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‘New York Times’ article claiming ancient Judaism recognized ‘a range of genders’ draws criticism

“Judaism recognizes two sexes, period,” wrote Heritage Foundation research fellow Jason Bedrick.

“The New York Times” building in Midtown Manhattan. Credit: Ajay Suresh via Wikimedia Commons.
“The New York Times” building in Midtown Manhattan. Credit: Ajay Suresh via Wikimedia Commons.

“Ancient Judaism Recognized a Range of Genders. It’s Time We Did, Too.” So reads the headline of a March 18 New York Times guest essay by Elliot Kukla, whose website states that he provides “radical spiritual care” and was “the first openly transgender rabbi to be ordained by a mainstream denomination,” the Reform movement’s Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles.

The uniform resource locator (url) that the Times uses for the article contains the publication date and “trans-teen-suicide-judaism.”

“In my own tradition, Judaism, our most sacred texts reflect a multiplicity of gender,” Kukla wrote eight paragraphs into the op-ed. “This part of Judaism has mostly been obscured by the modern binary world until very recently.”

In a review of some rabbinic literature, Kukla wrote that the “ancient Jewish world” designated a baby as a boy, girl, tumtum, androgynos, aylonit and saris.

“There is not an exact equivalence between these ancient categories and modern gender identities. Some of these designations are based on biology, some on a person’s role in society,” wrote Kukla. “But they show us that people who are more than binary have always been recognized by my religion. We are not a fad.”

‘Need to promote false impression’

The author and publication drew sharp criticism from Orthodox Jews.

The New York Times has taken a break from bashing Jews to distort Judaism to push a radical ideology. But anyone who has a basic knowledge of Jewish law knows that this is absolutely false,” tweeted Jason Bedrick, a research fellow at the Heritage Foundation.

Citing the reference to “Male and female He created them” in Genesis 1:27, Bedrick wrote: “Judaism recognizes two sexes, period. … Jewish law also recognizes the existence of several aberrations. All relate to physical traits that are not chosen.”

“The tumtum, androgynous, aylonit, and saris are not genders. ‘Gender’ was not even a concept in the Talmud separate from biological sex,” he added.

Once extra flesh is removed from the tumtum, the child’s sex is revealed, and the androgynos is a hermaphrodite “or what today we would call ‘intersex.’ This is a very rare condition that is an aberration, but not a separate sex or gender itself,” wrote Bedrick. An aylonit remains female, although her “secondary sex characteristics do not develop, usually rendering her infertile,” he added, and “a saris is a male who has been castrated (a eunuch) or who otherwise had his male sex organ physically damaged or not develop.”

“Note that castration is against Jewish law,” said Bedrick.

Not only do the four refer to physical conditions, rather than genders as understood today, but it is “ridiculous that The New York Times wants to use the Talmud’s recognition of sexual deformities to push transgenderism when the Torah itself very clearly forbids cross-dressing and castration (what’s today euphemistically called ‘gender-affirming surgery’),” he wrote.

Bedrick noted he was not arguing that secular U.S. law should follow Jewish law, but that the Times is distorting Jewish law. “Let’s at least be honest about what Jewish law says if we want to talk about it,” he wrote.

“Hey, look, it’s the New York Times publishing a bunch of nonsensical garbage and pretending it’s actually reflective of Jewish law and philosophy!” added conservative commentator Ben Shapiro on Twitter. “Nowhere does halacha humor the notion that a biological man can be a woman or that he should be treated as one.”

“It’s not enough for The New York Times to push a radical agenda. They also need to promote the false impression that Judaism supports it,” tweeted Joel M. Petlin, superintendent of the Kiryas Joel School District. “I look forward to seeing The New York Times opinion pages also publishing a strong rebuttal, such as the one presented by Jason Bedrick.”

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