The Torah could get around easily without "incriminating" Yehuda, by saying "ויחשביה לזונה" for example or describing that when he's looking for her (with his fellow) he uses this term of a "prostitute - קדשה" extensively, even when talking to the locals.

It could either omit the whole story or simply not mention קדשה or זונה but אשה or similar.

Why is the importance in the Torah's view that the whole Parasha swivel around this concept?

  • 1
    If there's nothing unseemly for Yehuda to admit to as Tamar is being led to her death, what merit would he accrue by admitting to what he did?
    – Josh K
    Dec 2 '18 at 0:11

Rambam points out in Hilchos Ishus 1:4 that at that time it was permitted.

Before the Torah was given, when a man would meet a woman in the marketplace, and he and she desired, he could give her payment, engage in relations with her wherever they desired, and then depart. Such a woman is referred to as a harlot.3

3. The Ra'avad and others differ and maintain that a woman is not considered to be a harlot unless she is a professional prostitute. The difference between this approach and the Rambam's involves only the severity of the prohibition. Both agree that sexual relations outside the context of marriage are forbidden. With regard to a pilegesh, a woman one designates as a sexual partner but who is not consecrated as a wife, see Hilchot Melachim 4:4.

In this case therefore, Yehudah needed to find a woman whose profession was that of קְדֵשָה as only such a woman was permitted at that time. As the Art Scroll commentary introduction to Vayeishev 38:14-23 explains:

Judah's action must be viewed in the perspective of the time in which he lived. As Rambam (Hil. Ishus 1:4) writes, harlotry was permitted in those times - just as non-kosher foods were not forbidden - before the Torah was given. Even though the Patriarchs - and presumably their families - observed the Torah before it was given, they did so voluntarily, so that it was conceivable that where necessary they would act according to the laws that were obligatory at that time. Consequently if the Divine Plan required Judah to cohabit with a "harlot"he would be permitted to do so. [Cf. the case of Jacob marrying two sisters which later Torah law would absolutely forbid].

Thus, once Yehudah attempted to find consolation in the arms of a woman, he could only do so by either marrying (which he felt was not yet proper) of hiring a professional woman. Anything else was forbidden to Bnai Noach at that time.

  • Thank you for the answer. I ment to ask about the importance of stressing that fact. You answered why it was permitted. Even if it was permitted as to Rambam, why Torah had to mention that so many times, when it can omit it completely or saying בערמה.
    – Al Berko
    Dec 2 '18 at 7:46
  • Because it was important to point out that Yehudah was acting in a way that was permitted at the time. Had it not mentioned the fact, then it would have seemed that Yehudah was acting in a forbidden manner. @AlBerko Dec 2 '18 at 15:45
  • Where does the Torah say it was permitted? If it was not mentioning we would think it was in a permitted manner לכתחילה.
    – Al Berko
    Dec 2 '18 at 19:02
  • @AlBerko That is why I cited Rambam. The point is that the Torah has to give the details of the story so we can see what happened. We need to see that it was not just a random woman and that Yehudah had to leave a pledge for payment. Dec 2 '18 at 19:14

Ralbag in his commentary there follows his general practice of listing the lessons derived from the Scriptural narrative. In this case he lists 17 lessons that are derived from the story of Judah. Naturally, if the story would not be told these lessons would be lost.

To be more specific, though, Ralbag identifies a general reason for the inclusion of this narrative at this point in the text:

והנה הפסיק בזה הספור מה שהחל לספרו מיוסף להודיע ההבדל שהיה בין יוסף ויהודה בענין גלוי עריות

And behold it interrupted with this story that which it had begun to tell of Joseph, in order to make known the difference between Joseph and Judah in the realm of illicit sex.

Apparently we are supposed to learn something about proper sexual behavior by contrasting Judah's actions with Tamar and Joseph's actions with the wife of Potiphar. Thus the whole point is, as you say, to "incriminate" Judah.


I believe that the Tora points it out to stress out how desperate Tamar was, How neglecting Yehuda was and how courageous her deed was.

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