The Observant Astronomer

The passing scene as observed by an observant Jew, who daylights as an astronomer.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Yehudah's Precocious Progeny

According to the simple reading, the story of Yehudah and Tamar takes place after Yoseph is sold down the river. Twenty-two years later, the Bnei Israel follow him down to Egypt. In those twenty-two years, the following events take place, more or less sequentially.

1. Yehudah marries Bat-Shua.
2. She bears three sons: Er, Onan, and Shelah.
3. Er grows up and marries Tamar.
4. Er dies.
5. Onan marries Tamar, and dies.
6. Some time passes while Tamar waits for Shelah to grow up. Meanwhile, Bat-Shua dies and Yehudah is consoled.
7. Eventually Tamar realizes that, while Shelah is now old enough to marry her, Yehudah has no intention of giving him to her, or vice versa. So, she arranges to "meet" Yehudah at the crossroad.
8. Peretz and Zerach are born 7 months later.
9. Peretz grows up.
10. Peretz fathers Hezron and Hamul.
11. They all go to Egypt.

The chronology here is difficult. In a period of 22 years, there has to be time for two generations (Er/Onan/Shelah and Peretz) to grow to marriageable age and father children. At maximum, they could be 11, but they must have been younger than this.

Lets be as generous as possible. Assume all pregnancies last seven months and Bat-Shua becomes pregnant again immediately after giving birth. Then there are two years for step 2. We know Peretz and Zerach are premature, and lets assume Hezron and Hamul were also, and twins to boot, so this is another ~14 months. Now assume the "many days" in Bereishit 38:12 is another year, so there are 18 years available for both Shelah and Peretz to grow up. Split it between them and they are, at most, 9 years old. Let Shelah be a more reasonable 13, and Peretz was 5 when he went down to Egypt with his two sons.

Lets look at this from another angle. How old were Er and Onan when they were punished by Hashem? According to the reasoning above they couldn't have been older than Shelah. But, according to Rashi at the beginning of Chayei Sarah, one is not liable to punishment until the age of twenty! So, 14 months for Er and Onan to be born, 20 years for Onan to be liable to punishment, 7 months for Peretz to be born, and the 22 years are used up before Peretz is out of diapers.

So, ignore the simple meaning of 38:1, and perhaps Yehudah got married before Yoseph was sold. At that time Yehudah was about 21. (He's Leah's fourth son, and Yoseph was born 7 years after his parent married, so Yehudah can't be more than about 4 years older.) They'd been back in Canaan for 11 years at this point (17 years less the 6 years Jacob worked for the sheep). Now Yehudah was 10 when they left Lavan, so give him a couple of years to grow up and marry and we have still have Peretz fathering children at 9 or younger.

If we put aside that Rashi, and assume marriages and punishment at 13, and premature babies, then I think things can be squeezed into the 33 years:
Yehudah to reach 13 and marry: 3 years
Three sons born: 2 years
Shelah to grow up: 13 years
Tamar denied Shelah: 1 year
Tamar's pregnancy: 7 months
Peretz to grow: 13 years
Fathers premature twins: 7 months
Total: 33 years, 2 months
but it remains difficult. And, anyway, how would Rashi reconcile it?


Blogger Rebeljew said...

If Yosef was 17, how could Yehudah be 10? Yehuda was older.

I would say as follows:
3 sons born: 2 years
Shelah to reach minimum age of yibum, ie 9 years old: 9 years
Until Peretz born: 1 year
Peretz to reach minimum age of marraige: 9 years
Fathers 2 sons, allowing that they might be twins (though there is no reason to say that): 1 year

And our game is made in 21 years. At least, b'dochek gadol. This dismisses some very difficult questions, such as:

1) Why did Er and Onan get the death penalty from heaven at 9 years old? They were not yet mchuyav.
2) No mefaresh reconciles the years this way, as far as I know.

10:48 p.m., December 26, 2005  
Blogger The Observer said...

Yehuda was 10 when the family got back to Eretz Canaan. Yoseph was then 6. And your sum is 22, which still just barely fits.

11:48 a.m., December 27, 2005  
Blogger Mar Gavriel said...

It seems to me that the list in Vayyiggash actually includes a few individuals who were born in Egypt, for some reason or other. (Probably because they later became progenitors of Israelite clans.)

This way, the years work out quite well:

Year 0: Yehuzo sells Yôsêf, and goes to `Azullom. He meets Bas-Shua`, and marries her.
Year 1: `Er born.
Year 2: Onon born.
Year 3: Shêlo born.
Year 19: `Er marries Tomor, and dies. Onon marries Tomor, and dies.
Year 20: After a year, Tomor gets pissed that Shêlo hasn't been given to her, so she tricks Yehuzo into getting her pregnant.
Year 21: Peretz and Zerach born.
Year 22: Everyone goes down to Egypt.


Year 48: Chetzrôn born.
Year 53: Chomul born.

1:41 p.m., December 27, 2005  
Blogger Rebeljew said...

I still do not understand how Yosef was 6 and not 17. Agadah says specifically that Yosef was 17. From whence that Yehuda was 10?

Mar Gavriel

Your pshat here dodges the plain meaning. It says the sons fo Pretz went down to Egypt. From whence that they were not yet even born?

12:12 a.m., December 30, 2005  
Blogger The Observer said...

I'm distinguishing two cases. The first, where Yoseph is 17 and Yehudah 22 is for the Yehudah & Tamar story taking place after Yoseph is sold. The second is on the assumption it takes place before. On leaving Lavan Yoseph was 6 and Yehuda 10.

9:53 a.m., December 30, 2005  

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