it is predicted that inflation will remain at around 3% as we head into 2025, and hit the Bank of Canada’s inflation target of 2% come the middle of 2025. All of this should help the country’s financial status remain stable and prove encouraging for business leaders in the Jewish community.

Canada’s economic growth mirrors iGaming’s rise

When you take a look at the previous growth figures Canada has seen and also consider the growth predicted for 2024 (especially in the second half of the year), it is clear that the country has a vibrant, thriving economy.

This economic growth is something that can be compared with iGaming’s recent rise as an industry around the country. In the same way as Canada has steadily built a strong economy over time, iGaming has transformed itself into a powerful, flourishing sector.

This becomes even clearer when you consider that Canadian iGaming has been a major contributor to the sustained growth seen in the country’s arts, entertainment and recreation industry, which rose by around 1.9% in Q2 of 2023. The healthy state of online casino play in Canada is also evidenced by how many customers the most popular casino platforms attract and how the user experience these operators offer has enabled iGaming in the country to take off.

This, of course, is also something that translates to the world stage, where global iGaming revenues in 2023 hit an estimated $95 billion. iGaming’s global market volume is also pegged to rise to around $130 billion by 2027. These kinds of figures represent a sharp jump for iGaming worldwide and show how the sector is on the ascent.

Future economic outlook for Canada in line with global expectations

When considering the Canadian economic outlook for 2024, it is often useful to look at how this compares with global financial predictions. In addition to the rude health of iGaming in Canada being reflected in global online casino gaming, the positive economic outlook for the country is also broadly in line with expectations for many global economies.

Global growth is also predicted to rise steadily in the second half of 2024 before becoming stronger in 2025. This should be driven by the weakening effects of high interest rates on worldwide economic prosperity. With rate cuts in Canada already expected after Feb 2024’s inflation report, this could happen in the near future.

The performance of the US economy is always of interest in Canada, as this is the country’s biggest trading partner. Positive US Q2 performances in 2023, powered by a strong labor market, good consumer spending levels and robust business investments, were therefore a cause for optimism. As a US economy that continues to grow is something that Canadian businesses welcome, this can only be a healthy sign.

Canada set for further growth in 2024

Local news around Canada can cover many topics but the economy is arguably one of the most popular. A projected GDP growth figure of around 1% for Canada’s economy shows that the financial state of the country is heading in the right direction. An improved financial outlook heading into the latter half of 2024/2025 would make for even better reading, and the national economy should become even stronger.

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The Legal Landscape of Online Gambling in Canada

Online gambling has grown in popularity around the globe in recent years. While many jurisdictions have legalized land-based gambling, it hasn’t applied to online platforms. Nonetheless, Canada is one nation that has legalized online gambling with their provinces’ licensing and regulating sites.

Nonetheless, Canadians of legal age can enjoy playing their favourite online games where available. So many games like slots, blackjack, and roulette still maintain their popularity even in the digital sense.  Want to learn about what’s legal in Canada for online gambling? Let’s take a look.

What is legal for online gambling in Canada?

What is the best online casino in Canada? The list we provide you here should be a good start. It’s also important to note that most Canadian provinces do not have laws that prohibit offshore online casinos.

Many provinces provide licensing to online casinos. They even regulate them as well. For example, Alberta and British Columbia have sites regulated by their respective governing bodies. The Atlantic Lottery Corporation (ALC) allows legal online gambling and oversees the services it offers to Maritime provinces such as New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland and Labrador.

However, there are some caveats to address. In Newfoundland and Labrador, online gambling that is not offered by the ALC is considered illegal. Therefore, it is the only Canadian province as of 2024 that prohibits offshore options.

In terms of the legal age, there are three provinces where the legal age is 18: Alberta, Manitoba, and Quebec. The remaining provinces establish 19 as the legal age for gambling including online.

Who are the regulatory bodies for gambling in Canada?

At the Federal level, the Canadian Gaming Association is the regulatory body for gambling in Canada. Thus, they cover both land-based and online gambling in the country. There are also provincial and regional regulatory bodies such as the Atlantic Lottery Corporation (ALC) – which covers the provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador.  

The Western Canada Lottery Corporation covers Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Nunavut, Northwest Territories, and the Yukon Territory. A handful of provinces also have their regulatory bodies covering lottery and gaming.

Canada requires online casinos that wish to accept players from the country to adhere to regulations and licensing. These licenses are provided by provincial regulatory bodies. When licensed, online casinos must follow the regulations and security standards.

However, there is the belief that many of the laws about gambling in Canada may be outdated. This could be because these laws were created long before the advent of the Internet. Therefore, such laws may need to be modernized. Nonetheless, online gambling for the most part is legal, just dependent on the province.

Are there any legal grey areas to discuss?

The grey area that is considered a concern pertains to the use of offshore sites. As mentioned earlier, Newfoundland and Labrador is believed to be the only province that prohibits it. Even online casinos with no licensing by Canadian or provincial authorities accept residents of the country.

On the players’ end, many Canadians are allowed to play at online casinos. However, they may be restricted from certain platforms. This is to ensure that the players themselves are protected from unknowingly playing on platforms that may be illegal. 

What are the other laws and regulations about online gambling in Canada?

Online casinos have implemented measures for responsible gambling. This includes providing support and resources to problem gamblers on their site. They are also restricted regarding the marketing and advertising aspects of promoting their platform. 

One restriction of note is that marketing that is targeted at minors is prohibited. Another prohibits professional athletes from appearing in online casino ads in Ontario.

Even offshore casinos must adhere to these laws and regulations. Especially if they have obtained a license from the provincial bodies that allow them to operate.

Canada’s online gambling is legal – but will things change

As it stands right now, the legality of online gambling in Canada seems to fall under the purview of provincial laws and regulations. Canadian citizens must perform their due diligence further to see which online casinos are allowed by their respective provinces. Just because it may be legal in one province, it may not be the same in others.

Nonetheless, the question is: will any laws relax certain restrictions? Will Newfoundland and Labrador change their tune regarding offshore casinos? It’s unclear what the future holds – but watch this space for any changes about online gambling in Canada.  

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Wiseman, Nathan Elliot
1944 – 2023
Nathan, our beloved husband, Dad, and Zaida, died unexpectedly on December 13, 2023. Nathan was born on December 16, 1944, in Winnipeg, MB, the eldest of Sam and Cissie Wiseman’s three children.
He is survived by his loving wife Eva; children Sam (Natalie) and Marni (Shane); grandchildren Jacob, Jonah, Molly, Isabel, Nicole, and Poppy; brother David (Sherrill); sister Barbara (Ron); sister-in-law Agi (Sam) and many cousins, nieces, and nephews.
Nathan grew up in the north end of Winnipeg surrounded by his loving family. He received his MD from the University of Manitoba in 1968, subsequently completed his General Surgery residency at the University of Manitoba and went on to complete a fellowship in Paediatric Surgery at Boston Children’s Hospital of Harvard University. His surgeon teachers and mentors were world renowned experts in the specialty, and even included a Nobel prize winner.
His practice of Paediatric Surgery at Children’s Hospital of Winnipeg spanned almost half a century. He loved his profession and helping patients, even decades later often recounting details about the many kiddies on whom he had operated. Patients and their family members would commonly approach him on the street and say, “Remember me Dr. Wiseman?”. And he did! His true joy was caring for his patients with compassion, patience, unwavering commitment, and excellence. He was a gifted surgeon and leaves a profound legacy. He had no intention of ever fully retiring and operated until his very last day. He felt privileged to have the opportunity to mentor, support and work with colleagues, trainees, nurses, and others health care workers that enriched his day-to-day life and brought him much happiness and fulfillment. He was recognized with many awards and honors throughout his career including serving as Chief of Surgery of Children’s Hospital of Winnipeg, President of the Canadian Association of Pediatric Surgeons, and as a Governor of the American College of Surgeons. Most importantly of all he helped and saved the lives of thousands and thousands of Manitoba children. His impact on the generations of children he cared for, and their families, is truly immeasurable.
Nathan’s passion for golf was ignited during his childhood summers spent at the Winnipeg Beach Golf Course. Southwood Golf and Country Club has been his second home since 1980. His game was excellent and even in his last year he shot under his age twice! He played an honest “play as it lies” game. His golf buddies were true friends and provided him much happiness both on and off the course for over forty years. However, his passion for golf extended well beyond the eighteenth hole. He immersed himself in all aspects of the golf including collecting golf books, antiques, and memorabilia. He was a true scholar of the game, reading golf literature, writing golf poetry, and even rebuilding and repairing antique golf clubs. Unquestionably, his knowledge and passion for the game was limitless.
Nathan approached his many woodworking and workshop projects with zeal and creativity, and he always had many on the go. During the winter he was an avid curler, and in recent years he also enjoyed the study of Yiddish. Nathan never wasted any time and lived his life to the fullest.
Above all, Nathan was a loving husband, father, grandfather, son, father-in-law, son-in-law, uncle, brother, brother-in-law, cousin, and granduncle. He loved his family and lived for them, and this love was reciprocated. He met his wife Eva when he was a 20-year-old medical student, and she was 18 years old. They were happily married for 56 years. They loved each other deeply and limitlessly and were proud of each other’s accomplishments. He loved the life and the family they created together. Nathan was truly the family patriarch, an inspiration and a mentor to his children, grandchildren, nephews, nieces, and many others. He shared his passion for surgery and collecting with his son and was very proud to join his daughter’s medical practice (he loved Thursdays). His six grandchildren were his pride and joy and the centre of his world.
Throughout his life Nathan lived up to the credo “May his memory be a blessing.” His life was a blessing for the countless newborns, infants, toddlers, children, and teenagers who he cared for, for his colleagues, for his friends and especially for his family. We love him so much and there are no words to describe how much he will be missed.
A graveside funeral was held at the Shaarey Zedek cemetery on December 15, 2023. Pallbearers were his loving grandchildren. The family would like to extend their gratitude to Rabbi Yosef Benarroch of Adas Yeshurun Herzlia Congregation.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Children’s Hospital Foundation of Manitoba, in the name of Dr. Nathan Wiseman.

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