12 Facts About Judah we Should all Know By Menachem Posner
Art by Sefira Lightstone.
1. He Was the Fourth Son of Jacob and Leah Leah, the first of Jacob’s four wives, was the mother of six of his 12 sons. After Judah was born, Leah did not have children for a while,1 having her final two only after Bilhah and Zilphah each gave birth to two sons.2 Read: The 12 Tribes 2. His Name Means “Praise” or “Admit” When Judah was born, Leah declared “This time, I will praise the L‑rd!”3 and named her baby Yehudah, which is commonly Anglicized as Judah. The word can be translated as “thank,” or “admit,” and also gave us the common name for our people: Yehudim in Hebrew, and Jews in English. Read: What Is the Meaning of the Word ‘Jew’? 3. He Suggested Selling Joseph Jacob’s favorite wife, Rachel, eventually had a son, Joseph, who became his most beloved child.4 This ignited his elder brothers’ jealousy, and they plotted to kill him and threw him into a pit, . When an Ishmaelite caravan passed by, Judah said, “What will we gain by killing our brother and covering up his blood? Let’s sell him to these Ishmaelites rather than lifting a hand to our brother who is our own flesh.”5 Read: Did Jacob Ever Discover What the Brothers Had Done? 4. He Left the Clan Other than Joseph, who was forcibly taken to Egypt, Judah is the only one of the 12 brothers who (temporarily) moved away from the clan, having lost standing in their eyes due to the horrible deed they committed at his suggestion.6 5. Two of His Sons Died Young Judah married the (anonymous) daughter of a man named Shua, with whom he had three sons: Eir, Onan, and Selah. Eir married a woman named Tamar, who then married Onan after Eir died. When Onan died too, Judah was slow to allow her to marry his third son, fearing he would die as well.7 Read: Why Would Tamar Marry Three Brothers? 6. He Conceded to Tamar Tamar knew that she was destined to be the progenitor of the special offspring who would be born to Judah’s family. She therefore dressed up as a harlot and tempted Judah (whose wife had passed away) to be with her. When her pregnancy became visible, Judah ordered that she be burned. After she demonstrated to him that she was impregnated by him, Judah admitted that she was right.8 7. Judah and Tamar Had Twins Tamar gave birth to twin boys. One child extended his hand first, and a crimson cord was tied around it. He was named Zerach (“shine”). The other twin was actually born first, and he was named Peretz (“break through”).9 Read: Tamar’s Twins 8. He Took Responsibility for Benjamin When hunger plagued Canaan, Jacob sent his older sons to Egypt to purchase food, not knowing that the high-ranking Egyptian official they were dealing with was actually Joseph, whom they did not recognize. He did not send Benjamin, Rachel’s second son, fearing that he would be harmed. They eventually ran out of food and needed to return to Egypt, but Jacob refused to send Benjamin until Judah took personal responsibility for his safe return.10 Read: 12 Facts About Benjamin 9. He Stood Up to Joseph Joseph framed his brother, Benjamin, planting a silver goblet in his grain sack as a pretext for detaining him in Egypt. Judah bravely stood up to him, risking his life to save his little brother, coming full circle from how he had treated Joseph many years earlier.11 Read: Why Judah Finally Lost His Cool 10. He Founded a Yeshivah Hearing Judah’s words, Joseph’s bravado melted and he revealed his identity to his brothers, inviting them to bring the entire clan to Egypt.12 As Jacob prepared to make the trip, he sent Judah to scout ahead. The sages say Judah’s task was to prepare a yeshivah, where Torah would be studied.13 Read: A Yeshivah in Egypt 11. His Father Compared Him to a Lion Before Jacob passed away, he shared final words of blessings with each of his sons. In Judah’s blessing, he compared his son to a lion, using the term gur, which refers to an agile young lion.14 Read: The Crouching Lion 12. His Descendants Were Kings Jacob also declared that “the scepter will not depart from Judah,” fortelling that his descendants, the royal House of David, would rule from the era of the kings, through the exile (when they became the exilarchs in Babylon) all way to Moshiach, who is also a descendant of David.15 FOOTNOTES
2. Genesis 30.