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Male and Female, He created them

Well, at least that is what the Torah says. But as should be patently clear to anyone with normal observational powers, one does not have to be Woke to recognize that even genetically, not quite everyone falls into being either male or female. There have always been androgynous people, those with abnormal chromosomal combinations and/or ambiguous organs.

Classifying everyone as either male or female is thus a handy categorization. Somewhere between 0.05% (1 in 2,000) or – to take a number claimed by woke warriors – 2% are physically not-quite-clearly-100% male or female. So we can wave our magic generalization wand, and say that outliers are outliers, and the world is thus comprised of men and women.

The problem I have with this is that such a categorization is not necessarily true – though it is clearly convenient, in the same way that we might say that people are born with two legs even though not everyone actually is.

A scientist might invoke Occam’s Razor: the simplest explanation is the right one. In which case, we can still use the shorthand of “male or female” to classify people. But Occam’s Razor is never about trying to be right – it is about trying to use the simplest means to make accurate predictions. Thus we can predict that babies are born male or female, even though there are surely exceptions and edge cases.

 

My problem is with the text itself: “Male and Female He created them.” (Gen. 1:27). As a statement of fact, it is lacking. I see a few ways we can try to understand this verse:

1: The text is merely generalizing. I suppose this is OK. It is how most people read the text. But I think it teaches us nothing, and the Torah is there for a purpose.

2: G-d created mankind “Male and Female” but then Nature or even mankind somehow messed things up and blurred the lines. This is also unsatisfying to me, in part because the text itself does not suggest that there was a time when the “pure” creation was confused.

3: The text is not describing, but prescribing. This is what I think is correct. Here is how I think of it:

As with many other things in the Torah (such as the story of creation itself, or the description of man as a partially-spiritual being), the text exists, by its own mandate, to teach and guide us. The Torah is not a literal historical document any more than it is a zoological treatise. The text has a purpose, and that purpose is learning how to grow healthy, productive, and ultimately holy relationships with each other and with G-d.

So when the text tells us something, we are not learning history or chemistry or biology. Instead, the text is fulfilling its purpose: an eternal guide book for a good life. Everything contained within it exists for this purpose, to teach and guide us.

If so, then the Torah is not telling us that G-d made two clear sexes. Instead, it is teaching us something: that each of us is to aspire to be either male or female. Wherever we may fall in the broad spectrum of both physical and mental identity and desire, we should each try to grow, within the limits of how we are created, toward these ideals.

I think this may be usefully understood when confronted by the large numbers of very gender-confused people in the world, people who, in a previous generation or age, may well have appeared pretty much normal in public, though with private lives that might well have been far off the path for most people.

The concept of “gender fluidity” contains within it the belief that people can and do change. My mother, a professor at a very liberal college, had students who changed their pronouns every single day! A person who can convince themselves that they are truly that fluid is also capable of convincing themselves, with a different environment and societal expectations, of being rather less fluid. I can think of no other reasonable explanation for why the numbers of gender-fluid people is higher now than at any other time in history.

If the Torah’s prescription, “Male and female He created them,” is indeed a prescription (and not merely a recitation of mostly-fact), then we can ask: “Why?” Why does the Torah – why does G-d – care?

I think the answer lies in the challenge of relationships. People are not meant to be alone. We are meant to be in relationships, and in relationships that challenge us even as they reward us. It is easy to be secure in our own skins. It is much harder to be in a dynamic and unpredictable relationship with someone who is very different than we are – differences that guarantee that men and women never consistently see things the same way.

Our relationships should be built not on commonality, but on differences – the kinds of differences found between men and women. In this way, they are models for the differences between mankind and G-d.

 

Comments are welcome!