Gender-Neutral Hebrew Is the Latest Move Towards Queer-Inclusive Judaism

Last year, then-University of Colorado-Boulder student Lior Gross was excited to continue their Hebrew studies. But there was one big problem for Gross, who uses they/them pronouns, and instructor Eyal Rivlin: No gender-neutral grammatical structure existed in Hebrew that Gross and others could use to identify themselves. So they made one.

“I think that I couldn't be fully spiritual until I held who I was as a non-binary person,” Gross said. “[We’re] getting to shape the language in this way so there's space not just for me but for so many of the amazing trans teachers I've had, and so more of the community can access the language.”

In that spirit, the pair launched the Nonbinary Hebrew Project. The website serves as a comprehensive guide to gender-neutral Hebraic pronouns, and also outlines biblical precedent for transgender and non-binary identities. While realizing that it will take time for gender-expansive grammar to take root in the wider Hebrew-speaking world, Gross and Rivlin hope that their effort will bolster a larger movement toward LGBTQ+ inclusivity within Judaism, one that seeks to make a variety of Judaic practices more welcoming for queer people in the face of increasing anti-semitism and trans and non-binary erasure.

Gross and Rivlin’s project was more difficult than coming up with a pronoun like the English “they.” In Hebrew, adjectives and verbs have different endings to align with the subject’s gender. Pronouns are even more gendered, as the second and third persons (“you” and “you all”) differ for men and women.

Gross, who plans on becoming a rabbi, and Rivlin, who comes from an Israeli family of writers, created a system that combines masculine and feminine grammatical elements. Rivlin said that using the structure in his teaching “created both an environment of inclusion and awareness of diversity in the classroom, a sense of feeling like [students] were part of this cutting-edge discovery.” Read more via them.