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Biblical Twins

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JewishTreats.org

Today is “Twins Day.” Twins have long been a source of great fascination for many, as demonstrated by the vast number of studies and stories that have used twins as their subject. Twins, however, do not seem to be a subject that fascinates the Torah, but more of a parenthetical note when they occur. In fact, only two sets of Biblical twins are mentioned by name.

Esau and Jacob, the famous fraternal twin sons of Isaac and Rebecca, were different from the moment of conception (according to the Midrash, they even struggled with one another in utero). At the moment of birth, when Jacob grabbed Esau’s heel as if trying to prevent Esau from being the firstborn, their differences were already palpable: Esau was red and hairy, Jacob was smooth. Their different personalities were marked from the start. It was no surprise that Jacob grew to be a scholar while Esau became a hunter.

The story of Jacob and Esau is one of the best known Biblical stories. Esau sold his firstborn birthright to Jacob. Isaac wished to bless Esau, but Rebecca arranged that Jacob would receive the blessing (most appropriately, since Esau had sold him that right). Thus their enmity was set for eternity.

The other twins mentioned in the Torah are Peretz and Zerah, the sons of Tamar and Judah. Similar to Jacob and Esau, these twins also struggled to be born first. The Torah relates that as Zerah’s hand was the first to emerge from Tamar’s womb, the midwife quickly marked it with a red string. But the arm was drawn back and the other baby, Peretz, emerged first. Nothing more is known about Peretz and Zerah themselves. However, Peretz is mentioned as the forefather of Boaz, the great grandfather of King David.

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

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