Friday, April 8, 2016

My Great Journey Part 8A - on the Genesis of Humanity

My Great Journey Part 8A - on the Genesis of Humanity


In previous posts of my blog, I have explored social/biological aspects of being transgender, religious aspects, and the language of gender identity and sexual orientation.  In this posting I am going to explore Biblical texts in detail, along with traditional commentaries, which bring a very different understanding of gender, than what Western Thought and the “Judeo/Christian/Islamic” religious leaders have taught.

I should point out, that as a Rabbi, I use the Hebrew Bible, or Tanakh. Tanakh is an acronym for Torah (the Five Books of Moses), Nevi’im (the Books of the Prophets) and Ketuvim (Writings – e.g. Psalms, Proverbs, Esther, etc).  In Judaism, we don’t refer to the “Old Testament” because we don’t accept a New Testament.  While my exploration is Jewish in perspective, it is my hope that it will provide meaning to anyone, transgender or not, who is grappling with religious understandings of gender.

In this text, I will use the original Hebrew, transliteration (the Hebrew words written with English letters) and my own translation.  This is to make these texts accessible for all readers.  I make no claim to having the definitive translation of texts, but I strive for accuracy.  Because Hebrew uses the masculine gender as the default for male, and multiple, it gets cumbersome to write using gender neutral language while still maintaining faith to the text.  

I will use the traditional He for God. That said, any language we use for God is anthropomorphizing – that is we apply human characteristics to Describe God. This is because God is infinite, transcendent and imminent, and therefore impossible to describe in human language.
When I cite commentaries, I will use a footnote to identify the commentary and information about it. For general accessibility, I will use the standard English names for Biblical books. Biblical references will look, for example, like “Gen. 1:27” – Genesis, chapter 1, verse 27.
It is my hope, that by bringing in some texts, with commentaries that may seem very radical, it will provide understanding and comfort to those grappling with these important issues.


Origin of Humanity in Bible
Gen. 1:27
כז   וַיִּבְרָא אֱלֹ-ים אֶת-הָאָדָם בְּצַלְמוֹ בְּצֶלֶם אֱלֹ-ים בָּרָא אֹתוֹ זָכָר וּנְקֵבָה בָּרָא אֹתָם:
Vayivra El-him et ha’adam b’tzalmo; b’tzelem El-him bara oto;
zakhar unekeiva bara otam.
God created the Adam in His image; in the image of God he created it/him;
(a single) male and female (entity) He created them.

The common understanding of this is that God created males AND (or) females – in other words, a binary existence.  This is not what the text states. It states that God created a single human entity who had male and female characteristics.  When one considers that God created humans in the image of God, this really makes sense. God has myriad characteristics. If humans are created in God’s image, a point which is doubled for emphasis in our verse, then we have multiple characteristics as well.

The understanding that should be derived from this is that humans exist on a spectrum of gender and sexuality.  We have multiple characteristics.  Few if any people are all one or all the other.  Thus when we express a gender that differs from our birth gender, or when we express a sexuality other than heterosexual, we are NOT deviating from God’s creation of us. Rather we are honoring God’s creation, by being who God created us to be.

A further understanding of this can be found in the Midrash[1].

Genesis Rabbah 8:1[2]

אמר רבי ירמיה בן אלעזר בשעה שברא הקדוש ברוך הוא את אדם הראשון
 אנדרוגינוס בראו הדא הוא דכתיב זכר ונקבה בראם
Amar Rabbi Yirmiah ben Elazar, b’sha’a she’bara haKadosh Barukh Hu et adam harishon, Androgynous b’ra’o. Hada hu dikhtiv, zakhar unekeiva b’ra’am.

Rabbi Yirmiah the son of Elazar said: when the Holy One Blessed is He created the first Adam;
God created it Androgynous (Intersex).
Thus as it is written: male AND female God created them.

This Midrash is amazing.  The rabbis stated that the first Adam was an Intersex being.  This text from, almost 2000 years ago, supports the radical understanding I contend, that humanity is NOT binary. We were created by God to have multiple characteristics. We thus honor God’s creation by being us.

Gen 2:21-22:

כא   וַיַּפֵּל ה' אֱלֹ-הִים | תַּרְדֵּמָה עַל-הָאָדָם וַיִּישָׁן וַיִּקַּח אַחַת מִצַּלְעֹתָיו וַיִּסְגֹּר בָּשָֹר תַּחְתֶּנָּה:
Vayapel H’ El-him tardeimah al ha’adam, vayishan, vayikah ahat mitzal’otav, vayisgor basar tahtena.
H’ God caused sleep to fall on the Adam and he slept. And God took one of (Adam’s) sides, and closed the flesh in its place.
 כב   וַיִּבֶן יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהִים | אֶת-הַצֵּלָע אֲשֶׁר-לָקַח מִן-הָאָדָם לְאִשָּׁה וַיְבִאֶהָ אֶל-הָאָדָם:
Vayiven H’ El-him et hatzela asher lakah min ha’adam l’isha, vay’vieha el ha’adam.
H’ God built the side that God took from the Adam into a woman, and brought her to the Adam.

In these verses, we see that God took the Intersex human, the Adam, and split it/them into two separate people, Adam (the male part) and Hava (Eve) (the female part).  God thus in this section created a binary state, from a humanity that was non-binary. The Torah then creates the traditional gender roles that men and women have had for millennia.   

The men are the providers and rulers, the women are the mothers and homemakers.  Both men and women are Prophets in Genesis, and both have conversations with God.
But then it gets interesting:

Gen 2:24

עַל-כֵּן יַעֲזָב-אִישׁ אֶת-אָבִיו וְאֶת-אִמּוֹ וְדָבַק בְּאִשְׁתּוֹ וְהָיוּ לְבָשָֹר אֶחָד:
Al kein ya’azov ish et aviv v’et imo, v’davak b’ishto, v’hayu l’vasar ehad.
Thus a man shall leave his parents and cling to his wife and they shall be as one single flesh.

So, we’ve gone from a non-binary state to a binary state, back to a non-binary state again. Except in this case it is a virtual state, not an actual physical state.

But why is this done?

Gen 2:18

יח   וַיֹּאמֶר ה אֱלֹ-הִים לֹא-טוֹב הֱיוֹת הָאָדָם לְבַדּוֹ אֶעֱשֶֹה-לּוֹ עֵזֶר כְּנֶגְדּוֹ:
Vayomer H’ El-him, lo tov he’yot ha’adam l’vado. E’eseh lo ‘ezer k’negdo.
H’ God said, it is not good for the Adam to be alone. I will create for him a helper opposite (him).

The interesting thing is that in our verse here, God does not say, “I will create woman for man”; God says “I will create a partner for the human.”  Thus, this section does not mandate a cis-hetero-binary existence as is understood by society. Rather it simply states the obvious – most humans are happier with a partner.  This verse does not define what the partner’s identity is, and nor should we.

So, in summary of this section, God created humanity to emulate Godlike characteristics of multiple facets.  Humanity was created non-binary, but becomes in single binary like states.  We then seek a life partner, but that partner does not need to necessarily be a binary opposite.  Thus the story of the creation of humanity creates a sacred space for ALL humans, irrespective of their gender identity or sexual orientation.

This exposition into the Torah of Transgender Existence will continue in future parts.

As always, I welcome comments and feedback.

Peace, Rona

[1] The Midrash is a collection of a number of sets of works by Rabbis in Israel and Babylonia, generally written down in the Sixth to Ninth Centuries CE (Common Era – referred to by Christians as AD)
[2] Midrash Rabbah is an exposition on certain Biblical texts.  Genesis Rabbah explores texts in the book of Genesis.