Before Adam and Eve: The First Intersex Person

The stories of the Garden of Eden and the first human beings seem to transcend religion. They're often used as proof texts by believers of all faiths as the basis for "traditional" marriage, male-female relationships, and female subordination. However, when we actually look at the texts and read what they say - well, the story changes quite a bit:

Let's start at the beginning, in the first creation story, Genesis 1:26-27

"And God said, 'let us make a human, in our image, according to our likeness, and let them dominate the fish of the sea and the birds of the skies and the domestic animals and all the earth and all the creeping things that creep on the earth.' And God created the human being in God's image. God created it in the image of God; God created them male and female." (translation)

The verse is a strange mix of singular and plural, both for the human being and for God. God is referred to in both first and third person, and the human being is referred to both in plural and singular terms. No matter how they're referred to, though, we are reminded that all human beings are created in God's image. (Judaism also certainly understands this to mean that God is both male and female, to be sure.)

Rabbi Elliot Kuklah from TransTorah brings in this from B'reishit Rabbah 8:1:

Right there, plain as day, we can see that the first human being was both male and female

Now let's take a look at Genesis 2:21-22, wherein we meet Eve and have the first use of the word "woman/אשה." ("Man/איש" had not yet been used, either.)

Genesis 2:21-22

"And YHWH God caused a slumber to descend on the human, and he slept. And God took one of his ribs and closed flesh in its place. And YHWH God built the rib that God had taken from the human into a woman and brought her to the human."

At first glance, this seems quite straight forward: There's a human being, referred to as "he", and another human being is created from his ribs, and it's a woman. Pretty clear, right? Not really. Hebrew is a gendered language and the masculine form of a word is always the default. If we take these verses in context with the first set we examined, we can see that "they" is probably more appropriate than "he", although Hebrew really does not have a gender-neutral pronoun (in the first verses it's used as a plural). 

Second, the word "rib" isn't accurate here. In Exodus 26:20, the same word, "צלע", the word that has traditionally been understood to mean "rib" is used to mean "side" - it was a construction term referring to the side or the wall of the Tabernacle. So, if we understand that the phrase should mean "And God took the side of the Human...", all of a sudden, things start to make a bit more sense, and reminiscent of Plato's Symposium, even: the original human being was both male and female, with multiple sides, and God split them in half. 

More from Breishit Rabbah 8:1:

In other words, just as Plato theorized, the Midrash teaches that human beings were originally created to be two-sided, or, two-faced. We had a front of one gender and a back of another, but, when God realized that it "is not good for humans to be alone", God split the human into two separate beings.  Perhaps this means that, like the legend, humanity's search for true love is really just a search for our other half?

More than anything else, though, this section should serve to show that, like the Six Genders of Classical Judaism, these aren't new issues for us. In fact, we've been talking about these topics for thousands of years, and while with each generation we get smarter and smarter and closer to reaching full inclusion, these discussions will likely continue on for a few thousand more.

 

 

Read more: Velveteen Rabbi, Like Water for Torah, Jewish Women's Archive

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Robbie Medwed

Robbie Medwed began working with SOJOURN when it was known as The Rainbow Center as a volunteer in 2008. He served as chair of the TRC Advisory Board and as co-chair of Purim off Ponce (2010, 2011) before moving into his current role as Assistant Director, where he oversees SOJOURN's educational programming and outreach, including our award-winning workshops and training seminars. Robbie holds a master's degree in Jewish education from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and has written curricula and nationally-recognized inclusive programs for the Marcus JCC of Atlanta, BBYO, USY, Camp Ramah, the Jewish Teen Funders Network, Babaganewz, and JewishGPS. Robbie is also a certified personal trainer, group fitness instructor, and cyclist. Robbie can be reached at robbie@sojourngsd.org.