Arakhin 2a-b - All can take vows of arakhin

January 15, 2012


The first Mishnah in Masechet Arakhin opens with the expression ha-kol ma'arikhin ve-ne'erakhin - all persons are fit to evaluate or to be made the subjects of valuation - for the purpose of the vows of arakhin that are described in Sefer Vayikra (27:1-8). According to the Torah, when someone accepts upon himself to contribute the value of himself - or of another person - to the Temple using the formula of arakhin, they will have to pay according to the values established by the Torah based on gender and age.


Included in the Mishnah's list of individuals who are fit to evaluate but cannot be made the subject of valuation are people who are found to be either a tumtum or an androgynous. Each of these conditions refers to a situation where the person's sexual identification is questionable. An androgynous appears to have both male and female sexual organs, while a tumtum does not appear to have any external sexual organs that would identify it as either male or female.


According to the Gemara in Masechet Yevamot (daf 83) there is some question about how to approach people with these conditions. Rabbi Yossi suggests that an androgynous is a beryah bifnei atzmah - a unique creature who cannot be treated either as male or as female.  The rishonim have different approaches to the definition ofberyah bifnei atzmah. Tosafot understand the concept as a permanent situation ofsafek, of doubt, suggesting that since we cannot expect to ever ascertain whether the individual is male or female we refer to such a person as a unique creature.  The Ramban, on the other hand, accepts the simple meaning of the expression, and rules that an androgynous is truly viewed by the halakhah as a creature that is neither male nor female. 


Medicine recognizes two types of androgynous. A trueandrogynous has both male and female sexual glands, while a Pseudohermaphrodite has the appearance of both male and female sexual organs, although the individual actually has only one set of sexual glands.

This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the Hebrew version of the Steinsaltz Edition of the Talmud, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger. To learn more about the Steinsaltz Daf Yomi initiative, click here.
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