Translations:Gender-variant identities worldwide/95/en

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A Tumtum pride flag designed by Tumblr user tumtum_and_androgynos in 2018 CE. White and blue symbolize Judaism, and gray for genderlessness.

Classical Judaism recognizes six categories of sex/gender, instead of the male/female gender binary from modern Western culture. Jewish law (called halacha) recognises gender ambiguity, and has done so throughout Jewish history.[1] This ambiguity is defined according to physical presentation (or lack thereof) and primary and secondary sexual characteristics. Then Jewish law assigns six gender roles to these six sexes, each with distinct prohibitions and required duties. According to Rabbi Elliot Kukla, these six are:[2]

  • Zachar (זָכָר): This term is derived from the word for a pointy sword and refers to a phallus. It is usually translated as “male” in English.
  • Nekeivah (נְקֵבָה): This term is derived from the word for a crevice and probably refers to a vaginal opening. It is usually translated as “female” in English.
  • Androgynos (אַנְדְּרוֹגִינוֹס): A person who has both “male” and “female” sexual characteristics. In English, translated as androgyne or intersex. 149 references in Mishna and Talmud (1st-8th Centuries CE); 350 in classical midrash and Jewish law codes (2nd -16th Centuries CE).
  • Tumtum (טֻומְטוּם "hidden"): A person whose sexual characteristics are indeterminate or obscured. 181 references in Mishna and Talmud; 335 in classical midrash and Jewish law codes. In Yevamot 64a, the Talmud says that the Biblical figures Abraham and Sarah were said to have been born tumtum and infertile, and then miraculously turned into a fertile husband and wife in their old age. The classical description of the physical characteristic of tumtum as skin hiding normal female or male genitals does not exactly match any intersex condition known today. Modern scholars see it as corresponding with some known intersex conditions with ambiguous genitalia.[3] In the 2019 Worldwide Gender Census, 5 of the 11,242 respondents called themselves tumtum.[4]
  • Ay’lonit (איילונית): A person who is identified as “female” at birth, but fails to develop sexual characteristics at puberty or develops “male” characteristics, and is infertile. 80 references in Mishna and Talmud; 40 in classical midrash and Jewish law codes. Modern scholars think ay'lonit refers to a selection of intersex conditions, such as Turner's syndrome.[5] In the 2019 Worldwide Gender Census, 2 of the respondents called themselves ay’lonit.[4]
  • Saris (סריס): A person who is identified as “male” at birth but develops “female” characteristics as puberty and/or is lacking a penis. A saris can be “naturally” a saris (saris hamah), or become one through human intervention (saris adam), such as a eunuch. 156 references in mishna and Talmud; 379 in classical midrash and Jewish law codes.

The above six categories of gender are important to consider whenever considering gender in classical Jewish texts, such as the Hebrew Bible, rather than misinterpreting them in terms of the modern Western gender binary.

  1. "More than Just Male and Female: The Six Genders in Ancient Jewish Thought." Freidson, Sarah. Sefaria, 10 June 2016. [1]
  2. Robbie Medwed. "More Than Just Male and Female: The Six Genders in Classical Judaism." Sojourn (blog). June 01, 2015. Retrieved July 14, 2015. https://web.archive.org/web/20150714011440/http://www.sojourngsd.org/blog/sixgenders
  3. "Arachin 4b ~ The Tumtum, the Androgyne, and the Fluidity of Gender." Talmudology. June 20, 2019. https://www.talmudology.com/jeremybrownmdgmailcom/2019/6/17/arachin-4b-the-tumtum-the-androgyne-and-the-invention-of-gender?rq=tumtum
  4. 4.0 4.1 "Gender Census 2019 - The Worldwide tl;dr." Gender Census (blog). March 31, 2019. Retrieved July 7, 2020. https://gendercensus.com/post/183843963445/gender-census-2019-the-worldwide-tldr Archive: https://web.archive.org/web/20200118084451/https://gendercensus.com/post/183843963445/gender-census-2019-the-worldwide-tldr
  5. "Ketuvot 36 ~ The Aylonit Syndrome and Turner's Syndrome." Talmudology. March 10, 2015. https://www.talmudology.com/jeremybrownmdgmailcom/2015/3/9/ketuvot-36-the-aylonit