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Notes from Limmud 2011

Created Beings of our own: Gender Diversity in Jewish Texts

Rabbi Elliot Kukla, Gregg Drinkwater

(Elliot Kukla is the first of two transgender rabbis worldwide.)

[Standard disclaimer: All views not in square brackets are those of the speaker, not myself. Accuracy of transcription is not guaranteed. This post is formatted for LiveJournal; if you are reading it on Facebook click on "View original post" for optimal layout.]

In rabbinic texts there are least six words for gender: male, female, tumtum, androgynous, servis, aylani. So the idea that gender isn't just a binary dichotomy isn't a new idea; and there is some foundation for thinking of it in the talmudic mindset, though the genders there do not map well onto the words we have for non-standard genders today.

Gregg Drinkwater cited an Orthodox trans-man who was recently outed to his rabbi, and didn't want to be pigeonholed into one of the two traditonal genders: it "destabilises me immensely." The rabbi is also pained by the situation, and wants to work with him to find a solution, but in the meantime has prevented him from davening in his shul.

Mishna, Nazir 2:7:
If someone said: "I will become a nazirite when a son is born to me," and a son was born to him, behold this one is a nazirite! If a daughter, a tumtum or an androgynos is born to him, he is not a nazirite. But if he said, "When I see that a child is born to me [I shall be a nazirite]", even if a daughter, a tumtum or an androgynos is born to him, behold he is a nazirite. הריני נזיר לכשיהיה לי בן, ונולד לו בן, הרי זה נזיר׃ נולד לו בת, טומטום, ואנדרוגינוס, אינו נזיר׃ אם אמר כשאראה כשיהיה לי ולד, אפילו נולד לו בת, טומטום, ואנדרוגינוס, הרי זה נזיר׃

Knowing the gender of a new-born child is essential in our culture, if not even before birth, certainly for knowing whether to organise a bris or not.

R. Kukla's teacher at seminary said these are mythical creatures, like a unicorn. This was before he came out as trans, himself.

Mishna Ḥagigah 1:1:
All are obligated to appear before the Eternal [on pilgrimage holidays] (Ex. 23:14, Deut. 16:16), except for a deaf-mute, a developmentally disabled person/a mentally ill person, a minor, one with ambiguous sexual traits (tumtum), intersex people (androgynos—who have male and female sexual traits), women, slaves who have not been freed, the lame, the blind, the sick, the old, and one who cannot go up on foot. הכל חייבין בראיה, חוץ מחרש, שוטה וקטן, וטומטום, ואנדרוגינוס, ונשים, ועבדים שאינם משוחררים, החגר, והסומא, והחולה, והזקן, ומי שאינו יכול לעלות ברגליו׃

In all streams of Judaism there is a somewhat fuzzy line between obligated and allowed. This passage allows free male (Jews) in good physical condition, in the peak of their life. Everyone will be on this list, however, at some point in their lives. So "all" is not really at all "all" here.

Who is on this list, however, changes over time; for example, every stream of Judaism now recognises deaf-mutes are not incapable of communicating. So maybe the ideal is for "all" to really reach "all".

What are tumtum and androgynos, exactly? The Mishna does not tell us. In our society there are two "normal" sexes, male and female, and a bunch of non-normative genders in the middle. But if you look at the two mishnas above, there's only one: male. Women are lumped in along with the tumtum and androgynos. [Contribution by your humble amanuensis: don't say there is only one normal gender, but only one with full halachic rights of people. Women are normally lumped in with slaves and minors, in not fully being considered people in the Talmudic period, and tumtum and androgynos would be included amongst them, tacitly, only because they're much rarer.]

Mishna, Bikkurim 4:1, 4:5.
An androgynos is in some respects legally equivalent to men, and in some respects legally equivalent to women, in some respects legally equivalent to men and women, and in some respects legally equivalent to neither men nor women... Rabbi Yose says: an androgynos he is a created being of her own, but the sages could not decide if the androgynos is a man or a woman. אנדרוגינוס יש בו דרכים שוה לאנשים, ויש בו דרכים שוה לנשים, ויש בו דרכים שוה לאנשים ונשים ויש בו דרכים אינו שוה לאנשים ונשים׃ ... רבי יוסי אומר, אנדרוגינוס בריה בפני עצמה הוא, ולא יכלו חכמים להכריע עליו אם הוא איש או אשה׃

The physicality of one's body would have been less private than today, and the rabbis would have been aware of the diverse types of bodies.

There's a whole discussion in the Gemara: can androgynoi [don't ask me what the plural actually is in Mishnaic Hebrew!] have their own minyan, etc. Androgynoi can be witnesses, which women can't, and can marry but not be taken in marriage; but in other respects androgynoi are treated as non-males. This is also interesting in that androgynoi are expected to marry, in terms of the default expectation of heterosexuality, in that some androgynoi are capable of having sex with men. בריה בפני עצמו/ה is a general term of halachic exceptions.

Adam Harrison

Genesis 1:27 בראשית א כז
So God created the adam in G-d's image, in the image of God [G-d] created him; male and female [G-d] created them. וַיִּבְרָא אֱלֹהִים אֶת־הָאָדָם בְּצַלְמוֹ בְּצֶלֶם אֱלֹהִים בָּרָא אֹתוֹ זָכָר וּנְקֵבָה בָּרָא אֹתָם׃

"The adam" is used in multiple ways throughout Tenach to mean humans in general, people in general, this single being with both "he" and "they" attributes as we see above. It doesn't just mean "Adam", because it says "the adam", not Adam.

There are multiple midrashim explaining what is going on here. Here's one (Midrash Bereishis Rabbat 8:1):

Said R. Yirmiyah ben Eleazar: When the Holy Blessed One created the first adam, [G-d] created him [an] androgynos. That is [what it means] when [the following] is written: "male and female [G-d] created them." אמר ר׳ ירמיה בן אלעזר׃ בשעה שברא הקדוש ברוך הוא את אדם הראשון, אנדרוגינוס בראו, זהו שכתוב זכר ונקבה בראם׃
And here's another:
Said R. Shmuel bar Naḥman: When the Holy Blessed One created the first adam, [G-d] created him double-faced, and split him, and [G-d] made him [into] two backs—a back [facing] one direction, and a back [facing] the other direction." They asked him: But isn't it written: "and He took one of his ribs"? He said to them, "one of his two sides [צלעתיו]... as it says [in the Torah] "and one of the sides [צלע] of the tabernacle", etc (Ex. 26:20). אמר ר׳ שמואל בר נחמן: בשעה שברא הקדוש ברוך הוא את אדם הראשון, דיו פרצופים בְּרָאוֹ, וְנִסְּרו וַעֲשָׂאוֹ גַּבַּיִם - גב לכאן וגב לכאן. השיבוהו והלא כתוב "וַיִּקַּח אַחַת מִצַּלְעֹתָיו" אמר להם אחד משני צדדיו, כמו שאתה אומר "ולצלע המשכן" וגו׳, ואנו מתרגמים "ולסטר משכנא"׃
R. Tanḥuma in the name of R. Benayah and R. Berechya in the name of R. Eleazar said: At the time that the Holy Blessed One created the first adam, [He] created him as a golem [an unformed physical substance]; and it was extended from one end of the world to its other end, as there it is written: "My golem Your eyes have seen..." (Psalm 139:16). רבי תנחומא בשם רבי בנייה ורבי ברכיה בשם ר״א אמרְ בשעה שברא הקדוש ברוך הוא את אדם הראשון גולם בראו, והיה מוטל מסוף העולם ועד סופו, הדא הוא דכתיבְ גלמי ראו עיניך וגו׳׃

There are parallels between Psalm 139 and the Creation story on multiple levels. E.g. "Behind and before you formed me" (v. 5); this is where the double-facing creature above comes from. This also mimics the doubling of Gen 1:27 above.

The rabbis discuss what "golem" means here. One interpretation is that it means without a soul. Another is that it applies to the first twelve hours of Adam's life.

What this suggests is that the creation בצלם אלהים isn't like a factory assembly line. Each human is moulded from some unformedness, but also that our genderedness is unique too.

Though Rashi, who likes definitive answers, says Gen. 1 tells us about the Creation and Gen. 2 gives us the details.

Jewish learning notes index

Date: 2012-01-19 07:41 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] curious-reader.livejournal.com
This rabbinical view sounds deeply disturbing and offensive towards women, transgender and intersex people. Nobody can help what they are born with. The Saudis and Chinese used to kill baby girls but only in Saudi-Arabia it became clear that they were short of women. Maybe these Rabbis should try to live without them and make babies themselves. Lots of pregnant men. I don't think that women should be used only for babies. There are many women out there who don't or can't have babies like me for many reasons but they bring a lot other things into the society. The world would be horrible only with men.

Date: 2012-01-19 07:55 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lethargic-man.livejournal.com
The rabbinical view above is the product of the society the rabbis lived in, viz. the ancient world. I am not surprised it does not treat women as equals, but it's less bad than some. (FWIW in matriarchical societies men are just as discriminated against (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-16592633) as women are in patriachical societies.)

As for being offensive towards transgender and intersex people, I think the Talmud is way ahead of its game in recognising that they even existed. And so, I think, did the speakers.

Finally, I don't know why you're talking about women being used only for babies; the article above made no such claim. It talked about androgynoi being expected to marry, but remember that in Judaism it's men who are obligated to marry, and to procreate, not women. This presumably reflects the Talmudic rabbis' recognition that childbirth in the ancient world was a dangerous process, and no woman should have to go through that except by choice rather than obligation.

Date: 2012-01-21 07:00 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] curious-reader.livejournal.com
You misunderstood. I found very disturbing that women were seen as inferior and not important. I meant they are important one on hand for reproduction but without forcing them into it and/or being part of the society, sharing their intellect, views etc. I understood that the Rabbis prefer a world where only men exist. That means men have to preproduce themselves which everybody knows is biological impossible and doing everything else themselves, too. I don't think that is a healthy balance or a balance at all. They also seem to be against transgender people in some way.

Date: 2012-01-21 07:14 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lethargic-man.livejournal.com
I found very disturbing that women were seen as inferior

Show me a single ancient society where the sexes are treated as fully equal.

and not important.

Who said they're not important? One of the six orders of the Talmud is called "Women"! Women are regarded as important, just not entitled to equal rights.

I understood that the Rabbis prefer a world where only men exist.

Where do you get that impression from? It's not in anything I wrote, or anything I know.

Date: 2012-01-21 07:27 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] curious-reader.livejournal.com
It says in your text "Everyone is obligated to appear before the eternal except for ... tumtum, androgynos ... and women." ".. women can't be witnesses" surprisingly androgynos (transgender) can. That means for me women are even more inferior and less important. There are lot more things in the Talmud that talks against women. Maimonides did not like women either. He was on of other Rabbis who saw them inferior and unable to think intellectual. The Talmud was a product of middle ages and the way men were thinking. Unfortunately, there are still Orthodox Rabbis and Orthodox Jewish people who made it even worse.

Date: 2012-01-21 07:35 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lethargic-man.livejournal.com
It says in your text "Everyone is obligated to appear before the eternal except for ... tumtum, androgynos ... and women." ".. women can't be witnesses" surprisingly androgynos (transgender) can. That means for me women are even more inferior and less important.

No it doesn't. It means in Talmudic times, women would be at home raising children, so they will not necessarily be available to go on pilgrimage. That doesn't mean they can't, nor does it mean they're not important. Their importance is different.

This is the whole basis of complementarianism: that women's role is different, not inferior. It's a system that's open to abuse; I will grant you that, and that's why I'm pro-egalitarianism rather than complementarianism myself; but it's not inherently misogynistic.

There are lot more things in the Talmud that talks against women.

And there are other things that talk about women in a positive way. The Talmud is a big work, and all kinds of views are expressed in it.

Maimonides did not like women either. He was on of other Rabbis who saw them inferior and unable to think intellectual.

Yes, but Maimonides is not the be-all and end-all of Jewish thought on the subject.

The Talmud was a product of middle ages and the way men were thinking. Unfortunately, there are still Orthodox Rabbis and Orthodox Jewish people who made it even worse.

Now there is the real problem.

Date: 2012-01-23 05:24 pm (UTC)
liv: cartoon of me with long plait, teapot and purple outfit (ewe)
From: [personal profile] liv
You might want to consider an alternative view of the position of men in a matriarchal society, written by someone who actually comes from the Khasi culture.

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