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Bamidbar 25:6 says:

וְהִנֵּה אִישׁ מִבְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל בָּא, וַיַּקְרֵב אֶל-אֶחָיו אֶת-הַמִּדְיָנִית, לְעֵינֵי מֹשֶׁה, וּלְעֵינֵי כָּל-עֲדַת בְּנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל; וְהֵמָּה בֹכִים, פֶּתַח אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד.‏

And, behold, one of the children of Israel came and brought unto his brethren a Midianitish woman in the sight of Moses, and in the sight of all the congregation of the children of Israel, while they were weeping at the door of the tent of meeting.

(Translation credit to Mechon Mamre)

This seems to be quite clear that they were outside in public. This goes along with what I have always learned which was that a קנאי is only permitted to kill someone if they are having relations with a non-Jew in public.

Rambam seems to confirm this in Issurei Biah 12:4:

כל הבועל גויה, בין דרך חתנות בין דרך זנות--אם בעלה בפרהסיה, והוא שיבעול לעיני עשרה מישראל או יתר--אם פגעו בו קנאין והרגוהו, הרי אלו משובחין וזריזין; ודבר זה הלכה למשה מסיניי הוא, וראיה לדבר זה מעשה פינחס בזמרי.‏

Anyone who has relations with a non-Jewish woman, whether in the context of marriage or not, if he had relations with her in public (meaning in the view of 10 or more adult Jewish men) and zealots strike and kill him, this is considered praisworthy. This is a halacha l'Moshe mi'Sinai and the proof for it is the incident of Pinchas and Zimri.

(translation mine)

However, the Torah then proceeds to say (apparently quite clearly as well), that Pinchas followed them inside to kill them:

וַיָּבֹא אַחַר אִישׁ-יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶל-הַקֻּבָּה, וַיִּדְקֹר אֶת-שְׁנֵיהֶם--אֵת אִישׁ יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְאֶת-הָאִשָּׁה אֶל-קֳבָתָהּ; וַתֵּעָצַר, הַמַּגֵּפָה, מֵעַל, בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל.‏

And he went after the man of Israel into the chamber, and thrust both of them through, the man of Israel, and the woman through her belly. So the plague was stayed from the children of Israel.

(translation Mechon Mamre)

This seems strange to me. If they were inside a chamber at the time of the event, it doesn't seem like it would really cause the same kind of chilul hashem that would allow a zealot to kill them.

So were they inside or outside when Pinchas killed them?

  • I vaguely recall hearing somewhere that the act of the 2 people going into seclusion together where everyone knows what the intention is is considered 'public'. The fact that they don't see the act itself doesn't make it a private matter anymore. – Salmononius2 Jul 10 '15 at 12:56
  • Hmm The Rambam in the Moreh (3:8) seems to translate קבתה as 'her vagina'. Not clear if that's also the meaning of הקבה. His reference is kinda obscure and I might be missing other instances of that word in Tanakh. Anyway, perahps that's helpful in not being inside a chamber. – Double AA Mar 30 '16 at 0:53
  • @DoubleAA AFAICT, the only other occurrence of that word is קבה in Deut 18:3. – magicker72 Mar 30 '16 at 17:42
  • @magicker72 Yes, Rambam in the Moreh connects the vagina and the stomach. – Double AA Mar 30 '16 at 17:47
  • related to translating that word parsha.blogspot.com/2006/07/… – Double AA Apr 26 '16 at 0:30
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Shadal, in his commentary to 25:6, understands the story as follows:

ויקרב אל אחיו את המדינית – להתפאר בה ולהראות להם מי האשה אשר מצא לו, שהיא בת נשיא מדין, ואחר שהקריבה לפני אחיו חזר עמה לאחוריו אל הקבה להשתעשע עמה. והנה הקֻבה היתה של האשה המדינית, וזה טעם ואת האשה אל קבתה (לדעתי ונגד הטעמים); וספר הכתוב זה להגיד שבחו של פינחס שלא נתירא מבוא בין המדינים להרוג בת נשיאם. והנה קודם שיתחילו השופטים לדון ולהרוג, בא זמרי ופינחס הרגו, ומיד נעצרה המגפה, והשופטים לא הוצרכו עוד לעשות משפטם, כי לא נאמר {פסוק ד'} קח את כל ראשי העם אלא למען ישוב חרון אף ה' מישראל, וכבר שב על ידי פינחס.

And he brought the Midianite to his brothers – to boast and to show them who the woman was whom he had found for himself, that she was the daughter of the prince of Midian, and after he brought her before his brothers, he turned to go with her to the tent (הקבה) to "entertain himself" with her. The tent (הקבה) belonged to the Midianite woman, and the reasoning is: "and the woman in her tent (קבתה)" (verse 8) (according to my understanding, and against the pointing [ie. against the Masoretic text]); the text tells us this to praise Pinchas who was not afraid to go amongst Midanites to kill their prince's daughter...

Thus, according to Shadal's reading, Zimri and Cozbi were outside flaunting their relationship, and then went into Cozbi's tent to "play". In this sense, it was clear what was going on (especially in light of the greater context from 25:1), and it was made known in public what they were doing (בפרהסיא).

Furthermore, we see from Rambam's Hilchot Ishut 3:5 and the Maggid Mishne's comments thereon (quoting Gittin 81b), that the witnesses to seclusion-with-expressed-intent-to-have-sex are considered witnesses to the act itself. Thus, in the case of Zimri and Kozbi, although the act was performed in seclusion (at least until Pinchas arrived), they satisfied the requirements of "having relations in public".

  • I don't think your support from the Rambam is that strong, as the witnesses there serve a different function. See Issurei Biah 12 4 mechon-mamre.org/i/5112.htm#4 where the Rambam says that to be public like by Pinchas you need 10 people there. – Double AA Mar 30 '16 at 17:30
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    @DoubleAA I'm not sure how that changes the status of the witnesses. For kiddushin we only need two, but to be considered בפרהסיא, we need ten. I agree that it's not obvious a priori that we can equate the witness requirements in both situations, but it's also not obvious that we shouldn't. Indeed, Rambam's use of our story to prove his point, and the fact that the act was in private (according to this read, and I think the simple read), indicates that we should here too say הן הן עדי ייחוד הן הן עדי ביאה. – magicker72 Mar 30 '16 at 17:35

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