Opinion

Does The Talmud Teach That Abraham And Sarah Were Non-Binary?

DailyWire.com

On April 25, Daniel Bogard, a Reform (read: very liberal) rabbi, posted a 9-part viral thread on Twitter, beginning with these words: “I keep hearing from GOP lawmakers that they ‘just want to return to a Judeo-Christian idea of men being men and women being women.’ So let’s talk about that ‘Judeo’ part for a moment (because it’s a lot queerer and less binary than y’all seem to think).”

Bogard’s thread goes on to make several claims about the teachings of rabbinic literature and what they supposedly have to say about queerness and gender identity in the Bible. Here are some of the claims he makes:: 

  • “Abraham & Sarah, the founders of the Jewish people . . . were both intersex! Or non-binary! Or both!…In fact, the rabbis of the Talmud even get into an argument as to which category of (the very much non binary) sex/gender spectrum Abraham and Sarah fall into!”
  • The ancient Jewish texts “described SIX genders/sexes, not two.” 
  • “Adam was ‘made in God’s image’, which . . . means: ‘At the moment when the Holy Blessed One created the first adam, God created them as an androginos [androgynous].”
  • Consequently, this means that “GOD IS NON-BINARY.”
  • Mordecai (the hero in the book of Esther) was “a trans-man.” He “nursed Esther from his own breasts when she was a baby.”
  • Dinah, the daughter of Jacob and Leah, was a “trans-woman” and “God is the one who helped her transition!” 

Is there any truth to these claims? Rabbi Bogard references several rabbinic texts to “prove” his assertions. So let’s examine them to get to the bottom of his claims.

Before responding, it is important to understand that: 1) not a syllable in any of the rabbinic texts cited by Rabbi Bogard speaks of a biological male identifying as a female (or the reverse); and 2) not a syllable in these texts says anything about queer identity.

The issues addressed in the texts cited by Rabbi Bogard have to do with either biological questions about sexual identify (which is something quite separate from transgender identity) or fanciful rabbinic speculation.

But what of the rabbinic traditions he cites? What should we make of them?

Before we begin, let me just say that, as a Messianic Jew (rather than a traditional Jew), I do not need to defend the Talmudic writings as a part of my faith. But as a lover of truth, I am duty bound to expose error. What, then, do these texts actually say?

With regard to Abraham and Sarah, the Bible tells us that Sarah was barren. Talmudic rabbis have speculated as to why, wondering if both Abraham and Sarah had biological issues that rendered them unable to conceive children. When Bogard says that “the rabbis of the Talmud even get into an argument as to which category of (the very much non binary) sex/gender spectrum Abraham and Sarah fall into,” he is referring to Yevamot 64a-b, which he references. But there is nothing there that suggests non-binary-ness or a gender spectrum!

The “argument” Bogard references is over whether Abraham and Sarah were tumtumim or she was an alyonit. Tumtumim literally means “hidden,” in this case implying that their sexual organs were “hidden” (as in not visible or fully developed). But by God’s intervention, their organs developed and they were able to conceive. Alynoit means an underdeveloped woman, in Sarah’s case without a womb, which God then miraculously formed for her.

Neither having under-developed genitalia nor being without a womb is a gender identity. By anyone’s standards, a woman without a womb is still a woman. Bogard is presumably implying that being without a womb makes Sarah biologically male. But there is much more to being a biological woman than having a uterus—as any woman who’s had a hysterectomy can attest. Similarly, a man with “hidden” genitals is still a man. This has absolutely nothing to do with queer identity.

What about the 6 categories of gender/sex in the Mishnah (Bikkurim 4:1-4)? Again, nothing in these texts has anything to do with queer identity. The discussion does not challenge the male-female sexual binary. Instead, it is a legal discussion concerning hermaphrodites and whether they should be categorized as male or female.

In keeping with the Talmudic focus, the discussion is legal rather than existential, and it is simply a matter of finding proper categories for people with biological abnormalities. They are fully human, but they are not fully male or female. How should they be classified?

The rabbis made these practical rulings: Does the person emit sperm? The person is to be treated legally as a male “and he must perform all the commandments of the Torah, like men” (Bikkurim 4:2). Does the person menstruate? The person is to be treated legally as a female and is disqualified from keeping certain Torah commandments, like women (Bikkurim 4:3).

None of this relates to biological males identifying as females (or the reverse), none of it suggests that male and female are not the two categories of humanity, and none of it suggests that someone could be male one day and female the next, based on his/her self-perception. The focus is biological and legal and does not touch at all on queer identity.

As for Adam, it is true that he is created male and female, in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27). This indicates to us that the qualities of male and female are both found in the Creator, who, by His very nature, transcends gender.

But there was nothing “queer” about Adam’s identity. Instead, as Sara Ronis writes, “The Talmud offers two different origin stories for womankind. Rabbi Yirmieya ben Elazar argues that Adam was first created as a two-faced, double-bodied being who was eventually split into dimorphic male and female beings. An earlier rabbi argues that, in fact, Adam was first created alone, but had a tail, and God removed the tail and used it as the foundation for the creation of woman.”

In any case, God separated the female part from the male part, creating Eve, and from then on, every human being has been either male or female. (For the biblical account, see Genesis 2.)

What about Mordechai being a trans man? Not a chance.

Instead, in one of many fanciful rabbinic texts, it is claimed that during a time of crisis when there was no one to nurse his younger cousin Esther, God miraculously provided milk in Mordechai’s breasts.

But this is no different from the Bible saying that God brought water out of a rock. The nature and identity of the rock did not change. Instead, the Lord worked a miracle. Nothing about this rabbinic tradition suggests that Mordechai was, in fact, born a biological woman and was choosing to live as a man. Instead, it’s the story of the Lord miraculously allowing a man to provide milk for his hungry cousin.

As for Dinah being a transwoman, perish the thought.

Instead, based on the Hebrew word achar (“afterwards”) in Genesis 30:21, Radak, a leading rabbinic commentator explained (and note that this is merely fanciful speculation), “it would appear that originally Dinah was meant to become Zevulun’s twin (brother). This is why the Torah wrote ‘and afterwards she bore a daughter,’ without making any mention of Leah again becoming pregnant. The Torah did not even write ‘and she again bore.’ No mention is made of why she named the girl Dinah. There is a well known aggadic [homiletical] explanation that Leah did not want her sister to be shamed in having fewer sons than even the handmaids; her prayer to that effect was answered by this fetus becoming a girl.”

So, according to this non-historical, non-factual, totally-speculative interpretation, in the womb, God miraculously turned a male fetus into a female fetus. But this doesn’t actually describe being trans. If God did, in fact, transform a male fetus into a female one, then the baby that was born was biologically female. Which is totally different than, say, Bruce “Caitlyn” Jenner or Richard “Rachel” Levine who assert that they are female but have male bodies. Even according to Radak, Dinah’s body was female at birth!

Worse still, in his Twitter thread, Rabbi Bogard wrote, “The verse starts with the masc ‘achar’, yet finishes with ‘daughter Dinah.’” 

Seriously? This is a complete misinterpretation of the Hebrew, making something out of nothing. Achar is an adverb, not a noun, and is therefore without male or female gender in Hebrew. And a rabbi really made this argument? Ridiculous.

In sum, we can say that that queer claims of Rabbi Bogard are totally bogus.

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.

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