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There are many people who identify as transgender or non-binary and request that they are treated as such by other people, which includes referencing them by the pronoun that they preferred to be called by.

This may include:

  • Someone who has undergone gender reassignment surgery
  • Someone who now identifies themselves as the opposite gender they were assigned at birth even though they have not undergone any gender reassignment surgery.
  • Someone who identifies as non-binary and prefers to be referenced by an alternative pronoun like "Ze","Ve", "Xe" etc, or exclusively using the ambiguous "They".

The question is: are there any halachic problems that would prevent an observant Jew from using someone else's preferred pronouns?

Possible factors could be:

  • מדבר שקר תרחק
  • מסייע לדבר עבירה
  • מחזיקי ידי עוברי עבירה
  • דרכי שלום

Although it is not clear if any of these would really apply in this case.

Also to consider: Would it make a difference if the person underwent gender reassignment surgery? (not sure how one would know this) Does it make a difference if the person is Jewish or non-Jewish?

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    1 & 4 can be contingent on one another; IOW in keeping with 4 one may sometimes violate 1 (related); OTOH 1 might not be an issue to begin with if society recognizes/accepts a certain dialect and mode of speech (#Orwellian) in accordance with social determinations. Also no violation of 2 & 3 since such a prohibited transition is/would be done regardless how you refer to them (“תרי עברי דנהרא”).
    – Oliver
    Jun 18, 2019 at 18:16
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    I think it terms of personal conversation, one should respect the other one's feelings and not cause embarrassment or insult. What seems more questionable is how to refer to them in areas such as tefillah where male and female tefillot are separated such as the prayer for the sick.
    – DanF
    Jun 18, 2019 at 18:58
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    We have two "transgender" options from the Gemmorah - androgynous (both attributes) and TumTum (none). Your question can be simply rephrased of how do we address them.
    – Al Berko
    Jun 19, 2019 at 14:57
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    @AlBerko That is an interesting question, but not the one asked here. Knowing how to address a Tumtum and Androgynous, would have little relevance in dealing with addressing a transgender person, given that many of them do not fit into either of those two categories biologically.
    – Silver
    Jun 20, 2019 at 18:12
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    I think the biggest issue here is אין מחזיקין ידי עוברי עבירה. If someone did, or is doing, something prohibited by the Torah, it's wrong to congratulate them on it, or even to give the impression that it's acceptable. Using false pronouns IMHO gives the impression that you're ok with a man becoming a woman. It's a very difficult question, because nowadays you can also get fired for "misgendering" someone. So even if it is wrong to use fake pronouns, the next question is, is this a hill you have to die on (i.e. give up your parnassa on principle)?
    – Shaul Behr
    Oct 6, 2022 at 11:41

4 Answers 4

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While this seems to be a highly sensitive topic, and the opinion of one Rav is not universally binding to say the least, the answer to the question is yes, there is a halachic issue. Here is a Rav, Dayan Levi Yitzchok Raskin, Rov of Anash in London, who deals with this exact question. He concludes that it is an issue of lo silbash based on the fact that Rashi explains the prohibition to mean dressing like a woman in order to mingle with women. He concludes that this is the epitome of doing something like a woman to be able to mingle with women and is a direct violation of this biblical commandments. Once that’s established, calling them by their preferred pronouns would indicate your agreement and approval of their violation and would be prohibited as a machzik yedei ovrei aveira.

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    Does this apply if the person in question is not Jewish?
    – user6591
    May 16, 2023 at 23:53
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    It wouldn’t seem so. If you listen to the podcast, he discusses it from another angle but not halachic. Interestingly, he says that in USA a person who wants to undergo this type of procedure needs to have someone vouch for them to say they are of sound mind. Many times people ask their employer to sign for them. If a non Jewish employee asks his Jewish employer to sign for him, he says is an extremely tough question that he can’t answer.
    – Chatzkel
    May 17, 2023 at 0:12
  • Interesting. I'll put it on my listening list.
    – user6591
    May 17, 2023 at 0:59
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    This also wouldn't apply if the person chose a non binary gender. Lo silbash doesn't apply when the clothes are worn by both genders. (I still haven't listen yet)
    – user6591
    May 24, 2023 at 11:36
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    @user6591 it certainly seems like an avenue to explore though. If 'switching gender' is prohibited, it might be derived that denying one's own gender (or even denying the concept of gender) is in some way prohibited too.
    – Rabbi Kaii
    May 24, 2023 at 18:27
4

To recap your question:

  1. Are there any halachic problems that would prevent an observant Jew from using someone else's (meaning someone who either identifies as transgender or non-binary, or who has undergone gender reassignment surgery, whether Jewish or non-Jewish) preferred pronouns?

The simple answer is yes, for an observant Jew this type of practice, meaning acceding to their request and using their preferred, personal pronouns, like they do themselves, is prohibited according to halacha.

The prohibition comes from the written Torah, Vayikra 20:23 which says:

וְלֹ֤א תֵֽלְכוּ֙ בְּחֻקֹּ֣ת הַגּ֔וֹי אֲשֶׁר־אֲנִ֥י מְשַׁלֵּ֖חַ מִפְּנֵיכֶ֑ם כִּ֤י אֶת־כׇּל־אֵ֙לֶּה֙ עָשׂ֔וּ וָאָקֻ֖ץ בָּֽם׃

You shall not follow the practices of the nation that I am driving out before you. For it is because they did all these things that I abhorred them

And also from Vayikra 18:3 and 18:26 which say:

כְּמַעֲשֵׂ֧ה אֶֽרֶץ־מִצְרַ֛יִם אֲשֶׁ֥ר יְשַׁבְתֶּם־בָּ֖הּ לֹ֣א תַעֲשׂ֑וּ וּכְמַעֲשֵׂ֣ה אֶֽרֶץ־כְּנַ֡עַן אֲשֶׁ֣ר אֲנִי֩ מֵבִ֨יא אֶתְכֶ֥ם שָׁ֙מָּה֙ לֹ֣א תַעֲשׂ֔וּ וּבְחֻקֹּתֵיהֶ֖ם לֹ֥א תֵלֵֽכוּ׃

You shall not copy the practices of the land of Egypt where you dwelt, nor of the land of Canaan to which I am taking you; nor shall you follow their laws.

וּשְׁמַרְתֶּ֣ם אַתֶּ֗ם אֶת־חֻקֹּתַי֙ וְאֶת־מִשְׁפָּטַ֔י וְלֹ֣א תַעֲשׂ֔וּ מִכֹּ֥ל הַתּוֹעֵבֹ֖ת הָאֵ֑לֶּה הָֽאֶזְרָ֔ח וְהַגֵּ֖ר הַגָּ֥ר בְּתוֹכְכֶֽם׃

But you must keep My laws and My rules, and you must not do any of those abhorrent things, neither the citizen nor the stranger who resides among you;

To understand how this seemingly innocent and unrelated action, to follow the request of the transgender and/or non-binary community, to describe them by their preferred personal pronouns (like the practice which they do themselves) can be connected to these clear prohibitions in the written Torah requires reviewing how these concepts are taught via our Oral law across many different sources.

The first source to review is Sifra (Torat Kohanim, Vienna edition, Acharei Mot, Chapter 13)

The beginning of this chapter emphasizes that both Jews and non-Jews are warned by the Creator of us all regarding prohibited sexual practices. Specific details and consequences may vary depending upon status, but this subject is addressed to everyone.

These prohibitions also apply to both men and to women.

It is no surprise that our generation faces this specific challenge now, at the end of exile and the beginning of the final redemption. It is found in the commentary of the Rogatchover Gaon to the Chumash, parshat Acharei Mot, 18:2 quoting Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi from the Sifra 13:4 which says that G-d knew that in the end Israel would be broken, disrupted and disconnected through prohibited sexual relationships. (לינתק בעריות) That their exposure to this type of sin (during their enslavement and exile) would damage and corrupt them (much like severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). And the Rogatchover points explicitly to Sanhedrin 63b and the quote of Rav Yehuda in the name of Rav who says:

Rav Yehuda says that Rav says: The Jewish people knew that idol worship is of no substance; they did not actually believe in it. And they worshipped idols only in order to permit themselves to engage in forbidden sexual relations in public, since most rituals of idol worship would include public displays of forbidden sexual intercourse.

That (exposure to) sin causes sin. And this was actually the advice that Bilaam gave to Balak after failing to curse the Jewish people during the first redemption. His curses being converted into prophecies about the future, final redemption.

Rogatchover Commentary

In Sifra 13:6-7 it distinguishes the practices specifically of the Egyptians and the Canaanites of that time because they were the most extreme examples of their time in regard to sexually deviant practices. It points out that these types of practices are considered a spiritual pollution of the individual and that this spiritual pollution of the individual also results in the pollution of surrounding physical environment to such an extent that the surrounding environment (literally the land) will no longer support them and will eventually vomit them out! (Vayikra 18:25, 18:28 and 20:22)

If today you look around with alarm at the widespread and varied destruction of the environment on a global scale and the impending signs of a potential mass extinction event, the enormous forest fires caused by acts of G-d making the very air of millions of people unfit to breath, and the multiple volcanoes spewing ash, smoke, lava and sulfur fumes (literally fire and brimstone), it is worth reflecting upon what the Torah teaches is its spiritual cause.

It is very much in keeping with the concept of Divine Judgement Middah-Keneged-Middah (Measure for Measure) but in an inverse relationship to the Source of all life, meaning G-d. Like is emphasized within the Torah in regard to the concept of the first commandment: to be fruitful and multiply, meaning the perpetuation of the species, diversification and increase of life is a primary sign of a healthy and thriving environment. (See Bereshit 1:22 and Bereshit 1:28)

The political justification of the LGBTQ+ movement is all about diversity, but in alignment with the opposite of life.

This is the underlying message from the Torah about the causes behind the mass extinction event recounted in connection with Noach and the flood. See Bereshit 6:1-13 and the commentaries there for details.

Although we have a Heavenly promise that a mass extinction event via water will not be repeated, we do not have a guarantee that we will not experience another mass extinction event by other means, be it by disease or some other catastrophe like earthquake, volcano, extreme climate change or devastating pollution of the environment.

Sifra goes on to explain that Idol Worship, Prohibited Sexual Practices and Murder are all from the same spiritual root. In Sifra 13:9 it also connects this to the concept of passing sons and daughters through the flames of Molach. (Devarim 18:10)

Essentially this is the wasting of ones reproductive potential, which is comprised of both sons and daughters, by indulging irrationally in obsessive excess with the flames of natural sexual desire (this desire is something G-d created for a blessing and for good in connection to the reproduction and preservation of the species, meaning the commandment to Be fruitful and multiply). Like G-d told to Adam HaRishon, he was to do this commandment and to preserve and guard it! (Bereshit 2:15)

In the commentary of the Raavad to Sifra 13:9 he emphasizes that any of the customs and practices like excessive preoccupation with personal grooming and beautification associated with these prohibited sexual behaviors are included in the prohibition against following the ways of the Amorites.

And Rabbi Meir also explains that this activity is associated with the Amorites, who are also connected with the Amalekites and their allies in Sodom and Gomorrah. (Bereshit 14:1-7)

And this prohibition is explained in detail by Yerucham Fishel Perla in his commentary to Saadia Gaon's Sefer HaMitzvot, Negative Commandments, Number 12 and how it includes also their customs and practices. It is not limited to actual worship of a physical idol, but includes their mode of dress, hairstyles and grooming and even unusual behavior. All these types of things vary according to what is practiced in that region and generation.

It is also the view of Rambam as found in his Sefer HaMitvot, Negative Mitzvot 30, and Mishneh Torah, Sefer HaMada, Hilchot Avodah Zarah, 10:1 and for deeper understanding of Rambam's position see Moreh Nevuchim, Section 3:37.

This is also the view found in Sefer Yere'im by the Tosaphist, Rabbi Eliezer of Metz, see Sefer Yere'im with commentary To'afot Romm, Freidman Edition, Vol.3, Amud 7, Siman 271 and Siman 313 who explains that this prohibition pertains to practices that lead to and are in support of men marrying men, women marrying women, women marrying more than one man, and men marrying a woman and her daughter, etc.

ובחוקותיהם לא תלכו לא אמרתי אלא בחוקים החקוקים להם ולאבותיהם מה היו עושים איש נושא איש ואשה נושא אשה אשה נשאת לשנים ואיש נושא אשה ובתה לכך נאמר ובחוקותיהם לא תלכו:

The same view is expressed in the Semag, Sefer Mitzvot Gadolot of Rabbi Moshe of Coucy, Negative Commandments, 50.

It is also the position found in Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah, Siman 178 which says:

One [i.e., a Jew] should not follow the customs of non-Jews (nor should one try to resemble them)

To which the Rema, Rabbi Moshe Isserles emphasizes:

Rather, one [i.e., a Jew] should be distinct from them [i.e., non-Jews] in one’s manner of dress and in all of one’s actions. But all of this [i.e., these restrictions] apply only to things that non-Jews do for the sake of licentiousness.

And a thorough treatment can also be found in the Responsa of the third Lubavitcher Rebbe in Tzemach Tzedek, Section Yoreh Deah, Siman 91.

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    How do you know this practice is included in this prohibition? Restating lots of sources for a commonly known prohibition is not supporting the central claim of your answer.
    – Double AA
    Apr 11, 2023 at 18:48
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    My viewpoint is don't make things up even if you don't know the answer. If there's a relevant part of the citation, quote that instead of the stuff you did quote.
    – Double AA
    Apr 11, 2023 at 22:50
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    @YaacovDeane consider providing only the relevant information as well as your conclusions based thereon. Long megillas will burn us all out.
    – Hershy S.
    Apr 19, 2023 at 0:37
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    FWIW, my downvote on this post has nothing to do with emotional or political feelings. It's because this post does not clearly address the question at hand, which is about pronouns, in conversation. Instead, it presents a large and growing mass of material on possibly-related issues without the sort of organization and argumentation that would help a reader navigate all this material and understand how it may address the question. If you're interested in fixing these issues, consider adding only material that will help the reader in these ways and subtracting any material that doesn't.
    – Isaac Moses
    Apr 20, 2023 at 16:23
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    @RabbiKaii to my mind, the main issue with this post, which is a core issue, is that it assumes but does not demonstrate the metziut point that self-pronoun-choice is linked to forbidden sexual unions [in the manner that would implicate it in the cited Halachic statements]. Secondarily, my previous comment about organization remains unaddressed. The longer an answer gets, the more structure is necessary to make it readable. This post could address the question much more convincingly by focusing on one authoritative source and linking it clearly to the practice in question.
    – Isaac Moses
    May 14, 2023 at 15:16
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Plenty of sources (eg https://www.torahmusings.com/2021/11/an-apostates-son/) on the importance of not calling people by a name that they will find humiliating or embarrassing. That can easily be read as extending to not using pronouns that someone will find humiliating or embarrassing.

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    I'm not sure that applies to someone who is actually doing something wrong themselves...
    – Esther
    Apr 19, 2023 at 15:54
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    If someone finds it humiliating to be called "Jew" should we not call them that? Or "Cohen" if they are a Cohen?
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Apr 19, 2023 at 18:11
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    Hi Zarka. Thanks for contributing. The article you link to is discussing someone who is following the Torah. But this question is addressing people who are actively rejecting G-d's commandments and His Torah. They fall into a very special category that is outside of what Rabbi Student is dealing with. You might find the link I posted to Rambam's Moreh Nevuchim (Guide to the Perplexed) helpful in understanding this unique circumstance. Apr 19, 2023 at 20:43
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    I'm not asking in order to question or judge your morality, I genuinely want to know what you think the limits are for acquiescing people of their desire to not be referred to by what they are. If they don't want to be called a Jew or a Cohen were two examples to test that. If someone identifies as a shoteh or eved and you know they are not, are you supposed to deal with them as if they are and if so to what degree? What of the halachot applicable to those? All in order to avoid embarrassing them? This is an important question so please can we discuss it and not take things personally
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Apr 20, 2023 at 15:04
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    If a rabbi who got a valid semicha transitions or identifies as a woman now, what do we do about their embarrassment and calling them a rabbi. Is this now a legit way to get female rabbis?
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Apr 20, 2023 at 15:48
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Judaism is willing in other instances to obscure certain truths for good reasons. One example being many Kethubboth list the bride to be as a virgin even if she may not truly be so. Because of this I personally see no issue using someone's preferred pronouns since I'm not going to pull down their pants and confirm, just like no one is pulling down pants doing virginity tests anymore.

I offer this advice when everyone is acting in good faith. If someone is pressuring you, or demanding you use a pronoun, that's an entirely different case. If you personally struggle with using a preferred pronoun when someone presents as the other pronoun (identifies as she but still has beard and mustache because they haven't started hormones) then I would apologize ahead of time to said a person and say you may make mistakes in using their preferred pronoun. Someone who is working with you in good faith should reflect the grace you are giving them and you should respect the grace they are giving you.

Note: This answer is personal and does not reflect any ideas beyond what is strictly written here. I'm not delving into anyone's halakhic status pre or post surgery. Like one of the other answers here, just as we avoid embarrassing people by mentioning their virginity status, or avoid using certain names, I personally avoid embarassing someone by fighting over pronouns.

Update: After further considerations I now offer another reason one could use personal pronouns. More than likely you have already used the wrong pronouns and haven't even noticed. For some transsexuals it's more obvious what their birth gender was, so I can understand someone wanting to die on the hill of stating birth gender at all time. But many people who identify as trans will start hormones and surgery, and some of them will look completely like their desired gender and nothing like their birth gender. In your life you have probably already used the "preferred pronouns" because you assumed they were the gender they introduced themselves as. Based on this doubt, I think it's completely appropriate to use preferred pronouns because due to modern medications and surgeries, you might never be able to tell the difference until you pull someone's pants down.

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    "I'm not going to pull down their pants and confirm" - what if it is clearly obvious, or if you have actually been to the mikva with them etc?
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Apr 19, 2023 at 18:13
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    What if you slept with someone and therefore knew they weren't a virgin anymore. If they were getting married later would you argue with her, the spouse, and the Rav that the ketubah can't say virgin?
    – Aaron
    Apr 19, 2023 at 18:37
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    I'm not disagreeing with your whole point, just questioning that part of the argument
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Apr 19, 2023 at 18:39
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    Question all you want. This is a personal opinion answer in which I'm trying to convey that one can find space to be respectful because if we are willing to say x things aren't our business, then it seems to me that y things aren't our business either.
    – Aaron
    Apr 19, 2023 at 19:21
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    I understand your sentiment and am also inclined toward whatever can be done to help people in these conditions to find their way back to the path of Torah and traditional Jewish law. But in the same breath, you cannot advocate something that is false according to the Torah. Regarding your specific answer, it doesn't answer what the OP specifically asked. The OP asks specifically what is taught about this according to halacha about indulging the request to refer to the transgender or gender dismorphic person by personal pronouns opposite of their birth gender (like is their custom). Apr 19, 2023 at 19:27

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