I've read that Yael slept with Sisra, but this obviously isn't directly in the text. What is the source for this and the reasoning behind it. Wasn't Yael married?

  • 1
    It was called aveira lishmo.
    – preferred
    Jun 24, 2014 at 17:08
  • source is the oral tradition. are you asking if it is hinted in the verse?
    – ray
    Jun 24, 2014 at 17:19
  • 1
    i printed an article about this last year in Kovetz Hamaor. It was written in Hebrew, but if someone has the chance to translate the relevant parts as an answer, I'm sure it would be helpful. See academia.edu/7444413/_ Jun 24, 2014 at 17:46
  • @ray I was asking for written sources and explanations. Like is this from the Talmud or some other early source and can it be reconciled with the p'shat meaning of the text. Jun 24, 2014 at 18:25
  • "obviously isn't directly in the text" - Challenge accepted. Sep 2, 2020 at 11:16

4 Answers 4


The source is Gemara Nazir 23b:

אמר ר"נ בר יצחק גדולה עבירה לשמה ממצוה שלא לשמה והאמר רב יהודה אמר רב לעולם יעסוק אדם בתורה ובמצות אפי' שלא לשמן שמתוך שלא לשמן בא לשמן אלא אימא כמצוה שלא לשמה דכתיב (שופטים ה, כד) תבורך מנשים יעל אשת חבר הקני מנשים באהל תבורך מאן נשים שבאהל שרה רבקה רחל ולאה א"ר יוחנן שבע בעילות בעל אותו רשע באותה שעה שנאמר (שופטים ה, כז) בין רגליה כרע נפל שכב וגו' והא קא מתהניא מבעילה דיליה א"ר יוחנן כל טובתן של רשעים אינה אלא רעה אצל צדיקים

Summary: Rav Nachman said, a sin for the right reasons is as great as a mitzvah for the wrong reasons. We see this from Ya'el, who is described as being greater than Sarah, Rivka, Rachel, and Leah. R' Yochanan said: She had 7 acts of relations with him, based on the verse: Between her legs, he bent, fell, lay etc.

The Talmud derives this, as quoted and summarized, from the excessive description of how Sisra lay down. It is not explicit by any means, but hinted to in that way.

Nefesh HaChaim explains (in the end of Sha'ar Aleph ch. 21, in the end of Perakim ch. 7, and in Kesser Rosh 132) that the idea of "Avera Lishma" applied differently before the Torah was given to after, as before the Torah was given a person could make his own assessment (assuming he/she had the qualifications to do so) of what was "spiritually" the most beneficial, even if it contradicted the Divine concepts expressed in the mitzvos. However, after the Torah was given, we only have the Torah and one cannot do an aveira because they calculate it to be a good decision.

Nefesh HaChaim 1:21

וזה גם כן אחד מהטעמים שלא ניתנה התורה לנח והאבות הקדושים. שאם היתה ניתנת להם לא היה יעקב רשאי לישא ב' אחיות, ולא עמרם דודתו, אף אם היו משיגים שכן ראוי להם לפי שרש נשמתם.

Nefesh HaChaim Perakim 7

אבל מעת שבא משה והורידה לארץ לא בשמים היא והוכחנו שם בע"ה מענין חזקיהו עם ישעיהו שאסור לנו לשנות ח"ו משום אחת מהנה ממצות ה' אף אם תהיה הכוונה לשם שמים

The story of Ya'el, he says, was an exceptional case because she was doing it to save the entire Jewish people, and was therefore circumstantially permitted. (It was explained to me that the greatness that the Gemara attributes was because even though she "got the chance" to do that which would be otherwise prohibited, she did not take the opportunity to savor it and she took no pleasure from it, as the Gemara explains). Nodeh B'Yehuda Tinyana Yoreh De'ah 161 makes basically the same point, and he specifically points out that this was not just an allowance of "saving a life" (Pikuach nefesh), as adultery is not permitted for that purpose, but was a specific exception of saving the entire Jewish people. He suggests that the proof for this is from Ester, who also submitted herself to extramarital relations for the salvation of the entire Jewish nation.

Therefore, the justification was the salvation of the entire Jewish nation.

  • +1. There's also a difference of opinion regarding whether she was Jewish or not.
    – Fred
    Jun 24, 2014 at 18:40
  • This entire sugya is also brought down in Horayos 9a, or somewhere around there.
    – DonielF
    Jun 15, 2016 at 2:26
  • @DonielF it is brought in Horayos 10b
    – Dov
    Aug 31, 2020 at 12:35

Aside from the more widespread 'Aveira Lishma' angle discussed above, it is also worth noting the more metaphorical approach taken in Yalkut Shimoni 585 where it says that she covered Sisera with the שמיכה, 'cover' (see Shoftim 4:18) which can be homiletically understood as שמי כה - My Name is here. The meaning being, that 'My Name' testifies that the wicked Sisera did not touch her.

אמר ר' שמעון בן לקיש חזרנו על כל המקרא ולא מצאנו כלי ששמו שמיכה אלא שמי כה שמי מעיד עליה שלא נגע בה אותו רשע

  • Sounds like some say about esther that she used demon instead. On the subject by sara is uses a pual and esther a nifal vtukach or vatilokach. Pual is a stronger form. That is why Sara had a miracle. I know one must not say such things and certainly not on here.
    – interested
    Aug 31, 2020 at 15:38

שופטים פרק ה פסוק כז

בֵּ֣ין רַגְלֶ֔יהָ כָּרַ֥ע נָפַ֖ל שָׁכָ֑ב בֵּ֤ין רַגְלֶ֙יהָ֙ כָּרַ֣ע נָפָ֔ל בַּאֲשֶׁ֣ר כָּרַ֔ע שָׁ֖ם נָפַ֥ל שָׁדֽוּד׃

Judges 5:27

Between her legs he sank, lay outstretched, Between her legs he sank, fallen; Where he sank, there he fell — defeated.


I'm still researching the topic, but bear in mind that the concept of Avera Lishma uproots the essential message of the Torah. The torah is based on the proposition of alignment between 1. The will of God 2. The approprite course of action 3. Actions that will yeild goodness. Based on the Avera Lishma principle, as typically interpreted, it would have been praiseworthy for Abraham to disobey God when it came to the Binding of Isaac. It would have been praiseworthy for Adam do eat from the tree of knowledge. It would make the 10 commandments as no more than tips to think about, but there would be no reason to be afraid of all the blessings and curses.

I propose that it's just not possible to interpret that page of Talmud in that manner, even if that's what some rishonim say. Currently, I prefer an interpretation more aligned with the context of the discussion in Nazir, which is somebody doing something they think is kosher when really it's not. To make this interpretation work, we must suppose that Arayot are permitted to save the entirety of the world (In the case of Cain & Lot's daughters) or the Jewish people (in the case of Esther and Yael). In the case of Lot, this turned out to be unnessecary, and in the case of Yael, she was not aware that the war had already been won and there was no danger.

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