Thursday, March 17, 2011

Five Rabbis And A Drag Queen

12 of the Twelfth Month (Beth) 5771

Pictured on the left are actors Yonatan Qoni'aq and Itziq Cohen, dressed as their roles in the Israeli television series "Jonny."

Yep! That's correct! Itziq Cohen is in drag, women's clothing. How else could he play the character of Doris, Jonny's mother?

Incidentally, the term "DRAG" is an acronym meaning "dressed as girl." The term is not more than 100 years old, but the practice dates back to at least Shakespearean, when men needed to fill the female roles on stage.

The premise of the Israeli comedy "Jonny" is that Jonny is gay, and his mother either does not know, or more likely, does not want to know.

When the show was on the air, it was hysterical!

There are a couple of very positive messages presented in this series as well:

1. A close friendship exists between two Jews from very diverse backgrounds, a stereotypical Iraqi and a stereotypical Russian.

2. The main characters are veteran immigrants. We see that they made successful lives in Israel, and did not fly off to the U. S. or Canada, or wherever.

3. Cross-generational friendships are displayed in a positive light.

Wait a minute!

Do you find it disturbing that I am describing a TV series which features an actor in drag? Do you find it disturbing that I am praising some aspects of the show? Well, I could just tell you not to look. But, we all know that would not be sufficient. You would rant and rave, all the time that you were "not looking" at this post, and "not looking" for clips on YouTube.

Those of who know me, know that I also find such things to be problematic. But, what I find to be even more disturbing is...


I asked a few rabbis what their individual takes on the matter were. For simplicity's sake, I stuck with the issue of a man dressing as a woman, and not the opposite.

Rabbi #1 said that the Torah only prohibited the wearing of women's clothing for the purposes of immorality. It's Purim. People know it's a joke. It's not a problem. (I then decided to ask him about getting tipsy on Purim vs. getting totally drunk, suggesting that HaZa"L say בשומה and not רוויה, something I had learned from Rabbi #4.) He said, no. We have to get drunk on Purim, and we this from the story of Ravah stabbing Ben Ze'ira (TB Megillah 7b). They were drunk. (I wasn't too impressed by that logic, at all.)

Rabbi #2 said that he had no idea what people use to justify this practice.

Very young, Rabbi #3 also said that he had idea what sources, if any, are used to justify a man wearing a woman's clothing on Purim. (I then asked him the intoxication question, I had asked of Rabbi #1.) He thought that it was an interesting question, and that one might do a search for both words on CD-ROM, and then examine the contexts in which they are used. (Now, this is someone I can talk to, someone rational. Furthermore, I had called him over by his first name, and not as "HaRav," something I would not do in front of his students. He didn't even flinch, so I'm impressed.)

Rabbi #4 said that he could understand the logic used by Rabbi #1, but felt that if these same people are getting drunk, who knows what could end up happening. Getting drunk certainly would certainly heighten the chance of immoral behavior. He also found Rabbi #1's logic behind his claim that one must get drunk on Purim.

I finally got to see Rabbi #5 the other day, so I asked him about "going drag" on Purim, albeit not in those precise words. Rabbi #5 said that in the strict sense of halakha (Jewish Law), it is permissible. However, it should be discouraged, due to so much confusion out there regarding gender identity and gender roles.

(There, he said it! The politically-incorrect thing you have all been waiting for! No, not the identity issue. That's old hat. I'm talking about the gender role issue. Feminists, this is your cue to scream, ran and rave, and become hysterical.)

So, what does the Torah actually say on this matter?
לֹא-יִהְיֶה כְלִי-גֶבֶר עַל-אִשָּׁה, וְלֹא-יִלְבַּשׁ גֶּבֶר שִׂמְלַת אִשָּׁה: כִּי תוֹעֲבַת יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, כָּל-עֹשֵׂה אֵלֶּה.

A woman shall not wear that which pertains unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman's garment; for whosoever does these things is an abomination unto the LORD thy God.
Clear? No? Rash"i comments...
לֹא-יִהְיֶה כְלִי-גֶבֶר עַל-אִשָּׁה: שתהא דומה לאיש כדי שתלך בין האנשים שאין זו אלא לשם נאוף (ספרי, ת"ב נזיר נ"ט).ולֹא-יִלְבַּשׁ גֶּבֶר שִׂמְלַת אִשָּׁה: לילך לישב בין הנשים. ד"א שלא ישיר שער הערוה ושער של בית השחי
כִּי תוֹעֲבַת: לא אסרה תורה אלא לבוש המביא לידי תועבה

...neither shall a man put on a woman's garment: In order to go and sit among women. Another interpretation: He should not remove the hair of the genital region nor the hair of the armpits (TB Nazir 59)

For an abomination: The Torah forbids only a garment which leads to abomination.
Sifrei, which Rash"i cites above appears to be the source, supporting Rabbi #1 and Rabbi #5's assertion that it is permissible to wear women's clothing on Purim, if one assumes that it is not for the purposes of immorality.
The Ramba"m states...
יא [י] לא תעדה אישה עדי האיש, כגון שתשים בראשה מצנפת או כובע, או שתלבוש שריון וכיוצא בו, או שתגלח ראשה כאיש;ולא יעדה איש עדי אישה, כגון שילבוש בגדי צבעונין וחלי זהב--במקום שאין לובשין אותן הכלים ואין משימים אותו החלי, אלא הנשים: הכול, כמנהג המדינה

יב איש שעדה עדי אישה, ואישה שעדת עדי איש--לוקין. המלקט שערות לבנות מתוך השחורות, מראשו או מזקנו--משילקט שערה אחת, לוקה מפני שעדה עדי אישה; וכן אם צבע שיערו שחור--משיצבע שערה לבנה אחת, לוקה.

Th Laws of Foreign Worship and the Laws of Goyim, Ch. 12
...And a man should not adorn [himself] a woman's adornments, such as dressing in colorful clothing and fine, gold ornaments--in a place where they do not wear the same items, and do not put on the same ornaments, but rather, just] the women: Everything is according to the custom of the place.

12 A man who adorns [himself] with a woman's adornments,...--receives lashes....
I just looooove when people get around this, or any prohibition, by saying this IS our custom. I intend to post on this for of hypocrisy in the future, as well. I mention the punishment here for emphasis.

Remember. The point of this post was to uncover hypocrisy. If you go out this Saturday night-Sunday (Sunday night-Monday in Jerusalem and Jericho) in women's clothing, that's your issue. If your intention is really not for the purposes of immorality, and just to joke around on Purim, then ask yourself how that is any different from Itziq Cohen, entertaining us, and even presenting positive messages on television.

But, if you drink, and get yourself into some immoral trouble, don't come crying to me. I'll just
say that I told you so.


Mikewind Dale (Michael Makovi) said...

Wait, I'm not sure what the issue is. Okay, so there's a dispute about how drunk to get. But regarding cross-dressing, Rashi permits cross-dressing that is a joke (or is not for the purpose of immorality, so I suppose, for example, a policeman could cross-dress if it would somehow help him catch a criminal), and Rambam bases it all on minhag (presumably, I suppose, because minhag implies it is not for the sake of immorality, but just for ordinary, kosher life). So what's the issue? I'm not sure what you're opposing.

Batya said...

Bad cross-dressing in which you still look your true sex... Is that better?

Esser Agaroth said...

Don't know. What would be the point? ;-)

I think the point of Rabbi #5 is that it's not a good idea, due to the confusion in our "culture."

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