The census in Bamidbar 26 is directed thus:

Take the sum of all the congregation of the children of Israel, from twenty years old and upward, by their fathers' houses, all that are able to go forth to war in Israel.'

In reporting this census, the torah tells us about women three times, where I would expect either zero (women don't go to war) or many more (despite any gender disproportions). The three cases are: the daughters of Tzelophehad; Serach bat Asher; and Yocheved and Miriam. Rashi says nothing about the first, points out that Serach is still alive (she also went into Egypt), and talks about Yocheved's conception but says nothing about why she and Miriam are mentioned here.

Are these women mentioned here just because they're the only "named" women we know about, so they're included out of a sense of completeness? Or did these women have some role in the planned conquest that calls for their mention here, in a pre-conquest census?

  • 3
    +1. Just to point out that we don't have the listing of 600K names, just the families. So we don't know that they were personally included in the count. It could be they are listed because they are a famous part of the family tree.
    – Double AA
    Commented Jul 11, 2012 at 23:09
  • @DoubleAA, that could be. The sections usually end "these are the families of $tribe, $number", so that would seem to mean that everyone listed explicitly is included, but it could be "obvious" that the numbers don't include the women so the torah doesn't say so. Or not, hence the question. Commented Jul 12, 2012 at 0:48
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    Now that I look again, I doubt most of the people listed were counted at all. They are almost all the direct children of the 12 brothers. They probably died long before. It has been over 200 years since they came down, and most (all?) of them were part of the 70 who originally descended. So I suggest again that these names are points on the family tree, not people who were counted.
    – Double AA
    Commented Jul 12, 2012 at 0:55
  • @DoubleAA, sounds like an answer to me.
    – msh210
    Commented Jul 12, 2012 at 16:42
  • @msh210 I had been hoping to find a source before posting, but it seems like there isn't much out there.
    – Double AA
    Commented Jul 12, 2012 at 16:44

3 Answers 3


Just a thought of my own...

The verses here do not list 600 thousand names; they list different the different families in each tribe, headed usually by one of the direct children or grandchildren of Yaakov's twelve sons. Those sons had descended to Egypt over 200 years ago and in all likelihood most if not all of them were not alive anymore. It is unlikely even that all of their children were still alive. But yet they are listed here.

As such, I suggest that the names here are not those in the army who were counted but rather it maps out the important points on the family tree of each tribe. This is particularly relevant here (understanding this count to be in preparation for dividing the land of Israel) because the land would be divided based on lower level divisions, not just by the 12 macro Tribes.

It is worth contrasting the setup here to the census in Bamidbar 1 which preceded the people's wandering in the desert in military formation. There the census only lists the tribe names, the subdivisions being irrelevant.

Thus I suggest that the women who are mentioned in this census are there because they constitute famous points on the tree.

(Note also that this can help explain the mention of Datan and Aviram in verses 9-10)

  • That makes sense -- this census serves as more of a "who's who" (who fits in where). Commented Jul 16, 2012 at 13:05

There are various explanations as to why a census is taken at this juncture. Ramban's (e.g. to 26:5) is that it was needed to see whom to divide the land among. (See 26:53. This applies to the census of everyone but shevet Levi, who got no land and were counted separately.) In that case, we understand why the daughters of Tz'lofchad were counted: they got land. Ramban (to 26:46) cites Onkelus as translating 26:46 not as "And Asher's daughter's name was Serach" but as "And Asher's stepdaughter's name was Serach". Ramban proposes, based on that, that Serach was an only child to her father, and that she (or her descendents) therefore got land also.

As to Yocheved and Miryam, Ramban (to 26:57) writes "I don't know why he'd count the descendants of Levi". He does go on to propose some possibilities, however; one of these is that "it was done for them as honor for God, that the legion of the king not be less, that they don't count it like the rest of the people", in which case I propose that maybe we can understand including Yocheved and Miryam, as important persons in shevet Levi. Rather a weak explanation, though.

(Ramban himself does say "he mentioned Amram and his wife [but no others of Amram's generation] because the descendants of Levi are counted in two, kohanim and l'viyim, and it is seemly to count Aharon and his children separately". However, although he mentions "and his wife", I don't see how that explains the mention of Yocheved — or, certainly, of Miryam.)

  • Note that our version of Onkelus doesn't have the word "step-".
    – Double AA
    Commented Jul 15, 2012 at 5:47
  • Interesting. I'd always assumed that the land was divided among the tribes and it was up to each tribe to subdivide, so Moshe (well, Yehoshua) wouldn't need to know the subdivisions. I don't know why I thought that, though. Commented Jul 16, 2012 at 13:04

If you read the text plainly, you can see that "all the famous people" of the family are mentioned and then the total of the family is given.

Depending on which culture you come from when you read the chumash, this either shows that famous people who do great acts are as important as the soldiers, or that soldiers are as important as the famous people who do great acts.

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