A Source Sheet on Gender in Judaism
(27) And God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him; male and female created He them.
(18) And the LORD God said: ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a help meet for him.’ (21) And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; and He took one of his ribs, and closed up the place with flesh instead thereof. (22) And the rib, which the LORD God had taken from the man, He made into a woman, and brought her unto the man. (24) Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife, and they shall be one flesh.
(5) A woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment; for whosoever doeth these things is an abomination unto the LORD thy God.
The Talmud says that what is prohibited is falsifying identity for the purpose of spying on the other sex. The great medieval commentator Rashi says that the prohibition is limited to concealing identity for the purpose of adultery. The Shulhan Arukh notes that cross-dressing is permitted on Purim because its purpose is simha (celebration, joy) and that it is forbidden if it is for the purpose of fraud. In limiting the prohibition to situations of fraud and deception, the Talmudic and medieval rabbis indicated that cross-dressing in a way that is true to the cross-dresser’s identity is permitted.
Mishnah - Codified in the 2nd Century
Mishnah Bikkurim 4:1
(1) An Androginus (a hermaphrodite, who has both male and female reproductive organs) is similar to men in some, and to women in other ways, in some ways to both, and in some ways to neither.
Rabbi Meir Says: Androginus is a (gender) category of its own, (because) the rabbis could not decipher whatever s/he is a man or or a women. However a Tumtum is not so, as at times s/he is fully male, and at times s/he is fully female (but we can't tell which).
(Literal translation by Abby Stein)
Midrash - Codified in the 6th Century
Bereishit Rabbah 8:1
(1) And God said: Let us make Adam in our image, in our shape: R' Yirmiyah ben Elazar said, when Hashem created Adam HaRishon, he was created as both genders; thus is it written, "male and female did He create them." R' Shmuel bar Nachman said, when Hashem created Adam HaRishon, He created him with two faces, one on each side, and [when He made Chavah,] He split him along the middle, forming two backs. They challenged him: but it is written, "And He took one of his ribs!" He said to them, ["mitzalosav" doesn't mean rib, it means] one of his sides, similar to that which is said, "and to the 'tzela' of the Mishkan," which is translated "the side of the Mishkan." R' Tanchuma said in the name of R' Benaya, when Hashem created Adam HaRishon, He created him as a lifeless mass able to reach from one end of the Earth to the other; thus is it written, "Your eyes saw a mass."
The midrash, classical Jewish exegesis, adds that the [first human] being formed in G-d's likeness, was an androgynous, an inter-sexed, person . . . Hence, our tradition teaches that all bodies and genders are created in G-d's image, whether we identify as men, women, inter-sex, or something else.
(Rabbi Elliot Kukla, “Reform Devises Sex-Change Blessings”)
The Zohar - Traditionally - the 2nd century, historically the 13th century
Rabbi Simeon was journeying to Tiberias, and there were with him, Rabbi Jose, Rabbi Jehuda, and Rabbi Hiya. While on the way, they saw Rabbi Pinchus coming to meet them. After exchanging greetings, they all sat down under a great shady tree by a hillside.
Then Rabbi Simeon said: "It is written, 'and he went on his journeys from the south to Bethel unto the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Hai' (Gen. 13:3). It says, 'He went on his journeys' instead of 'his journey.' Why is that? There is a reference not only to his own journeying, but also that of the Schekina, who always went with Jacob, and therefore we learn that every person needs to be male and female at all time, for the sake of his faith, he ought not to think or imagine that the Schekina forsakes him in any way.
See, it has been said, a man ought always to cleave to his wife that the Schekina may always be with him, yet it is possible to go alone on a journey and the Schekina will still be with him. And when doing so he ought to direct his prayer to the Holy One that this may be, and in this way the male and female will always be associated in union with oneself.
(Translation by Abby Stein)
In this model, the individual mystic's soul, gendered feminine, first participates in an act of transgender-homoerotic mystical fellowship with those of hir fellow mystics in order to at once welcome in the Divine feminine (in some cases entering into erotic union with Her) and immediately switch gender roles to embody that Divine feminine for her congress with the male Godhead. This act of psychic double-transvestism is abetted by the Kabbalistic trope that casts God and Israel as the two lovers in the Song of Songs, or the two cherubs over the ark, with Israel taking the female role.
(Dr. Jay Michaelson)
In the last few decades, Kabbalah has enjoyed an unlikely resurgence, from high-profile celebrities such as Madonna to many ‘‘New Age’’ seekers, including, notably, feminists and queer people interested in alternatives to traditional Western religious discourse. And Kabbalah often delivers: feminine God-language, experiential mysticism and mythic esotericism, and a richer notion of Eros than one typically finds in mainline synagogues or churches.
Is it possible to attempt queer readings of Kabbalistic text and symbolism that are at once honest with the texts and yet of use to a contemporary queer theology?
("Kabbalah and Queer Theology")
Maggid Meisharim 8:3
I have already revealed to you last Shabbat concerning your first two wives. Now I have come to reveal to you the secret of your third wife.
You should know that this woman was in the past, a proper male Torah scholar. However, he was stingy with his money and would not give charity. He was also stingy with his wisdom and would not teach others. He was therefore punished that his soul migrated into a woman, measure for measure…
Therefore, his soul was incarnated into a female, who is constantly receiving and needs someone to bequeath to her. Therefore you see, that she does abundant charity and loves you very much because you work to spread Torah and toil in writing books to teach others…because these things bring about the rectification of her soul, she therefore loves you…
It is because she has the soul of a male that you have not had children from her, because a male and another male cannot produce offspring. If you shall point out that she has children from her first husband, this is because the first husband has the spark of a female soul within him…
(The maggid explains at length above, that it is entirely possible for a male to have a female soul and vice versa.)
Sha'ar Hagilgulim, Chapter 9
Sometimes a man may reincarnate into the body of a woman because of a sin, such as homosexuality or something similar. This woman who has received the soul of a man will not be able to conceive and become pregnant
This woman will need great merit to enable her to become pregnant and give birth. The only way it can be done is that some other feminine soul must enter her as an ibur.
However, she cannot give birth to sons for two reasons. The first is [as follows:] There is a verse that says, "…If a woman puts forth seed, and a male child is born" (Lev. 12:2). In this case, the woman is a male, just like her husband. She cannot give birth to boys, but only to girls. The second reason is that the feminine soul that has entered her does so only as an ibur in order to help her become pregnant and give birth. Once this woman gives birth, that soul does not need to stay there any longer for no reason. At the time that she gives birth, that [feminine] soul enters into the fetus as an actual Gilgul, and not as an Ibur, like it was at first. That is why the child that is born must be female and not male.
Hasidism - Contemporary
‘‘The Hasidic teaching is the proclamation of rebirth. No renewal of Judaism is possible that does not bear in itself the elements of Hasidism.’’
- Martin Buber
18th Century Hasidut
It is known that when Issac was born, he was born with the soul of a female, as it is written in Or Hachaim, and through the akeidah (binding of Issac) he got a male soul that can influence (meaning, can impregnate). With that we can understand why they more infertile humans than animals, even though that they both got the same blessing "It will not be within you and within your animals infertility". But, this is known according to the Sod (Secret/Mysticism) of reincarnation - that at times, a female would be in a male body, because in the reasons of gilgal (reincarnation) the soul of a female would come to be in a male. ... that is why it says by Issac that Hashem answered to him and not to her (Rebecca), because he needed divine help to be bale to have kids.
(Translation by Abby Stein)
Even Bohan, Kalonymus ben Kalonymus
What an awful fate for my mother / that she bore a son. What a loss of all benefit!...Cursed be the one who announced to my father: "It's a boy! . . . "Woe to him who has male sons / Upon them a heavy yoke has been placed / restrictions and constraints. Some in private, some in public / some to avoid the mere appearance of violation / and some entering the most secret of places. Strong statutes and awesome commandments / six hundred and thirteen / who is the man who can do all that is written / so that he might be spared? Oh, but had the artisan who made me created me instead - a fair woman. Today I would be wise and insightful. We would weave, my friends and I / and in the moonlight spin our yarn / and tell our stories to one another / from dusk till midnight / we'd tell of the events of our day, silly things / matters of no consequence. But also I would grow very wise from the spinning / and I would say, "Happy is she who know how to work with combed flax and weave it into fine white linen." And at times, in the way of women, I would lie down on the kitchen floor, between the ovens, turn the coals, and taste the different dishes. On holidays I would put on my best jewelry. I would beat on the drum / and my clapping hands would ring. And when I was ready and the time was right / an excellent youth (husband) would be my fortune. He would love me, place me on a pedestal /dress me in jewels of gold / earrings, bracelets, necklaces. And on the appointed day, in the season of joy when brides are wed, for seven days would the boy increase my delight and gladness. Were I hungry, he would feed me well-kneaded bread. Were I thirsty, he would quench me with light and dark wine. He would not chastise nor harshly treat me, and my [sexual] pleasure he would not diminish / every Shabbath, and each new moon / his head would rest upon my breast. The three husbandly duties he would fulfill / rations, raiment, and regular intimacy. And three wifely duties would I also fulfill, [watching for menstrual] blood, [Sabbath candle] lights, and bread. . .
Father in heaven / who did miracles for our ancestors / with fire and water / You changed the fire of Chaldees so it would not burn hot / You changed Dina in the womb of her mother to a girl / You changed the staff to a snake before a million eyes / You changed (Moses') hand to (leprous) white / and the sea to dry land. In the desert you turned rock to water / hard flint to a fountain. Who would then turn me from a man to woman? Were I only to have merited this / being so graced by goodness ... What shall I say? why cry or be bitter? If my father in heaven has decreed upon me / and has maimed me with an immutable deformity / then I do not wish to remove it. the sorrow of the impossible / is a human pain that nothing will cure / and for which no comfort can be found. So, I will bear and suffer / until I die and wither in the ground. Since I have learned from our tradition / that we bless both, the good and the bitter / I will bless in a voice / hushed and weak / Blessed are you God / who has not made me a woman.
(Translated by Rabbi Steve Greenberg)