The Eight Genders in the Talmud | My Jewish Learning (2022)

Thought nonbinary gender was a modern concept? Think again. The ancient Jewish understanding of gender was far more nuanced than many assume.

The Talmud, a huge and authoritative compendium of Jewish legal traditions, contains in fact no less than eight gender designations including:

  1. Zachar, male.
  2. Nekevah, female.
  3. Androgynos, having both male and female characteristics.
  4. Tumtum, lacking sexual characteristics.
  5. Aylonit hamah, identified female at birth but later naturally developing male characteristics.
  6. Aylonit adam, identified female at birth but later developing male characteristics through human intervention.
  7. Saris hamah, identified male at birth but later naturally developing female characteristics.
  8. Saris adam, identified male at birth and later developing female characteristics through human intervention.

In fact, not only did the rabbis recognize six genders that were neither male nor female, they had a tradition that the first human being was both. Versions of this midrash are found throughout rabbinic literature, including in the Talmud:

Rabbi Yirmeya ben Elazar also said: Adam was first created with two faces (one male and the other female). As it is stated: “You have formed me behind and before, and laid Your hand upon me.” (Psalms 139:5)

Eruvin 19a

Rabbi Yirmeya ben Elazar imagines that the first human was created both male and female — with two faces. Later, this original human being was separated and became two distinct people, Adam and Eve. According to this midrash then, the first human being was, to use contemporary parlance, nonbinary. Genesis Rabbah 8:1 offers a slightly different version of Rabbi Yirmeya’s teaching:

Rabbi Yirmeya ben Elazar: In the hour when the Holy One created the first human, He created him as an androgynos (one having both male and female sexual characteristics), as it is said, “male and female He created them.” (Genesis 1:27)

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Said Rabbi Shmuel bar Nachmani: In the hour when the Holy One created the first human, He created for him a double face, and sawed him and made him backs, a back here and a back there, as it is said, “Behind and before, You formed me” (Psalms 139:5).

Genesis Rabbah 8:1

In this version of the teaching, Rabbi Yirmeya is not focusing on the first human’s face (or, rather, faces) but on their sex organs — they have both. The midrash imagines this original human looked something like a man and woman conjoined at the back so that one side has a women’s face and a woman’s sex organs and the other side has a man’s face and sex organs. Then God split this original person in half, creating the first man and woman. Ancient history buffs will recognize this image as similar to the character Aristophanes’ description of the first humans as both male and female, eventually sundered to create lone males and females forever madly seeking one another for the purposes of reuniting to experience that primordial state. (Plato, Symposium, 189ff)

For the rabbis, the androgynos wasn’t just a thing of the mythic past. The androgynos was in fact a recognized gender category in their present — though not with two heads, only both kinds of sex organs. The term appears no less than 32 times in the Mishnah and 283 times in the Talmud. Most of these citations are not variations on this myth, but rather discussions that consider how Jewish law (halakhah) applies to one who has both male and female sexual characteristics.

That the androgynos is, from a halakhic perspective, neither male nor female, is confirmed by Mishnah Bikkurim 4:1, which states this explicitly:

The androgynos is in some ways like men, and in other ways like women. In other ways he is like men and women, and in others he is like neither men nor women.

Mishnah Bikkurim 4:1

Because Hebrew has no gender neutral pronoun, the Mishnah uses a male pronoun for the androgynos, though this is obviously insufficient given the rabbinic descriptions of this person. Reading on we find that the androgynos is, for the rabbis, in many ways like a man —they dress like a man, they are obligated in all commandments like a man, they marry women and their “white emissions” lead to impurity. However, in other ways, the androgynos is like a woman — they do not share in inheritance like sons, they do not eat of sacrifices that are reserved only for men and their “red discharge” leads to impurity.

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The Mishnah goes on to list ways in which an androgynos is just like any other person. Like any human being, “one who strikes him or curses him is liable.” (Bikkurim 4:3) Similarly, one who murders an androgynos is, well, a murderer. But the androgynos is also unlike a man or a woman in other important legal respects — for instance, such a person is not liable for entering the Temple in a state of impurity as both a man and woman would be.

As should now be clear, the rabbinic interest in these gender ambiguous categories is largely legal. Since halakhah was structured for a world in which most people were either male or female, applying the law to individuals who didn’t fall neatly into one of those two categories was challenging. As Rabbi Yose remarks in this same chapter of the Mishnah: “The androgynos is a unique creature, and the sages could not decide about him.” (Bikkurim 4:5)

In many cases, the androgynos is lumped together with other kinds of nonbinary persons as well as other marginalized populations, including women, slaves, the disabled and minors. For example, concerning participation in the three pilgrimage festivals (Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot) during which the Jews of antiquity would travel to the Temple in Jerusalem, the mishnah of Chagigah opens:

All are obligated on the three pilgrimage festivals to appear in the Temple and sacrifice an offering, except for a deaf-mute, an imbecile, and a minor; and a tumtum, an androgynos, women, and slaves who are not emancipated; and the lame, the blind, the sick, and the old, and one who is unable to ascend to Jerusalem on his own legs.

Chagigah 1:1

As this mishnah indicates, it is only healthy, free adult men who are obligated to appear at the Temple to observe the pilgrimage festivals. People who are not adult men, and men who are enslaved or too old or unwell to make the journey, are exempt.

As we have already stated, the androgynos was not the only person of ambiguous gender identified by the rabbis. Similarly, the rabbis recognized one whose sexual characteristics are lacking or difficult to determine, called a tumtum. In the mishnah from Bikkurim we cited earlier, Rabbi Yose, who said the androgynos was legally challenging for the sages, said the tumtum was much easier to figure out.

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The rabbis also recognized that some people’s sexual characteristics can change with puberty — either naturally or through intervention. Less common than the androgynos and tumtum, but still found throughout rabbinic texts, are the aylonit, who is born with organs identified as female at birth but develops male characteristics at puberty or no sex characteristics at all, and the saris, who is born with male-identified organs and later develops features recognized as female (or no sex characteristics). These changes can happen naturally over time (saris hamah) or with human intervention (saris adam).

For the rabbis, what is most significant about the aylonit and the saris is that they are presumed infertile — the latter is sometimes translated as “eunuch.” Their inability to have offspring creates legal complications the rabbis address, for example:

A woman who is 20 years old who did not grow two pubic hairs shall bring proof that she is twenty years old, and from that point forward she assumes the status of an aylonit. If she marries and her husband dies childless, she neither performs halitzah nor does she enter into levirate marriage.

Mishnah Niddah 5:9

A woman who reaches the age of 20 without visible signs of puberty, in particular pubic hair, is deemed an aylonit who is infertile. According to this mishnah, she may still marry, but it is not expected that she will bear children. Therefore, if her husband dies and the couple is in fact childless, his brother is not obligated to marry her, as would normally be required by the law of levirate marriage.

A nonbinary person who does not have the same halakhic status as a male or female, but is something else that is best described as ambiguous or in between, presented a halakhic challenge that was not particularly foreign for the rabbis, who discuss analogs in the animal and plant kingdoms. For example, the rabbinic texts describe a koi as an animal that is somewhere between wild and domesticated (Mishnah Bikkurim 2:8) and an etrog — yes, that beautiful citron that is essential for Sukkot — as between a fruit and a vegetable (Mishnah Bikkurim 2:6, see also Rosh Hashanah 14). Because they don’t fit neatly into common categories, the koi and the etrog require special halakhic consideration. The rabbinic understanding of the world was that most categories — be they animal, vegetable or mineral —are imperfect descriptors of the world, either as it is or as it should be.


In recent decades, queer Jews and allies have sought to reinterpret these eight genders of the Talmud as a way of reclaiming a positive space for nonbinary Jews in the tradition. The starting point is that while it is true that the Talmud understands gender to largely operate on a binary axis, the rabbis clearly understood that not everyone fits these categories.

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FAQs

What are the 8 genders? ›

There are many different gender identities, including male, female, transgender, gender neutral, non-binary, agender, pangender, genderqueer, two-spirit, third gender, and all, none or a combination of these.

How many genders are there in Hebrew? ›

Hebrew, at its core, is a gendered language. Every word in the ancient language is categorized as zachar, male, or nekevah, female. Every noun from furniture to food is either a he or a she, and every adjective and verb has a male and female form.

What are the parts of the Talmud? ›

The Talmud has two components: the Mishnah (משנה, c. 200 CE), a written compendium of the Oral Torah; and the Gemara (גמרא, c. 500 CE), an elucidation of the Mishnah and related Tannaitic writings that often ventures onto other subjects and expounds broadly on the Hebrew Bible.

What are the gender roles in Judaism? ›

Therefore, while Jewish women were supposed to defer to their husband's decisions, they had a greater role in the family compared to women in other ethnic groups. In addition to the somewhat non-traditional female role unique to Jews, women also kept the household and took care of the children.

What are the 7 genders? ›

Through these conversations with real people Benestad has observed seven unique genders: Female, Male, Intersex, Trans, Non-Conforming, Personal, and Eunuch.

Is Talmud and Torah the same? ›

The Talmud is a record of the rabbinic debates in the 2nd-5th century on the teachings of the Torah, both trying to understand how they apply and seeking answers for the situations they themselves were encountering.

Does Hebrew have genders? ›

In Hebrew, every noun is assigned a gender, either masculine or feminine. There is no such thing as a neutral gender for nouns in Hebrew.

Does biblical Hebrew have gender? ›

In Hebrew every significant word has a gender, for example, a book isn't usually gendered in English, but Hebrew makes 'book' a masculine word. Most Jews would tell you that God is neither male nor female, yet the names used to describe God in the Hebrew Bible are masculine names.

Does Hebrew have a neuter gender? ›

All Hebrew nouns are either feminine or neuter. Hebrew does not carry a "neuter" gender, as Biblical Greek does. While there are some predictable patterns in determining a noun's gender,the only absolute way to determine a noun's gender is to look it up in a Hebrew lexicon or dictionary.

How many Talmud are there? ›

The Talmud comprises six orders, which deal with every aspect of life and religious observance. It is further divided into 63 parts, or tractates, which are broken down into 517 chapters. This particular page is the first chapter of the first tractate in the Talmud, named Berakhot or "Blessings".

How many laws does the Talmud have? ›

Although the number 613 is mentioned in the Talmud, its real significance increased in later medieval rabbinic literature, including many works listing or arranged by the mitzvot. The most famous of these was an enumeration of the 613 commandments by Maimonides.

What is the purpose of Talmud? ›

The Talmud records the legal and religious discussions thousands of rabbis had over centuries until it was compiled in about 500 CE. It constitutes the foundation of Jewish law, practice and customs to this very day and forms the core curriculum of Orthodox yeshivas.

Can a woman hold a Torah? ›

Women are not to be handed a Sefer Torah under any circumstances and in any location Women dancing with the Sefer Torah profanes the sanctity of the Sefer Torah and in Rabbi Soloveichik's ztl words violates the halachic etiquette of the synagogue.”

What are the roles of male and female? ›

For example, girls and women are generally expected to dress in typically feminine ways and be polite, accommodating, and nurturing. Men are generally expected to be strong, aggressive, and bold. Every society, ethnic group, and culture has gender role expectations, but they can be very different from group to group.

How many genders are there scientifically? ›

Thus, if one adds up these forms, the outcome is that in humans there are about 15 readily observable gender forms.

What are the 4 types of gender? ›

In English, the four genders of noun are masculine, feminine, common, and neuter.

What is 3rd gender called? ›

Often called transgender by outsiders, Indian society and most hijras consider themselves to be third gender—neither male nor female, not transitioning.

Does the Talmud talk about Jesus? ›

There are several passages in the Talmud which are believed by some scholars to be references to Jesus. The name used in the Talmud is "Yeshu", the Aramaic vocalization (although not spelling) of the Hebrew name Yeshua.

How long does it take to read the Talmud? ›

It takes about seven years and five months to read all 2,711 pages. Some 3,000 women of all ages attended their first-ever large celebration for the completion of the Talmud, at a convention center in Jerusalem.

Are the Old Testament and the Talmud the same? ›

Within Judaism, the Talmud serves much the same function. We are part of The Trust Project. Christianity teaches that the New Testament interprets or "completes" the Old Testament (Judaism's Hebrew Bible). Within Judaism, the Talmud serves much the same function.

Does Elohim mean male and female? ›

Elohim is also masculine in form. The most common phrases in the Tanakh are vayomer Elohim and vayomer YHWH — "and God said" (hundreds of occurrences). Genesis 1:26-27 says that the elohim were male and female, and humans were made in their image.

What language has no gender? ›

Basque. The Basque language is largely gender-free. Most nouns have no gender, though there are different words for females and males in some cases (ama, "mother"; aita, "father"; guraso, "parent").

What is the feminine gender of God? ›

At other times no gender is implied. Human beings are biologically male and female, but not God, because the divine does not have a body. The application of masculine and feminine gender to the divine is simply metaphorical and grammatical. God is spirit who is both male and female and neither.

What gender is God in the Bible? ›

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) #239 states, in reference to the Father: "God transcends the human distinction between the sexes. He is neither man nor woman: He is God." The CCC discusses the traditional imagery and language of God as Father.

Is the Holy Spirit feminine in Hebrew? ›

In Christian theology, the gender of the Holy Spirit has been the subject of some debate in recent times. The grammatical gender of the word for "spirit" is feminine in Hebrew (רוּחַ, rūaḥ), neuter in Greek (πνεῦμα, pneûma) and masculine in Latin (spiritus).

Are there pronouns in the Hebrew Bible? ›

Although God in the Hebrew Bible is predominantly described using masculine imagery and pronouns, there are several instances where feminine imagery and pronouns are used.

What is common gender in Hebrew? ›

A word is parsed as “common” (in other systems sometimes “unmarked”), when it has potential to refer to either a masculine or a feminine person or thing. Words classified as “common gender” are usually pronouns or verbs.

What is a feminine noun in Hebrew? ›

It's easier to identify the feminine nouns than the masculine, because most of the Hebrew feminine nouns end with the letter ה or the letter ת. While masculine nouns end with variety of consonants, it's easier to recognize the feminine nouns at first sight.

How many declensions are there in Hebrew? ›

In Hebrew, there are up to seven thousand declensions for only one stem, while in English there is only a few declensions. For example, the English word eat has only four declensions (eats, eating, eaten and ate). The relevant Hebrew stem 'khl (לכא,”eat”) has thousands of declensions.

How accurate is the Talmud? ›

So far as history claims exactly to spell out events that happened at a particular place and time, the Talmud and the rest of the Rabbinic canon of late antiquity do not serve. They do not supply reliable historical information about once upon a time.

Is the Talmud still used today? ›

The Vilna Shas Edition of the Babylonian Talmud, printed in Vilna (Vilnius), Lithuania, is the most common printed edition of the Talmud that is still used today. It was first printed in the late 1800's. It is used as the basic text for Torah study in religious boys' schools (yeshivot).

Are the 10 commandments part of the 613 laws? ›

The most well-known of these laws are the Ten Commandments , but the Torah contains a total of 613 commandments or mitzvah covering many aspects of daily life, including family, personal hygiene and diet.

What is the difference between the Talmud and the Mishnah? ›

The Talmud is the source from which the code of Jewish Halakhah (law) is derived. It is made up of the Mishnah and the Gemara. The Mishnah is the original written version of the oral law and the Gemara is the record of the rabbinic discussions following this writing down. It includes their differences of view.

Who wrote the Torah and Talmud? ›

Composition. The Talmud holds that the Torah was written by Moses, with the exception of the last eight verses of Deuteronomy, describing his death and burial, being written by Joshua. Alternatively, Rashi quotes from the Talmud that, "God spoke them, and Moses wrote them with tears".

What does it mean to study Talmud? ›

The Hebrew term Talmud (“study” or “learning”) commonly refers to a compilation of ancient teachings regarded as sacred and normative by Jews from the time it was compiled until modern times and still so regarded by traditional religious Jews.

What happens if you touch the Torah? ›

While not a strict requirement of Jewish law, using a yad is considered hiddur mitzvah, a beautification of the mitzvah. In fact, the Talmud says, rather shockingly, that one who touches the naked Torah scroll will be buried naked.

Do girls like feminine guys? ›

"Women prefer great degrees of masculinity for short-term partners, but for long-term relationships what we are finding is that they prefer more feminine and definitely more healthy men," said David Perrett at the University of St Andrews, who led the research.

What is the traditional view of gender? ›

Gender roles are the roles that men and women are expected to occupy based on their sex. Tradi- tionally, many Western societies have believed that women are more nurturing than men. Therefore, the traditional view of the feminine gender role prescribes that women should behave in ways that are nurturing.

What are the 3 gender roles? ›

Gender role ideology falls into three types: traditional, transitional, and egalitarian.

What are the 72 genders? ›

What are some different gender identities?
  • Agender. A person who is agender does not identify with any particular gender, or they may have no gender at all. ...
  • Androgyne. ...
  • Bigender. ...
  • Butch. ...
  • Cisgender. ...
  • Gender expansive. ...
  • Genderfluid. ...
  • Gender outlaw.

What is 3rd gender called? ›

Often called transgender by outsiders, Indian society and most hijras consider themselves to be third gender—neither male nor female, not transitioning.

How many genders are there scientifically? ›

Thus, if one adds up these forms, the outcome is that in humans there are about 15 readily observable gender forms.

Who is Bigender? ›

Bigender: Someone who identifies as both man and woman. Non-binary: Someone who rejects the binaries of male and female. Genderfluid: Someone whose gender identity changes.

What are the 4 genders? ›

In English, the four genders of noun are masculine, feminine, common, and neuter.

Is Genderfluid a gender? ›

Genderfluid is a type of nonbinary gender identity. This means it exists outside of the gender binary, which refers to the idea of gender as being either a man or a woman only. This article looks at what it means to be genderfluid, other gender identities, and how to be an ally to a genderfluid person.

What is Lgbtqia+ stand for? ›

What is Pangender person? ›

Pangender is a term for people who feel that they cannot be labeled as female or male in gender. ... The term is meant by the queer community to be one that is inclusive and means "all genders".

When did multiple genders become a thing? ›

Anthropologists have long documented cultures around the world that acknowledge more than two genders. There are examples going back 3,000 years to the Iron Age, and even further back to the Copper Age.

Can worms change gender? ›

Only one gene, called TRA-1, controls which sex the worm is; when a developing worm carries two X chromosomes, the TRA-1 gene is activated and the worm become 'female,' while only one X chromosome leaves the gene off, and the worm becomes a male.

Can you change DNA from male to female? ›

Genetics overall cannot be changed (so far, at least)

Sex chromosomes, in particular, determine whether someone will have female or male body parts. As you can see in the image below, these are chromosomes found in a typical person. We each have 23 pairs. The last pair are known as the sex chromosomes.

What is Demigirl? ›

Demigirl: A gender identity term for someone who was assigned female at birth but does not fully identify with being a woman, socially or mentally.

What is Neptunic? ›

Neptunic: A nonbinary person attracted to men. Out or Out of the closet: The ongoing process of being open about one's sexual orientation with other people. Outing: Exposing someone's sexual orientation without their prior consent.

What is a Nonbinary flag? ›

Non-Binary Pride Flag

Non-Binary: People whose gender identity does not fit within the traditional male/female binary. History: o The Non-Binary Flag was created by Kyle Rowan in 2014. The four horizontal stripes of the colors- yellow, white, purple, and black are symbolic for Non-Binary peoples' experience.

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