In the first article we explored some of the basics of who transgender and IS/IG people are. From studying Jewish elder care, we already know it is more complex than elder care for non-Jewish people, because of Jewish traditions and laws. When dealing with lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) patients there are additional needs, which are discussed elsewhere in this website. The needs for trans and IS/IG patients become far more complex. In order to understand them, it is first necessary to have a basic understanding of sex and gender theory. Since we are working in the Jewish realm, we will start with Torah and Rabbinic writings.
We begin with the Creation story in Genesis Chapter 1, verse 27:
וַיִּבְרָ֨א אֱלֹהִ֤ים ׀ אֶת־הָֽאָדָם֙ בְּצַלְמ֔וֹ
בְּצֶ֥לֶם אֱלֹהִ֖ים בָּרָ֣א אֹת֑וֹ
זָכָ֥ר וּנְקֵבָ֖ה בָּרָ֥א אֹתָֽם׃
God created The Adam in God’s image
In God’s image God created the Adam
Male AND female God created Humanity (lit. them).
This is conceptually very deep. We must consider that God is infinite, and has no physicality. The Torah records features such as God’s face, back, hand and arm to allow human minds to grasp the infinite concept of God, but in reality God is transcendent.
Next note that the statement of creation in God’s image is doubled. Any time Bible doubles a statement it is to give absolute emphasis. In this case, our verse is talking about assigned sex at birth. So IF we were to assign God sex at birth, God would have infinite possibilities of assigned sex. Therefore The Adam, a metaphor for humanity does as well.
This is backed up by the third triplet, where male and female are bracketed together by the cantillation marks into a single textual unit. This and biblical textual analysis tell us that The Adam was born with ALL possible assigned sexes. The Adam was not born male, and was not born with a binary state of male on the one hand and female on the other, but rather in a state of existence that encompasses all possible biological sex.
The rabbis in the Midrash saw this and reinforced it as follows: Genesis Rabbah 8:1
,אָמַר רַבִּי יִרְמְיָה בֶּן אֶלְעָזָר בְּשָׁעָה שֶׁבָּרָא הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא אֶת אָדָם הָרִאשׁוֹן
.אַנְדְּרוֹגִינוֹס בְּרָאוֹ, הֲדָא הוּא דִכְתִיב: זָכָר וּנְקֵבָה בְּרָאָם
Rabbi Yirmiyah the son of Elazar said, at the time the Holy Blessing One created The First Adam, God created (The Adam) Androgynous, as it is written Male AND female God created Humanity’s sexes (lit. them).
We will explore later in this text the meaning of Androgynous. First another Midrash. This comes from the Mishnah in Sanhedrin 4:5
וּלְהַגִּיד גְּדֻלָּתוֹ שֶׁל הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא, שֶׁאָדָם טוֹבֵעַ כַּמָּה מַטְבְּעוֹת בְּחוֹתָם אֶחָד וְכֻלָּן דּוֹמִין זֶה לָזֶה, וּמֶלֶךְ מַלְכֵי הַמְּלָכִים הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא טָבַע כָּל אָדָם בְּחוֹתָמוֹ שֶׁל אָדָם הָרִאשׁוֹן וְאֵין אֶחָד מֵהֶן דּוֹמֶה לַחֲבֵרוֹ
So, to tell of the greatness of the Holy Blessing one, when a person stamps many coins from a single die, they are all alike; but when the King of Kings of Kings, the Holy Blessing One stamps all humans from the die of The First Adam, not a single one is alike another.
This Mishnaic Midrash backs up the notion that every human characteristic must be unique. Since biological sex is a human characteristic, it must be unique in each person, and therefore, the idea of binary sexual assignment is not considered possible in the rabbinic mind.
To conclude we will see the six possible assigned sexes that the rabbis of the Talmud explored in their discussions of Jewish law:
- Zakhar – assigned male at birth – this person presents with penis and testicles.
- Nekeivah – assigned female at birth – this person presents with labia/vulva. Note that this says nothing about internal sexual organs.
- Androgynous – a person who presents with both male and female external genital signs.
- Tumtum – a person who presents with NO external genital signs.
- Saris – a person assigned male at birth who lost the ability to procreate.
- Aylonit – a person assigned female at birth who lost the ability to procreate.
In summary for this article, we can see from the Torah and from rabbinic texts of roughly 1,500 years ago, Jewish tradition has long recognized the possibility of much more than binary sexual identity. Ultimately gender identity uses sexual identity as one of its components, so from this article alone, it is clear that those who argue that only a gender binary is possible are not arguing correctly from a religious basis, even if they are Jewish authorities.
In the next article, we will explore modern gender theory and see how it has evolved.