As we have learned, according to the Torah when a woman gives birth she is rendered ritually unclean with tum’at leidah – the impurity of birth (see 12:1-5). The Torah teaches that there are different rules for a woman who gives birth to a boy and one who gives birth to a girl.
The Mishna on today’s daf discusses situations when the sex of the child is not clear, like the case of an androgynus, i.e., someone who appears to have both male and female sexual organs or a tumtum, i.e., someone who does not appear to be either male or female.
Medicine recognizes two types of androgynus. A true androgynus 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.
The Gemara describes a tumtum as someone whose gender cannot be determined. Under certain circumstances, the physical covering that hid the sexual organ may be removed (in the language of the Gemara it is nikra, or “torn” off) and the individual can be identified as male or female. Nevertheless, the likelihood that a man whose testicles have developed within his body will be able to have children is slim at best. This is certainly the case in someone who was truly a tumtum, that is to say, that their sexual organs did not develop because of a low level of hormones. In such a case, even if the person’s physical situation improves, he will not be able to father children.
We find discussions of tumtum and androgynus throughout the Talmud, not because these are common cases, rather because they present a unique halakhic challenge, since they are neither fully male nor are they fully female. In fact, some suggest that we should not view them as male or as female, but as a separate gender entirely, or as people with questionable status.