Pride Shabbat morning 2020

Rabbi Philip Weintraub

Congregation B’nai Israel

PRIDE SHABBAT 2020-Saturday morning

June 27, 2020

How many people have heard “It’s Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve?”  Or heard from those that ignore the rest of Leviticus that two isolated verses limit God’s love?  I’m going to imagine many hands going up. For so many the Bible, the Torah, is used as a cudgel to push people out, to push people away.  That is not my Torah, nor do I believe that it is anyone’s Torah.  The Torah is a text of lovingkindness.  It has sections that challenge us, that seem more or less relevant in the 21st century, but it is a sacred document that connects us from generation to generation to a sacred covenant.

Jewish tradition demonstrates a view of sexuality and gender that is far more fluid than what some imagine the “Biblical view” might be.  Our tradition actually speaks of far more than 2 genders.  

  • Zachar/זָכָר: This term is derived from the word for a pointy sword and refers to classically male genitalia. It is usually translated as “male” in English.

  • Nekeivah/נְקֵבָה: This term is derived from the word for a crevice and probably refers to classically female genitalia. It is usually translated as “female” in English.

  • Androgynos/אַנְדְּרוֹגִינוֹס: A person who has both “male” and “female” sexual characteristics. 149 references in Mishna and Talmud (1st-8th Centuries CE); 350 in classical midrash and Jewish law codes (2nd -16th Centuries CE).

  • Tumtum/ טֻומְטוּם A person whose sexual characteristics are indeterminate or obscured. 181 references in Mishna and Talmud; 335 in classical midrash and Jewish law codes.

  • Ay’lonit/איילונית: A person who is identified as “female” at birth but develops “male” characteristics at puberty and is infertile. 80 references in Mishna and Talmud; 40 in classical midrash and Jewish law codes.

  • 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). 156 references in mishna and Talmud; 379 in classical midrash and Jewish law codes.

Rabbi Dina Rosenberg: Beyond the Male & Female Binary

That’s a little more than you learned in health class or Hebrew school?  While today’s Torah portion is from Numbers, the story of Korach’s rebellion, for this Pride Shabbat, I want to go back to the very beginning.  The book of Genesis is known for our matriarchs and patriarchs, some very dysfunctional family relationships, the almost destruction of the world with Noah and of course Adam and Eve.  Yet our texts and traditions show the narrative is not nearly as straightforward as we might have remembered.

Let us first look at Genesis 1:26-27

(26) And God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. They shall rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the cattle, the whole earth, and all the creeping things that creep on earth.” (27) And God created man in His image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. 

 וַיִּבְרָ֨א אֱלֹקִ֤ים ׀ אֶת־הָֽאָדָם֙ בְּצַלְמ֔וֹ בְּצֶ֥לֶם אֱלֹקִ֖ים בָּרָ֣א אֹת֑וֹ זָכָ֥ר וּנְקֵבָ֖ה בָּרָ֥א אֹתָֽם׃

A few verses later in chapter 2 we see Gd putting their creation in the garden, with no mention of gender.  The first Adam was neither male NOR female, just as Gd is neither male NOR female.

וַיִּטַּ֞ע ה' אֱלֹקִ֛ים גַּן־בְעֵ֖דֶן מִקֶּ֑דֶם וַיָּ֣שֶׂם שָׁ֔ם אֶת־הָֽאָדָ֖ם אֲשֶׁ֥ר יָצָֽר׃

Genesis 2:8

(8) The LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and placed there the man whom He had formed.

A little farther on we hear the classic story of the creation of two gendered creatures:

Genesis 2:21-24

(21) So the LORD God cast a deep sleep upon the man; and, while he slept, He took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh at that spot. (22) And the LORD God fashioned the rib that He had taken from the man into a woman; and He brought her to the man. (23) Then the man said, “This one at last Is bone of my bones And flesh of my flesh. This one shall be called Woman, For from man was she taken.” 

וַיִּבֶן֩ ה' אֱלֹקִ֧ים ׀ אֶֽת־הַצֵּלָ֛ע אֲשֶׁר־לָקַ֥ח מִן־הָֽאָדָ֖ם לְאִשָּׁ֑ה וַיְבִאֶ֖הָ אֶל־הָֽאָדָֽם׃

While the King James convinced so many of us that the word צֵּלָ֛ע is rib, that is not a universal translation.  It may also mean “side”, which creates an entirely different understanding.

רש"י על בראשית א׳:כ״ז:ג׳

(ג) זכר ונקבה ברא אותם. וּלְהַלָּן הוּא אוֹמֵר וַיִּקַּח אַחַת מִצַּלְעֹתָיו וגו' (בראשית ב')? מִדְרַשׁ אַגָּדָה שֶׁבְּרָאוֹ שְׁנֵי פַרְצוּפִים בִּבְרִיאָה רִאשׁוֹנָה, וְאַחַר כָּךְ חֲלָקוֹ. וּפְשׁוּטוֹ שֶׁל מִקְרָא, כָּאן הוֹדִיעֲךָ שֶׁנִּבְרְאוּ שְׁנֵיהֶם בַּשִּׁשִּׁי וְלֹא פֵי' לְךָ כֵּיצַד בְּרִיָּתָן, וּפֵרֵשׁ לְךָ בְּמָקוֹם אַחֵר:

Rashi on Genesis 1:27:3

(3) זכר ונקבה ברא אותם MALE AND FEMALE CREATED HE THEM — And further on (Genesis 2:21) it is said: “and He took one of his ribs etc.” (The two passages appear to be contradictory.) But according to a Midrashic explanation, He created him at first with two faces, and afterwards He divided him. But the real sense of the verse is: here it tells you that both of them were created on the sixth day, but it does not explain to you how their creation took place; this it explains to you in another place (Genesis Rabbah 8:1 and see Eruvin 18a) .

Rashi, our medieval French friend and commentator, shows us that things are not quite what we imagined.  Perhaps that first person looked very different from our imaginative picture of a man who had a woman removed and formed from his rib, but instead two equals separated to create Adam and CHava!

רשב"ם בראשית פרשת בראשית פרק א

זכר ונקבה ברא אותם - כמו שמפרש לפנינו ויקח אחת מצלעותיו כלל ואח"כ פירש.

Rashi’s son in law, Samuel ben Meir, says much the same, that the first person had their two sides separated to form the new people.

Where did these commentators get their ideas?  They did not simply make them up in the 11th and 12th centuries, but used our rabbinic sources from much earlier.

Bereishit Rabbah 8:1, a midrashic commentary on Genesis:

(1) ... Said R’ Yirmiyah ben Elazar: In the hour when the Holy One created the first human, He created him [as] an androgyne/androginos, as it is said, “male and female He created them”. Said R’ Shmuel bar Nachmani: In the hour when the Holy One created the first human, He created [for] him a double-face/di-prosopon/ du-par’tsufin, and sawed him and made him backs, a back here and a back [t]here, as it is said, “Back/achor and before/qedem You formed me” [Ps 139:5]. They objected to him: But it says, “He took one of his ribs/ts’la`ot . . . ” [Gn 2:21]! He said to them: [It means] “[one] of his sides/sit’rohi”, just as you would say, “And for the side/tsela` of the Tabernacle/ mishkan” [Ex 26:20], which they translate [in Aramaic] “for the side/seter”.

The Talmud offers much the same perspective as the Midrash:

ברכות ס״א א:ו׳-ז׳

ויבן ה׳ אלקים את הצלע רב ושמואל חד אמר פרצוף וחד אמר זנב

Berakhot 61a:6-7

It is stated: “And the tzela which the Lord, God, had taken from the man, He made a woman, and brought her unto the man” (Genesis 2:22). Rav and Shmuel disagree over the meaning of the word tzela: One said: It means face. Eve was originally one face or side of Adam. And one said: It means tail, which he explains to mean that the tzela was an appendage, i.e., one of the ribs in Adam’s chest.

In researching this topic, I found it fascinating to discover a connection to Plato, whose words would also have been familiar to some of our rabbis and teachers.  In the Symposium, we discover:

Plato, The Symposium

For at first there were three species [or sexes] of humans, not two, just as now: male and female, as well as another third one [androgyne], sharing things in common with both of these (of which its name remains although it has disappeared). For the androgyne back then was distinct in shape and name, out of having in common both male and female, but now its name survives only in reproach…

We could spend the rest of our morning looking through other cultures and traditions, from Native American to Eastern to see that gender, sexuality and biological sex are far more complicated than we might have imagined.  These are not new ideas in the 21st century, but part of our heritage and culture for generations.

Rabbi Jen Gubitz of Boston writes:

The only vaccine to hate, anger, confusion and discomfort, however, is education.  We can inoculate ourselves against hateful messages communicated through a gendered language system by learning the proper language to describe individuals who we and others may not fully understand. As we seek out education about the LGBTQ community, we have the opportunity to add ourselves to that acronym in solidarity.  We need not be L, G, B, T, or Q to consider ourselves active supporters and champions of the equality due to this marginalized community.  

This Shabbat, and every Shabbat, we must recognize that we are ALL created in the image of GD.  Every single one of us.  There are no limits to that statement.  May we always treat one another that way--God does.

For more information:

Rabbi Tzvi Sinensky: Androgynous Myth: The Creation of Adam and Eve in Peshat and Midrash

Add Yourself to the Acronym: Understanding (Trans)Gender in Jewish Life Delivered by Rabbi Jen Gubitz in 2015

Pride Shabbat morning can be found below. My sermon is at 1:43:45, one hour, forty-three minutes and forty-five seconds: