Date of Award

Spring 3-27-2012

Author's School

College of Arts & Sciences

Author's Department/Program

Interdisciplinary Project in the Humanities


Despite the gendered nature of the Jewish tradition, the ancient rabbis create a highly nuanced understanding of diverse sexualities. They lay out a number of categories that defy the binary distinction between males and females. One of these categories, the androgynos, describes a figure that is intersex, meaning that the genitalia are not clearly either male or female. Though the texts of rabbinic literature do not give a physical description of the androgynos, the ancient rabbis use ritual obligation to define the gender role of the figure thereby defining the androgynos as a figure with both male and female genitalia. To understand the gender role created by the rabbis, I read the ancient legal literature using the perspective of post-modern gender theory to see how the rabbis construct both gender and sexuality. Though the rabbis understand sexual difference as clearly biological, their discussion of problematic categories reveals what sort of priorities they maintain when constructing the sex and defining the gender role of the androgynons. The rabbis balance their desire for exploring the theoretical ambiguity of difficult categories with their desire to maintain strict gender roles. The rabbis rule that the androgynos must act like a male in many situations, but they acknowledge the ambiguity of the figure through a number of ways. I observe how the different genres of rabbinic literature are able to face the ambiguity inherent in the ambiguous body of the androgynos and compare their treatment to other possible responses to intersexuality. I found that the rabbis rule that the androgynos performs as a male, demanding that the figure takes part in a number of significant rituals while not allowing the androgynos to enjoy the privileges and power associated with the male role in Jewish ritual law.


English (en)

Advisor/Committee Chair

Pamela Barmash

Advisor/Committee Chair's Department

Jewish, Islamic, and Near Eastern Languages and Cultures

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