Congregation Ohave Shalom - Young Israel of Pawtucket

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Yehudah and Tamar

Yehudah and Tamar - Week I

This week, the Chumash Class began a new topic: The episode of Yehudah and Tamar. If you are not interested in continuing to receive the e-mail updates, please send mail to that effect to

We began this week by looking at the Chumash's verses themselves, in order to get a sense of what is happening in this story and to draw out some questions. Gd-willing, we will have answers for many of these questions in the coming weeks, but right now we are just interested in asking the questions.

It would be a good idea to have a Chumash in front of you for this e-mail.

The episode of Yehudah and Tamar occurs in Bereishis, Chapter 38.

38:1 - VaYehi Ba'Eis HaHi - And it was at that time
What "time" was this? This chapter immediately follows the sale of Yosef to merchants who took him down to Egypt. Does this mean that the account of Yehudah and Tamar took place right after the sale of Yosef? Perhaps, but the chronology is a little tight.

We know that Yosef spent 22 years in Egypt before his brothers joined him in Egypt; he was 30 when he stood before Paroh (Bereishis 41:46), and there were seven years of bountiful crops and two years of famine before the brothers came down to Egypt for the last time.

Even if we assume that the brothers made all of their trips down to Egypt in a single year, which seems unlikely from that story, that gives is a maximum of 21 years for the Yehudah/Tamar story.

In this story, Yehudah marries and has three children, all of whom reach marrigeable age. Further, after the third reaches marriageable age, Yehudah re-marries and has a child. It is possible that this occurs within 21 years, but that is difficult.

We know this story occurs before Yehudah descends to Egypt with his brothers, because the Torah mentions Yehudah's children when listing the people who came down to Egypt (Bereishis 46:12).

We'll have to see how the commentators deal with the chronology.

38:1 - VaYeired Yehudah Me'Eis Echav - And Yehudah descended from among his brothers
Is this a geographic descent? Is this a descent in status?

38:1 - Ushmo Chirah - And his name was Chirah
Why do we care about the name of Yehudah's business partner? Does he matter in this story?

38:2 - Bas Ish Kenaani - The daughter of a Canaanite
This is interesting. Avraham insisted that Yitzchak shouldn't marry a Canaanite, and Rivkah insisted that Yaakov should not marry a Canaanite. Now Yehudah is taking a Canaanite woman for a wife?

38:2 - VaYavo Eileha - And he lived with her as husband and wife do
This is crude language; why does the Torah need to inform us of this fact?
This problem is exacerbated by Rashi's comment on Bereishis 29:21, where Yaakov uses a similar expression and Rashi asks that it seems a rather crude expression!

38:3 - VaYikra Shemo Er - And he called his name Er
This is interesting; Yehudah names the first child, and Yehudah's wife names the rest. This mirrors Sephardi practice, according to Rahmat.

38:5 - veHaYah biChziv - And it was in Keziv
Why do we need to know the name of the locale?

38:7 - VaYehi Er Bechor Yehudah Ra beEinei HaShem - And Er, the firstborn of Yehudah, was evil in Gd's Eyes
    A. Why stress that Er was Yehudah's firstborn? This is the third time in a few verses that the Torah repeats this!
    B. Since when does Gd kill individuals who are evil? What about Esav, for example? What about the brothers who sold Yosef?
    C. What was his sin? All we are told is that he was evil.
    Ben Zion suggested that this omission of a specific act may indicate Er was entirely evil, and that Gd's decision wasn't tied to a specific sin.

38:8 - veYabeim Osah - And perform "Yibbum" for her
There are two forms of "Yibbum:"

    A. There is a Torah law mandating a man to marry his brother's widow, if the brother died without children.
    B. There is a second type of Yibbum which pre-dates the giving of the Torah at Sinai, and this was a "tribal" form of Yibbum in which members of a family would take care of women who had been widowed, by marrying them and taking them into their home (Ramban Bereishis 38:8). For example, Boaz married Rus in a form of Yibbum which fits into this second category.

As part of Yibbum, the living brother gets his deceased brother's fields, and passes them along to his heir.

38:10 - VaYames Gam Oso - And Gd killed him, too
Why the "too?" Are we linking the deaths of Er and Onan?

38:11 - Ki Amar Pen Yamus - For he said, lest he die
Within Jewish law, there is a concept of a "Katlanis," which translates literally as a "murderess." This refers to a woman who loses several husbands to death. Whether this is attributable to biology, or to something mystical, is subject to debate; either way, a man should not marry a Katlanis.

The Gemara in Yevamos (64b) records a debate regarding how many husbands must die for this status to be established; one opinions says three must die, the other says two must die, and we hold (Even haEzer 9:1) that only two need die for the woman's status to be established.

Yehudah was concerned lest Shelah die upon marrying Tamar. This is, presumably, an understandable concern; but why leave her this way? Why doesn't Yehudah tell Tamar that he won't allow Shelah to marry her?

Next week, Gd-willing, we will see some more questions, and begin to develop some answers.

Have a good week,
Mordechai Torczyner


Yehudah and Tamar - Week Two


This week we finished our look at the verses involving Yehudah and Tamar. Like last week, it would help to have a Chumash for this e-mail.

38:14 - VaTasar Bigdei Alminusah… - And she removed the clothes of her widowhood…
It is clear that Tamar wants to trap Yehudah into coming to her. Why? What is special about Yehudah? It appears that she now knows that Yehudah won't allow his son, Shelah, to marry her, but why does she want to trap Yehudah, rather than simply marry someone else?
What other options are open to Tamar?

38:15 - Ki Chisisa Paneha - For she covered her face
We are told that Yehudah does not recognize Tamar, and he thinks she is a Zonah because her face is covered. Is the covering associated with the lack of recognizance? Or is there some link between face-covering and being a Zonah?

38:16 - VaYeit Eileha - And he turned to her
This word, "VaYeit," is an odd word. It comes up twice here - once in 38:1 when Yehudah joins up with Chirah the Adulamite, and then here. Is there something to be learned from this odd word?

38:16 - VaYeit Eileha - And he turned to her
Is Yehudah allowed to do this?

38:17 - Im Titen Eiravon - If you will give a collateral
Tamar asks for a very specific collateral - she asks for something which is clearly identifiable as Yehudah's item. As we will see, Tamar does not even want the sheep; she wants something which will identify Yehudah as the father of her child.

38:19 - VaTilbash Bigdei Alminusah - She put on the garments of her widowhood
Clearly, Tamar is planning to identify Yehudah as the father later on. This is why she abandons that location, leaving without taking her payment. She does not want the payment; she wants the collateral to hold on to.

38:23 - Pen Nihyeh Lavuz - Lest we be put to shame
What "shame" concerns Yehudah? Is it that the act with a Zonah was wrong? Or is there something else here?
Further, the plural (Nihyeh) is intriguing here. Who is the "we?"

38:24 - Hotziuha veSisaref - Take her out and she will be burned

There are a number of questions here:
    1. What did Tamar do that warranted the death penalty? She was not a married woman!
    2. It sounds as though the case did not go to a court; word gets to Yehudah, and Yehudah responds, "Take her out and she will be burned."
    3. Why does Tamar let the case get this far?

38:25 - Mutzeis - She was being taken out
The Tzeirei ("ay" sound) is actuually under the Tzadi, not the Alef, indicating that the root is not "take out," but rather "burn." She was being burned.

38:25 - LeIsh Asher Eileh Lo - The man who owns these things
Why didn't Tamar just say the pregnancy was from Yehudah?! Why does she leave it to him, when her life is at stake?

38:26 - Tamar is freed
If there is something wrong with Tamar's extramarital activity, why does Yehudah's involvement make it all right, and free her from burning?

38:29 - The birth of Peretz and Zerach
What is the significance of this event?

We concluded that we have four basic questions:

    1. When did this story occur?
    2. Was Yehudah allowed to do what he did?
    3. Was Tamar allowed to do what she did?
    4. Why is this story recorded in the Torah?

Gd-willing, next week we will start to see some answers, with the Ibn Ezra.

Have a good week,
Mordechai Torczyner


Yehudah and Tamar - Week Three


This week we looked at the Ibn Ezra's understanding of this event, to get a "Peshat" understanding.

Ibn Ezra does not have much to say on this incident, due to the nature of his commentary. Ibn Ezra does not seek to teach moral lessons, or otherwise educate his reader; his sole goal is to explain what the Torah says. If the verse is, to his eye, self-explanatory, then there is no need to comment further.

In this story, Ibn Ezra seems to feel that much of the Torah's account is straightforward, and is to be taken literally. Hence, he does not diverge much towards answers for our four questions.

To re-state our four questions:

    1. When did this story occur?
    2. Was Yehudah allowed to do what he did?
    3. Was Tamar allowed to do what she did?
    4. Why is this story recorded in the Torah?

When the story occurred
Ibn Ezra (Bereishis 38:1) declares that when the Torah says, "And it was, at that time," it does not mean that this whole story occurred where the Torah places it, after the sale of Yosef.

Ibn Ezra proves this with a simple chronology of events. Within this story, Yehudah marries and has three children. The second of those children, Onan, reaches child-bearing age. After that time, Yehudah and Tamar bear two children, Peretz and Zerach. By the time Yehudah and his brothers go down to Egypt to join Yosef there, Peretz has two children of his own. Even given that Onan is twelve at his child-bearing age, and that Peretz is 12 when he has his two children, this story requires a minimum of 26 years.

To add to Ibn Ezra's point, it is clear that this story does not occur, in entirety, before Yosef is sold. Yosef is 17 when he is sold, and he is at least six years old when his family returns from Lavan's house. As such, there are only 11 years pre-sale (and 22 years post-sale). It would seem that the beginning of this story occurred before the sale of Yosef, and the end occurred afterward.

Was Yehudah allowed to do what he did?
Ibn Ezra does not address this point, although he does address two other points of interest:

Yehudah's first wife
In 38:1, we are told that Yehudah married "the daughter of a Kenaani." Ibn Ezra cites two possible explanations for the term, "Kenaani." One is that this is a merchant, and Ibn Ezra cites parallel usages in the Torah, and the other is that this is a true, native Canaanite. Ibn Ezra says "both are legitimate" views.

However, Ibn Ezra comments elsewhere (Bereishis 46:10) that he believes Yehudah married a Canaanite woman. Further, Ibn Ezra seems to say (ibid.) that this was a factor in the death of Er and Onan, Yehudah's sons.

Yehudah and Tamar
Ibn Ezra also mentions that Yehudah engaged in his act with Tamar due to being overcome with desire. He mentions (38:18) that the collateral which Yehudah left with Tamar - his mantle, sealing ring and walking stick - was not commensurate with what Yehudah was receiving from her. His desire overtook him, and he agreed to whatever she asked.

Ibn Ezra even comments that this is why Yehudah was embarrassed (38:23), lest people find out what had happened. It was not that his act was illicit - it was that he had given so much for it.

Was Yehudah allowed to do what he did?
As we said above, though, Ibn Ezra does not comment on the legality of Yehudah's actions. Were they legal?

We looked to the Rambam for guidance. In the beginning of his "Laws of Marriage," the Rambam presents an explanation of the way male-female interaction took place prior to the presentation of the Torah.

In brief, there were two forms of interaction - 1. marriage, and 2. Zenut. The former was indicated by agreement by both parties to live together, the latter by agreement to have a temporary rendezvous. The former was not paid for, and the latter was paid for.

There was nothing illegal about either arrangement, and both changed with the arrival of Torah. After Torah was given, a man had to pay his wife something in order to seal the marriage transaction. The Torah outlawed the second variety entirely, under penalty of lashes.

The Maharal comments that our ancestors fulfilled the "action-driven" Torah commandments, even before the Torah was given. For example, Avraham made Matzah for Pesach. They did not necessarily fulfill the prohibitions, though; Yaakov married two sisters, for example. Here, Yehudah followed the law of his time, and his act was entirely legal.

It would seem that this is why Ibn Ezra did not comment - there was nothing for him to say.

Was Tamar allowed to do what she did?
Again, Ibn Ezra does not have much to say. Ibn Ezra does comment (38:15) that Tamar was "Tzenuah," "modest," in discussing her face-covering.

(Ibn Ezra was responding to a scholar who said Tamar covered her face with a colorful cloth, to attract people's attention. This scholar sought to back up his notion by mentioning that his own daughter did so. Ibn Ezra responded with a Talmudic passage - "Ein Meviin Raayah Min haShotim - We don't bring proof from fools!" Ibn Ezra argued that Tamar was Tzenuah, modest.)

It would appear that Ibn Ezra does not say anything here, because - like in the case of Yehudah - he held there was nothing wrong with Tamar's actions. As we mentioned two weeks ago, "Yibbum" was not limited to a woman's brother-in-law before the Torah was given. Any male member of the family could agree to support her. While there were laws against incest for the descendants of Noach, these did not include a father-in-law once his son had died, and so there was nothing to prohibit a liaison between Yehudah and Tamar.

The big question which remains is why Yehudah was going to have Tamar burned; Ibn Ezra does not address this, either, and we will have to come back to it.

Why this story is included in the Torah
Ibn Ezra's only comment which is relevant to this question is his statement (38:1) that this story is included here in order to put some space between Yosef's sale down to Egypt, and his encounter with the wife of Potiphar. Other than that, Ibn Ezra has no comment.

Ibn Ezra has left us with a few questions. Next week, Gd-willing, we will start a look at Rashi's view.

Have a good week,
Mordechai Torczyner


Yehudah and Tamar - Week Four


This week we began a look at Rashi's understanding of this event. We addressed the first two of our four questions, and began to look at the third.

When did this occur?
As we said last week, Ibn Ezra felt this story began well before the sale of Yosef. Although Bereishis 38:1 states, "It happened at that time," Ibn Ezra felt the chronology made this difficult. He concluded that Yehudah's marriage, and the beginning of the story, must have occurred long before the sale of Yosef.

Rashi disagrees. Rashi said that this story occurred after the sale of Yosef, and that we can see this from a hint in the text. Rashi says that "And it happened at that time" is actually meant to be a red flag, telling us that there is a link between the sale of Yosef and Yehudah's encounter with Tamar. Specifically, Yehudah "descended from among his brothers," to quote 38:1, as a result of the sale of Yosef.

Recall that the decision to sell Yosef was made in stages:
    1. First, Shimon and Levi said, "Let's kill him." (Bereishis 37:20)
    2. Reuven objected, and said that they shouldn't kill him directly; it would be better to throw him in a pit. (The Torah adds that Reuven planned to come back and rescue Yosef from the pit, later.) Reuven then left. (37:21-22)
    3. Yehudah saw merchants coming, and said they should sell Yosef. (37:26-27)

After Yehudah's suggestion, the Torah says that the brothers listened to him - "VaYishmi'u Echav." The Midrash says that when the brothers saw their father in inconsolable mourning (37:33-35), they turned on Yehudah and said, "We listened to you then; we would have listened had you told us to stop!" Thus "VaYishmiu Echav - And the brothers listened" turned into "Vered Yehudah Me'eis Echav - Yehudah descended from among his brothers."

Of course, it is unfair to blame Yehudah, alone, for the sale of Yosef. Nonetheless, he was the one who should have opposed Shimon and Levi. Reuven was gone, and Leah's other two sons (Yissachar and Zevulun) were significantly younger. It is clear that the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah were not in leadership positions vis-à-vis their brothers. This left Yehudah.

Rashi says that this is what the Torah is telling us with the words "And it happened at that time." Yehudah left his brothers specifically because he was "demoted" in their eyes.

Was Yehudah allowed to do what he did?
Last week, we dealt with two aspects of Yehudah's actions:
1. Marriage to a Kenaani woman (38:2), and
2. His rendezvous with Tamar.

Yehudah's marriage
Ibn Ezra felt that Yehudah had married a Kenaani woman; he even linked the deaths of Er and Onan with this intermarriage. Rashi, in contrast, writes that there is no way Yehudah would have married a Kenaani woman. Considering Avraham's opposition to the idea, and the opposition of Rivkah and Yitzchak, Yehudah would not have gone against the grain. Therefore, Rashi opts for the other interpretation of "Kenaani" - not "Canaanite," but "merchant."

Rashi explains (38:7) that Er and Onan died for a different sin. They acted to ensure that when with their wives, they would not have children. Rashi writes that this was a sin which warranted death.

Yehudah's rendezvous with Tamar
Ibn Ezra never indicated that there was anything wrong with Yehudah's rendezvous, and last week we explained the Halachic basis for this. Rashi also does not say Yehudah sinned, but he does indicate that there was a shadow over Yehudah from it.

We have noted that Yehudah tells Chirah (38:23) not to circulate looking for Tamar, "lest we be shamed." Ibn Ezra understood this not to refer to shame from the rendezvous, but rather to shame for having overpaid. Rashi does the same; Rashi says that Yehudah was concerned for shame in that this mysterious woman had cheated him out of such expensive items. As Chirah would go looking for her, the story would come out.

Nonetheless, Rashi does indicate that there was some shame involved:
    A. The Gemara in Sotah 7b mentions that Yehudah "Hodah veLo Bosh," "admitted his error and did not hold back [due to shame]." This "error" refers to the rendezvous. Rashi also cites this on Iyyov 15:18. Clearly, then, there was something to be ashamed about.
    B. When Yaakov blesses his children (Bereishis 49), he begins with a rebuke and blessing to Reuven. He then turns to Shimon and Levi, and gives them a real upbraiding. He then turns to Yehudah, and says, "Yehudah, your brothers will praise you." The Midrash - cited by Rashi there - comments on this gentle tone, saying that Yehudah started backward, afraid he would receive the same treatment as his elder brothers had received. Rashi comments (49:8) that Yehudah was afraid of receiving rebuke for his involvement with Tamar.
Clearly, then, Rashi believed that there was a negative tinge to this involvement.

Was Tamar allowed to do what she did?
We began to look at this issue this week, focusing on Tamar's motivation. Rashi makes it clear that Tamar wanted to get Yehudah, and have children with him, specifically. We see this in a few ways:

A. Rashi comments (38:14) that Tamar removed her widow's garb and went to the road specifically when she heard Yehudah was coming. Immediately after the interlude, she resumed her status as a widow. Clearly, she wanted Yehudah. (This is strengthened by the fact that she asked for marks of identification as her collateral, and then she didn't stick around to get the payment. She simply wanted to be able to identify Yehudah as the father of her children.)

B. When Yehudah admits that he is the father (38:26), he comments "Tzadkah Mimeni Ki Al Ken Lo Nesatiha leShelah Beni." Rashi translates this as "She was correct in doing this because I wouldn't match her up with my son, Shelah." Tamar wanted children via Yehudah, whether from his sons or from him, himself.

C. Rashi (39:1) notes the juxtaposition of Yehudah/Tamar and Yosef/Potiphar's wife. Rashi cites the Midrash to the effect that Potiphar's wife knew she would have descendants from Yosef. (This actually would happen when her daughter, Asnat, would marry Yosef.) Similarly, Tamar wanted descendants from Yehudah, and so her desire was altruistic.

Gd-willing, we will continue our look at Rashi's understanding next week, and do a summary of Ibn Ezra/Rashi. We may continue to see some more afterward, from other commentators.

Have a good week,
Mordechai Torczyner


Yehudah and Tamar - Week Five


This week we explored more of Rashi's understanding of the event involving Yehudah and Tamar. Specifically, we discussed more of Tamar's role, and the reason why this event is recorded in the Torah.

Tamar's Role
Last week we discussed Tamar's motivation, and explained that Rashi believes Tamar wanted to have children from Yehudah because she knew this would have great value for her.

This week, we looked at two other aspects of Tamar's act - her character, and the correctness of her behavior.

Tamar's Character
Rashi, like Ibn Ezra, makes it clear that Tamar was a person of impeccable character to this point. Like Ibn Ezra, Rashi says Tamar was "Tzenuah," a reference to her modest style of dress and her introverted approach.

Rashi makes this point when the Torah says Yehudah thought her a Zonah as a result of her covering her face. Rashi first suggests that this means Yehudah didn't recognize her because her face was covered, and then he suggests an alternative understanding (Bereishis 38:15): "Tamar had been covered when in her father-in-law's house, and so now Yehudah didn't recognize her."

Rahmat pointed out that there was also a long gap in time between their last encounter and the present time - enough time for Shelah to have matured in the interim.

The Propriety of Tamar's Behavior
Ibn Ezra did not address this point. Let's see how Rashi approaches it:

Tamar Choosing Yehudah
To start with, it is clear that Tamar was not forbidden from marrying Yehudah. The Rambam (Hilchos Melachim 9:5) lists the types of relationships which are forbidden for Gentiles: Parent-Child, Parent's Spouse-Child, Maternal siblings, Male-Male, Human-Animal, and a relationship with a person who is married to someone else. Tamar is Yehudah's former daughter-in-law; there is no prohibition against the relationship.

Second, it is clear that Tamar is not considered a "married woman." The option for levirate marriage (Yibbum) to Shelah is open, and that does create a type of bond, but not a marital bond. As such, she should be able to participate in exactly the sort of relationship she did, as we explained two weeks ago - a temporary relationship with a single male.

It is clear, then, that what Tamar did was legal. It is even possible to consider her selection of Yehudah as an extension of the form of levirate marriage [Yibbum] performed in those days, where a male family member would marry a widow and support her.

The Burning of Tamar
The question is why Yehudah ordered that Tamar be burned when he found out she was pregnant. Why should Tamar deserve such a punishment?

Rashi suggests that Tamar was the daughter of a Kohen, and so her adultery would qualify her for the punishment of burning, as is prescribed for the daughter of a Kohen (Vayikra 21:9).

We need to address two points here:
A. Who was the "Kohen"
B. How was this "adultery"

It seems clear that the term, "Kehunah," is not a strict reference to people who served in the Mishkan and Beis haMikdash. At times, the Jewish people are termed a "nation of Kohanim." What defines a Kohen?

Ibn Ezra, on Tehillim 110:4, says that a "Kohen" is a person who serves someone. The same is implied in a comment by the Ramban (Bereishis 14:18), and by the fact that the Torah uses the term "Kohen" to refer to the Jewish Kohanim as well as to priests for idolatry.

Tamar's father was a Kohen, meaning that he served Gd. Who was Tamar's father? Rashi, citing Midrash, refers us back to the first person in the Torah to be termed a "Kohen" - Malkitzedek, the ruler of Jerusalem, who greeted Avraham after Avraham saved Lot from a war (Bereishis 14:18). Malkitzedek was Shem, the son of Noach, according to the Midrash, and he was a "Kohen" to Gd. Tamar was Shem's daughter, Noach's granddaughter.

(In terms of the timeline, it should be noted that Shem outlived Avraham by some thirty years. It is not clear at what age he had Tamar, so we don't know how old she was in this story.)

We are still left with the question of how this could have been adultery. There are two possibilities:
    A. Yehudah assumed that Tamar had a relationship with a married man. This is an odd assumption to make without an inquiry, and it is difficult to imagine Yehudah having Tamar killed on the basis of that assumption.

    B. The bond between Tamar and Shelah was considered strong enough that breaking it would warrant the death penalty. This is not impossible; the punishment for breaking the seven Noachide laws is death. The only problem is that there was no Mitzvah of levirate marriage (Yibbum) at this stage, and so breaking the levirate bond should not have been considered a transgression.

There are other problems here. Rashi's link to the death of a Kohen's daughter is interesting as Midrash, but it is very difficult to use it as a basis for law. The law was stated specifically regarding the Kohanim who descended from Aharon, and specifically after the giving of the Torah. All sorts of other practices - such as Yehudah engaging in this relationship - were forbidden after the giving of the Torah, but were done at this point. Why borrow this law, specifically?

We will have to see more on this topic.

Why this story is recorded in the Torah: Destiny
Rashi seems to indicate that one function of this story is the destiny undercurrent which runs beneath it. We have already seen that Rashi points out (39:1) that Tamar wanted to have Yehudah's children, suggesting there is something special involved. More, though:
    1. 38:18 says that "Tamar became pregnant to him." Rashi comments on the extra "to him" that the children grew up to be like Yehudah, in their leadership and their righteousness. See a similar comment in Rashi on 38:27, on the word "Te'omim"

    2. 38:26 - Yehudah says, "She is right; the children are from me." Rashi brings an additional Midrashic reading, which says that when Yehudah says "She is right," a Divine Voice replies, "All of this was from Me. Tamar merited that her children should be the ones to become kings, with the Davidic line, from Yehudah."

It is clear that this story is, at least partially, a story of the origin of our kings. For a similar case where the Torah records something in a certain way because it contains information about the Davidic line, see Rashi Divrei HaYamim 4:21. See also the end of Megillas Rus.

Why this story is recorded in the Torah: The Sale of Yosef This story also links strongly to the sale of Yosef. Rashi only makes a minimal connection to it, but there is more in the story.

Rashi in 38:1 and 39:1 presents ideas linking this story to its context, the sale of Yosef:
    A. In 38:1 Rashi says that Yehudah was removed from his leadership position because he didn't halt the sale of Yosef.

    B. In 39:1 Rashi comments that both Tamar and Potiphar's wife acted altruistically, because they thought they were supposed to bear children with certain men.

There are a few other links here:
    1. Yehudah promises a goat to Tamar, but she deceives him, taking his ring/cloak/staff in its place. Yehudah, himself, used a goat to trick Yaakov, dipping Yosef's cloak in goat's blood and passing it off as human blood.

    2. Ben Tzion pointed out that Tamar sent Yehudah the ring/cloak/staff without identifying him as her children's father, so as not to shame him. Yosef didn't shame his brothers, either; he didn't send word to his father of what had happened.

    3. In what is perhaps the strongest link, note the similarity between Bereishis 37:32 and Bereishis 38:25. Yehudah says to his father, when he gives him Yosef's cloak, "Haker Na," "Recognize this, please." In the only other instance in the Torah of these words, Tamar gives Yehudah his cloak, and says, "Haker Na," "Recognize this, please."

This concludes our look at Rashi's perspective. Rashi deals with our four questions thus:

1. When, precisely, did this event occur?
After the sale of Yosef.

2. Was Yehudah allowed to do what he did with Tamar?
Rashi doesn't say it was wrong, although he does indicate there were problems with it. Rashi says Yehudah didn't marry a Canaanite.

3. Was Tamar allowed to do what she did with Yehudah? Why was she to be burned?
Rashi doesn't say it was wrong. Rashi says Tamar was a person of fine character, and he explains that the burning would have been correct had she been adulterous, because she was a Bas Kohen.

4. Why is this story recorded in the Torah?
Perhaps Rashi's comments on the destiny element of the story are meant to explain that this is why the story is recorded here.

Next week, Gd-willing, we will take a look at what some other commentators have to say.

Have a good week,
Mordechai Torczyner


Yehudah and Tamar - Week Six


This week we wrapped up some loose ends by looking at more perspectives on four of our issues.

Yehudah's First Wife
The Torah (Bereishis 38:2) says that Yehudah married "the daughter of a Kenaani man."

Ibn Ezra on this verse said this could mean Yehudah's wife was a Canaanite, or she was the daughter of a merchant. Ibn Ezra elsewhere stated that she was a Canaanite woman. Rashi said she was the daughter of a merchant.

Ramban (38:2) backs Rashi's version, for two reasons:
    A. It is not possible that Israel should be inherited by the descendants of Canaan, who was cursed by his grandfather, Noah.
    B. There is no reason for the Torah to say Yehudah's father-in-law was a Canaanite; all of the local people were Canaanites. Therefore, "Kenaani" here must mean "merchant."

Ramban cites a Midrash in which R' Yehudah says the sons of Yaakov were born with twin daughters, and they each married their half-sisters.
Ramban also says Tamar could not have been a Canaanite, as King David and Mashiach could not come from Canaan, who had been cursed by Noah.

It is worth noting, though (as Ramban does), that one Midrash indicates that at least some of Yaakov's sons did marry Canaanite women. The Midrash, cited by Rashi (Bereishis 50:13) says that Yaakov did not want to be buried by his grandchildren, some of whom had Egyptian and Canaanite blood in them.

We have mentioned that Tamar wanted to marry Yehudah, as a fulfillment of a form of Yibbum. Yehudah was not her brother-in-law; Ramban (38:8) comments that this was actually a practice termed "Geulah." The practice may have antedated Yehudah and Tamar, or this may have been the first case, but either way the practice was for some other permissible family member to marry a childless widow and support her.

How could Yehudah strand Tamar
Ibn Ezra did not handle this issue.
Rashi simply said that Yehudah feared that his third (and last) son, Shelah, would die if he married Tamar, and so Yehudah never intended for Tamar to marry Shelah.

Ramban (38:11) takes a completely different approach, for three reasons:
    1. If Yehudah had planned to keep Shelah from Tamar, he would have told her so; with Yehudah's social standing, he had nothing to fear from her.
    2. If Yehudah had planned to keep Shelah from Tamar, he would not have cared about news that Tamar had become pregnant from another man.
    3. Yehudah would not have blamed Tamar for the deaths of his first two children; he must have known who they were, and what they had done.

For these reasons, Ramban suggests a different idea. Ramban sticks to Rashi's timeline, which limits this story to a 22-year span. As such, Ramban suggests that Er married Tamar when he was only 12 years old. Onan married Tamar the following year, also at age 12.
Er and Onan did not want to have kids, at least partly out of concern that this would ruin Tamar's beauty, and so they died. Yehudah attributed their behavior to their immaturity, and he wanted Shelah to remain single until a later age. Thus, when Tamar sees that Shelah has turned 10 and not been presented to her, she thinks Yehudah is not going to let Shelah marry her. Yehudah, though, was simply waiting for Shelah to mature.

The Burning of Tamar
Ibn Ezra did not comment on Yehudah's order to have Tamar burned.
Rashi explained that Tamar was the daughter of a Kohen [Shem], and so she was to be burned for adultery. As we discussed last week, this was difficult.

We now bring a few alternative views:

The Burning of Tamar: The Gemara
A. The Gemara (Avodah Zarah 36b) says that the court of Shem had decreed that no Jew (ie member of the family of Avraham) could marry out, under penalty of burning.
This idea is difficult, for numerous reasons (Such as the Midrash, cited above, that some of Yaakov's sons marry out. Further, there was no "conversion" for Tamar; what made her a "Jew?" There are more problems, but there is no room here for that discussion.)
What I find most interesting is that Ibn Ezra, Rashi and Ramban do not bring this Gemara as the explanation for the burning of Tamar.

The Burning of Tamar: Ramban
B. Ramban (38:24) suggests that the literal reading is that the law of the land turned an adulterous woman over to her husband (and the family, in the absence of the husband) to determine retribution.

C. Ramban (38:24) also suggests that Tamar's punishment may have been unique due to Yehudah's social standing.

The Burning of Tamar: R' Yehudah haChasid
D. Lastly, we mention the view of R' Yehudah haChasid (1150-1217, Germany). R' Yehudah haChasid suggests that Tamar was not going to die, at all. Rather, they were going to brand her. R' Yehudah haChasid does not provide any further explanation for his view, but the Torah Temimah (early 20th century) adds a couple of reasons which might lead to this view:

1. Both times the Torah discusses execution via burning, it says "baEish Tisaref [she shall be burned in fire]." Here, it just says "veTisaref [she shall be burned]."
2. There were such customs, among the nations.

The major problem with this view comes from a Gemara. The Gemara says it is better for a person to be thrown into a furnace, than to embarrass someone in public. This is deduced from the case of Tamar, as she did not embarrass Yehudah; she simply sent him his cloak/ring/staff and asked him if he knew whose they were.

According to R' Yehudah haChasid, though, Tamar was not being "thrown in a furnace!" The Torah Temimah attempts to resolve the problem by suggesting that for Tamar, being branded would be as bad as being thrown in a furnace.

The Burning of Tamar: Maybe it was wrong?
Barry asked why we couldn't simply say that Yehudah reacted so strongly because it involved his family, but that the act was wrong. [This is not such an odd idea, when you consider that Yehudah had sold his own brother as a slave in the previous chapter!] There are two problems with this view, though:

1. Elsewhere in the Torah, acts which are wrong are identified as such. The sale of Yosef is clearly marked as wrong; ditto for Reuven moving his father's bed from Bilhah's tent. Here, we are given no sign of disapproval.

2. This wasn't only Yehudah's act. Yehudah gave the order, but everyone went along with it. Further, this took time, during which people would have talked about the event, and Yehudah would have calmed down.

Gd-willing, we will start a new topic next week, looking at Miriam and Aharon's Lashon HaRa regarding Moshe. Stay tuned!

Have a good week,
Mordechai Torczyner

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