Adult Tora – The Story of Jacob’s Son Juda

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When Juda’s son Ger died, he left behind a young widow named Tamar. In Jewish law a brother is asked to step in and produce at least one male heir in the name of a late sibling and take the widow as his wife. Juda had two more sons who could fulfill this sacred duty: Onan and Shela.


By the time of Ger’s death, only Onan was old enough to marry his brother’s widow. So Juda asked him to take her. Everybody saw him visit her again and again, but no child was born. He must have been damn good because Tamar kept silent about the reason. Onan contraceived with coiti interrupti. This is where the word onanism (German: Onanie) comes from.


The Lord did not like that Onan betrayed his late brother Ger and let him die. Juda became superstitious and thought Tamar was cursed and all his sons would die if they slept with her. He still promised her to become a mother with Shela when he had grown up. Until then, she could live in their home as a widow.


When a religiously devout pornostar plans to turn this plot into a “grrrrrrrrr” rated movie, he must now play this tawdry All by Myself song.

“When I was young, I never needed anyone. And making love was just for fun. These days are gone.”

Shela grew up to become a man and Tamar waited in vain to be courted. One day Juda’s own wife Shua died. Once the grief faded he left the home to shave the wool of his sheep. Tamar saw her chance, removed her widow garments and wore fresh clothes and a face veil. She followed Juda and intercepted him on an arc of the road.


When he saw her, he believed that she were a whore because she had her face covered. This was before ladies with veils believed that unveiled women were whores. It is hard to say what she did with her voice, but maybe the pelt-up lust was strong enough for Juda to forego all cautions. I mean, he must have been really, really needy. He offered her a goat. But because he was not yet on the meadow and had no animal with him, she asked for some securities until he could pay: his seal, his thread and his walking stick.


Tamar knew that she wouldn’t receive a goat. Back home she put on her widow attire again. The man who was sent out to deliver the goat could not find her on the arc. She got what she wanted. The Lord let her conceive. After three months people noticed her pregnancy and accused her of prostitution. They were upset and told Juda about it.


Without a nation with police, rule of law and due process, a patriarch is expected to dole out penalties. Juda granted that they take her outside the village and burn her to death. Tamar, however, told them that it was Juda who had sired what she carried. As a proof she showed the seal, the thread and the walking stick. Juda saw that it was he, and not her, who was unjust. She was acquitted and redeemed.


As it turned out she bore male twins. When the first child stuck his arm out, the maid knotted a red thread on his wrist. But the arm retracted again and the other twin was born first.


This is a huge cliff-hanger. However, the story of the twins Perez and Serach is not picked up again in the Tora. Or is it?


I assume that Perez is Jacob and Serach is Esau and we have just read an earlier legend of their background. Juda is his grandfather Isaac. All legends about birthright rivalry between twins are usually placed inside the Jacob-Esau framwork. It is interesting that the scribes decided to move the story down the family tree. Is it because Isaac was the only Patriarch left who wasn’t morally tainted? The Lord used to be referred to as “Isaac’s fear.” It is possible that his high esteem shouldn’t have been compromised with a sultry whore story. The cleaned version only holds that Rebekka was barren and the Lord listened to Isaac and opened her womb again. As a price she bore twins who already fought in her womb and the Lord told her that they would spawn two rivalling nations, one dominating the other. However, for the sheer number of tribes Genesis had to fit in names and at least Perez comes up as an ancestor of King David again. Serach is also the patriarch of a tribe, but one that remains on the fringes for the rest of the bible and history in total.


Tamara Wilhite Added Nov 21, 2018 - 6:13pm
My understanding of the story is that this is the primitive form of guaranteeing a widow old age support. That she married into the family, so they're obligated to give her a child to take care of her in old age.
There was certainly the economical aspect - by making her marry another relative of the dead man's family, it kept his property willed to her in the family.
Benjamin Goldstein Added Nov 23, 2018 - 12:55pm
Very good analysis of a tribal system. I agree. But it is also a bit kinky and I wonder whether that is one of the laws that might have never been really in place. My personal understanding is that there are probably a number of symbolic laws in the bible that were purely legend. As you say, a woman was inheriting property. A woman also had the right to divorce. I think Judaism has always been a culture of strong women. So I wonder how many women really chose to ask her brother in law to oblige giving his late sibling an heir. She was free to divorce so she was also free to choose a man to her liking. On the other hand, some hardship might have driven her to go for him because the market is darth and in few cases there is actual love.
Tamara Wilhite Added Nov 24, 2018 - 1:53pm
The "keep the property in the family" ethos can be seen elsewhere such as encouraging the only surviving female child of a family to marry a male cousin or kinsman to keep the property within the family.
Or the recommendation that female cousins marry male cousins when there isn't a son to inherit the father's property.

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