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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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1 Answer 1

up vote 11 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
This answer misrepresents the view of the Tzitz Eliezer. In the cited responsum, the Tzitz Eliezer mentions that either a spontaneous or an artificial sex change would bring up questions regarding halachic identity, but he does not actually discuss the case of an artificial change or extrapolate any halachos from his discussion of a spontaneous physiological sex change. – Fred Jan 26 at 23:54
Further, in vol. XI (§78), the Tzitz Eliezer seems to implicitly negate the possibility that a person with a halachically definite male or female sex could halachically alter their sex via artificial means (though he ponders - but does not answer - the question of whether surgically changing an infertile אנדרוגינוס into a female would change its halachic status from that of an אנדרוגינוס to that of a female). – Fred Jan 26 at 23:54
Although we wouldn't use science to change an אנדרוגינוס, why wouldn't we use science to figure out a טומטום. Every טומטום should really get a status of טומטום שנקרע. – HaLeiVi Jun 9 at 3:38

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