Did God create Adam intersex?

At the beginning of Parashat Tazria, we learn the purity laws governing childbirth.  When chazal (the sages) begin to comment on our parasha, their thoughts go to the Supreme Parent who gives birth to all of life--God.  They comment in great length on the creation of the first human being and on procreation and childbirth in Midrash Rabbah on our parasha.   The midrash teaches,
Rabbi Samuel ben Nahman said: When the Holy One, blessed be He, created Adam, He created him intersex.  Rabbi Levi said: When Adam was created, he was created with two body-fronts, and He sawed him in two, so that two backs resulted, one back for the male and another back for the female. An objection was raised [to this statement, from], 'And he took one of his ribs,' etc. (Gen. II, 21). He answered: [The word you translate ’of his ribs’ (tzela) should be rendered] ‘of his sides’, as it is written, 'And for the second side (tzela) of the tabernacle (Ex. XXVI, 20).
In this midrash, chazal question how it is possible for Adam to have been created both male and female when the Torah teaches that Chava (Eve) was actually created from Adam's rib.  The answer is that the word "rib" in Hebrew, tzela really is more accurately translated as "side," as it is used in the Torah to describe the construction of the Mishkan (tabernacle).  This remarkable midrash challenges our traditional understanding of woman as being created from man, and teaches, rather, that woman was created with man, at the same time.  Furthermore, the Midrash challenges the entire concept of separate sexes when it suggests that the very first being from which we all are derived was actually an intersex person.

The question of whether Adam was created prior to Chava or Adam and Chava were created together is complicated by two different accounts of creation.  In the first chapter of Breishit (Genesis) Adam and Chava are created together, much like the account in the midrash on our parasha.  They are created on the sixth day, after all of the animals have been created.  In the second chapter of Breishit, Chava is created from Adam's tzela after none of the animals serve as an acceptable partner to Adam.

Another midrash that attempts to reconcile these two creation accounts is found Breishit Rabbah, and suggests that there was actually a first wife created together with Adam, from the earth.  That partnership failed and Chava was then created from Adam's tzela.  The Alphabet of Ben Sira, a collection of legends from the 9th or 10th century, identifies this first wife as Lilit (Lilith) known from the Talmud to be a female demon and a symbol of unleashed sexuality.  The Alphabet of Ben Sira recounts the quarrels between Adam and Lilit as based on Lilit's desire to be equal to Adam:
When the first man, Adam, saw that he was alone, God made for him a woman like himself, from the earth. God called her name Lilit, and brought her to Adam. They immediately began to quarrel. Adam said: "You lie beneath me." And Lilit said: "You lie beneath me! We are both equal, for both of us are from the earth." And they would not listen to one another.
Not surprisingly, Lilit has become reclaimed by Jewish feminists, most notably through the naming of the Jewish feminist magazine "Lilith" in 1976.  www.lilith.org.

Both of these midrashim reflect ambivalence in Jewish tradition about the role of women and sexual identity in our relationships.  In the very rich mythological literature about Lilit, one can find both an appreciation for, and a fear of, that which is different from the male, heterosexual norm of the rabbinic world.  Part of what makes Judaism so rich is this variety of approaches.  I myself have ambivalence about the ambivalence within Jewish tradition!  In other words, is it authentically Jewish to embrace a figure such as Lilit, to reclaim her as a positive role model?  It is deeply troubling me to to imagine a demonic mythological figure being reclaimed by women.  After all, just how ambivalent is Jewish tradition when it comes to Lilit?  The truth is, not particularly ambivalent!  Although classical Jewish tradition reflects deep ambivalence about sexuality, the figure of Lilit herself is universally regarded in a negative light.

So I ask you, dear reader? Can Lilit be reclaimed? If she can be reclaimed, how so and on what basis? And how can we use ambivalence found within Jewish textual traditions to further our appreciation for (and acceptance of) a variety of sexual and personal identities? Your comments are welcome!


  1. Dearest Rabbi Leah,

    How your Dvars continue to outdo your earlier Dvars each week remains so totally amazing! I really appreciate our common theme of side by side. I feel like a rough stone which Rabbi Leah continues to refine for maximum beauty. Thanks for the Lilit insights. As we discuss earlier, I feel Lilit may act when some folks encounter less than equality situations. So having a Lilit safety valve for situations like the purchasing of petroleum from male run countries may help "Eve" the equal switch to Lilit the warrior/demon, hopefully, to eventually return to the equality position. My personal view is that a compensatory measure needs to exist such that instead of switching to Lilit, "Eve" can operate more as the leader building a surplus of "Eve" counter balance. When she notices the equality shifting, she can make adjustments prior to shifting into the Lilit phase. In otherwords, operate safely in a surplus of equality with sensitive awareness of equality shifts to prevent the Lilit demonic. Does this seem reasonable or in tune with your presentation.



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