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Distributed for Brandeis University Press

The Soul of the Stranger

Reading God and Torah from a Transgender Perspective

Distributed for Brandeis University Press

The Soul of the Stranger

Reading God and Torah from a Transgender Perspective

Reading some of the best-known Torah stories through the lens of transgender experience, Joy Ladin explores fundamental questions about how religious texts, traditions, and the understanding of God can be enriched by transgender perspectives, and how the Torah and trans lives can illuminate one another. Drawing on her own experience and lifelong reading practice, Ladin shows how the Torah, a collection of ancient texts that assume human beings are either male or female, speaks both to practical transgender concerns, such as marginalization, and to the challenges of living without a body or social role that renders one intelligible to others—challenges that can help us understand a God who defies all human categories. These creative, evocative readings transform our understanding of the Torah’s portrayals of God, humanity, and relationships between them.

208 pages | 6 x 9

HBI Series on Jewish Women

Literature and Literary Criticism: General Criticism and Critical Theory

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“This heartfelt, difficult work will introduce Jews and other readers of the Torah to fresh, sensitive approaches with room for broader human dignity.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Publishers Weekley, starred review

"Taken together, these chapters provide groundbreaking and vitally important readings of the Torah that have transformative potential for transgender and queer people as well as all others."

Journal of the American Academy of Religion

“For me, the best Torah and the better life come from a wrestle and a dance between a superbly sensitive human being in the right-now, and the ancient text. Ladin has done this in her transparent exploration of how her own Trans life, through joy and pain, has brought her new insights into Torah and into life that open  both of them more fully. I found myself dancing in mind and heart and spirit as I read. Hallelu-Yah!”

Rabbi Arthur Waskow, director of The Shalom Center and author of Godwrestling—Round 2

"I thanked Ladin after her reading, telling her that her work was an inspiration for my own journey into scripture as a gender nonconforming person. She told me that the only way to read Torah is in community, with other voices to guide and challenge you on your reading, each contributing a layer of interpretation to the text. This was days before the reckoning with COVID-19 transformed New York, seemingly overnight, into a city of isolates; now many of us are experiencing the “being alone with God” that Joy Ladin described in her childhood....I felt, if not a sense of community, one of solidarity—a common wayfinding in search of various shores. We’re all looking to get to the other side of something right now. Narratives of transition and transformation remind us that, even in the face of unfathomable bewilderment, we are capable of learning who we truly are."

Jude Wetherell | Believe Out Loud

"The Soul of the Stranger is a daring book. Ladin dares to speak as a transgender person, unapologetically, and assert that transgender people have a place in Judaism, whatever people may say and think....The Soul of the Stranger does not teach that lesson only to transgender Jews. Ladin is an example to everyone who fears living openly as themselves will cost them a place in their community. Whatever identities you hold, we all have something to learn from Ladin about living openly, boldly, and loving God while we do it."

The Common Reader

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments • Introduction: Shipwrecked with God • The Genesis of Gender • Trans Experience in the Torah • Close Encounters with an Incomprehensible God • Reading Between the Binaries • Knowing the Soul of the Stranger • Notes • Index

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