Bereisheet (Genesis): Vayeishev > Ch 38

Judah has 3 sons: Er, Onan & Shelah

  • Judah was demoted by his brothers. He came to an Adullamite man, named Hirah. There he saw the daughter of a merchant named Shua. He took her for a wife and she bore 3 sons for him: Er, Onan and Shelah. Judah was in Chezib when she gave birth to Shelah.

Judah gives Tamar for a wife to Er, then to Onan. Both Er and Onan die for their evils

  • Judah took a wife for Er, named Tamar. Er was evil in the eyes of the Lord and the Lord put him to death. So Judah asked Onan to take his brother's wife and perform the rite of the levirate to raise up progeny for his brother. But Onan purposely wasted his seed every time, in order not to give it to his brother. This was evil in the eyes of the Lord, and He put him to death also.

Judah promises Shelah to Tamar but does not give him to her

  • Judah asked Tamar, to remain a widow until his son Shelah grows up, so that Shelah would not die like his brothers. After many days, Judah's wife died. His son Shelah grew up but Judah did not give him to Tamar. One day Judah and his friend Hirah went to Timnah to shear his sheep. When Tamar learned of this, she covered her face and waited for Judah on the road to Timnah. She pretended to be a harlot and he took her. She took his signet, cloak, and staff until he would pay her the next day but when Judah tried to pay, she wasn’t there.

Tamar tricks Judah into giving her a son

  • Three months later Tamar was found pregnant from harlotry and Judah sentenced her to be burned. But Tamar brought out Judah’s things saying "From the man to whom these belong I am pregnant". Judah recognized his things and Tamar was saved. Judah did not continue to have relations with her.

Tamar bears twins: Perez & Zerah

  • Tamar bore twins. During birth the first baby stretched his hand out and the midwife bound a crimson thread on his hand. But the hand drew back and his brother emerged. The midwife said, "With what strength you have strengthened yourself!" Judah named him Perez. Afterwards, his brother emerged, the one upon whose hand was the crimson thread, and he named him Zerah.

Rashi Commentary

  • Your signet, your cloak Heb. וּפְתִיל‏ ֶחֹתָמ‏ְ [Onkelos renders:] עִזְקָת‏ ָוְשׁוֹשִׁיפ‏ָ. Your ring, with which you seal, and your cloak, with which you cover yourself.

Research & Analysis
  • Tamar means ‘date palm’, a name that suggests strength, food, shade, and life
  • Judah means ‘give praise to G-d’
  • Perez means ‘he who pushes through’, the one who breaks through a wall
  • Zerah means ‘scarlet'
  • Onan means ‘the virile one’; in the circumstances, it is an ironic name