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In the end of Parshas Balak (Bamidbar 25:8), Pinchas kills an Israelite who was cohabiting with a Midianite woman in front of the Jewish people.

I understand that the Israelite deserved to be killed as per the halacha of בועל ארמית קנאין פוגעין בו, one who cohabits with a non-Jewish woman is open to be struck by a zealous person. However, did the Midianite woman do anything punishable by death? Cohabiting with a Jew is not on the list of Noahide prohibitions.

One possible approach would be to assume that gentiles have a prohibition of "לפני עיוור", causing others to sin. This would require assuming that violation of said prohibition would be punishable by death. However, some (most?) opinions hold that there is no such prohibition for gentiles (see S'dei Chemed Aleph 26:23).

That being the case, why was killing Kozbi (the Midianite woman) justified?

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Idolatry perhaps? Wasn't the big issue the fact that the midianitesses would in the heat of the moment pull out and idol and tell the Israelites to worship it before they cohabited? – Baby Seal Jul 13 '14 at 21:08
Well at least she was guilty of something unlike all the midianite baby boys who had done nothing wrong at all and were later slaughtered along with the rest. As well as any woman who had "known a man" does that mean adulterously or anyone who wasn't a virgin? – CashCow Jan 28 at 12:32
@CashCow What was she guilty of? – yEz Jan 28 at 18:22
The women led the people into serving Avoda Zara. – CashCow Jan 29 at 9:52
@CashCow And what sin is that? A ben Noach does not have an issur of lifnei iver according to most, as I mentioned in my question. – yEz Jan 29 at 19:13

2 Answers 2

up vote 15 down vote accepted

Good question.

Or HaChaim (Bamidbar 25:8) asks the same question, and answers that she had the דין of the animal involved in bestiality -- "ואת הבהמה תהרוגו," "and you shall kill the animal" (Vayikra 20:15).

וידקר את שניהם וגו'. קשה בשלמא דקירת איש ישראל כמשפט ההלכה, שקנאים פוגעים בו, אבל האשה אינה חייבת מיתה ואינה מצווה, ואם על חששת היותה אשת איש לא היתה נהרגת על הספק. ואפשר שדן בה משפט הבהמה דכתיב (ויקרא כ:טו) ואת הבהמה תהרוגו, וכתיב (יחזקאל כג:כ) אשר בשר חמורים בשרם

"And he pierced both of them" -- one might ask, that the piercing of the man makes sense because he sinned and was killed according to the rule of law ("קנאים פוגעים בו"); but why was the woman killed? Her action did not require capital punishment; and if there was a concern that she may have been married to another man, she should not have been killed just due to this concern, because it was in doubt ("ספק").
Maybe she was given the same ruling as the animal involved in bestiality, as the verse says "ואת הבהמה תהרוגו" "and you shall kill the animal."

The footnote in my Mikraos Gedolos Chumash (quoting נר למאור) led me to the Rambam (איסורי ביאה 12:10) who says the same thing [though he leaves כזבי out of the picture, he quotes the later verse that commands the death of all the Midianite women who were involved in this scandal]:

אבל ישראל הבא על הכותית בין קטנה בת שלש שנים ויום אחד בין גדולה בין פנויה בין אשת איש ואפילו היה קטן בן ט' שנים ויום אחד כיון שבא על הכותית בזדון ה"ז נהרגת מפני שבא לישראל תקלה על ידיה כבהמה ודבר זה מפורש בתורה שנאמר הן הנה היו לבני ישראל בדבר בלעם וכל אשה יודעת איש למשכב זכר הרוגו

...she (the non-Jew involved with a Jewish man) is killed because a תקלה (disaster) came about because of her, and she shares the ruling of the animal. This rule is explicit in the Torah [in the verse that commands the deaths of the other Midianite women]

It should be noted that this is only a technical, exegetical comparison, and not a philosophical one -- we don't think that non-Jews are animals. (Kudos to Fred for reminding me to clarify this point.)

All translations my own.

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I actually had this thought. Thanks. – yEz Jul 13 '14 at 21:13
It's worth noting that the Rambam (and the Or HaChaim by extension) is making only a technical, exegetical comparison to the case of bestiality, not a philosophical comparison. (Further, see Magid Mishne, ad loc. who clarifies that what the Rambam means by בזדון is נבעלה במזיד). – Fred Jul 14 '14 at 22:56

Perhaps there was nothing particular about this act that justified her execution. However, it was still justifiable.

The Beis Yosef Y.D 158, followed by the Rema (Darkei Moshe 158:2) and the Shach (158:2) understand, based on Tosefos to Avoda Zara 26a s.v. ולא מורידים, that when the Mishna says אין מורידים, it means that even though your average gentile violates the 7 Noahide laws, there is no mitzvah to kill them, but there is no prohibition. (In fact, Tosefos there feels that not killing them needs to be justified - he brings a verse to source the fact that there is no obligation to kill these violators.)

Midian worshiped Ba'al Pe'or (Bamidbar 25:1-4). So your average Midianite was an idolater. There would therefore be no prohibition to kill them - they are גברא קטילא - dead men walking.

There are concerns of איבה involved (see Tosefos to Avoda Zara 26a s.v. דלא), but I think the hatred was already pretty much in full force here.

In this situation, where Pinchas had a pressing reason to get rid of the Midianite, there seems to be nothing to hold him back. Although generally we would not wantonly execute bnei Noach, here, where there was a pressing reason to do so, he acted upon that allowance.

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a related answer – yEz Jan 29 at 20:53

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