Note: This is Zimri that was speared by Phinehas for sleeping with a foreigner.

Wikipedia says that he committed idolatry. However, the Bible only mentions that he slept with a foreign woman. Nothing in Exodus seems to suggest he worshiped a foreign god.

What am I missing?

Looks like he just picked the wrong date or something.

Note: I didn't see the law in Torah prohibiting Israelites from hanging out with foreign women. There could be some vague things against marrying non-Jews, but there is nothing that says you can't hire foreign prostitutes (or date them), for example.


Some people were already being enticed to idolatry via their Moabite girlfriends (Num 25), so idolatry seems to sometimes be intertwined with relations.

More specifically, Sanhedrin 82a brings the following (Soncino translation):

And Moses said unto the judges of Israel, Slay ye every one of his men that were joined unto Baal Peor. Thereupon the tribe of Simeon went unto Zimri ben Salu and said unto him, ‘Behold, capital punishment is being meted out, yet you sit silent [i.e., inactive].’ What did he do? He arose and assembled twenty-four thousand Israelites and went unto Cozbi, and said unto her, ‘Surrender thyself unto me.’ She replied, ‘I am a king's daughter, and thus hath my father instructed me, "Thou shalt yield only to their greatest man". ‘I too,’ he replied, ‘am the prince of a tribe; moreover, my tribe is greater than his [Moses], for mine is second in birth, whilst his is third.’ He then seized her by her coiffure and brought her before Moses. ‘Son of Amram,’ exclaimed he, ‘is this woman forbidden or permitted? And should you say. "She is forbidden", who permitted thee Jethro's daughter’? At that moment Moses forgot the halachah [concerning intimacy with a heathen woman], and all the people burst into tears; hence it is written, and they were weeping before the door of the tabernacle of the congregation. And it is also written, And Phineas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, saw it. Now, what did he see? — Rab said: He saw what was happening and remembered the halachah, and said to him, ‘O great-uncle! did you not teach us this on thy descent from Mount Sinai: He who cohabits with a heathen woman is punished by zealots?’ He replied. ‘He who reads the letter, let him be the agent [to carry out its instructions]’.

According to this source, Zimri not only sought his own pleasure but sought to embarrass and perhaps displace Moshe and, by extension, the leadership structure put in place by God. When Korach tried this he was killed; so too was Zimri.

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  • Actually, looks like Zimri had a good case. Even Moses marry a non jew. So, why Zimri can't? I thought those condemned to death got a fair warning first? A trial perhaps? Also what mistake does Cozbi did? She got rapped, and then she got killed for that? – user4951 May 3 '12 at 10:56
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    @JimThio, Moshe's marriage was before the giving of torah, so he could argue that this is a different case. More importantly, though, my reading of Sanhedrin (and the Rambam quoted in Shmuel's answer) is that while he sinned by sleeping with a foreigner, his primary sin, what warranted death, was the rebellious way in which he did it. This is consistent with Korach and his gang, who also weren't warned per halacha (two witnesses in advance etc). As for Cozbi, where do you get that she was raped? – Monica Cellio May 3 '12 at 13:16
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    @JimThio Also, keep in mind that Moses' wife (according to the Rabbis) was Jewish. She did whatever was required to become Jewish before the Giving of the Torah, and with the Giving, entered into the same covenant that the rest of the Jews did. Cozbi did not. Nor was she raped, as Monica pointed out. – Hod - Monica's Army May 3 '12 at 13:27
  • (Re: the recent edit): There is a web link to the Soncino translation at halakhah.com. – Tamir Evan Dec 18 '18 at 8:44
  • @TamirEvan thanks! I've edited that in so the link matches the quote. – Monica Cellio Dec 18 '18 at 16:49

The Rambam (Maimonides) writes with regards to a man marrying a non-Jewish woman:

When a Jew engages in relations with a woman from other nations, [taking her] as his wife or a Jewess engages in relations with a non-Jew as his wife, they are punished by lashes, according to Scriptural Law. As [Deuteronomy 7:3] states: "You shall not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughter to his son, and do not take his daughter for your son."

This prohibition applies equally to [individuals from] the seven [Canaanite] nations and all other gentiles. This was explicitly stated in Ezra [Nechemiah 10:31]: "That we will not give our daughters to the gentiles in the land and that we will not take their daughters for our sons."

Law 4 discusses the law of living with a non-Jewish woman (in public) without being married:

Whenever a man has relations with a gentile woman in public, i.e., the relations are carried out in the presence of ten or more Jews, if a zealous person strikes him and kills him, he is considered praiseworthy and ardent. [This applies whether the relations were] in the context of marriage or licentious in nature. This matter is a halachah conveyed to Moshe at Sinai. Support for this can be derived from Pinchas' slaying of Zimri.

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  • Is there any actual rule from God saying you can't cohabit with foreign girls? I mean even solomon (shlomo?) do that and get away with it. – user4951 May 3 '12 at 11:02
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    The law quoted by Ramba"m in the above answer says that the incident with Pinchas is the precedent for rulings in such cases. Its inclusion in the Torah, along with Moshe's compliance in the matter teaches us the "actual rule from God". – WAF May 3 '12 at 11:15
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    @JimThio To cohabit (privately) is only prohibited Rabbinically (as a decree to prohibit marriage). See Halacha #2 there. However, doing it it a way that more than 10 people know about it is biblically forbidden and is punishable by excision. – Shmuel Brin May 3 '12 at 17:43
  • Monica says that the issue is Zimri is rebelling against Moshe. Rabam see that the issue is intermarriage. I am confused. It looks like typical case of religious leaders wanting to control their people's sex life and who they can hang out with. The control somehow doesn't apply to Shlomo or other powerful leaders. I am not trying to encourage jews to intermarry (which happened a lot anyway). I am just seeing similar patterns more easily explained as coming from normal political interests rather than God. – user4951 May 30 '12 at 13:25
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    @JimThio: Solomon converted his wives (even if some of them later regressed back to idolatry). Zimri had no such intention. – Alex May 30 '12 at 14:33

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