I love Tamar. Not “tamar” as in the Hebrew word for dates but Tamar, as in a star in this week’s parasha, Vayeshev. Tamar’s story is a side-bar to the main story of Joseph and his brothers. The connection is Judah, the second-eldest of Joseph’s brothers. Judah had three sons, and got a wife for son #1. Her name was Tamar. Son #1 died. Judah married Tamar off to son #2, since there were no kids yet. Son #2 died. Tamar was supposed to marry son #3, but he was really young, so Judah sent Tamar back to her father’s house to wait till the little guy was old enough. She trusted him; after all, he was from the powerful family of Jacob.
Tamar never heard back from her father-in-law, Judah, and was getting annoyed at not getting the husband she was promised. She was in marriage-limbo: promised but unmarried, couldn’t marry anyone else, chained to someone else’s decision…and that guy wasn’t budging. She heard that Judah, the decision-maker, was coming to town, took off her “widow-garb” and put on…well, let’s just say she looked like she was open for business down on the Boulevard. Judah took the bait, and for payment, Tamar took a pledge of Judah’s “seal and cord”, kind of like leaving her his wallet and ID. Tamar put her widow clothes back on, and lo and behold, she was pregnant. Tamar got hauled up in front of Judah to be executed because she was a harlot. Just before she was to be killed, she announced, “I am pregnant by the man to whom these belong!” and produced Judah’s stuff. Awkward. Judah recognized the objects and called off the execution, saying Tamar was right, since Judah hadn’t held up his end of the bargain by giving her son #3 to wed.
Tamar was given a system in which to live, and when it failed her, she challenged it, bent it to her will, made it work for her, took a big risk, and won. Gital Dodelson is doing the same thing now, but she hasn’t succeeded yet. You can read her story here. Basically, Gital is 25, living in New York, and has a young son. Her ex-husband, though civilly divorced from her, refuses to give her a get, a Jewish divorce. He comes from a very powerful family in the community and knows he can keep Gital in perpetual limbo as an agunah (a chained woman) by withholding her divorce. The plight of the chained women is finally getting some attention from the Orthodox community, though not from those who actually have the power to free women like Gital. Yet. Still, more and more Orthodox leaders are getting involved, and we can only pray they will come to a solution.
In the meantime, and given that the system and how it’s failed her, Gital has taken her story to the press, the internet, to anyone who will listen. She is calling out her ex-husband, Avrohom Meir Weiss, the way Tamar bravely called out Judah. Judah was enough of a man to know he had wronged Tamar, and publically acknowledged her claim. She saved her own life, was able to move on, and never had to deal with Judah again. I only wish the same for Gital, and the other Tamars like her.