Conference: "What Pertains to a Man"? Transcending Gender Boundaries in Jewish and Israeli Law

Monday, March 1, 2010 - 9:00am - 4:50pm
Room F

Organized by Professor Mary Anne Case, this conference will be structured around two documentary films, Praying in her Own Voice and Paper Dolls (Bubyot Niyar), each centered on ways in which Israeli law and culture deal with individuals and groups who transcend the gender boundaries of Jewish law. The conference title is taken from Deuteronomy 10:22, which declares it to be an abomination for a woman to put on what pertains to a man and for a man to wear women’s clothing.

Please RSVP by email to Lorrie Wehrs at


9-9:10 (audio) Welcome and Introduction, Mary Anne Case, University of Chicago Law School

9:10- 11:15 The Women of The Wall

11:30-12:05 (audio) Assessing Damages: The Promise of Private Law Remedies for Agunot, Lisa Fishbayn Joffe, Project on Gender, Culture, Religion and Law,  Brandeis University 

12:15-1:20   (audio)  Kosher Working Lunch: Transgender and Intersex in Jewish Law

  • A Category unto its Own: Ancient Rabbinic Taxonomy of Six Gender Identities and Challenges to Binary Gender Rules, Raquel S. Kosovske, Rabbi, Congregation Beit Ahavah, Northampton, Mass. and Jennifer Levi, Western New England College School of Law
  • Don't Judge a Book by its Cover? The Role of Genotype in Jewish Law on Intersexuality, Hillel Gray, Center for Ethics, Emory University

1:40- 2:15 (audio) The Cross-Dressing Women of the Military in Israel and the U.S, Pamela Laufer-Ukeles, University of Dayton School of Law

2:20- 4:50    Paper Dolls

  • 2:20- 3:40  Bubot Niyar (Paper Dolls) a documentary film directed by Tomer Heymann
  • 3:45- 4:50  (audio) "Thinking Is in the Grey Area" : Family, Home, Gender and Diaspora in the Paper Dolls, Aeyal Gross, Harvard Law School and University of Tel Aviv
    Commentary: Martin Manalansan IV, University of Illinois Dept. of Anthropology 

Speaker Bios

Prof. Aeyal Gross teaches in the Tel-Aviv University law school since 1996. He received his LL.B. in 1990 from TAU (magna cum laude) and his S.J.D. in Harvard Law School in 1996. In 1998 he was awarded the Diploma in Human Rights from the Academy of European Law, European University Institute, Florence. In 1995 he was intern with the European Commission on Human Rights in Strasbourg. Prof. Gross was member of the Board of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and member of the Academic Committee of the Minerva Center for Human Rights in Tel-Aviv University. He was a fellow with the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Studies in South Africa and is a board member of the Concord Center for the Interplay between International Norms and Israeli Law. In 2003-2006 he taught in the summer term in Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs.

He also taught as a visitor in the University of Toronto Law School. From 2007-2009, he served as a research fellow at the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies and he is a visiting reader at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), both at the University of London. In 2009-2010 he is the Joseph Flom Global Health and Human Rights Fellow with the Harvard Law School Human Rights Program

His publications include: The Construction of a Wall between the Hague and Jerusalem: The Enforcement and Limits of Humanitarian Law and the Structure of Occupation (Leiden Journal of International Law, 2006),  "After the Falls: International Law between Postmodernity and Anti-Modernity" (in Helene Ruiz-Fabri, Emanuelle Jouannet & J.M. Sorel Regards D'Une Generation Sur Le Droit International  (Editions Pedone, 2008), and "Gender Outlaws Before the Law: The Courts of the Borderlands" (Harvard Journal of Law & Gender, 2009).  He is the co-editor of Exploring Social Rights (Hart, 2007), which includes his article "The Right to Health in an Era of Privatisation and Globalisation: National and International Perspectives."

Pnina Lahav is a professor of law at Boston University.  She is a graduate of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and of the Yale Law School. Lahav has published extensively on Israeli law and culture, including the biography of Chief Justice Simon Agranat (a graduate of the University of Chicago)published by the University of California Press. Her most recent article discusses the similarities between Muslim and Jewish women seeking recognition in their respective religious legal systems. Presently she is working on a book titled Golda Meir: between war and peace.

Martin F. Manalansan IV is Associate Professor of Anthropology and Asian American Studies at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. He is the author of Global Divas: Filipino Gay Men in the Diaspora (Duke University Press, 2003) and is the editor of three collections of essays.  His research interests include: globalization and transnationalism, migration and diaspora, sexuality and gender, Filipino migration, Asian Americans, food and culinary cultures, ethnicity and race, embodiment and sensory experiences, affect and emotions, urban life and popular culture. He is the Social Science Review Editor for GLQ: A Journal of Gay and Lesbian Studies. He is currently writing two books manuscripts. The first is about the cultural mainstreaming of US lesbian and gay politics and the second, examines Asian immigrant culinary cultures.



Assessing Damages: The Promise of Private Law Remedies for Agunot - Lisa Fishbayn Joffe, Director, Project on Gender, Culture, Religion and Law, Hadassah-Brandeis Institute, Brandeis University
Two recent developments at the intersection of civil law and Jewish law suggest that actions for contractual and tortious damages may be promising strategies for alleviating the plight of women whose husbands abuse their power under Jewish law to deny them a divorce.  In 2007, the Supreme Court of Canada found that a husband's agreement to appear before a beit din in order to grant his wife a get was a valid and enforceable provision under Canadian law.  Having breached this contract by failing to deliver a get for 15 years, the husband was ordered to pay the wife some $50,000 in damages for her lost ability to remarry and bear legitimate children in her faith.  Since 2004, the Centre for Women's Justice in Israel has brought a series of successful actions for tortious damages for get withholding.   Resort to both remedies has also resulted in delivery of the get by recalcitrant spouses. Critics, however, argue that these approaches are suspect under both constitutional law principles and halakhic norms.  This paper will evaluate the validity of these civil law approaches from both perspectives.

"Thinking Is in the Grey Area" : Family, Home, Gender and Diaspora in the Paper Dolls - Aeyal Gross
The stories of Philippine migrant workers in Israel who put on drag shows was documented in Tomer Heymann's film Paper Dolls. The diasporic-immigrant identity represented in the film blends elements of gender and sexuality configurations typical of the country of origin with those characteristic of Israel. The "Paper Dolls" are depicted in the movie as "gays", but since they not only appear in drag at the club at night but some actually live a full feminine gender identity, in many senses, they are more reminiscent of transgenders. My talk will look at the role of gender performance in the life of the immigrant worker, as a site that challenges his usual role in citizenship stratification in Israel: for the Paper Dolls, the gender boundary crossing in their shows is also a channel for performance of Israelism. When they perform Israeli songs, we see how the gender performance is also an avenue for the performance of nationalism­ nationalism that is not purified Israelism (just as gender is not purified) but is instead hybridic. This discussion raises also questions regarding what is home, what is family, and what is kinship: the Paper Dolls as a group constitutes for its members both family and home that exist outside the normative models of home and family. But this hybridity encounters a number of formidable regulatory mechanisms­on the sexuality and gender axis that does not fall under either the gay or transsexual models, on the family and home axis that does not fall under the patriarchal-heterosexual model of kinship, and on the nationalism axis that does not fall under the ethno-national model that is so strong in Israel. This queer hybridity runs up against the homonormative regulation of the Israeli gay community as well as the nationalistic regulation of the Israeli Immigration Police.


This conference is made possible with the help of the Harriet and Ulrich Meyer Fund of the Chicago Center for Jewish Studies.

Principal sponsors are the University of Chicago Law School Workshop on Regulating Family, Sex and Gender and Chicago Center for Jewish Studies. Additional sponsors are the University of Chicago Center for Gender Studies and Human Rights Program.

Mary Anne Case
Martha C. Nussbaum