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 aor 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.
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):
And here's another:
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׃
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 creationisn'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.