The 6 Genders According To The Talmud and Biological Science

The 6 Genders According To The Talmud and Biological Science February 13, 2023

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In my recent debate with James White on the topic “What Is Biblical Marriage?” I mentioned that both the Talmud and other ancient Jewish sources recognized 6 different genders, and that Biological Science had confirmed this fact independently.

That didn’t go over very well.

So, here’s a bit more of the research I uncovered while preparing for this debate that shows exactly what I’ve said before: Both scientists and ancient Jewish texts agree that there are 6 different human gender types.

Let’s start with the Ancient Jewish sources since, for most Conservative Evangelical Christians, the Jewish religious sources are likely to be more credible.

Let’s start with the Jewish Mishnah. [The Mishnah is the first major written collection of the Jewish oral traditions that are known as the Oral Torah.]

The Mishnah identifies 6 different categories that include the binary “Male” and “Female” but also 4 other types that fall in between that spectrum.

The Six Categories of Human Gender from Ancient Jewish Sources Are:

This term is derived from the word for a pointy sword and refers to a phallus. It is
usually translated as “male” in English.

Nekevah: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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.

[From 6 Terms for Gender Diversity in Classical Jewish Texts by Rabbi Elliot Kukla (2006), PDF linked HERE]

Another source – Patrick Beaulier in his article “‘Six Sexes” and Gender Expression” – found that ancient Jewish texts – including the Mishna, the Talmud and classic Midrash – offered a surprising perspective on human gender and sexuality.

As he says:

“The halachah [the collective body of Jewish religious law derived from the Torah] recognizes six or seven sexual identity categories: male, saris (2 types), androgynus, tumtum, aylonit, and female.

“[These] ‘non-binary’ categories weren’t considered exotic or disastrous with midrashim associating them at Adam, Abraham, and Sarah, as well as a midrash giving what sounds like a ‘trans’ identity for Isaac.

“Finally, two halachot illustrate a rabbinic awareness that gender expression follows ‘local custom,’ i.e. is socially constructed.

“The rabbinic halachic and midrashic tradition wasn’t liberal in the modern sense with regard to these issues, but it does provide in impetus for a Jewishly rooted mind-opening with regard to sex and gender.”

For greater detail, including quotations from the Jewish Mishneh Torah and Rabbinic commentaries, you can read the entire article HERE>


While it is true that Jewish law is historically based on an assumption of gender duality, (Male and Female), and the fundamental Mishnaic texts indicate that this duality is not conceived symmetrically (as seen through the gendered exemptions of some commandments), the fact remains that, throughout these ancient Jewish texts, there have been numerous references to people who did not fall into that Male/Female binary category and this required their Rabbis to focus their attention on acknowledging those who did not fall into that convenient binary.

Now, if we REALLY want to get into the weeds on this, it might be helpful to look at this longer quotation from a more in-depth article written by Charlotte Elisheva Fonrobert entitled “Gender Identity In Halakhic Discourse” where she goes into more detail about the last two categories in our list above – The Saris and the Ailonit:

“To the rabbis, lack of pubic hair by the age of twenty or eighteen (Mishnah Niddah 5:9) indicates an inability to reproduce. On the basis of this evidence, such people are categorized as either saris in the male case (usually translated as “eunuch,” but better translated as “sterile,” the assumption being that he can in fact have sexual relations, Mishnah Yevamot 8:4), or ailonit in the female case, a Hebrew term that the Babylonian Talmud explains pseudo-etymologically as a “ram-like” woman (Ketubbot 11a).

“For the former, the Mishnah and subsequent halakhic literature distinguish between a saris hamah, a man who is born with the defect (Tosefta Yevamot 10:3.6, perhaps “from the time of seeing the sun,” also described as a man born with only one testicle), and a saris adam, a man who becomes incapable of reproduction by human interference (Mishnah Yevamot 8:5–6), but who was at some point capable of reproduction.

“Other tannaitic traditions (Tosefta Yevamot 10:6, Yevamot 80b) include additional “signs” (simanim) to infer an incapacity to reproduce, such as lack of beard, the texture of hair and skin, nature of urine and seminal fluid in the male case, lack of breasts and lack of rounded lower abdomen in the female case, and sonority of the voice as an indicator for both, on the assumption that men and women have distinct voices.

“These signs are also the received wisdom of medical theories deriving from Aristotle (Gleason, 401) and are widespread in late antique culture (Clement, Paedagogus 3.3, Levinson, 129).

“According to the rabbinic semiotic system, these signs or their lack would suggest gender uncertainty, since a male body should indeed produce a beard, and a female body should develop breasts. However, the halakhic literature nowhere suggests that the saris or the ailonit are in fact not “really” man or woman.

“Importantly, and in contrast to late ancient physiognomy (see below), the goal of decoding such signs is not to establish or to undermine a mere appearance of genuine masculinity or femininity and to detect a hidden effeminacy, but to infer a potential incapacity to reproduce before marriage is contracted.”

Now, that’s a lot of detail. I know. But when I simply make the claim and provide the basic information on this, many Evangelical Christians cry “Where’s your proof?” and “What evidence do you have?” so this is provided mostly for those in that doubter’s camp.

If you’d like to read the entire article you can do so HERE>


Let’s move on to the Scientific data now, shall we?

Here we find that the study of Genetics and Biological research indicates that human beings are best classified into one of 6 different genders.

Well, what do you know? Usually Evangelical Christians are thrilled whenever the Scientific community confirms something from their religious texts. But, in this case, they’re not quite as enthused because it contradicts the assumptions they’ve made about those texts and what they believe they say.

In this article from Scientific American, “Sex Redefined: The Idea of 2 Sexes Is Overly Simplistic” we learn that Biologists now know that there is a much larger spectrum than simply Male or Female.

As the article begins, Clinical Geneticist Paul James was shocked to discover that one of his patients – a 46 year old pregnant woman – was chromosomally male.

“Her body was built of cells from two individuals, probably from twin embryos that had merged in her own mother’s womb. And there was more. One set of cells carried two X chromosomes, the complement that typically makes a person female; the other had an X and a Y. Halfway through her fifth decade and pregnant with her third child, the woman learned for the first time that a large part of her body was chromosomally male. “That’s kind of science-fiction material for someone who just came in for an amniocentesis,” says James.”

That’s pretty amazing, but let’s see what an actual Scientist in Molecular Biology, Biochemistry and Endocrinology has to say about this:

“Biological sex is a spectrum. We should all know that XX is a girl, and XY is a boy. Right?

“Wrong. There are XY people who have ovaries, and give birth. And there are XX people who have male bodies and functional sperm.

“These are usually written off as “abnormalities” and while some do have medical issues, many do not; as when the XY woman gives birth.

“So, not everything fits into a binary Male or Female box, unless we make those boxes a bit bigger.

“On the scientific side, there are many things that can cause different biological and genetic variations ranging from XXY, XYY, Y, X, XX with translocation, XY with deletion, and hormonal variations like Androgen Insensitivity, Estradiol failure, and disrupters like dioxins.

“If you’re a Scientist, you want to categorize everything to make it easier to understand these things, so you take all of these different sorts of people and plot them on a graph.

“To do so you need to take all of the differences in genetics, responses to hormones, effectiveness to signaling pathways, various sizes of AVPV [Aanteroventral periventricular nucleus], and give everything a number and add them all up.

“When you do that you end up with a graph of “Male” and “Female” which looks like to side-by-side mountain ranges and a spectrum of color ranging from dark blue on the left to light pink on the right.

“In other words: It’s a spectrum. Simply put: There are functional “females” who can do all the usual female things like gestate babies but they respond to this one endocrine disrupter in a male way.

Geneticists have a short-hand for these sorts of people as “Male2” and “Female2” which essentially means there are biologically 4 sexes.

“But it doesn’t end there because we still have XY people who gestate babies and XX people with penises, and ovaries, so that’s 2 more categories: “Intersex1” and “Intersex2” because all of these people respond differently with signaling.”


So, the Science is very clear: There is more than just XX and XY. There is more than just the Male/Female binary.

There are, in fact, a total of 6 categories of sex or gender according to what we see from biology. And that confirms what Jewish Rabbis have been saying for a few thousand years in the Talmud, the Mishnah and the Midrash.

And it’s very important to remember: We’re not talking about anything new because sex has always been on a spectrum.

Many Christians at this point in the conversation will rush back to their Bibles and quote Genesis 1:27 to us:

“And God created man to his own image: to the image of God he created him: male and female he created them.”

But it also says in that same chapter that God created “Day” and “Night” and we all intuitively accept that “Day” is not one thing. Day includes sunrise, high noon and sunset, and every range of light in between.

So, it might do us some good to at least consider the possibility – in light of the clear evidence from Science and a few thousand years worth of Jewish understanding on this topic – to recognize that Male and Female are just as much on a spectrum as Day and Night are.

Finally, (because I know this is getting kinda long), let me quickly say something about those people who are born Intersex.

First, Intersex is not a condition or a birth defect or a disease. As Scientists say, “[Intersex] is a natural byproduct of what geneticists call normal bimodal distribution…and intersex people are a perfectly normal result of nature…there is no scientific rationale for medically, or culturally forcing people into a binary Male/Female category.”

What’s more, there are an estimated 1,900 people born Intersex every single day on this planet. They make up roughly 1.7% of our global population which works out to 156 Million of them.

If that number seems low, keep in mind that the entire population of Russia is only 143 Million people.

So, the bottom line is this: People are born who are more than merely Male or Female. Some people are gay. Some are straight. Some are queer. Some are Trans. Some are Intersex.

But all of us are human beings. All of us are made in the image of God.

And God so loves every gay, lesbian, queer, trans, straight, and intersex child on earth.

That means we should too.


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