Ahavas Sholom – an Historic Landmark and Sacred Space

Newark's Last Remaining Synagogue born of the Great European Migration at the turn of the 20th Century

145 Broadway, Newark, NJ 07104
Phone: 973-485-2609 | Email: cahavassholom@optimum.net


Simon Says, December 16, 2022

In this week’s Torah portion, Vayeshev, Judah married his older son, Er, to Tamar.  Er died, and Judah arranged a levirate marriage for Tamar with his middle son, Onan.  Onan died, and Judah told Tamar to wait in her father’s house until Judah’s youngest son, Shelah, was old enough for a levirate marriage. 

After many years, Tamar saw Shelah was grown but Judah had not yet arranged her levirate marriage with Shelah.  Tamar had heard that Judah was going to Timnah (תִמְנָ֖תָה).  Tamar disguised herself as a prostitute on the road to Timnah, and she engaged in levirate, sexual relations with Judah.

The word Timnah תִמְנָ֖תָה occurs four[1] times in the Tanach, thrice in Vayeshev, once in the Book of Judges, Chapter 14, verse 1, which says, “Once Samson went down to Timnah; and while in Timnah he noticed a girl among the Philistine women.  On his return, he told his father and mother, “I noticed one of the Philistine women in Timnah; please get her for me as a wife.”

When Samson returned to Timnah, he encountered a lion, and he tore a lion apart.  A year later, Samson returned to Timnah to get married, and he saw the skeleton of the lion.  In the skeleton was a beehive and honey.  That is the set-up for the riddle from Chapter 14, verse 14.

There are no coincidences in the Tanach.  The Ishmaelite caravan, that took Joseph to Egypt, carried gum, balm, and ladanum, and Joseph’s brothers took balm, gum, and ladanum (along with other spices) with them on their second trip to Egypt.  I was long intrigued by the references to Timnah in both of the stories, and I discovered an article by Mahri Leonard-Fleckman that should illuminate the connection between the stories.

Timnah is in Shephelah, a region situated between the highlands to the east and the coastal plain to the west.  It is near the Philistine cities of Gath and Ekron, but a bit west of Judah’s western border.  Thanks to its location between both geographical and political boundaries, Timnah served an area where different peoples and cultures could mix and interact.    Leonard-Fleckman says, “Timnah’s placement within the narrative is intentional, its setting essential for these two characters [in the Judah and Tamar story] to intermingle outside the appropriate social boundaries and structures.  It is somewhere around Timnah where questionable sexual and cross-cultural activity can occur momentarily.”  In both stories, Samson and Judah-Tamar, “Timnah becomes the locus of strange engagements between different groups.  In both contexts, a woman stands at the center of these interactions.”

Leonard-Fleckman does not cite evidence that supports his thesis, but he cites Timnah was Philistine dominated, and Tamar placed herself on the road to Timnah and Samson traveled to Timnah.  The stories conjure an esoteric and erotic environment.  Both stories have an element in deceit (Samson’s riddle and his wife’s telling the Philistines the solution to the riddle, and Tamar’s disguising herself as a prostitute), but both stories have a different ending:  Judah declares Tamar was more righteous than Judah, and Samson kills many Philistines.

[1] Doctor Mahri Leonard-Flecker in his article, “Judah Meets Tamar ‘On the Road to Timnah,’” says nine times תִמְנָ֖תָה appear in the Tanach.  Five times the translations are “in Timnah.”  I don’t have an expertise of Hebrew grammar, except the five exceptions are locations, not directional.