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I apologize if this is a sensitive topic, but it seems that this question is foundational to some of the discussions that appear here. I hope that my wording is appropriate.

If I understand correctly, halacha identifies four gender categories (זכר, נקבה, אנדרוגינוס, and טומטום). This status has substantial bearing on practical application of Torah.

I suspect that modern discoveries such as chromosomes and internal imaging are not directly relevant in determining gender according to halacha. So what then is the halachic definition? Is one's sex then determined solely by the visible presence of reproductive organs or other bodily features? If so:

  • Do internal organs play a role, or only external ones?
  • Does one's halachic gender change if one's organs change (either naturally, accidentally, or artificially)?
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Lchatchila its what you are born with, bdieved its what you have now ;-) –  avi Dec 22 '13 at 8:49

1 Answer 1

up vote 7 down vote accepted

The Tzitz Eliezer has a famous responsum (שו"ת ציץ אליעזר ח"י סי’ כ"ה פרק כ"ו קטע ו) where he states that we go by the external organs in determining gender, and sex changes are effective in changing one's halachic gender. However, there are other opinions that sex changes do not change halachic gender; I assume that according to these opinions, gender is determined by the genetalia a person is born with, but not by the genetalia a person currently has (see אנציקלופדיה הלכתית רפואית: נתוח הפיכת מין, especially note 14). Either way, the categories of tumtum and adroginus are still relevant to halacha, since the external organs are a key part of how we determine halachic gender.

For more information, see Rabbi Alfred Cohen's article "Tumtum And Androgynous", Journal of Halacha & Contemporary Society XXXVIII; Fall 1999 - Sukkot 5760.

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Thank you, I did not anticipate that answer. (By the way, my assumption was not that the tumtum and androginos categories are not relevant, but that modern scientific methods are not directly relevant to the determination of halacha. I have re-worded for clarity.) –  Aaron Dec 22 '13 at 23:13
At the risk of either sounding ignorant or presumptuous, I would assume that halachically we would go by what the gender was when the person was born. The simple fact of the matter is that a woman, even if she's medically unable to give birth to a child, is built the same way as a woman who is. If God were to 'open her canals', so to speak, she would again be able to give birth to a child. A man, no matter how much he 'feels like a woman', would never be able to do so without either some medical breakthrough or a change in his bodily structure. –  Barry Hammer Dec 27 '13 at 7:49
@BarryHammer Well, read the Tzitz Eliezer's teshuva and see why he disagrees with you. Also, there are women who are born without uteri for whom the barrier towards having a child is much more than just needing an 'opening of the canals' (e.g. MRKH syndrome). –  Malper Dec 27 '13 at 18:48

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