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There have recently been some very high-profile cases of men refusing to give their wives Gittin (plural for "Get", the Jewish divorce document required to free a woman to remarry).

Reading about one of these cases led me to read about a husband who had abandoned his family and disappeared underground without giving his wife a Get. Nobody seems to know where he is, not even those who might be inclined to defend him from charges of abandonment.

There may be any number of reasons why this man disappeared, but somehow one strange possibility jumped out at me: what if he's become a woman? Suppose he were tracked down, despite this drastic change. At that point, Halachically, could he give his wife a Get if he wanted to? Would he still have the status of a man, at least for that purpose? Would he be deemed by Halachah as mentally competent to give the Get?

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I seem to recall that the Tzitz Eliezer rules that sex changes work halachically to change one's gender (though they're assur lechatchila), while some other poskim rule that they do not change one's halachic gender. So it would seem like the problem is only according to the shita of the Tzitz Eliezer. – Malper Nov 6 '13 at 21:35
@ray Who said souls are perfectly correlated to chiyuv mitzvot? If someone concludes a man accidentally got a woman's soul, he's now patur? – Double AA Nov 6 '13 at 23:00
@DoubleAA Or HaChaim (B'reishis 22:20 and elsewhere) comments that Yitzchak was born with a female soul, and he did not receive a male soul (that would allow him to get married and have children) until the akeida. This idea may trace to the Zohar (see for example Pikudei 257a in light of 227b, מסטרא דשמאלא מסטרא דנוקבא). The רמ"ע מפאנו also describes Yitzchak as having a soul "from the side of femininity" (Gilgulei N'shamos 90:2), and the Seder HaDoros (Elef HaRishon) writes that Yitzchak was a gilgul of Chava. – Fred Nov 7 '13 at 2:08
@gershon ?????? – Double AA Nov 20 '14 at 16:58
@gershon, why?? – Seth J Nov 20 '14 at 19:25

Yes, he would certainly be allowed to give his wife a get. According to the vast majority of poskim, he is a man despite whatever surgery he had. He obviously does not meet the qualifications for a shoteh. According to the minority view of the Tzitz Eliezer, he would not have to give his wife a get, because the marriage dissolved when he "became a woman."

See R. Bleich, Contemporary Halakhic Problems, vol. 1, p. 100ff.

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This answer would be much improved if you could cite your sources. Can you give some examples of poskim who hold by the majority? Where does the Tzitz Eliezer say what he said? – Charles Koppelman Nov 6 '13 at 22:11
See R. Bleich, Contemporary Halakhic Problems, vol. 1, p. 100ff. – wfb Nov 6 '13 at 22:33
His genetic makeup will always remain male regardless of how convincing his gender change is. His genetic material will remain XY(male) and he will never have a genotype of XX (female). I would also favor an answer that he can give her a get. – alice fine Nov 20 '14 at 16:59
"He obviously does not meet the qualifications for a shoteh" ....not so obvious to me.... – Shokhet Nov 21 '14 at 6:03
@TRiG It doesn't appear that way to me. No one even mentioned "trans status" however you define that. – Double AA Jan 28 '15 at 17:20

The Tzitz Eliezer is at the end of Vol 10 25:26:6. The teshuvah discusses transplants, and he raises the question posed here as a hypothetical. A second teshuvah, in vol 11 #78, is about someone with a hormonal issue impacting their sexual development during gestation who is born looking female, but has one testicle. In both cases he says that gender is decided by external organs, not internal ones.

I frankly do not know of anyone else who wrote on the topic. Also, notably, REW wrote a teshuvah, i.e. intending to be follows in practice -- lehalakhah ulema'aseh, as opposed to R Bleich's more theoretical journal article.

Speaking theoretically, I could see logic of a third position.... That with regard to halachic gender differences based on role, the person's gender is that of their birth. So that the person in question would still be obligated to wear tefillin, daven three times a day, etc... But when it comes to gender issues related to sexuality, their gender is their new assigned gender. After all, if the person is now female, is yichud with men or with women more problematic? What to do about minyan, which is interpersonal but not sexual, is beyond the scope of my speculation.

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What does gender have to with davening three times a day? – Double AA Nov 20 '14 at 16:59
I keep thinking your profile picture is R Bleich! – Double AA Nov 20 '14 at 17:46
@DoubleAA, he must not hold like the Rav. – Seth J Nov 20 '14 at 19:24
@SethJ Or like some other solitary opinions... judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/13326/… – Double AA Nov 20 '14 at 21:28
@ephraimhelfgot If you heard such a thing it must have been made up in the last ~200 years. No Rishon mentions such a thing, yet they all had women around. They all just say that nowadays Halakha treats Maariv as a Chiyuv. – Double AA May 5 at 1:10

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