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In Bereshis 38:28 Zerach puts his hand outside the womb first and the midwife ties a string on it saying "this one came out first". However in Bechoros 8:1 (46a, et passim) it indicates that only putting the head or the majority of the body is enough to achieve Bechor status.

I realize that the pasuk doesn't necessarily have to be resolved with the gemarah, one could explain the discrepancy by saying that the midwife was ignorant of the halacha (assuming the tribes abided by some sense of halacha before the Torah was given).

However, it does appear that Peretz is treated as the Bechor In which case there should be a reason that the Torah tells us what the midwife did. I am curious if any commentaries address and explain this.

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  • The Ohr HaChaim seems to ask and answer your question, but I have no idea what he is trying to say:על ידו שני לאמר. פי' נצנצה במילדת רוח הקודש ועשתה ולא ידעה מה עשתה, היא קשרה על ידו שני וזה רומז כי הוא שני לא ראשון אבל היא אמרה כי זה יצא ראשונה, והוא אומרו לאמר זה יצא ראשונה פי' היא אמרה כן אבל כפי האמת להיפך יגיד שם הסימן כי יש אם למסורת – Danny Schoemann May 10 '15 at 13:43
  • the Ibn Ezra also says something, but it doesn't seem to answer your question: ויתן יד. האחד מהם ולא נזכר שמו כי עוד לא נקרא. גם אלה במעשה פלא שנבקעו השליות יחד והשיב זה ידו ויצא אחיו – Danny Schoemann May 10 '15 at 13:44
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The simple answer to the question posed in the title is Zerach was never called the bechor nor treated as one in the pasukim. The midwife was simply indicating what came out of the womb first, ie in this case a hand.

There can be any number of reasons that this is significant, such as determining when the woman has become tamei. See Sefas Emes on the gemarah cited by the OP and Rambam hilchos issurei be'ah chapter 4. Note the issur of sleeping with a woman who is menstruating may apply to non-Jews as well.

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  • It wouldn't matter which one was the first for that. – user6591 May 10 '15 at 15:31
  • @user6591 it would because if the hand went back in (and it did) then it may not be clear later on at what point she began her status as a niddah – rikitikitembo May 10 '15 at 15:54
  • Pretty sure psichas kever would not depend on this. But if you have a source otherwise, please share. – user6591 May 10 '15 at 16:38
  • @user6591 it does, see sources I cite in my answer – rikitikitembo May 10 '15 at 21:50
  • i don't see what you see referring to in the Rambam. – user6591 May 10 '15 at 23:26

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