Bikkurim, Chapter Four, Mishnah Five



The final mishnah of our chapter, tractate and seder (game, set and match) delineates ways in which a hermaphrodite is like neither a man nor a woman.


Mishnah Five

And in what is he different from both men and women?

1)      One does not burn terumah if it came into contact with his discharge,

2)      Neither is he liable for entering the temple while impure, unlike men or women.

3)      He must not be sold as a Hebrew slave, unlike men or women.

4)      He cannot be evaluated, unlike men or women.

5)      If one says: “I will be a nazirite, if he is neither a man nor a woman,” then he becomes a nazirite.

6)      Rabbi Yose says: the hermaphrodite is a unique creature, and the sages could not decide about him. But this is not so with a tumtum (one of doubtful sex), for sometimes he is a man and sometimes he is a woman.



Section one: In mishnayot 2 and 3 we learned that when it comes to the impurity of his discharge, the hermaphrodite is a doubtful male/female. Therefore, if he sees white discharge like a man, we must be concerned lest he is male, and if he sees red discharge like a female, we must be concerned lest he is female. Here we learn that whether he sees red or white discharge, his status is only that of doubtfully impure. When one who is doubtfully impure comes into contact with terumah, the terumah is not burned as is done if it comes into contact with someone who is certainly impure, because it is forbidden to burn pure terumah and this terumah might in reality be pure. They couldn’t eat the terumah, lest it be impure. Rather, they would wait until the terumah became certainly impure, and then they could burn it.

Section two: A male or a female who enters the Temple while impure has transgressed. However, this only applies to someone who is either certainly male or certainly female. Since the hermaphrodite is neither, he is not liable for entering the Temple while impure.

Section three: An adult male can be sold as a Hebrew slave (usually if he was caught stealing and doesn’t have money to repay his debt) but a adult woman cannot. Since the hermaphrodite might be a female, he can’t be sold as a Hebrew slave. A female can be sold by her father while she is still a minor, but a male cannot. Since the hermaphrodite might be male, he cannot be sold as a minor. It turns out that a hermaphrodite can never be sold into slavery.

Section four: Leviticus 27 deals with the evaluation of a person whose value has been dedicated to the Temple. Every person has a value that is dependent upon sex and age. Since a hermaphrodite’s sex cannot be determined, he cannot be evaluated.

Section five: In the scenario described here, upon seeing someone a person says that he will be a nazirite if that person is neither a male nor a female. Since the hermaphrodite is actually neither male nor female, the person who took the nazirite vow has become a nazirite.

Section six: In this final section, Rabbi Yose distinguishes between a true hermaphrodite, and what is termed a “tumtum,” a pseudo-hermaphrodite. The true hermaphrodite is actually unique and the sages could not decide whether to classify him as male or female. In contrast, the pseudo-hermaphrodite’s sex can be determined, sometimes as male and sometimes as female. While the doubt concerning the hermaphrodite’s sex is permanent, the “true” sex of the pseudo-hermaphrodite can, at least on occasion, be determined.


Congratulations!  We have finished Bikkurim and Seder Zeraim!

It is a tradition at this point to thank God for helping us finish learning the tractate and the seder and to commit ourselves to going back and relearning it, so that we may not forget it and so that its lessons will stay with us for all of our lives.

Wow! You have finished Seder Zeraim. In the Mishnah Yomit cycle, we began this seder with Berakhot in June of 2007 and completed it in March 2009—, almost two full years later. Those of you who began learning Mishnah Yomit in the very beginning with Seder Nezikin have been learning for about 5 years. Your commitment, whether you have been learning for years, months or weeks, is what keeps this program going.

That’s the good news. The even better news is that we still have two seders to go, and they are going to be more challenging than the first four (why do you think we started with Nezikin?). Next we begin to learn Seder Kodashim which deals with sacrificial law and various other subjects related to the Temple, starting with the Introduction to Tractate Zevahim. But for now, kick back and feel good about having learned all of Seder Zeraim, and for some of you an entire 2/3 of the Mishnah. The end (at least our first run through, there is never a real end to learning) is only a few years away!

Next we begin Tracate Zevahim.