Article -

Judah and Tamar

Authors: Jo Milgrom and Yoel Duman


In the midst of the Joseph stories, Genesis 38 opens with an unrelated scene and immediately introduces a different cast of characters:

Judah - Jacob and Leah’s fourth son, who has just saved Joseph from certain

death by selling him into slavery

Hira the Adullamite – Judah’s new neighbor and friend

Shua - a Canaanite, Judah’s father-in-law

“Bat Shua” – Judah’s wife

Er – Judah’s firstborn

Onan - Judah’s second son

Shelah – Judah’s youngest

Tamar - Er’s bride

Judah has left home and all familial attachment. He marries a Canaanite woman and produces three sons. In a breath, he marries his oldest son, Er, to a woman named Tamar, about whom we know nothing, except that she is immediately widowed through a stroke of mysterious divine judgment against evil Er. In accordance with the law of levirate marriage, her brother-in-law, Onan, is supposed to “join with [his] brother’s wife and do [his] duty by her as a brother-in-law, to provide offspring for [his] brother” (Genesis 38:8). However, Onan refuses to sire a child who will be considered the son of his deceased brother. This man is also felled by God. Judah withholds his youngest son. He tells Tamar that Shelah is too young, but we know that he actually fears that Tamar will “kill” this one also. She is sent home to her father’s house, where she sits in her widows’ weeds waiting in vain for Shelah to grow up and take her. Years pass. Tamar seizes an opportunity to accomplish what has been denied her: the opportunity to become a mother within her husbands’ family. She hears that her recently widowered father-in-law, Judah, is nearby for a sheep shearing festival. Tamar intuiting his needy state, disguises herself as an available woman and stations herself conspicuously. During the ensuing meeting, Tamar, unrecognized by Judah, negotiates payment for her proposed services. In lieu of the immediate payment of a kid, she demands security: Judah’s seal, cord and staff. When Judah’s messenger returns to the scene of the encounter to pay the "prostitute", he cannot (of course) find her and Judah considers himself free of obligation. Three months later, he is told that his daughter-in-law, who is supposed to be waiting celibate for his youngest son to take her to wife, is pregnant! Precipitately, Judah condemns her to be burnt at the stake. At the last moment, she sends the security objects to Judah, who recognizes his responsibility and proclaims her innocence. Twin sons, Perez and Zerah, are born, who perpetuate Judah’s line to David. The story is replete with puzzles:

  1. Why does Judah leave his family in the first place?
  2. What is “evil” about Er, that brings God to kill him?
  3. Why does Onan not want to provide “seed” for his deceased brother?
  4. How is Judah planning to extricate himself from his obligation to marry Tamar to Shelah?
  5. How is Tamar planning to extricate herself from the inevitable scandal that will ensue when she becomes pregnant?
  6. How is it possible that Judah doesn’t recognize Tamar?
  7. Why does Judah allow Tamar to determine the deposits for her services?
  8. Why does she choose these particular objects?
  9. Why is Tamar referred to sometimes as a zonah and other times as a kedesha?
  10. Why is Tamar sentenced to be burnt at the stake?

There are also a number of bigger questions about our story. Why is this story of Judah placed within the story of Joseph, without any obvious causal or dramatic connection? What is the significance of the story? Did the author intend for us to admire Tamar? Was the author lambasting Judah? Is this a story about the dangers of intermarriage? What is the connection between this story and the scroll of Ruth, the stories of David, etc.?

Midrash addresses many of these puzzles. While modern biblical scholars see our story as anti-Judahite in origin and intent, most traditional Jewish sources come to Judah’s defense. Biblical characters are always flawed; these same figures are idealized in midrash. The reason for Judah’s justification may well be that Judah had become the embodiment of the Jewish people, after the ten northern tribes were lost. Judah, in addition, had become the forefather of the Messiah. To that end, midrash justifies Judah’s actions throughout the story and ignores or covers up his failings. In addition, Tamar acquires a pious character and a Semitic ethnicity – so much so that we are convinced that the story is intended to show how, despite Judah’s straying from the clan, in the end his line continues through a “kosher” woman.

An overview of the art produced throughout the ages reveals that artists have dealt with their own questions, not necessarily those listed above. Artists are apparently uninterested in the earlier parts of the story in which Judah leaves his family, marries and loses two of his childless sons. Our collection begins with Judah’s propositioning of the unrecognized Tamar. Some of the artists focus on the emotional content of the meeting between Judah and Tamar, unarticulated in the biblical narrative. Others simply find the story juicy. Covering and uncovering is a motif tangling the story.


Hidden and revealed

Visual interest begins with Tamar’s preparation for her action.

A. April, 1990

R. Crumb 2009

In Aharon April’s painting, Tamar puts off her widow’s clothing (v.14), kneeling, perhaps to presage her intentions with Judah. Although her young body is exposed, her face is hidden. The body is any woman, but the face is her exclusive identity being sheltered by the artist. Robert Crumb’s approach is a vulgar contrast. In his well-known comics style, he gleefully portrays Tamar as an Amazon: her face and body are exposed, she is a sexy schemer. Most artwork on our story deals with the meeting of Judah and Tamar. But each one takes a different approach to the event and the text, especially with regard to exposure and concealment. The text reads:

14 So she took off her widow’s garb, covered her face with a veil, and, wrapping (or prettying) herself up, sat down at the entrance to Enaim, which is on the road to Timnah… 15 When Judah saw her, he took her for a harlot; for she had covered her face. 16 So he turned aside to her by the road and said, “Here, let me lie with you”—for he did not know that she was his daughter-in-law.

Our artists play fast and loose with this text. In the Alba Bible, Tamar is a totally covered and unrecognizable female form.

Alba Bible, 1430

In fact, it is Judah who is exposed, standing in his underwear, and offering Tamar the three security objects. His staff is blatantly phallic, his seal is a ring lying on the ground in front of Tamar. The problematic object is the פתיל, which has been interpreted in many different ways by commentators:

The Vulgate (Latin) armilla = bracelet or necklace

Onkelos (Aramaic)שושיפא= cloak

Targum Pseudo-Jonathan (Aramaic) חוטא = thread, cord

Escorial Bible (Spanish, 14th-15th century) alhareme = fillet, turban or

cloak; suario = napkin

Ferrara Bible (Ladino, 1553) manto = coat

According to the Alba Bible, the petil is a cloak, translated as capa in the Spanish text. We will return later to this object and its significance for the story. In Chagall’s treatment of this scene, Tamar’s face is veiled and her body is a tightly clothed manikin on display; the stick-like Judah will have to struggle to penetrate her defenses.

M. Chagall, 1960

How and where does the uncovering begin?

The "coupling" scene was a favorite of 17th century Dutch artists and those influenced by them.
Willem Drost, a student of Rembrandt, is the most sensitively humane. Tamar is entirely and primly clothed but her veil is merely ceremonial, since her face can be seen through it. Judah is gentle and refined; his right arm touches hers tentatively. If an invitation is forthcoming, the process is slow and patient.

W. Drost, ca. 1650

A. de Gelder, ca. 1700

R. McBee, 2005

In one of Aert de Gelder’s several renditions of the scene, Tamar’s face is veiled concealing her features, but her bodice is seductively open. There’s an aggressive play; Judah’s staff is at the ready, his right hand grabs her knee, her left hand pushes it away. At the same time, her right hand is negotiating for her services.

Richard McBee, an orthodox Jew, composes his scene following de Gelder’s painting. Tamar’s veil has become longer and Judah’s staff has disappeared. Surprisingly to us, McBee’s Judah is a Hasid. How does this affect the meaning of the painting and its interpretation of the biblical scene?

In much artwork, color creates the emotional content. In contrast, D. Bennett creates emotional content in black and white.

D. Bennett

It occurred to us to ask what would happen if we reversed the colors. An entirely different narrative came into being. We saw the opportunity of interpreting the text and the art against the principle of what is revealed and what is hidden. With that principle in mind we can look at Bennett’s painting.

It’s our thinking that Bennett did the black on white version first.

Tamar looks like a Bedouin woman, dressed in black, although, according to the text, she has removed her widow’s garb. Her face is partially covered and turned away from Judah. Her eyes are covered, whereas Judah’s eyes are wide open, viewing her from behin. Tamar is wearing prominent earrings and an ornamental scarf. Judah’s left arm is extended toward her, his clothing festive. This seems like a literal illustration of the scene.


In the inverted (“original”) version, greater mystery prevails. Tamar is dressed in luminous white, the opposite of her widow’s garb. Both faces disappear into the black background. While Judah’s ornate garment is prominent in the foreground, Tamar’s luminous whiteness is the center of our focus. The black background acquires its own mysterious shape. It is a wedge between the two. Bennett’s treatment of the story is a midrashic play on the biblical account; it comments visually on the hiding and revealing, the dressing and undressing of the original story.


Early 18th century artist Gerard Hoet deals with exposure and concealment by differentiating what the viewer sees and what Judah sees.

G. Hoet, 1728

Tamar is half-hidden from Judah under an enveloping canopy. We, the viewers, however, see her, scantily clothed. Her right arm and his right arm merge at the staff, which connects both parts of the scene.


Two voyeuristic treatments

A.Katz, 2016

H. Vernet, 1840

Our path has moved us from concealed to revealed. We arrive at our last two examples, separated by approximately 150 years. Vernet’s Judah and Tamar is typical of orientalist treatments of biblical themes; it is the sub rosa aspect of proper 19th century society, finding an outlet for pent-up sexuality in the “mysterious East”. While the fair Tamar covers her face, her breast and thigh are exposed both to the viewer and to the swarthy Judah himself. A camel is a witness to the transaction and stamps the scene as “Middle Eastern”, as do Judah’s and Tamar’s costumes.


Avi Katz throws the biblical story into science fiction, treating Tamar as an “alien” maiden. Judah, passing by in a spaceship, stops to proposition the provocatively dressed "working girl". Both characters gesticulate to represent their conversation. She is concealed only by her scarf, the archetypal means of going in cognito.

In both of these works, in contrast to most of the earlier treatments of the story, exposure has become more blatant, voyeuristic and crass.

Three contemporary renditions

M. Zagha

The circular format of Morris Zagha’s biblical paintings in the series "Myths and Transformations" is a visual midrash in the most dramatic way, because there’s no single defined angle of view. The disc turns on a hinge, forcing the viewer to constantly see it from a different angle. The two most prominent features in the treatment of Judah and Tamar are the crossroads and the staff. The meeting takes place here, as in a number of Targums and commentaries, at a crossroad, with the two characters facing one another, seemingly far apart. In fact, they are paired opposites; Judah is totally nude, but crowned by a lion’s skin, representing the royal status of the tribe that he will engender. Tamar is almost completely covered, but her squatting position makes her entirely accessible. Both hold out their hands – in each case, one hand offers something (Judah, a bowl with his seed and Tamar, Judah’s identifying thread ) and the other hand grasps the staff, grossly exaggerated and phallic. The sheep on one side and the plants on the other are symbols of fertility. Thus Zagha portrays the meeting as a symbiotic pact, insuring continuity


Archie Rand’s treatment of the story of Judah and Tamar is part of his series “The Nineteen Diaspora Paintings,” referencing the nineteen blessings of the daily prayers. The link of our story to the third blessing, God’s Holy Name (ha’el hakadosh), is certainly enigmatic. In our text, Judah’s companion, looking for Judah’s prostitute (zonah), refers to her as a kedesha. We suggest that Rand is making an ironic play, transforming kadosh in the prayer into kedesha, its opposite.

A. Rand, 2002

As in the other paintings of the series, two quotations from the biblical text are integrated into Rand’s pulp fiction-like transmutations:

And Tamar was told, “Your father-in-law is going up to Timnah to shear his sheep”. (v. 13) The man who owns these things got me pregnant. (v. 25)

These verses frame the action around the denouement of the story – Rand has interpreted them literally, while at the same time decontextualizing them from their original settings. Here, Judah appears climbing a hill, armed with a club, followed by a companion holding a flashlight. He looks angry, like an enraged father of the bride hunting in the middle of the night for her seducer. Tamar sits with a baby in her arms; above her the large angry moon adds to the nocturnal atmosphere. Below Tamar is a magen david – transporting us to the nighttime of the Shoah. The biblical story of a woman overcoming her fate becomes a melodrama of a woman concealing her secret lover. In this way, Rand conceals the biblical story and reveals his own personal associations with it.


Dian Blair Goodpasture’s stained glass summarizes the entire story. She hides Tamar’s eyes, but places an eye on her bracelet. These are visual puns on the location of the biblical tryst, “פתח עיניים” (lit., “eye opener”)

D. Goodpasture, 2006

The mark in the upper left seems to be a yod, God’s signature. It leads the eye down to the Hebrew word וישב (the Torah portion in which our story is found) and then to her bracelet. The thumb of her right hand is hidden – she’s holding something back/concealing her “cards”. It’s a kind of hinting at God’s plan being revealed here. A beautiful face and lovely hair, a mesh covers her eyes and a veil her mouth

Judah’s emotional life

By far, the most interesting work that we have uncovered concerning Judah and Tamar is that of Kevin Rolly, who penetrates the emotional life of Judah. This is in contrast to all of the other work, where Tamar is the center of interest.

K. Rolly, The Grief of Judah

K. Rolly, Loss and Deception

K. Rolly, The Penitent Heart

The titles of Rolly’s works are an additional means of commenting on the story. “Loss and deception”, the title of Judah’s intercourse with Tamar, can refer to his story or hers. “The grief of Judah” focuses attention on him; she is marginally present in the picture. In the third painting, “The penitent heart” Judah is humbled as he recognizes Tamar’s justified act.


In all three of Rolly’s portrayals of the story, Judah is the central character. Not only that, but Rolly has great empathy for Judah, showing him buffeted by circumstances and not knowing what to do with his life. Judah is engulfed in loss, needing solace. Tamar is hardly seen, supine, her mouth covered, her voice silenced. Perhaps Rolly is saying that Judah does not recognize Tamar because he is inwardly focused only on his losses. Tamar, according to Rolly, has a burning need to be a mother, so she becomes a vessel to carry the sons to be born to them.


Rolly the artist is also a theologian. He writes in connection with his oilgraphs:

Not until the story completes itself in the centuries to come did all of it become clear. For if one believes in such things, there was a lineage spelled out in a bloodline that began with a man named Abraham and ended with a foretold Messiah. Whether Jesus was the Messiah is not for this story to argue, but his history reached backwards through a litany of names unknown to most - Jacob, Akim, Manasseh, David, Perez....and a woman who just wanted a baby.

The story’s significance

Rolly’s theological musings, prefiguring the coming of a Messiah, bring us back to the curious trio of objects given as pledge to Tamar by Judah. Bereshit Rabba, for example, provides a discussion of the symbolism of the pledge objects.


Thus the Midrash understands all three of the pledge objects as alluding to aspects of the future Messianic leadership of Israel, which will derive from Judah. The seal is the Davidic kingship, the cord is Rabbinic authority and the staff is the Messiah himself.
As mentioned above, the Alba Bible gives a similar interpretation:

La capa significa los dotores con sus capas e honestas rropas e estos son losque llaman entre judio los sanhedrin
The cape [petil] signifies the rabbis with their capes and solemn robes and these are called by the Jews “the Sanhedrin”.

In both cases, the sexual character of the story is deemed insufficient. Concealed behind the sexy story is the story of redemption.


Early on, we asked what this story is doing within the Joseph narrative? The rabbinic understanding of the pledge objects stresses the nation’s divinely sanctioned leadership. When the sale of Joseph into slavery threatens this leadership, Judah becomes the focus. Despite Judah’s less than regal behavior in our story, he becomes the ancestor of King David and the Messiah. The personal fates of Judah and Joseph are intertwined in the divine plan for Israel.

A Handmade Midrash Workshop

Materials: paper, cloth and wood (toothpicks)

Using these items, show/visualize/extract the relationship of Judah and Tamar in three scenes:

Vv 1 – 11, 12 – 23, 24 – 30

How has the exercise influenced your view of their relationships?



Article Sources:

Midrashim and Commentary


Book of Jubilees 41


  1. And in the forty-fifth jubilee, in the second week, (and) in the second year, [2165 A.M.] Judah took for his first-born Er, a wife from the daughters of Aram, named Tamar.
  2. But he hated, and did not lie with her, because his mother was of the daughters of Canaan, and he wished to take him a wife of the kinsfolk of his mother, but Judah, his father, would not permit him.
  3. And this Er, the first-born of Judah, was wicked, and the Lord slew him.
  4. And Judah said unto Onan, his brother 'Go in unto thy brother's wife and perform the duty of a husband's brother unto her, and raise up seed unto thy brother.'
  5. And Onan knew that the seed would not be his, (but) his brother's only, and he went into the house of his brother's wife, and spilt the seed on the ground, and he was wicked in the eyes of the Lord, and He slew him.
  6. And Judah said unto Tamar, his daughter-in-law: 'Remain in thy father's house as a widow till Shelah my son be grown up, and I shall give thee to him to wife.'
  7. And he grew up; but Bedsu'el, the wife of Judah, did not permit her son Shelah to marry. And Bedsu'el, the wife of Judah, died [2168 A.M.] in the fifth year of this week.
  8. And in the sixth year Judah went up to shear his sheep at Timnah. [2169 A.M.] And they told Tamar: 'Behold thy father-in-law goeth up to Timnah to shear his sheep.'
  9. And she put off her widow's clothes, and put on a veil, and adorned herself, and sat in the gate adjoining the way to Timnah.
  10. And as Judah was going along he found her, and thought her to be an harlot, and he said unto her: 'Let me come in unto thee'; and she said unto him Come in,' and he went in.
  11. And she said unto him: 'Give me my hire'; and he said unto her: 'I have nothing in my hand save my ring that is on my finger, and my necklace, and my staff which is in my hand.'
  12. And she said unto him 'Give them to me until thou dost send me my hire', and he said unto her: 'I will send unto thee a kid of the goats'; and he gave them to her, and he went in unto her, and she conceived by him.
  13. And Judah went unto his sheep, and she went to her father's house.
  14. And Judah sent a kid of the goats by the hand of his shepherd, an Adullamite, and he found her not; and he asked the people of the place, saying: 'Where is the harlot who was here?' And they said unto him; 'There is no harlot here with us.'
  15. And he returned and informed him, and said unto him that he had not found her: 'I asked the people of the place, and they said unto me: "There is no harlot here." '
  16. And he said: 'Let her keep (them) lest we become a cause of derision.' And when she had completed three months, it was manifest that she was with child, and they told Judah, saying: 'Behold Tamar, thy daughter-in-law, is with child by whoredom.'
  17. And Judah went to the house of her father, and said unto her father and her brothers: 'Bring her forth, and let them burn her, for she hath wrought uncleanness in Israel.'
  18. And it came to pass when they brought her forth to burn her that she sent to her father-in-law the ring and the necklace, and the staff, saying: 'Discern whose are these, for by him am I with child.'
  19. And Judah acknowledged, and said: 'Tamar is more righteous than I am.
  20. And therefore let them burn her not' And for that reason she was not given to Shelah, and he did not again approach her.
  21. And after that she bare two sons, Perez [2170 A.M.] and Zerah, in the seventh year of this second week.
  22. And thereupon the seven years of fruitfulness were accomplished, of which Joseph spoke to Pharaoh.
  23. And Judah acknowledged that the deed which he had done was evil, for he had lain with his daughter-in-law, and he esteemed it hateful in his eyes, and he acknowledged that he had transgressed and gone astray, for he had uncovered the skirt of his son, and he began to lament and to supplicate before the Lord because of his transgression.
  24. And we told him in a dream that it was forgiven him because he supplicated earnestly, and lamented, and did not again commit it.
  25. And he received forgiveness because he turned from his sin and from his ignorance, for he transgressed greatly before our God; and every one that acts thus, everyone who lies with his mother-in-law, let them burn him with fire that he may burn therein, for there is uncleanness and pollution upon them, with fire let them burn them.
  26. And do thou command the children of Israel that there be no uncleanness amongst them, for everyone who lies with his daughter-in-law or with his mother-in-law hath wrought uncleanness; with fire let them burn the man who has lain with her, and likewise the woman, and He will turn away wrath and punishment from Israel.
  27. And unto Judah we said that his two sons had not lain with her, and for this reason his seed was established for a second generation, and would not be rooted out.
  28. For in singleness of eye he had gone and sought for punishment, namely, according to the judgment of Abraham, which he had commanded his sons, Judah had sought to burn her with fire.



Septuagint translation of Genesis 38


12 Now the days were multiplied, and the wife of Ioudas, Saua, died, and after Ioudas had been comforted, he went up to Thamna to those shearing his sheep, he and his shepherd Hiras the Odollamite. 13 And it was reported to his daughter-in-law Thamar—they were saying—“See, your father-in-law is going up to Thamna to shear his sheep.” 14And taking off from herself the garments of her widowhood, she clothed herself with a light summer garment and adorned herself and sat down near the gates of Ainan, which is on the way past Thamna, for she saw that Selom had become full-grown, yet he did not give her to him as a wife.15 And when Ioudas saw her he thought she was a prostitute, for she had covered her face, and he did not recognize her. 16 Then he turned aside to her from the way and said to her, “Allow me to come in to you,” for he did not know that she was his daughter-in-law. And she said, “What will you give me, if you come in to me?” 17 And he said, “I will send to you a kid of the goats from the flocks.” And she said, “If you give a pledge until you send it.” 18 And he said, “What pledge shall I give to you?” And she said, “Your ring and your small necklace and the staff that is in your hand.” And he gave them to her and went in to her, and she became pregnant by him. 19 And getting up she went away and took off from herself her light summer garment and put on the garments of her widowhood.

24 Now it came about after a period of three months that it was reported to Ioudas—they were saying—”Your daughter-in-law Thamar has played the whore, and see, she is with child by whoredom.” Then Ioudas said, “Bring her out, and let her be burned.” 25 But as she was being brought she sent to her father-in-law, saying, “By the man whose things these are, I am with child.” And she said, “Take note whose is the ring and the small necklace and this staff.” 26 Then Ioudas recognized them and said, “Thamar has been justified rather than I, inasmuch as I did not give her to my son Selom.” And he did not continue to know her any more.



Philo, On the Virtues


  1. (220) This nobleness has been an object of desire not only to God-loving men, but likewise to women, who have discarded the ignorance in which they have been bred up, which taught them to honour, as deities, creatures made with hands, and have learnt instead that knowledge of there being only one supreme Ruler of the universe, by whom the whole world is governed and regulated; (221) for Tamar was a woman from Syria Palestina, who had been bred up in her own native city, which was devoted to the worship of many gods, being full of statues, and images, and, in short, of idols of every kind and description. But when she, emerging, as it were, out of profound darkness, was able to see a slight beam of truth, she then, at the risk of her life, exerted all her energies to arrive at piety, caring little for life if she could not live virtuously; and living virtuously was exactly identical with living for the service of and in constant supplication to the one true God. (222) And yet she, having married two wicked brothers in turn, one after the other, first of all the one who was the husband of her virginity, and lastly him who succeeded to her by the law which enjoined such a marriage, in the case of the first husband not having left any family, but nevertheless, having preserved her own life free from all stain, was able to attain to that fair reputation which falls to the lot of the good, and to be the beginning of nobleness to all those who came after her. But even though she was a foreigner still she was nevertheless a freeborn woman, and born also of freeborn parents of no insignificant importance;


Midrash Rabbah - Genesis LXXXV:2

  1. What precedes this passage? And the Midianites sold him into Egypt (Gen. XXXVII, 36), which is followed by and it came to pass at that time; yet surely Scripture should have continued with, And Joseph was brought down to Egypt (ib. XXXIX, 1)? R. Leazar said: This was done in order to bring two passages of ' descent’ together. R. Johanan said: In order to bring the two phrases discern, I pray thee, together. R. Samuel b. Nahman said: In order to bring the stories of Tamar and Potiphar's wife into proximity, thus teaching that as the former was actuated by a pure motive, so was the latter…

That Judah went down from his brethren. They said: Let us come and make provisions for ourselves [to marry]. Formerly, he [Jacob] took the trouble of arranging marriages for us, but now that he is occupied with his fasting and sackcloth, it is not reasonable that he should arrange marriages for us. Said they to Judah: ' And are you not our leader? Then arise and provide for yourself. Forthwith, that Judah went down, etc. It was a descent for him, for he married a non-Jew; It was a descent for him, for he buried his wife and his sons.


Midrash Rabbah - Genesis LXXXV:4

  1. And Judah saw there the daughter of a certain Canaanite whose name was Shua (XXXVIII, 2). He was a native of that place and a [leading] light of that place.

And she conceived, and bore a son; and she called his name Er - because he was emptied out (hu-arah) from the world.

And she conceived again, and bore a son; and she called his name Onan - because he brought grief (aninah) upon himself. And she yet again bore a son, and called his name Shelah; and he was at Chezib - she ceased [to bear children after this]. And Judah took a wife for Er his firstborn... And Er, Judah's firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the Lord - because he ploughed on roofs.


Midrash Rabbah - Genesis LXXXV:5

  1. And Judah said unto Onan: go in unto thy brother's wife, and perform the duty of a husband's brother unto her : Judah was the first to practise levirate marriage. It was taught : If anything was in the category of the permitted, then became forbidden, and then again permitted, it returns not to its original permitted state but to its final permitted state. Thus a yebamah was in the category of the permitted, then became forbidden, and then again permitted. Lest you think that she returns to her original permitted state, Scripture teaches, Her husband's brother shall go in unto her (Deut. XXV, 5), as a religious duty.
  2. Jose b. R. Halfutha [Halafta] married his brother's [childless] widow, with whom he had intercourse five times but with the use of a sheet, and he planted five plants: R. Ishmael b. R. Jose, R. Eleazar b. R. Jose, R. Menahem b. R. Jose, R.;Halafta b. R. Jose, and R. Abdonimos b. R. Jose. The last-named had dark eyes, like his mother's.

And Onan knew... He spilled it [the seed] - He cohabited naturally but scattered it without. Therefore, and he slew him also.

Then said Judah to Tamar, etc. R. Eleazar said: Though divination is futile, yet a portent may be true. Hence he said: lest he also die, like his brethren.


Midrash Rabbah - Genesis LXXXV:6

  1. And in the process of time : twelve months passed. Shuah's daughter, the wife of Judah, died... And Judah... went up to his sheep - shearers . Wherever shearing is mentioned, it is found to leave its mark.

And it was told to Tamar, saying: behold, thy father-in-law goeth up to Timnah, etc.. Rab said: There were two places of this name, one mentioned in connection with Judah and the other in connection with Samson. R. Simon said: There was but one Timnah. Why then is both ascent and descent mentioned in connection with it? Because for Judah it was an ascent, since he produced kings, whereas for Samson it was a descent, as he married a heathen woman. R. Aibu b. Nagri said: It was like Beth Maon, to which one ascends from Tiberias but descends from Kefar Shobethai.


Midrash Rabbah - Genesis LXXXV:

7. And she put off from her the garments of her widowhood, and covered herself with her veil - Two covered themselves with a veil and gave birth to twins, Rebecca and Tamar. Rebecca : And she took her veil, and covered herself (Gen. XXIV, 65); Tamar: and covered herself with her veil, and wrapped herself.

And she sat in Pethah Enaim. Rabbi said: We have searched through the whole of Scripture and found no place called Pethah Enaim. What then is the purport of Pethah Enaim? It teaches that she lifted up her eyes to the gate (pethah) to which all eyes (enayim) are directed and prayed: ' May it be Thy will that I do not leave this house with nought.’ Another interpretation: It teaches that she opened his eyes by declaring to him: I am pure, and I am unmarried.’


Midrash Rabbah - Genesis LXXXV:8

  1. When Judah saw her, etc. R. Aha said: A man should become familiar with his wife's sister and with his female relations, so as not to fall into sin through any of them. From whom do you learn this? From Judah: when Judah saw her, he thought her to be a harlot; why so? For she had covered her face - while in her father-in-law's house.

Another interpretation: when Judah saw her he paid no attention to her. But since she covered her face he reasoned, If she were a harlot, would she actually cover her face! R. Johanan said: He wished to go on, but the Holy One, blessed be He, made the angel who is in charge of desire appear before him, and he said to him: Whither goest thou, Judah? Whence then are kings to arise, whence are redeemers to arise? Thereupon, and he turned unto her - despite himself and against his wish.


Midrash Rabbah – Genesis LXXXV: 9

9. And he said: what pledge shall I give thee? And she said: thy signet and thy cord, and thy staff that is in thy hand. R. Hunia said: A holy spirit was enkindled within her. thy signet alludes to royalty, as in the verse, Though Coniah the son of Jehoiakim king of Judah were the signet upon My right hand, etc. (Jer. XXII, 24); and thy cord (pethil - eka) alludes to the Sanhedrin, as in the verse, And that they put with the fringe of each corner a thread (pethil) of blue, etc. (Num. XV, 38) and thy staff alludes to the royal Messiah, as in the verse, The staff of thy strength the Lord will send out of Zion (Ps. CX, 2).

and he gave them to her... and she conceived by him - men mighty like himself and righteous like himself.

and Judah sent the kid of the goats. R. Judah b. Nahman quoted in the name of R. Simeon b. Lakish: Laughing in His habitable earth, laughing always before him (Prov.VIII, 31, 30). The Torah laughs at men. The Holy One, blessed be He, said to Judah: ' Thou didst deceive thy father with a kid of goats; by thy life! Tamar will deceive thee with a kid of goats.’


Midrash Rabbah - Genesis LXXXV:10

  1. And it came to pass about three months after, that it was told Judah, saying: Tamar... is with child. Symmachos said in R. Meir's name: Whence do we know that a fetus in its mother's womb is not perceptible until three months? From this verse: and it came to pass about three months after. R. Huna said in R. Joseph's name: This does not actually mean three complete months, but the greater parts of the first and of the last [of the three months] and the whole of the middle one. Furthermore, not only was it reported, and moreover, behold, she is child by harlotry, but the text teaches that she would beat upon her stomach and exclaim, I am big with kings and redeemers. Ephraim Miksha'ah, a disciple of R. Meir, said in the latter's name: Tamar was the daughter of Shem; for it is written, And the daughter of any priest, if she profane herself by playing the harlot... she shall be burnt with fire (Lev. XXI, 9); consequently, and Judah said: bring her forth, and let her be burnt.

Midrash Rabbah - Genesis LXXXV:11

  1. when she was brought forth. R. Judan said: They [the signet, cord, and staff] had been lost, and the Holy One, blessed be He, provided others in their place, the word having the same meaning as in the verse, Or have found that which was lost (Lev. V, 22). R. Huna interpreted: when she was brought forth She and he should have gone forth.

She sent to her father-in-law, saying: by the man, whose these are, am I with child. He wished to deny it, whereupon she said to him: Acknowledge thy Creator in these, for they are thine and thy Creator's.’

Discern, I pray thee, whose are these, the signet, etc. R. Johanan said: The Holy One, blessed be He, said to Judah: ‘Thou didst say to thy father, Discern know] I pray thee (Gen. XXXVII, 32); as thou livest, Tamar will say to thee, Discern, I pray thee.


Onkelos on Genesis 38:14

And she laid aside the dress of her widowhood, and covered herself with a mantle (or a large veil), and adorned herself, and sat in the dividing of Aynin which is in the way to Timnath.


Targum Pseudo-Jonathan on Genesis 38:14

And she put the dress of her widowhood from her, and covered herself with a veil, and wrapped herself, and sat in the dividing of the road where all eyes see, upon the way of Timnath.


Targum Pseudo-Jonathan on Genesis 38:15

For she knew that Shela was grown up, yet she had not been given to him to be his wife. And Jehuda saw her; but she seemed in his face as an harlot,[6] because she had provoked him to anger in his house, and Jehuda did not love her.[TARGUM YERUSHALMI. For she had enwrapped her face.]


Targum Pseudo-Jonathan on Genesis 38:26

And Jehuda, acknowledged and said, Tamar is innocent; she is with child by me. And the Bath kol fell from heaven, and said, From before Me was this thing done, and let both be delivered from judgment. And Jehuda said, Because I gave her not to Shela my son, hath this happened to me. But he added not to know her again.


Rashi on Genesis 38:14

and covered her face: Heb. וַתִּתְעַלָף. She covered her face so that he would not recognize her.

at the crossroads: Heb. בְּפֶתַח עֵינַיִם, lit., at the opening of the eyes. At the crossroads, on the road to Timnah. Our Sages, however, explained it midrashically to mean, at the entrance (פֶתַח) [to the residence] of our father Abraham, which all eyes (עֵינַיִם) looked forward to see. [From Sotah 10a]

for she saw that Shelah had grown up, etc.: Therefore, she made herself available to Judah, for she longed to bear sons from him.


Ibn Ezra on Genesis 38:14

In petah eynaim – the name of a place; there are those who say that two springs were on that road and they formed a passageway through which Judah had to pass on his way home


Radak on Genesis 38:14

In petah eynaim – at a crossroads, a place that was exposed and easily seen by travelers. For she saw – she said to herself, since he (Judah) does not want to give me to his son, she will bear his (Judah's) seed