A Transgender Teacher at Yeshiva

Yes, it’s true: Professor Joy Ladin, who teaches literature at Yeshiva University and runs the Writing Center at Stern College for Women, is transgender. She used to be Professor Jay Ladin, and that shift, when she returned to work this fall after a two-year hiatus, has provoked attention from the Jewish media and beyond.

Professor Ladin came out as trangender — and transitioning from male to female — in 2006, after receiving tenure. She has been on indefinite leave since then. While there has been intense debate and plenty of ventilation-by-media, the faculty and students seem, generally, to take this development in stride. Rabbi Moshe Tendler, though, a dean of the rabbinical school at YU, referred to Ladin as “being in massive violation of Torah law, Torah ethics and Torah morality.”

Although Yeshiva University has a religious component to its curriculum, it does not have a religious requirement for its staff, which includes non-Jews and non-Orthodox Jews as well as those who are Orthodox; its mission statement mentions providing “Torah teachings” for its students, but presents no requirements or standards for their observance, nor for that of the faculty and staff. The politics and legality of Ladin’s continued presence at Yeshiva University are still being worked out, although the ACLU has won prior cases for transgender rights in the workplace — including one just days after the Ladin story broke — on the basis of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits sex discrimination in the workplace.

Student response has ranged from passionate support to equally inflamed opprobrium for Professor Ladin, although students also report a great deal of apathy and disinterest on campus. Rena, a YU student who chose to use only her first name, said “people have been very opinionated.” She added, “If a professor is a good professor, what does it matter what he or she does in his or her own time? Once we start monitoring professors, do we need to start checking that they keep perfectly kosher? That they follow all religious rules a particular way?” Asked about media coverage of Professor Ladin’s case at Yeshiva University, Rena immediately responded, “Very unfair. The New York Post chose to speak to a professor who they knew was very conservative, and it painted a picture of YU that I don’t think is at all accurate.”