-Everyone shares their names and pronouns
What is the Talmud? - Rabbinic debates and commentaries on the Torah from which we derive Halakha, theology, ethics etc.
But we're not rabbis? - Like Talmudic rabbis and students have done for centuries, and like the approach for projects such as #QueerDafYomi we are studying and interpreting these texts according to experiences. The Talmud belongs to all of us
Mordekhai Nursed Esther Himself: A Midrash (Land of Israel, 5thh Century CE)
by Noam Sienna in A Rainbow Thread
Like the passage from Bereishit Rabbah where the rabbis present the first human as a multi-sexed being, this section of Bereshit Rabbah presents Mordekhai, a central figure in the Book of Esther, as transgressing (or surpassing) the standard restrictions of gendered bodies. here, they expand on a teaching that attributes the qualities of 'feeding and sustaining' to a number of biblical characters; Rabbi Yudan suggests that in Mordekhai's case, he literally nursed Esther himself (presumably drawing on Esther 2:7, 'Mordekhai brought up [va-yehi omen] Hadassah, that is, Esther'). A teaching of Rabbi El'azar goes even further, emphasizing the unique physicality of Mordekhai's body that enabled him to nurse Esther.
The Midrash then records that when one rabbi taught this publicly, he was laughed at by this audience, but he defended his interpretation by referring to a halakhic statement made in the Mishnah to the effect that milk produced by a male (for whatever reason or by whatever process) is still kosher; thus, even seemingly disruptive bodies and natures can still be made understandable by the rabbinic legal system. Indeed, an actual occurence of male nursing appears elsewhere in the Talmud (b. Shabbat 53b)
Can Cis Men Lactate? YES!
terminology. a cis man is a person who identifies as a man AND was assigned 'male' at birth
All human adults have the necessary anatomic equipment, physiological potential, and hormone receptors required for lactation. The only difference is the production levels of hormone prolactin. There is no medical or biological reason why cis men shouldn't lactate.
Ethnographic, anecdotal, and personal evidence also provides a history of cis men lactating either through nipple stimulation, in extreme circumstances (such as the mother passing away at childbirth), or through Prolactin supplements
A note from us: Our goal with this reading is not to make a case that cis men should be breastfeeding their kids - though for anyone interested there is a wealth of discussion on the topic. Rather, its to make the point that classical Judaism has the tools, the language, and the space to hold bodies, identities, and behaviours that we might today consider outside of the gender binary
Six Genders in Classical Judaism
We are now going to read an explanation of terms used in classical Jewish texts to refer to gender. We aren't proposing that we revive these terms, or that they are more authentic than modern gender identities. In many ways these terms, with their focus on the body are difficult for us to accept toady. However, they are interesting to us because these terms indicate that classical Judaism wasn't stifled by the gender binary.
This source was put together by Rabbi Elliot Kukla who was the first openly transgender person to be ordained by the Reform Movement's Hebrew Union College. He administers TransTorah.org and works at the Bay Area Jewish Healing Center
Terms for Gender Diversity in Classical Jewish Texts by Rabbi Elliot Kukla
Zachar: This term is derived from the word for a pointy sword and refers to a phallus. It is usually translated as “male” in English.
Nekevah: This term is derived from the word for a crevice and probably refers to a vaginal opening. It is usually translated as “female” in English.
Androgynos: A person who has both “male” and “female” sexual characteristics. 149 references in Mishna and Talmud (1st-8th Centuries CE); 350 in classical midrash and Jewish law codes (2nd -16th Centuries CE).
Tumtum: A person whose sexual characteristics are indeterminate or obscured. 181 references in Mishna and Talmud; 335 in classical midrash and Jewish law codes.
Ay’lonit: A person who is identified as “female” at birth but develops “male” characteristics at puberty and is infertile. 80 references in Mishna and Talmud; 40 in classical midrash and Jewish law codes.
Saris: A person who is identified as “male” at birth but develops “female” characteristics as puberty and/or is lacking a penis. A saris can be “naturally” a saris (saris hamah), or become one through human intervention (saris adam). 156 references in mishna and Talmud; 379 in classical midrash and Jewish law codes.
-What did you struggle with in this text?
-What resonated with you?
-What can you take away from this reading?
Some Further Sources
If there is time you might want look at some of these sources of male nursing from our tradition and beyond
"Experience may tell you that producing milk and nursing youngsters is a job for the female mammal, not the male. But your experience is probably limited, and the potential of biology--and medical technology--is vast."
--Jared Diamond (1995) "Father's Milk"
"It is well known that in the males of all mammals, including man, rudimentary mammae exist. These in several instances have become well developed, and have yielded a copious supply of milk"
-- Charles Darwin (1871) Descent of Man