By Rabbi Ellen Dannin for Jewish Reconstructionist Communities
Tamar and Judah
There is so much wonderful meat for discussion in the Joseph story that it is easy to skip or skim the story of Judah and Tamar - or of Tamar and Judah - to get back to the next installment of Joseph in Egypt. Even when read with care, it is not an easy story. Briefly, Judah, fresh from telling Jacob that Joseph has been killed, marries a Canaanite woman and has three sons, the eldest of whom, Er, marries Tamar. Er is killed by God for some unstated fault. Tamar is then married as a levirate widow to Onan, the next eldest, who, is killed by God because he, well, commits onanism to keep Tamar from having a child who will be Er's heir and who will then get the first born's inheritance. Judah refuses to marry Tamar to Shelah, the youngest, for fear she is bad luck. Tamar is sent to her father's house on the excuse that Shelah is not yet old enough to marry.
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