Joy’s thoughts about writing Judah and Tamar
What grabs me about the Judah and Tamar story is why such a short tale packs such a huge wallop and yet rarely gets discussed in depth.
I mean, here is rape, murder, deception and incest in the Bible, as well as many other dark subjects, yet few people seem to want to talk much about it. Sure, these are terribly uncomfortable subjects, but getting dark secrets out into the open allows wounds to heal…for anyone…in any era.
In this case, we have the “original dysfunction family,” of which Judah is an integral part, and Tamar, who plays a pivotal yet scandalous role in his character development.
Tamar is fascinating. Without her, Judah, or Yehuda, would most likely not have made choices that eventually facilitated the healing of his dysfunctional family. She is a powerful female figure whose true strength exemplifies how history can be changed by focusing on what one can do rather than what one cannot do, even when doing so challenges just about every societal norm, viz, seducing your father-in-law and getting pregnant by him.
In the Judah and Tamar story, we also have a group of women whose husbands, fathers and sons have been brutally murdered by members of the “original dysfunctional family.” Yet, I see nothing written about what happens to those women.
Oh, people quote what the Genesis account says about them, which is simply this: “They [the sons of Jacob] took their flocks and their herds and their asses, and that which was in the city and that which was in the field; and all their wealth, and all their little ones and their wives, took they captive and spoiled, even all that was in the house.” (Genesis/Bereishis) 34:28-29)
Ick! No wonder no one wants to talk about what happens to them.
But does this ugly subject mean that we should ignore them and simply let them disappear into an unmentionable history?
When Michael and I were reading this story together, Tamar’s voice and the voices of those women seemed to shout at me: “Give us a voice!”
Judah and Tamar, along with the “original dysfunctional family” and the Sh’chem women are incredibly delicious characters who change the course of Middle Eastern history, which, in turn, changes the history of the world.
When I first realized the powerful messages inherent in the story, I felt like a bolt of lightning had struck me. Michael and I were in the same room reading the story of Judah and Tamar, so after the “bolt” hit me and I started talking about the incredible potential for writing a great novel, the energy in the room exponentially increased and he…well, his perspective is below.
Michael’s thoughts about writing Judah and Tamar:
In Judaism there is a tradition of reading the Torah (The Five Books of Moses) every year beginning at the Jewish New Year, which is Rosh Hashannah. Each week during the year, a new portion (called a Parashah} of the Torah is read, and it’s the same Parashah all over the world. So every Jew reads the same thing, and this reading is done on Saturday, which is the day of the week celebrated as the Jewish Sabbath (Shabbat in Hebrew).
The ninth Parashah (which is read on the ninth week after starting over for the New Year) is called Vayeshev, which means “…and he lived” in Hebrew. That refers to the first words of the portion being read; in this case referring to Ya’kov living in the land of Canaan. That’s where it starts in Genesis (Bereishis in Hebrew, meaning “in the beginning”, the first words of the Torah), at Chapter37, Verse 1 and ends in Chapter 40, Verse23.
One Shabbat day, Joy and I were reading this parashah and came across Chapter 38 of Genesis, which is entirely devoted to the story of Yehuda and Tamar. In fact. it is the only interruption in the narrative story of Yosef which runs from Genesis 37:1 all the way to 50:26! This set it apart and made it somehow deeply significant to the whole story of the Patriarchs.
It is such an enigmatic story, filled with lust, deceit and betrayal that all works towards something good, life-affirming and redeeming. It struck us right away as an important piece in the puzzle of who we are as human beings and what our lives mean in the grand scheme of things. And the more we explored the story and the lives of this family, the more intrigued we became.
It set us deeper into the past, examining the story before the events in Chapter 38 and the surrounding chapters after as well. We discovered that this is a pivotal story in the history of all the peoples of the three great Western faiths. It deserved a new retelling, and from a modern point-of-view, because it is as much a modern story as an ancient one, and we could see ourselves as humans, striving to find a better way to deal with each other.
And so, we started to tell the story anew, to and for ourselves. Now it’s your turn to hear it too, like you’ve never heard it before.