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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 at 21:08

2 Answers 2

up vote 13 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 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 at 22:56

See Midrash Tanchuma - Matot Ch. 3 (also brought in Rashi on Bamidbar 31:6) (- regarding why Pinchas was chosen to wage war with Midyan)

ולמה שלח פנחס. מי שהתחיל במצוה, גומרה. הוא השיב את חמתי והכה את המדינית, יגמור מצותו.

Why was Pinchas sent? The one who began the mitzvah - shall finish it. He turned My anger away by killing the Mideanitess - so he should finish his mitzvah

(Translation and bold mine)

So in addition to the halacha of בועל ארמית קנאין פוגעין בו , it seems that according to Midrash Tanchuma, Pinchas's act - specifically in killing the Mideanitess - was what caused Hashem to stop the plague on the Bnei Yisrael.

So according to this Bamidbar 25:11 would be understood like this:

Phinehas the son of Eleazar the son of Aaron the kohen has turned My anger away from the children of Israel by his zealously avenging Me among them - [by killing Kozbi] - , so that I did not destroy the children of Israel because of My zeal.**

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I'm not following how this answers the question. So why did she deserve to die? –  YeZ Jul 16 at 1:17
You aasked "why was killing Kozbi (the Midianite woman) justified?" - I answered that this is what caused the plague to stop. Isn't that enough of a justification? (or have I misunderstood your question) –  Danield Jul 16 at 6:56
The question was not what good results were there to be had from killing her. The question was why did she deserve to be killed. –  YeZ Jul 16 at 20:16

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