Contents Calendar Find Reference
Navigating the Bible
Genesis Chapter 38
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50

Judah and Tamar
38:1 Around this time, Judah left his brothers. He became friends with a man of Adullam by the name of Chirah.
38:2 There Judah met the daughter of a merchant named Shua. He married her and came to her.
38:3 She became pregnant and had a son. He named the child Er.
38:4 She became pregnant again, and had another son. She named him Onan.
38:5 She gave birth once again to a son, and she named him Shelah. [Judah] was in Keziv when she gave birth to [this child].
38:6 Judah took a wife for Er his first-born, and her name was Tamar.
38:7 Judah's first-born Er was evil in God's eyes, and God made him die.
38:8 Judah said to Onan, 'Marry your brother's wife, and thus fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to her. You will then raise children to keep your brother's [name] alive.'
38:9 Onan, however, realized that the children would not carry his name. Therefore, whenever he came to his brother's wife, he let [the seed] go to waste on the ground, so as not to have children in his brother's name.
38:10 What he did was evil in God's eyes, and He also made him die.
38:11 Judah said to his daughter-in-law Tamar, 'Live as a widow in your father's house until my son Shelah is grown.' He was putting her off because he was concerned that [Shelah], too, would die like his brothers. Tamar left and lived in her father's house.
38:12 A long time passed, and Judah's wife, the daughter of Shua, died. Judah sought consolation, and he went to supervise his sheep shearers in Timna, together with his friend, Chirah the Adullamite.
38:13 Tamar was told that her father-in-law was going to Timna to shear his sheep.
38:14 She took off her widow's garb, and covered herself with a veil. Thus disguised, she sat at the entrance of Twin Wells (Eynayim) on the road to Timna. She had seen that Shelah had grown, and she had not been given to him as a wife.
38:15 Judah saw her, and because she had covered her face, he assumed that she was a prostitute.
38:16 He turned aside to her on the road, not realizing that she was his own daughter-in law.

'Hello there,' he said. 'Let me come to you.'

'What will you give me if you come to me?'

38:17 'I will send you a kid from the flock.'

'But you must give me something for security until you send it.'

38:18 'What do you want for security?'

'Your seal, your wrap, and the staff in your hand,' she replied.

He gave them to her and came to her, making her pregnant.

38:19 She got up and left, taking off her veil and putting her widow's garb back on.
38:20 Judah sent the young kid with his friend the Adullamite in order to get the security back from the woman, but [his friend] could not find her.
38:21 [The friend] asked the local people, 'where is the religious prostitute? She was near Twin Wells (Eynayim), alongside the road.'

'There was no religious prostitute here,' they replied.

38:22 He returned to Judah and said, 'I could not find [the woman]. The local men said that there was no sacred prostitute there.'
38:23 'Let her keep [the security],' replied Judah. 'We don't want to become a laughingstock. I tried to send her the kid, but you couldn't find her.'
38:24 Some three months passed, and Judah was told, 'Your daughter-in-law has been behaving loosely. She has become pregnant from her looseness.'

'Take her out and have her burned,' said Judah.

38:25 When she was being taken out, she sent [the security] to her father-in-law with the message, 'I am pregnant by the man who is the owner of these articles.' [When Judah came to her,] she said, 'If you would, identify [these objects]. Who is the owner of this seal, this wrap, and this staff?'
38:26 Judah immediately recognized them. 'She is more innocent than I am!' he said. 'She did it because I did not give her to my son Shelah.' He was not intimate with her anymore.
38:27 When the time came for her to give birth, there were twins in her womb.
38:28 As she was in labor, one of them put out an arm. The midwife grasped it and tied a crimson thread on it. 'This one came out first,' she announced.
38:29 He pulled his hand back, and then his brother came out. 'You have asserted yourself with such pushiness (peretz)!' she said. [Judah] named the child Peretz.
38:30 His brother, with the crimson thread on his hand, was then born. [Judah] named him Zerach.


became friends with...
  See Genesis 38:12,20. Others, 'He camped around until he came to....' (Redak).

  This is a city some 41 miles south of Shechem, and 11 miles northwest of Hebron. It is identified with Tel esh-Sheikh Madhkur. See Joshua 12:15, 15:35, 1 Samuel 22:1, 2 Samuel 23:13, Micah 1:15, Nehemiah 11:30.

  He was the foreman of Judah's shepherds (Genesis 38:12; Tzava'ath Yehudah 8:1). From the expression, 'his name was Chirah,' we see that he was a righteous person. There is a tradition that whenever the expression, 'his name was,' precedes the actual name, the person in question was righteous (BaMidbar Rabbah 10; Esther Rabbah 6:2).

  Some say that her name was Alyath (Sefer HaYashar, p.126). Other sources give her name as Bath Shua (Yov'loth 34:20; cf. 38:12; 1 Chronicles 2:3).

  (Targum; Pesachim 50a; Rashi). Literally, a 'Canaanite.' The word 'Canaanite,' however, is used to denote a merchant; see Isaiah 23:8, Hosea 12:8, Zechariah 14:21; Proverbs 26:24, Job 40:50. It can come from the word kana, meaning to drive down and hence denote a bargainer or haggler (Ramban; Radak, Sherashim). The Holy Land may have thus been known as the 'Land of Canaan' or 'Trade Land' because it was on the trade route from Mesopotamia to Egypt.

Others, however, say that Shua was actually a Canaanite (Saadia; Ibn Ezra; Sefer HaYashar, p. 126; Yov'loth 34:20). See 1 Chronicles 2:3 (Targum; Malbim ad loc.).

  Shoa is a nation in Babylonia (Isaiah 22:5, Ezekiel 23:23), and if he was not a Canaanite, this may have been his place of origin. The expression, 'his name was Shua' would indicate that he was a righteous man (Sekhel Tov; see note on Genesis 38:1). Some say that he was king of Adullam (Tzava'ath Yehudah 8:2).

  Most probably Akhziv or Achziv (Joshua 15:44; Micah 1:14) or Kezeba (1 Chronicles 4:22), a town some 3 miles southwest of Adullam. It is identified as Tel el-Beida.

  Literally a 'palm tree.' This is a name that would recur in David's family (1 Samuel 13:1), since he was a descendant of Tamar (see note on Genesis 38:29). Since it says 'her name was Tamar,' we see that she was righteous. Some say that she was from Aram Naharaim (Tzava'ath Yehudah 10:1; Yov'loth 41:1).

duty of a brother-in-law
  Yibum in Hebrew; see Deuteronomy 25:5; Ruth 1:15. Some say that this was instituted by Judah (Bereshith Rabbah 85).

You will then...
  Literally, 'you will then raise up seed for your brother.'

  On the basis of what his father had told him (Sekhel Tov Yov'loth 41:5). Other sources indicate that his mother did not want him to have children by Tamar (Tzava'ath Yehudah 10:6).

let the seed go to waste...
  It is from here that all the discussions regarding birth control and masturbation are derived (Yevamoth 34b; Niddah 13a; Bereshith Rabbah 85).

putting her off
  (Rashi; Sefer HaYashar, p. 128). Literally, 'he said.'

  A city 4 miles northeast of Adullam, now known as Tibna. See Joshua 15:57, 2 Chronicles 28:18.

  Twin Wells or Twin Springs or Eyes. Some identify Eynayim with Enam in Joshua 15:34. See Genesis 38:21, where it is also referred to as Eynayim. Others say that it denotes two wells with a gate between them (Ibn Ezra), or a fork in the road by a well (Rashi). Others interpret it as 'open eyes,' and state that it denotes an open, visible place (Rashbam; Radak; cf. Targum; Lekach Tov; Sekhel Tov).

covered her face
  It was the custom for sacred prostitutes to cover their faces (Ramban; Bachya). Ancient sources describe this as being like a wreath of string covering the head and face (Herodotus 1:199).

  See note on Genesis 38:21.

  Pethilah in Hebrew. This is alternatively translated as a cloak (Targum; Rashi), a belt (Saadia; Rashbam), a hood (Radak), or the special shawl worn by aristocrats (Ramban; cf. Tzava'ath Yehudah 12:4). Ancient sources note that in the Middle East, people usually wore a long tunic reaching to the feet, with a short white cloak thrown around them, and besides this, people would always carry a seal and a walking stick with an elaborately carved top (Herodotus 1:195). The pethilah would then be the white cloak. Other sources indicate that the seal and string (pethilah) were to bind the sheep, and the staff was the shepherd's crook (Sekhel Tov).

religious prostitute
  Kedeshah in Hebrew. See Deuteronomy 23:18 which seems to indicate that the pagan custom was to use the hire of such prostitutes for sacrifice. The kedeshah is also associated with sacrifice in Hosea 4:14. See Numbers 25:1,2. Ancient sources state that among the Amorites it was a custom that girls would have to sit seven days as prostitutes before being married (Tzava'ath Yehudah 12:2; cf. Herodotus 1:199; also see Kethuboth 3b). Judah had no interest in her as a sacred prostitute, and, therefore, above (Genesis 38:15), the word zonah denoting a simple prostitute, is used.

  It seems that there was no legal justification to burn her, but Judah was using the discretionary power given to the courts to prevent immorality by imposing particularly harsh punishments (Mizrachi; Or HaChaim; cf. Ramban; Sanhedrin 46a). Moreover, if it were the prescribed penalty, how could Judah later refrain from imposing it? Some say that Judah was punishing her for undermining the morality of the Israelites (Yov'loth 41:17), or as revenge (Tzava'ath Yehudah 12:5). According to other sources, 'burning' here denotes branding and not a death penalty (Tur).

When she was being taken out...
  (cf. Yov'loth 41:18; Rashbam). Alternatively, 'She sent word to her father-in-law, 'I am pregnant by the man who is the owner of certain articles.' She said, 'Please identify them...' '

crimson thread
  See Exodus 25:4.

  He was the ancestor of King David; see Ruth 4:18-22. Compare note on Genesis 19:36. See 1 Chronicles 2:5, 2:9 ff.

  Literally, 'shining forth.' See 1 Chronicles 2:6.

Copyright © 2000 World ORT
Notice: This computer program is protected by copyright law and international treaties. Unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this program, or any portion of it, may result in severe civil and criminal penalties, and will be prosecuted to the maximum extent possible under the law.