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Who were the women seducers in Shitim who caused the Jewish people to stray after their gods (Baal Peor), discussed in Parshas Balak and Pinchas?

On the one hand, it seems like the women came from Moav:

  • The story is introduced as (Bamidbar 25:1) וַיָּחֶל הָעָם לִזְנוֹת אֶל-בְּנוֹת מוֹאָב, the nation began to stray after the daughters of Moav

On the other hand, it seems like some (or most?) of them were Midianites:

  • The woman killed by Pinchas, Kozbi bas Tzur, was a Midianite (s.v. 25:6, 25:15, 25:17)
  • Moshe was commanded to kill the Midianties for their role in this event (25:17), and the ensuing war against them requires killing of the women "because of their role in the matter of Peor" (31:16)

So which nation was it?

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Abarbanel has an innovative explanation: these women were Midianties who pretended that they were from Moav, similar to the story (al pi Rashi/Chazal) in Bamidbar 21:1 –  Matt Jul 11 at 14:59
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that sounds like an answer.... –  Shokhet Jul 11 at 15:08
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@Shokhet I'm on a handheld so it's too annoying to look up. I put it there for someone else to quote. Also, before I'd answer I'd check other mefarshim to see what they saw. But feel free to use it yourself! –  Matt Jul 11 at 15:09
    
Note that the Ohr HaChayim brings a possibility that there were many Midianite women as well, and the reason it calls Kozbi Bat Tzur "The Midyanite" is because she was the most important. –  Menachem Jul 13 at 1:44
    
Targum Pseudo Jonathan to the beginning of Balak states that they were part of the same nation up to that point. –  Baby Seal Jul 13 at 14:46

3 Answers 3

Targum Pseudo Jonathan in the beginning of Balak states, (english) that Moab and Midian were a united nation and kingdom up to this point.

Perhaps we can say from this that Moab was an umbrella term for the kingdom as it is mentioned in Chukat as a geographic location. Midian on the other hand was a district within it from which young women were enlisted to seduce the Israelites.

Alternatively, perhaps we could argue that, at least in this range of narrative, the names for this unified nation are interchangeable. This leaves only the question of why they are mentioned at times by one name and at times by another, but that is beyond the scope of this particular question.

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A few answers exist to this question.

  1. First of all, we can reject the assumptions that just because we know of one particular Midianite woman who was involved (i.e. Kosbi bas Tzur), many other Midianite women were also involved, and that the command to attack Midian as opposed to Moav means that Midianite women were more at fault. In fact, the Gemara (Bava Kama 38b) seems to reject this latter assumption, saying that despite the fact that it was the Moavite women who seduced to Israelites, the idea to do so was Bilaam's, and Moav gets off for the sake of Rus. (Though I believe there are still a few difficulties with this approach).

  2. Targum Yonasan writes in the beginning of Parshas Balak that in fact Moav and Midian were the same nation at this point in time. (thanks, @BabySeal)

  3. Abarbanel (25:1, end of Balak) writes that the women were actually Midianites, though when the Israelites saw them, they thought that they were from Moav, which is why the Torah only describes the 'straying after the girls of Moav' from the Jews' perspective. Besides for answering the questions above, Abarbanel also finds it inconceivable that Jewish men would be allowed to marry Moavite women, if the women of Moav were the ones at fault in this story.

  4. Kli Yakar (25:17) answers this question by stating that both the women of Moav and Midian were involved, but the women of Moav were involved only passively; it was the Bnei Yisrael who themselves first seduced the women of Mo'av, so they were not really at fault, but afterwords it was the women of Midian who seduced the Jewish men.

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It seems that there is no conflict with the two ideas. Refer to Avot D'Rav Natan Ch. 1 Mishnah 4 which describes the advice that Balak gave Bil'am.

In brief, just before Bil'am leaves Balak, he advises Balak that the way to defeat B'nai Yisra'el is to provide tents with food and beautiful royal women. This way God will be angry with B'nai Yisra'el. Balak fulfilled that action.

God requested that the war be against Midyan, because Bil'am who was from Midyan was the instigator - he gave Mo'av the advice. Chances are, that Balak would not have done any damage had Bil'am not advised him this way. (After all, he initially called Bil'am because in a sense, he was afraid that he couldn't defeat Israel by just attacking them, as he saw how they defeated Sichon and Og. He thought that Bil'am cursing would at the least weaken them enough so that he could eventually defeat them.)

I should add that when you read the passage from Avot D'Rav Natan, it quotes from Bamidbar 31:15-16. When Moshe talks about "these women", it would appear that he means women from Midyan. In actuality, he is referring to woman from Mo'av who were held captive, as he uses the term "THESE women", implying that he knew exactly who those specific women were. (Translation from Rashi D.H. "Hen Hena" and also bracketed commentary in English translation Of "Avos D'Rebbi Natan by Avraham Ya'akov Finkel.)

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And regarding the war, it seems like Chazal thought that it really should be against Moav too, but they were spared on behalf of Rus (see Bava Kama 38b and other places) –  Matt Jul 11 at 15:53
    
@Matt - OMG! I think Bil'am got to me :-O I edited the names, and I meant to say Rashi vs. Sifsei Chachamim. That was edited in my answer, too. –  DanF Jul 11 at 16:45
    
@Matt - By stating "It seems there is no conflict", I meant to say that the war was essentially against both Mo'av and Midyan. While the commandment was to fight Midyan as a nation, we see at the end, that all the Mo'abite women were killed as well. That 2nd part is not obvious until you read something like Rashi and Avot Rav Natan (among, probably others). But they are explaining Moshe's wording of "THESE ARE" (the same women that caused the problem, meaning Moabite women.) I infer that they were involved in the war B'nai Yisra'el waged against Midyan. They may have lived among them, IMO. –  DanF Jul 11 at 17:02
    
but then the actual answer to the question - the the Moavite women lived among the Midianites - is merely your conjecture. I didn't read your answer closely, I apologize: the Avos dRebi Noson and Rashi do write that they could recognize which women seduced which man. But that just strengthens the question - then these women should be of Moav, not Midian! The Torah specifically says that it was Midianite women who were captured (31:9) –  Matt Jul 11 at 17:20
    
@Matt - You raised a good point! Possible resolution as explained, somewhat, by Rashi in Bamidbar 31:17 explaining the term "every woman who knew a man". Rashi explains that it means every woman who has the ABILITY to "know" a man whether she actually did or not. This was to prevent any further problems, as the Midianites had been influenced by the Moabites. So, you could say that 31:9 says that the men captured Midianite women, not realizing that among them were the same Moabite women who caused the initial problem. It was Moshe who recognized them. That's why he was angry. –  DanF Jul 11 at 18:41

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