Zevachim 85

Zevachim 85b ~ The Tumtum and the Androgyne. In Birds.

In tomorrow's discussion of the blemishes that render a sacrifice unusable, we read the following:

זבחים פה, ב

 הנרבע והמוקצה והנעבד ואתנן ומחיר וטומטום ואנדרוגינוס כולן מטמאין בגדים אבית הבליעה 

A bird that was the object of bestiality, or that was set aside for idol worship, or that was worshipped as a deity, or that was given as payment to a prostitute or as the price of a dog, or that was a tumtum or a hermaphrodite, in all of those cases, if its nape was pinched, it renders the garments of one who swallows an olive-bulk from the carcass ritually impure when it is in the throat, as is the halakha with regard to all unslaughtered carcasses of birds. 

Only two kinds of birds - doves and pigeons - were offered as sacrifices, and there were only two kinds of sacrifice for which there were used: The bird chatat (sin offering) in fulfillment of an obligation, and the bird olah (burnt offering) brought either voluntarily, or at the fulfillment of an obligation.

There was an unusual practice of slaughtering these birds in the Temple called melikah, in which the fingernail of the Cohen pierced the nape of the neck. In tomorrow's daf yomi,  the Talmud (citing a Baraita) lists the blemishes that would render a bird sacrificed in this way as unusable. Since it is no-longer able to be sacrificed, its carcass now transmits ritual impurity.   Among these blemishes are a bird that was a tumtum (טומטום) or one that was  andogyneous (אנדרוגינוס).  There are a couple of different conditions associated with these words so let's first try and sort them out. 

So what is a tumtum?

A tumtum is a a creature (bird, human, whatever) born with ambiguous genitalia. Here is one place  from several found in the Talmud in Bava Basrah (126b) where this meaning is made explicit. It is discussing the question of a tumtum in humans, but the lesson is applicable to other species too.

בבא בתרא קכו, ב 

אמר ר' אמי טומטום שנקרע ונמצא זכר אינו נוטל פי שנים דאמר קרא  והיה הבן הבכור לשניאה עד שיהא בן משעת הויה

Rabbi Ami says: In the case of one whose sexual organs are indeterminate [tumtum]  and  whose skin became perforated so that his genitals were exposed and he was found to be a male, he does not take a double portion of his father’s estate.

A skin covering made it impossible to see the genitals of a person. Once the covering was removed, it became clear that it was a male. This is also the explanation offered by the Rashbam (Samuel ben Meir c.1085 – c. 1158):

בכור הנולד טומטום שאין ניכר בו לא זכרות ולא נקבות ולאחר זמן נקרע ונמצא זכר שהיה גיד שלו וביציו טמונין בגוף

And what about an Androgyne?

 Today, androgyny generally means "possessing both male and female characteristics."  It comes from the Greek:  ἀνδρ- (andr-, meaning man) and γυνή (gyné, meaning woman).  

A hermaphrodite has both both male and female genitalia, and the word is generally used to denote a subset of androgynes.  So, for example, Earthworms are hemaphrodites because they possess both male and female genitalia, and make both male and female gametes (sperm and eggs).

What sex is your dove? 

Either a male or female bird may be brought as a sacrifice.  There is is no need to check your bird's gender.  Which is just as well since determining the sex of a pigeon is a very difficult thing to do. In a 1955 paper on the subject titled Sexing Mature Columbiformes by Cloacal Characters, the authors note that there was no known "simple and reliable method for sexing living individuals" of the order columbiformes, which contains both pigeons and doves.  But should you find some urgent need to do so, grab a modified nasal speculum and follow these simple steps:

How to sex a pigeon I.jpg
[the] bird is held under a light, head downward and feet toward the operator. [The plate] demonstrates this pictorially, although in order to show the insertion of the instrument, the bird is held more horizontally in the picture than it would be in practice. A few small feathers around the vent are plucked. The observer's left forefinger holds back the rectrices and under-tail coverts while the thumb restrains the feathers ventral and anterior to the vent. The head of the instrument is inserted gently to a depth of about one centimeter and directed to the left (to ten o'clock considering the cloaca as a horizontal clock face). The jaws are expanded and at the same time a slight forward and upward pressure (dorsal and posterior to the bird) is applied. This has the simultaneous effects of spreading the lips of the vent, pushing forward (dorsad) the left and slightly posterior wall of the cloaca, and erecting the papilla if the bird is a male. To view the opposite side (not necessary for the sexing process), the instrument is turned in the opposite direction and handled in the same manner.
 
Sexing pigeons up close.jpg
 

Yes. That's all there is to it. Which raises the following question: what exactly is a tumtum bird  - that is, a bird with ambiguous genitalia? How on earth would a person know his bird had ambiguous genitalia, when it is practically impossible to distinguish a male from a female bird?  It also raises the following only slightly more uncomfortable question: how is it possible for a human to sodomize a pigeon or a dove? Owing to the challenges of anatomy, the ruling of the ּBaraita that a sodomized bird cannot be brought as a sacrifice must have been theoretical in the extreme. Even so, Maimonides took the time to include it in his list of disqualified birds:

רמב’ם הל׳ פסולי המקדשין ז,  ג

אֲבָל הַנִּרְבָּע וְהַמֻּקְצֶה וְהַנֶּעֱבָד וְהָאֶתְנָן וְהַמְּחִיר וְהַטֻּמְטוּם וְהָאַנְדְּרוֹגִינוּס שֶׁנִּמְלְקוּ. הֲרֵי אֵלּוּ נְבֵלָה לְכָל דָּבָר וּמְטַמְּאִין בְּגָדִים בְּבֵית הַבְּלִיעָה. שֶׁאֵין הַקְּדֻשָּׁה חָלָה עֲלֵיהֶן וַהֲרֵי אֵין פְּסוּלָן בְּקֹדֶשׁ:

But never say "Never"

 From Peer and Motz,  here . 

From Peer and Motz, here

Just when you think this whole hermaphrodite bird thing is a figment of the talmudic imagination, nature reminds you that there is no end to her cunning. Writing in 2014 in The Wilson Journal of Ornithologytwo biologists described a Northern Cardinal (the bird, not the Church official) that was a bilateral gynandomorph. (Bilateral gynandromorphy is a condition in which one half of a bird’s body appears as a female and the opposite half appears as a male.) "The bird" they reported, "exhibited the typical bright red color of a male cardinal on the left half of its body, and the dull brownish-gray appearance of a female cardinal on the right half." The plumage of our sacrificial birds does not differ between males and females, but even so, this paper reminds us that the notion of androgynous birds might not only be of theoretical importance after all.

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