Jews are the people of [the] book, but I'm more a person of movies. I'm trying to visualize the stories in the Torah, like directing a movie and I find it difficult with some.

In our story there are some facts that all interpreters I read seemingly ignore :

  1. The Jewish camp was situated at least a couple of miles from other nations borders. So if the men wanted to go out that would be a time-consuming adventure, not mentioning the danger (they could be killed one by one).

  2. The camp was pretty packed (a couple of millions on a couple of square miles area). So it's improbable that the Moabite women came straight to the camp either.

  3. All men (at least the tens of thousands that were killed) were grown-ups, most married with children. They should have been sexually satisfied (פת בסלו) and morally restrained by their families.

I can't imagine a real (non-metaphorical) situation where tens of thousands of Jewish men can simultaneously have long-lasting affairs with gentile women.

Did anyone explain how that was possible?

  • 3
    The Torah explains explicitly וקרא לך ואכלת מזבחו
    – Double AA
    Commented Jul 21, 2019 at 1:34
  • I too always visualize. Whenever I read Torah it evokes imagery in my head. And regarding questions of how events in biblical times played out, I've came to accept that it is not exactly necessary for me to see the details as of now. However, the episode was not just about sexual relations with the moabite women. It was about bowing down to their idol (which according to commentaries was worshipped by defecating in front of it). Yet again, after the golden calf, some people of our tribe decided to disappoint haShem. A hero (Pinchas) came forth and put an end to this period of degeneracy
    – user16556
    Commented Jul 21, 2019 at 11:46
  • @DoubleAA Please elaborate on who called whom to where? And where did all the thousands go?
    – Al Berko
    Commented Jul 21, 2019 at 12:16
  • @Anonymous This is exactly what happens when you re-read Torah passages - sometimes they simply don't make sense. When there was a miracle, let it be a miracle, but when the Torah says it wasn't an explanation is required.
    – Al Berko
    Commented Jul 21, 2019 at 12:36
  • 2
    It's not a riddle. It's just a bad question.
    – Double AA
    Commented Jul 21, 2019 at 13:11

2 Answers 2


The Medrash Rabba explains the story like this:

עָשׂוּ לָהֶם קְלָעִים וְהוֹשִׁיבוּ בָּהֶם זוֹנוֹת וּבִידֵיהֶן כָּל כְּלֵי חֶמְדָה, וְהָיְתָה זְקֵנָה יוֹשֶׁבֶת מִבַּחוּץ וּמְשַׁמֶּרֶת לַיַּלְדָה שֶׁהָיְתָה לִפְנִים מִן הַחֲנוּת, כְּשֶׁיִּשְׂרָאֵל עוֹבְרִין לִטֹּל חֵפֶץ בַּשּׁוּק זְקֵנָה אוֹמֶרֶת לוֹ בָּחוּר אִי אַתָּה רוֹצֶה כְּלִי פִּשְׁתָּן שֶׁבָּא מִבֵּית שְׁאָן, וְהָיְתָה מַרְאָה לוֹ וְאוֹמֶרֶת לוֹ הִכָּנֵס לִפְנִים וְתִרְאֶה חֲפָצִים נָאִים, הַזְּקֵנָה אוֹמֶרֶת לוֹ בְּיוֹתֵר, וְיַלְדָה בְּפָחוֹת, מִכָּאן וָאֵילָךְ אוֹמֶרֶת לוֹ יַלְדָה הֲרֵי אַתָּה כְּבֶן בַּיִת שֵׁב בְּרֹר לְעַצְמְךָ, וְצַרְצוּר יַיִן מֻנָּח אֶצְלָהּ וַעֲדַיִן לֹא נֶאֱסַר יַיִן שֶׁל גּוֹיִם, נַעֲרָה יוֹצְאָה מְקֻשֶּׁטֶת וּמְבֻסֶּמֶת וּמְפַתָּה אוֹתוֹ וְאוֹמֶרֶת לוֹ לָמָּה אָנוּ אוֹהֲבִין אֶתְכֶם וְאַתֶּם שׂוֹנְאִין אוֹתָנוּ, טֹל לְךָ כְּלִי זֶה חִנָּם, הֲלוֹא (בראשית מב, יא): כֻּלָּנוּ בְּנֵי אִישׁ אֶחָד, בְּנֵי תֶּרַח אֲבִי אַבְרָהָם, אֵין אַתֶּם רוֹצִים לֶאֱכֹל מִזִּבְחוֹתֵינוּ וּמִבִּשׁוּלֵינוּ, הֲרֵי לָנוּ עֲגָלִים וְתַרְנְגוֹלִים שַׁחֲטוּ כְּמִצְוַתְכֶם וְאִכְלוּ, מִיָּד מַשְׁקַתּוּ הַיַּיִן וּבוֹעֵר בּוֹ הַשָֹּׂטָן, הָיָה נִשְׂטֶה אַחֲרֶיהָ, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (הושע ד, יא): זְנוּת וְיַיִן וְתִירוֹשׁ יִקַּח לֵב, וְיֵשׁ אוֹמְרִים בִּלְעָם צִוָּה אוֹתָם שֶׁלֹא לְהַשְׁקוֹתָם, שֶׁלֹא יִדּוֹנוּ כִּשְׁתוּיֵי יַיִן אֶלָּא כִּמְזִידִין. כֵּיוָן שֶׁהָיָה תּוֹבְעָהּ אוֹמֶרֶת לוֹ אֵינִי נִשְׁמַעַת לָךְ עַד שֶׁתִּשְׁחַט זֶה לִפְעוֹר וְתִשְׁתַּחֲוֶה לוֹ, וְהוּא אוֹמֵר לַעֲבוֹדַת כּוֹכָבִים אֵינִי מִשְׁתַּחֲוֶה, וְאוֹמֶרֶת לוֹ אֵין אַתָּה אֶלָּא כִּמְגַלֶּה עַצְמְךָ,

To summarize: The Moabites set up a marketplace with all desirable goods, put an old lady outside and a young lady in the booth. When the Jewish men came to buy, they offered better deals inside the tent. He went in and she started talking to him... gave him wine to drink...and began to seduce him.

  • 1
    This is also in sanhedrin 106 IIRC Commented Jul 21, 2019 at 15:59

The time frame is a bit tight, but the picture I get is that the Jews were camped outside of Moav for a while, and developed some trading relationship, which extended to building friendly relationships. Therefore had open and known interactions, and no one had to sneak out for a nighttime adventure.

The interactions were probably in Moav, or in the open areas outside of the Moavite towns.

Your third question is more interesting, but it is really a separate question, about the "why" and not the "how".

I understand this story as being about the challenges of re-entering secular society after a period of religious development. The Jews had a 40 year period of isolation where their religious state was able to develop, but now its time to leave the isolation, and transfer that religious growth to a non-protective environment (entering the Land of Israel).

Many people can handle living in a isolated holy environment without to much trouble (yeshiva, charedi community), but they do not know how to handle constant exposure to a secular environment. They have a particularly hard time when first leaving the protective environment and trying to adjust to the new stimuli for the first time.

In the story of Bnos Moav the Jews experience a re-entry shock, which is given to them as a relatively small event to prepare them before they actually leave their isolation completely. The challenge here is because of the novelty of the situation, the desire to let go of the intense religious state, connect to "normal" life. It was not a test of everyday sexual desire. It was a test of how well they can maintain their state without a supporting environment, and it was meant to prepare them before they would completely be out of their supporting environment.

  • Thank you I appreciate your effort. 1. We're talking about tens of thousands of Jews sneaking out. Not "some trade relations". When half the tribe goes missing serious question must be asked. 2. I didn't ask why, I asked specifically HOW did they do that? Where did they do that? What did others do when half the tribe goes astray?
    – Al Berko
    Commented Jul 21, 2019 at 11:08
  • Forgot to mention the distance - while standing on a mountain Bilam was able to see only a portion of the camp, so I presume the distance was at least a couple of miles. Don't forget the blessing עם לבדד ישכן.
    – Al Berko
    Commented Jul 21, 2019 at 11:34
  • distance is not an issue her, people in nomadic societies walk quite a bit. going a few miles for trade and socializing is not a big deal.
    – simyou
    Commented Jul 21, 2019 at 12:01
  • I didn't mean they couldn't, after all, they walked out of Egypt, it just was a time-consuming and very tiring, it's not something you can do on your way to Beis Midrash, for example.
    – Al Berko
    Commented Jul 21, 2019 at 12:19
  • @AlBerko "We're talking about tens of thousands of Jews sneaking out ... When half the tribe goes missing serious question must be asked". According to Bamidbar 25:9, only 24,000 died in the plague resulting from the incident. According to ibid. 26:51, 601,730 were counted in the census taken thereafter. That would mean less than 4% of population died then. Were are you getting the idea that "half the tribe goes missing"?
    – Tamir Evan
    Commented Jul 21, 2019 at 17:42

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .