The "TumTum" in Jewish Legal Context

Continuing our series on the Six Genders in Classical Judaism, blog contributor Melvin Marsh  takes a look at the halachic (legal) proscriptions surrounding the category known as TumTum. See the previous post on the androgynos here.


The TumTum is the second unusual sexual category in the Talmud and certainly one that is more commonly seen in day to day life and the medical literature.  Unlike the Androgynos, the sexual characteristics of the TumTum are completely undetermined usually, but not always, due to a membrane covering part of the genitalia.  This is considered to be a truly unknown status.   A TumTum will either be definitely male or female, unlike the Androgynos who is both male and female.  Rashi indicates during his commentary on Rosh Hashanah that TumTumim may have different legal statuses from each other as one might truly be female while another is male, unlike the Androgynos which will all have the same legal status.

The laws concerning the TumTum are often mentioned in the same sections concerning the Androgynos.  Many of the laws concerning one concern the other, such as both are considered a sex apart from male and female.  The Androgynos and TumTum both are generally required to perform all relevant male mitzvot, however as the TumTum is not considered to be circumcised (when in doubt they do not circumcise) and is considered infertile, he is exempt from anything that uncircumcised males are not allowed to perform.

One of the differences between Androgynos and TumTum involve who they are allowed to marry.  While the Androgynos is only allowed to marry a woman, the TumTum may marry either a man or a woman and, either way, the betrothal is valid (Bechoroth 42b).  Further as Rashi indicates, if the TumTum is married to a woman, in the event of a divorce, he must give her a get (a divorce decree) on the chance that the TumTum is really a male, thus freeing the wife to marry.  In the event the TumTum is married to a man, and seeks a divorce, no get is needed in the chance that the TumTum might really be male.  Interestingly, there is a question over whether or not a TumTum is obligated to perform either chalitzah (rejection) or yibum (marrying the widow) provided his brother died childless.   Rashi indicates a TumTum would be unable to marry his brother’s wife in order to pass on the brother’s name as TumTumim are considered to be unable to reproduce due to their ambiguous genitals.  As the TumTum may be female, any chalitzah may be invalid thus if the TumTum has another brother, that would be a more appropriate brother to perform chalitzah.  

Regarding inheritance, the TumTum is treated like a male in the event of a small estate and like a female in the event of a larger one (Bava Bath 140b).  This is due to the TumTum not being able to claim more than the lesser of the portions.  In large estate, the sons inherit the estate while the daughters are only supported until maturity.  In a smaller estate, the daughters take priority while the sons are required to go begging if needed in order to support themselves (Bava Bathra 140a).  Thus, TumTumim are only supported until maturity regardless of circumstance.

Interestingly, while a TumTum is obliged to hear the shofar and may even blow it like other males, he may only blow the shofar for himself and not for other TumTumim.  Unlike the Androgynos who is allowed to fulfill religious duties for others, the TumTum is allowed to fulfill only his own religious duties and may not help others fulfill their own (Rosh Hashanah, 29a).  As Rashi indicates, this is due to the blower potentially being a female who would not be obligated to perform the mitzvah, while the listener could be a male who would be obligated to listen.  This would not be acceptable as the first TumTum (the female blowing the shofar) would be exempt as it is a positive time-bound commandment which all females are exempt from performing and thus cannot help others perform a duty they are not required to do.  Further, unlike the Androgynos who may eat of the terumah offering (as previously mentioned) assuming he was circumcised, the TumTum may neither eat of terumah or holy food as he never holds the status of a circumcised male (Yevamoth 72a).  The latter due to the same reasons as the Androgynos and the former because the TumTum is uncircumcised.

One can confirm for certain the sex of a TumTum through surgery.  If a TumTum is operated on and found to be male, he has the status of a Saris which will be discussed later (Yevamoth 81a).  If “he” turns out to be female, she is considered a definite female.  Generally, though prior to surgery, he is treated as though he is an uncircumcised male or a blemished male in male activities.  Similar to the Androgynos, the TumTum cannot become sacred as one does not sanctify out of doubt (Bechoroth 42b).

Interestingly enough, despite all the difficulties caused by TumTum status, one should take pride in the fact that the midrash teaches that both Avraham Avinu and Sarah Imanu may have been TumTumim (Yevamoth 64a)!

Of interest to the female to male transsexuals out there, there have been a few Orthodox rabbis who have allowed a conversion to go through as a TumTum!


Melvin Marsh, who prefers to use his Hebrew name Mordechai Yisrael, is a "Reformadox" female to male transsexual interested in the Halacha of sex and gender.  He currently lives in Augusta, Ga where he is attending medical school.