Since it says in the Torah that a Cohen is prohibited from being around dead people, then how come Pinchas who was a Cohen was permitted to kill Zimri and Cozbi.

"And the LORD said unto Moses, Speak unto the priests the sons of Aaron, and say unto them, There shall none be defiled for the dead among his people":

— Leviticus 21:1

"And behold, one of the people of Israel came and brought a Mid'ianite woman to his family, in the sight of Moses and in the sight of the whole congregation of the people of Israel, while they were weeping at the door of the tent of meeting. When Phin'ehas the son of Elea'zar, son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he rose and left the congregation, and took a spear in his hand and went after the man of Israel into the inner room, and pierced both of them, the man of Israel and the woman, through her body. Thus the plague was stayed from the people of Israel. Nevertheless those that died by the plague were twenty-four thousand."

Numbers 25:6-9

  • he hit a live man not a dead man
    – ray
    Sep 12, 2016 at 10:34
  • Even if he did defile himself, we see that a Cohen defiles himself to bury an unattended dead body as well. Similarly, there were individuals carrying the coffin of Joseph who were unable to properly bring the Passover sacrifice due to their impurity! The action Pinchas did takes precedence over the requirement to remain ritually pure. Sep 12, 2016 at 15:05
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  • Related question: Being that Zimri and Cozbi were human beings, why was Pinchas allowed to kill them?
    – user6591
    Oct 5, 2016 at 16:12

3 Answers 3


Midrash Rabbah (20:26) Records 12 miracles that happened during this story. Two of them that are answer your question are as follows:

  • Blood did not drip on Pinchas, so that he did not become impure

  • G-d kept them alive so that they would not die and make Pinchas impure


Gemara Zevachim 101b:

They said well to him? - He holds that [the law of] aninuth at night is Scriptural. 'Another argument: surely Phinehas was with them.'

They said well to him? - He agrees with R`Eleazar.

For Rw Eleazar said in Rw Hanina's name: Phinehas was not elevated to the priesthood until he slew Zimri, for it is written, And it shall be unto him, and unto his seed after him, the covenant of an everlasting priesthood.

Rw Ashi said: Until he made peace between the tribes, for it is said, And when Phinehas the priest, and the princes of the congregation, even the heads of the thousands of Israel that were with him, heard etc.

Conclusion, Pinchas was not already Kohen when he Killed Zimri.

But without this, there are cases in which a Kohen is in duty to be unclean, when it is a Mitsva, as to bury a death person. There are also cases in which he need to kill persons. For instance the Halacha of Kanayim pog'im bo (as in the case of Zimri) it is true even for a Kohen. Or the case of killing a Rodef, Kohen is also in duty to kill him. Additionally he can make this with a pshute kley ets and can to throw it as a javelin. It is not difficult to kill someone without to be unclean, e.g. with a gun.

Note: to be around dead people is not an accurate definition. The dead make unclean by several kind of contact, touching, by tent, Massa, Chiburim. but around is not a contact

  • the Halacha of Kanayim [sic] pog'im bo is true even for a Kohen. If a Kohen see a rodef he is also in duty to kill him The halakha of qanain pog`in bo has nothing to do with the halakha of rodef.
    – mevaqesh
    Sep 12, 2016 at 14:52
  • Between 2 statements you can see a point. Dot. Period @mister nothing to do
    – kouty
    Sep 12, 2016 at 14:54
  • Fine so instead of a bad proof you have no proof; just a halakha that you clearly made up yourself, followed by a sentence you claim is irrelevant.
    – mevaqesh
    Sep 12, 2016 at 15:04
  • It happens to be that other cases of qanain pog`in do involve kohanim, and this, especially if brought as such in halakhc literature, could constitute a starting point for research on the topic, but you make no mention of this.
    – mevaqesh
    Sep 12, 2016 at 15:09

Why stop at Pinhas? The same question applies to the Hashmonaim, and any Cohen who fights in the army today. While a Cohen normally shouldn't allow himself to become Tameh met, there are exceptions - such as a Met Mitzvah. Another one of these exceptions is participating in a holy war such as defending the Israeli nation and killing Zimri.

Here is an interesting Halachic article discussing Cohanim soldiers in Israel today regarding them being allowed to continue blessing the nation during prayer.

  • The same question applies to the Hashmonaim, and any Cohen who fights in the army today Actually that is a totally different question. Our case involves the halakha of qanain pog`in bo, which is a reshut whereas wars are often far from voluntary (potentially depending on what type of war).
    – mevaqesh
    Sep 13, 2016 at 14:31
  • Another one of these exceptions is participating in a holy war such as defending the Israeli nation and killing Zimri. What is a "holy war" I am pretty sure that is not a technical halakhic category. Furthermore, I don't think that the actual category of milhemet mitsva to which you perhaps refer includes qanain pog`in, as I indicated.
    – mevaqesh
    Sep 13, 2016 at 14:33
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    @mevaqesh The Rambam in hilchot melachim 5:1 calls a milchemet huva any way that saves a Jew from someone. Perhaps since there was a plague on Israel because of the act of the Israelites and the Mideians, Pinhas saw Zimri's actions as actions that endangered the nation.
    – yechezkel
    Sep 13, 2016 at 14:57
  • @That is a tremendous stretch. At the minimum, if you are making a particular claim, edit it into the answer, rather than leaving it in the comments.
    – mevaqesh
    Sep 13, 2016 at 14:59

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