Published On: Sun, Jan 18th, 2015

Former Chabad Rabbi Discovers Life as Orthodox Woman in Jerusalem

Yiscah Smith

Every morning, like many Orthodox Jewish men, Jeffrey Smith would say the traditional blessing in the Jewish prayer book, “Thank you God for not making me a woman.” He might have felt very differently in his heart, with the conviction that he, in essence, was a woman. After joining the Chabad Lubavitch movement in 1975, getting married to a woman, raising 6 children together, and working as an educator in Jerusalem and the United States, Smith decided to make a clean break with his marriage at the age of 50, and began the process of becoming a woman, as reported by Yahoo News.

Jeffrey Smith has become Yiscah Smith, and the 63 year old explains the name, meaning “behold” and “see into the present more deeply” represents the potential for tolerance and understanding of gender transformation, even in the Orthodox world. Yiscah described her story in “Forty Years in the Wilderness: My Journey to Authentic Living.” When she was a child, Jeffrey liked to watch his mother put on makeup, but she urged him to watch his father shaving, because that is what boys do. Yiscah admitted that, as Jeffrey, she was deeply unhappy and often told her troubles to God, “I will put on the costume, but please work with me, help me.”

Yiscah is an observant Jewish woman, keeps Shabbat, kosher and prays at the Western Wall, although in the Women’s section. While Tel Aviv is known to be one of the most gay and transgender friendly places in the Middle East, the intense religiosity of much of Jerusalem, and the dominant view among the Orthodox that changing gender is an abomination, creates a challenge for Yiscah, but she persists with a positive message. “God wants us all to be honest. And that’s really my message in the book. To give inspiration and strength and help people move past their inner demons.”

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