The Levirate Law in the Biblical Story of Tamar

Satisfactory Essays
The law of the levirate was a standard male-centered practice in ancient Israel. It also was the only way that Tamar could ensure her dependent status within her late husband’s family and evade the shame of returning home. The WBC explains her predicament precisely, “Even more anomalous is the young childless widow who has no hope of becoming a fruitful member of her husband’s clan once the husband is dead. Indeed, she has altogether lost her tie with that clan. Yet she, like the barren wife, no longer belongs in her father’s household.” So even though the law of the levirate was superficially misogynistic, it benefited women almost, if not more than men (WBC 25).
After two of Judah’s son’s died while married to Tamar, he was especially wary of subjecting his youngest and last remaining son to the misfortune of Tamar so he commanded her to “Remain a widow in [her] father’s house until [his] son Shelah [grew] up” (NRSV 50). Tamar returned home with nothing to show for her loss of virginity, making her less than nothing status-wise. It is apparent that Judah has no intentions of letting Tamar marry his son Judah, therefore defying the law of the levirate and effectively sealing Tamar’s fate.
Tamar took matters into her own hands at this point. When she heard that Judah would be passing her town to go shear his sheep she posed as a prostitute and solicited sex from him with intentions of becoming pregnant. In exchange she was to be paid a sheep, however, as collateral she took his signet ring, its cord, and his staff, which were all marked with Judah’s seal (WBC 26). Tamar, now impregnated, resumed her position as widow and was nowhere to be found when Judah returned.

This is point at which her dichotomous situation is most apparent. It is obvious that Tamar accepted the levirate policy; this submission was the only way she knew how to regain her status. However, as it was designed, the execution of the policy was in the hands of the father. Judah was not following through and Tamar took her salvation into her own hands. Her acceptance only went so far, she was willing to accept her submissive status as a possession of Judah’s clan because it was guaranteed. In the desperate position that she was forced into Tamar made the decision to subversively regain her guarantee.
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