Bri'a bi’fney atzmah

 

Our tradition gives us a holy nonbinary category. In Mishnah Bikkurim 4:5, the androgynos is discussed as a holy subversion of binary thinking because of the phrase “Bri’a bi’fnei atzmah”, “a being created of its own”. This phrase is also used to refer to the koi in Tosefta Bikkurim 2 because the koi is neither wild nor domesticated. (“A Created Being of Its Own”)

בְּי֗וֹם בְּרֹ֤א אֱלֹהִים֙ אָדָ֔ם בִּדְמ֥וּת אֱלֹהִ֖ים עָשָׂ֥ה אֹתֽוֹ׃ זָכָ֥ר וּנְקֵבָ֖ה בְּרָאָ֑ם וַיְבָ֣רֶךְ אֹתָ֗ם

 

[Genesis 5:1-2]: "When God created the adam, He made him in the likeness of God; male and female [God] created them."

 

A modern scholar, Susan Weidman Schneider, interprets this verse as a merism,

such as “thick and thin”

or “young and old”.

As such “male and female [God] created them” can be read as “Zachar u’nkevah bara otam.” “God created male and female and every combination in between.”

(“Transgender Jews: An Introduction”)

Six boxes is better than two

Our tradition gives us more than two boxes.

These Talmudic terms describe intersex bodies, but have also been applied to gender.

Learn more:
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L'dor vador, From Generation to Generation

Seeing queer reflections in our ancestors

ADAM

The original person, understood by Talmudic rabbis to be androgynos (אַנְדְּרוֹגִינוֹס)

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JACOB

A mild man of the camp, contrasted to Esau's hairiness, smell, and hunting, our forefather displays an alternate masculinity

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JOSEPH

A central figure in the transition of the Jewish people from Canaan to Exodus, whose clothing is remarked upon repeatedly, whose appearance is described using adjectives for a princess, and who must come out to a family that does not recognize them

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AVRAM & SARAI

The first Jews, described by our sages as tumtumim, one of the categories in the Talmud for those of indistinguishable gender or genitalia; Sarah is also described in the Talmud as an aylonit, or one who appears as a woman but cannot give birth

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KALONYMUS BEN KALONYMUS

A scholar and poet of the late 13th-early 14th centuries, notable for Even Bochan (אבן בחן) in which the prayer "assani ishah" (עשני אשה) is interpreted through the longing lens of "I wish I was made a woman"

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Notable additions:
Check out these source sheet authors on Sefaria to learn more (click on the photos):
Rabbi Abby Stein's Sefaria profile
Binya Koatz's Sefaria profile

Image Credits

  • Abraham and Sarah by Chagall (1956)

  • Creation of God by Harmonia Rosales (2017)

  • Joseph and Potiphar's Wife by Guido Reni (1631)

  • Even Bochan by Kalonymos Ben Kalonymos (1322), image sourced from the Jewish Encyclopedia

  • Isaac Blessing Jacob by Jusepe de Ribera (1637)