Judah and Tamar

Genesis 38:1-30

Following Joseph’s sale, Judah parts ways with his brothers and lives instead with an Adullamite named Hirah. He marries the daughter of a merchant named Shua and has three sons, Er, Onan and Shelah. When they reach marriageable age, he pairs Er with Tamar. Er, however, did evil in God’s eyes, and He kills him.


Following the tradition of levirate marriage, Judah has Onan marry his brother’s widow. Onan, however, does not want to father a son in his brother’s name, and God kills him, as well. Judah, meanwhile, grows fearful of Tamar, and makes excuses not to marry her to his youngest, Shelah.


As time goes by, Tamar realizes Judah has no intention of allowing her to marry Shelah, yet she cannot marry outside Judah’s family. She decides to take action. Taking advantage of Judah’s grief over the recent loss of his own wife, she disguises herself as a prostitute and seduces him, taking some of his personal effects as collateral for her promised price. When Judah sends his friend Hirah to pay her, though, she is gone.


Time goes by, and Judah hears his daughter-in-law is mysteriously pregnant. He orders her execution for what he presumes was adultery. Tamar, however, brings forth Judah’s personal effects, saying the owner of the staff, signet and cord is the father of her child. Judah acknowledges that they belong to him, and he vindicates Tamar. She gives birth to twins: Peretz and Zerah.


The Israel Bible cites the Sages, who teach a beautiful lesson about the juxtaposition of these stories in the Torah. “While the tribes were busy with the sale of Joseph, and Reuben, Joseph and Jacob were busy with their sackcloth and mourning, and Judah was busy taking a wife, God was busy creating the light of the Messiah.” After all, it is Peretz who is the forebear of the Davidic line. At a time when life seems to be unravelling and Jewish history appears to be at its worst, with brother turning on brother, God is working behind the scenes, ensuring the future redemption.


Virtual Classroom Discussion

Why do you think the union of Tamar and Judah is worthy of producing King David and ultimately the Messiah?

Comments ( 4 )

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  • Herman Arentsen

    I think that
    1.Tamar showed herself trustworthy and stay in relationships within the boundaries of the family.
    2.her way of action was not directed to adulterous lust but to justice as she was entitled rightfully to re-marry again and save the heritage for the sons of Jehuda.
    3. through the actions of Tamar Jehuda became a different person, a baal teshuva, which we see in the upcoming deeds of him, more directed to see the connection between death and life less selfconcentrated..

  • DannyLee ben Israel

    I have a plaque on my wall with the poem, "Footsteps" on it. The poem tells of a man looking back on his walk with the Lord. In both the beginning and the end, he sees two pairs of footprints in the sand. In the middle, he sees only one set of prints. The man asks Elohim why there was only one set of prints when going through the worst time of his life. That was, Adonai said, was when I was carrying you. When I read the line, "God ensures that precisely when life seems to be unraveling, He is carefully nurturing our redemption", I think of this poem.

  • SueJean Heinz

    One consideration I have is that Tamar remained faithful to the restrictions placed upon her and worked within those boundaries. We're taught that Er and Onan were selfish and spilled their "seed" upon the ground for very self-serving reasons. A woman without sons had no "social security" or "retirement plan" to fall back on when she grew old and feeble and Tamar had to be very frightened when Yehudah withheld his third son from carrying on the Levirate marriage tradition leaving her with absolutely no options to ensure her own future.
    Tricking Yehudah into sleeping with her was a dangerous option as a woman that committed adultery was to be put to death, but she was willing to take that risk. I believe the blessing of Elohim came more because of her commitment to do the right thing than from any act of Yehudah's, thus his commendation of her actions rather than conDemnation as he recognized that she was far more righteous in her actions than he was in his.
    Baruch Hashem

    • Angela B

      I think so too. In addition, it appears that Yehudah was the first to give great grand children to Yaakov through his (Yehuda's) union with Tamar.

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