By: Moses Gaster
Rabbinical literature knows both the mythical and the real hermaphrodite: the former in the Haggadah, the latter in the Halakah. The notion of bisexuality must have been derived from Hellenic sources, as the Greek form of the word proves. The other form, "hermaphrodite," never occurs in rabbinical writings. The principle of the sexual generation of the world is not of Greek origin: its phallic character pointing to India as its birthplace. Plato, who shows much more intimate acquaintance with the Orient than is supposed, speaks in his "Symposion" (190 B) of three generations: the masculine, the feminine, and the androgynous, which had been created by "sun, earth, and moon respectively."In the Haggadah.
Transmitted and developed through dualistic Gnosticism in the East, the notion of an androgynous creation was adopted by the Haggadists in order to reconcile the apparently conflicting statements of the Bible. In Gen. ii. 7 and 18 et seq., the separate creations of man and of woman are described, while in chap. i. 27, "God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them," their creation is described as coincident. In connection with the latter verse the Midrash states (Gen. R. viii.): "Jeremiah, son of Eleazar, says: God created Adam androgynous, but Samuel, son of Naḥman, says, He created him 'double-faced,' then cutting him in twain and forming two backs, one to the one and the other to the second" (see Bacher, "Ag. Pal. Amor." i. 547, iii. 585). The same statement is given in Moses ha-Darshan's Bereshit Rabbati ("Pugio Fidei," p. 446, Paris, 1651). The difference in the interpretation is that, according to Jeremiah's opinion, Adam had both sexes, and was thus a real hermaphrodite in the old mythical sense, identical with that conception of Hermes in which he is understood to be the "logos alethinos," the son of Maya, the bisexual primeval man of the East. The Greek Hermaphroditus —represented by statues and on old gems, in which representations, however, bisexuality is scarcely indicated—has remained strange to the East and totally unknown to the Jews. In all the parallel passages in the Talmud, the opinion of Samuel b. Naḥman alone prevails, for we find regularly Adam (bifrons, double-fronted), as, for example: 'Er. 18a, Ber. 61a, etc. (Jastrow, "Dict." s.v., p. 304, 1).
In the Halakah.
The opinion expressed by Jeremiah is, however, very old and wide-spread, for we find the fathers of the Christian Church at pains to refute this "Jewish fable"; Augustine writes against it in his commentary on Genesis, ad loc. ch. 22. Strabos,agreeing with Augustine, declares this opinion to be one of the "damnatæ Judæorum fabulæ." Others revive the question, and Sixtus Senensis in his "Bibliotheca Sacra" devotes to it a special chapter (ed. Colon. 1586, fol. 344, 345). An alchemic interpretation has been given to "Adam androgynus," by Guil. Menens, "Aurei Velleris libri tres, Theatrum chemicum," vol. v., p. 275, Argent., 1660.
In the halakic writings only "Androgynos" is used, never "duoprosopin" (bifrons), and always in the physiological sense of "bisexual." In the Mishnah Bikkurim, the whole of section iv. is devoted to the minute description of the legal position and abnormities of the Androgynos. In some particulars he is to be treated as a man, in others as a woman, as he partakes of both natures; not so the "ṭum-ṭum," an individual whose sex can not be determined. This Androgynos is a common figure in classical tradition. Pliny mentions him ("Historia Naturalis," vii. 34), and Gellius ("Noctes Atticæ," ix. 4, 16). Special attention was paid to the Androgynos in the old writers on physiognomy. Compare "Scriptores Physiognomonici Græci et Latini," ed. Foerster, Leipsic, 1893, under "Androgynos," in Index Græcus (ii. 368). For the further legal treatment of the Androgynos in Hebrew law, see Isaac Lampronti in his "Paḥad Yiẓḥaḳ," s.v., and Löw, "Lebensalter."