The second book of Samuel Chapter 13 is home to one of the most disturbing of our ancient narratives.
King David’s son Amnon is infatuated with his half-sister Tamar, so his friend Jonadab helps him plan a way to defile her.
Feigning sickness, Amnon summons her to his room to care for him. He takes Tamar and rapes her while she protests.
She pleads with him to marry her instead of taking her by force, to no avail. Tamar leaves his room and puts ashes on her head, in mourning.
The text shares that, after this encounter, Amnon’s loathing for Tamar is stronger than his original lust for her. Years later, Tamar’s brother Avshalom will take Amnon’s life for what he did.
The Talmud attempts to answer numerous questions about the text. In this discussion, the Talmud shares that Amnon hated Tamar because, while he was raping her, she tied one of her hairs around Amnon’s genitals severing his penis.
Some Talmudic rabbis argue that Tamar did this purposely, while others argue that it happened unintentionally. They also engage in a discussion around secluding men from women that are forbidden to them.
Both the original Torah text and the Talmud are very challenging in their objectification of women and their perpetuation of systems of gender power.
Neither shares the voice of Tamar, she is given no advocacy in this narrative.
There is an element of victim blaming in accusing Tamar of severing Amnon’s genitals, an assumption that Tamar must have done something to cause Amnon’s hatred.
Setting up systems of seclusion to keep a man from engaging in forbidden sexual relations, without facing gender violence and its damage, excacerbates systems of gender privilege and power.
Our ancient texts remind us of our history of gender violence and encourage us to advocate for gender equality and healthy relationships.
Rabbi Elana Dellal is a member of the rabbinic team at The Liberal Jewish Synagogue