On what basis did Judah have the right to sentence Tamar to be burned (Genesis 38)? What capital offense did she commit?


2 Answers 2


Her trial was done by the fact that she was obviously pregnant and it was known that she had not married the son of Yehuda. Thus, as the daughter of a priest who had committed znus she was subject to being burned.

Rashi Vayeishev 38:24

and let her be burned: Ephraim Miksha’ah said in the name of Rabbi Meir: She was the daughter of Shem, who was a priest. Therefore, they sentenced her to be burned. [From Gen. Rabbah 85:10]

Ramban says that she was judged guilty of מורדת במלכות and מבזה את אביה הכוהן which allowed Yedudah (as the מלך) to decree her punishment

Ramban Vayeishev 38:24

אך כמבזה את המלכות ועל כן כתוב ויאמר יהודה הוציאוה ותשרף כי באו לפניו לעשות בה ככל אשר יצוה והוא חייב אותה מיתה למעלת המלכות ושפט אותה כמחללת את אביה לכבוד כהונתו

  • 1
    Is a bat kohein shomeret yavam chayevet sereifah? Is being pregnant in general sufficient evidence of znus? How do we know she wasn't raped? How do we know she was warned?
    – Double AA
    Commented May 10, 2020 at 15:10
  • 1
    In the pshat it seems that the problem was that she was betrothed or at least promised to Shelah and went and committed znut - the pregnancy was simply an indicator of this fact. So it's more like אשה מאורסה שזינתה.
    – Harel13
    Commented May 10, 2020 at 15:13
  • @DoubleAA I added the Ramban who disagrees with this and gives his own reason. I accidentally posted this before I added the Ramban. Commented May 10, 2020 at 15:14
  • @Harel13 Ramban says that a shomeres yibum is not subject to misah and gives a different pshat. Commented May 10, 2020 at 15:15
  • @sabbahillel even before Matan Torah? That is what we're dealing here - don't forget that there are Canaanites involved in this story. This is shomeret yibum according to Canaanite laws...
    – Harel13
    Commented May 10, 2020 at 15:29

None. Baal HaTurim says "burning her" meant branding, not execution.

If we accept Baal HaTurim's premise that the practice pre-Sinai was to punish failure-to-keep-the-family-name-alive with branding, i.e. permanent humiliation, you can see how the Torah instituted a far less extreme form of that with chalitzah -- a public shaming, with no corporeal punishment.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .