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The Fall and Rise of Judah

Now it came about at that time that Judah was demoted by his brothers, and he turned away until [he came] to an Adulamite man, named Hirah. And there Judah saw the daughter of a merchant named Shua, and he took her and came to her. [Genesis 38:1-2]
The Torah has just told us of the harrowing story of Joseph, hated by his brothers, thrown into a pit full of snakes and as an act of mercy sold to the Ishmaelites for 20 pieces of silver.
Then the story pauses. Instead, we get the downfall of Judah, fourth son of Jacob and Leah and until now regarded as the leader of the 12 brothers. It was Judah who urged his siblings not to kill Joseph, rather sell him and be rid of him for good.
Joseph was not seen by his family. But his presence lay heavy. Jacob was constantly fasting in mourning for his favorite son. The eldest, Reuven, was fasting for having switched his father’s marital bed and incurring his anger. And Judah, who seems to have only wanted to stop a murder, couldn’t take the reproach of the others: “Had you told us to let him go we would have listened.” In other words, it’s your fault.
And Judah leaves the northern Canaanite town of Dotan and heads south, looking for a home in every face he sees. He ends up in Adulam and meets somebody named Hira. Then he marries the daughter of a Canaanite man, something the patriarchs warned against throughout the previous 200 years. The text remains silent.
But the commentators are divided. Some insist that the son of Jacob would never marry a Canaanite. But others, including Rav Saadia Gaon, the 10th Century sage, say simply “Canaanite is Canaanite.” The text appears to support the latter’s interpretation as Judah’s three sons and wife, the victims of G-d anger, die — leaving him alone with a widowed daughter-in-law Tamar.
The next part of the story confounds those who see Judah as righteous. He leaves for Timnah in the south with his kemosabe Hira to shear their flock. On the way, Judah stops off to have sex with an anonymous harlot who turns out to be Tamar — not exactly biblical behavior. For Judah, this is the low point.
Henry Kissinger, who died last week at age 100, took a similar route. He grew up in a traditional Jewish family in Germany and arrived in New York at age 15. Within a few months, he wrote, he had turned from an “idealist” to a “skeptic.” He didn’t see himself as a Jew rather an American, with a passion for the Giants baseball team. He soon left his high school sweetheart Anne for the US Army, where his German and clear prose made him a perfect fit for counter-intelligence in his native land.
Kissinger was a quick study. He might never get rid of his accent — although his younger brother Walter did — but he could shed everything Jewish. As he rose from being a protege to Nelson Rockefeller to the White House, Kissinger always made sure to be the loudest antisemite in the room. The persecution of Jews was essentially their fault. He opposed US support of Jewish emigration from the Soviet Union. In fact, he protested against American intervention for any Jew. He called those Jews who cared about their brethren “self-serving bastards.”
“The emigration of Jews from the Soviet Union is not an objective of American foreign policy, and if they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern,” Kissinger told then-President Richard Nixon in March 1973. “Maybe a humanitarian concern.”
Like Judah, Kissinger thought to cap his career by marrying a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant, or WASP. In 1974, soon after he became secretary of state, Kissinger wedded Nancy Maginnes, his former student at Harvard and from an elite New York family. Rockefeller lent his private jet for the honeymoon. The wedding, Kissinger felt, would put pay to his former heritage, which he attributed to an “accident of my birth.”
Kissinger didn’t seem to have much naches from Nancy. They never had children. From the day of their marriage, she suffered from ulcers that also put her several times in the hospital, one of them for the removal of her colon. He was away all the time.
Still, Kissinger’s career rolled on after his stint in government. He maintained his image as the man who couldn’t stand Jews — even opposing the US Holocaust Museum, claiming it would “reignite antisemitism.” He no longer needed Rockefeller’s money, turning superrich as the ultimate lobbyist for governments and corporations everywhere. One of his last visitors was Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
The Midrash says G-d spared Judah because of his place in Jewish history: He would be the ancestor of King David and the Messiah. It was Tamar, sentenced to die for becoming pregnant with a strange man, who brought Judah back to his family and faith. “She is right…,” Judah said when presented with Tamar’s evidence that she had been abandoned. The strange man who had impregnated Tamar turned out to be Judah himself at the crossroads to Timna. Tamar gave birth to twins and Judah’s new life began.
For anybody who knows Jews, the woman has the last word. Tamar was no exception. When she saw the first of the twins she understood that a breakthrough had taken place. Judah would return to lead his brothers. He would establish the Jewish monarchy forever. Kissinger would not have understood.
“With what strength you have strengthened yourself!” Tamar said. “And he [Judah] named him Peretz.” [Genesis. 38:29]
About the Author
Steve Rodan has been a journalist for some 40 years and worked for major media outlets in Israel, Europe and the United States. For 18 years, he directed Middle East Newsline, an online daily news service that focused on defense, security and energy. Along with Elly Sinclair, he has just released his first book: In Jewish Blood: The Zionist Alliance With Germany, 1933-1963 and available on Amazon.
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