The Bible Says What? Gender neutrality started in the Torah!
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The Bible Says What? Gender neutrality started in the Torah!

Rabbi Mark Goldsmith takes a controversial topic from Jewish texts and looks at a Reform response

Rabbi Mark Goldsmith
(Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash)
(Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash)

There are three accounts of the creation of humanity in the Book of Genesis. Each has a different emphasis. The first is in Genesis 1:26-28. On the sixth day of creation, Adam is created in God’s image, male and female, clearly here created equal, which is the source text for Progressive Judaism’s understanding that both genders should be equal participants in all areas of religious life.

The second account of the creation of humanity is in Genesis 2:7. Here, Adam is moulded from the earth and infused with God’s breath, so every breath we take can bring connection to the Divine. This Adam seems to establish male dominance as the woman, Eve, is fashioned from his rib to be his helper and companion.

There is a third and much less well-known account of the creation of humanity in Genesis 5:1-2. This Adam is also created in the image of God. Male and female are created together and then God blesses ‘them’ (in the Hebrew otam) and calls ‘their name’ (sh’mam) Adam on the day that ‘they’ were created (hibaram).

This understanding of what it means to be human does not pin down a gender to be the standard for humanity. Indeed, the image of God is, in this account, both male and female, and to speak about a human being can be to talk of ‘they’, without ascribing
a definite gender.

All three accounts of creation show us different aspects of human experience. The first being the man and woman together with their different qualities. The second being the historical separation of man and woman and their different roles in many societies. The third being the potential not to require a definite statement of gender and to allow a more fluid state of being human. Torah’s diversity of approaches tells us that Adam is truly multifaceted.

Mark Goldsmith is Senior Rabbi at Edgware and Hendon Reform Synagogue

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