Monday, May 19, 2014

teaching the story of Yehudah and Tamar

We are up to the story of Yehudah and Tamar with 10 yo. I might have chosen to approach this whole issue with trepidation. But I didn't. I already told him the story a few years ago on a walk to shul, so he knew the basic outline. Now, I did not remember which details I told him and which I left out, but I also know that he spent enough time reading Chumash to have stumbled onto this little bit on his own.

We were up to the pesukim where Tamar removes her widow's garb, wraps up in a scarf and covers her face and Yehudah thinks her a prostitute. I made sure that he knew that Yehudah was not married at this point, that Torah is not given (10 yo brought up an issue of kosher food for Tamar to find at the crossroads), and that Tamar feels that she is still married to this family. 10 yo thought that Tamar must have looked like a hippie, wrapped in scarves. I smiled at the image.

My next stumble was that word "zona" (prostitute). He has no concept of what it means, so just telling him the word and expecting him to parrot it back did not make sense. I said that a man could pay a woman to have sex with her one time, without any expectation of marriage, and that is what happened here. 10 yo: either Yehudah was very rich, or Tamar was very poor. I said that she was still bound to the family, and she was expecting to get married to Shelah, which she saw was not happening. I made it clear that Tamar did not do this for money. 10 yo said, like Ruth, she also went and found the man she was supposed to get married to. I got excited and asked him to remind me about Ruth at the end of the perek; I don't think he realizes that this little story with Tamar is connected to Boaz. 10 yo got all off track, talking about how Ruth was from Midian. I said, semi-annoyed, she was not from Midian. He corrected that she was from Moav and Moav is related to Yehudah. I was eager to get back on track, and I was not sure whether this whole sidetracking was to avoid this uncomfortable topic. Then I realized that he forgot where Moav came from, so I found those pesukim. He said, oh yeah, Lot and his daughters. And suddenly, a new pattern emerged.

The Jewish monarchy seems to emerge from daring, even blatantly propositioning and decidedly immodest acts of three women: older daughter of Lot seducing her father, Tamar seducing her father-in-law, and Ruth, how do we put it delicately, "uncovering the feet" of Boaz. Lot's daughter gives birth to Moav ( Me Av, from my father). Tamar gives birth to Perez, the ancestor of Boaz. Ruth, a descendant of Moav, unites with Boaz, a descendant of Tamar, to give birth to Davidic dynasty, and, ultimately, Moshiach. From such daring and "coarse" women the light of the world is destined to shine.

Why not from Sorah, the modest tent-dweller? Why not from Tziporah, Moshe's wife? Why does David come from these brazen women? Dovid himself is not exactly a picture of piety and modesty, wrestling lions, waging battles, getting Batsheva. Yet he is "the sweet singer of Israel", and the most famous Jewish king.

Perhaps, for these women it was a matter of seeing an opportunity and taking matters into their own hands. Perhaps these were the women of action, forever altering the course of history. Perhaps we should model our daughters after them instead of passive-aggressive Rachel and Leah.

And perhaps there is nothing unseemly in explaining the actions going on in Tanach instead of hoping that we can skirt the issue and our kids will learn the story "somewhere else, sometime later, from a morah/rebbe".

1 comment:

  1. I wouldn't call Leah Passive-Aggressive. Jumping in front of her sister, learning their secret signs and deceiving Yaakov to save herself from marrying Esav is actually pretty bold. But I might be partial to my name-sake :). But I agree, I babysit often for a living and I do find that many of the girls are passive aggressive and manipulative, and little princess. When we are God willing blessed with girls, I think I'd rather if they were stronger personalities and able to relate to the world in a less feministic and less helpless way.