I am new to "Mi Yodeya?" and this is my first time asking questions.

First, I have always heard that everything that is written in the Torah has a purposeful meaning; nothing in it is a coincidence or a mistake - has veshalom! My question is, then, why is it written "mishkav zakhar" - 'mishkav' (singular) - and "mishkeve isha" - from 'mishkavim' (plural)? Do males have just one "mishkav" and females more than one? Lastly, what is the meaning of 'mishkav/mishkavim'? I know that individually they mean 'lying/s (as on a bed), and bed/bedding.

I want to understand the phraseology of 'mishkav zakhar'. The only place I remember seeing it is in Numbers 31:17-18. I want to understand it so that I may better understand Lev. 18:22 and 20:13. Numbers 31:17-18 says: " ועתה הרגו כל זכר בטף, וכל אשה ידעת איש למשכב זכר הרגו. וכל הטף בנשים אשר לא ידעו משכב זכר החיו לכם."


  • Welcome to Mi Yodeya. Thanks for this great question. Very astute!
    – DanF
    Sep 12, 2017 at 0:09

2 Answers 2


The phrase means literally "the lying of a man" and is euphemistic for intimate relations as performed by a man, which is how it is generally translated in the verses (Numbers 31:17-18) you cite:

וְעַתָּ֕ה הִרְג֥וּ כָל־זָכָ֖ר בַּטָּ֑ף וְכָל־אִשָּׁ֗ה יֹדַ֥עַת אִ֛ישׁ לְמִשְׁכַּ֥ב זָכָ֖ר הֲרֹֽגוּ׃

Now, therefore, slay every male among the children, and slay also every woman who has known a man carnally;

וְכֹל֙ הַטַּ֣ף בַּנָּשִׁ֔ים אֲשֶׁ֥ר לֹא־יָדְע֖וּ מִשְׁכַּ֣ב זָכָ֑ר הַחֲי֖וּ לָכֶֽם׃

but spare every young woman who has not had carnal relations with a man.

The converse phrase משכבי אשה is used to denote the ways one might lie with a woman (literally: the lyings of a woman) as in Leviticus 18:22:

וְאֶ֨ת־זָכָ֔ר לֹ֥א תִשְׁכַּ֖ב מִשְׁכְּבֵ֣י אִשָּׁ֑ה תּוֹעֵבָ֖ה הִֽוא׃

Do not lie with a male as one lies with a woman; it is an abhorrence.

and Leviticus 20:13:

וְאִ֗ישׁ אֲשֶׁ֨ר יִשְׁכַּ֤ב אֶת־זָכָר֙ מִשְׁכְּבֵ֣י אִשָּׁ֔ה תּוֹעֵבָ֥ה עָשׂ֖וּ שְׁנֵיהֶ֑ם מ֥וֹת יוּמָ֖תוּ דְּמֵיהֶ֥ם בָּֽם׃

If a man lies with a male as one lies with a woman, the two of them have done an abhorrent thing; they shall be put to death—their blood is upon them.

The Talmud (Sanhedrin 54a) notes, as did you, the usage of the plural with regard to the lying of the woman and derives accordingly that there are two (anatomical) ways to lay with a woman:

משכבי אשה מגיד לך הכתוב ששני משכבות באשה

“the lyings of a woman” - The verse teaches you that there are two (anatomical) manners of lying with a woman.


Simple answer is yes there is a very good reason, though sorry, it's somewhat graphic.

"Mishkevei isha" (plural) refers to vaginal and anal; only one of those applies to males. This is in fact the Talmud's source that the same punishment would apply, if a woman was a prohibited relation, for either type of activity.

  • Thanks for responding. No worries about the graphic nature of the content, after all, we are all adults here (I think).
    – AdM
    Sep 10, 2017 at 23:21
  • 1
    @AdM - Do not be so sure. I am not an adult. :) Although I am old enough to not be immature and take halacha seriously.
    – ezra
    Sep 10, 2017 at 23:31
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    Good to know. Someone help me understand this, then... I can see how 'mishkeve isha' would refer to a women's vagina and anus. I do not understand how mishkav zakhar would mean a man's anus. Because the Torah mentions in Numbers/Bamidbar 31:17-18: "...vekhol isha yodaat ish lemishkav zakhar... banashim asher lo yadeu mishkav zakhar..." How can a woman be intimate with that part of a man's body? I believe then, that mishkav zakhar means a man's penis.
    – AdM
    Sep 10, 2017 at 23:43
  • @Adm mishkav means penetrates zakhar means a man (a woman can not penetrate so no mishkav)
    – hazoriz
    Sep 12, 2017 at 1:32
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    @AdM mishkav zahar means a man penetrates , mishkavai Isha means the penetrations of/to a woman,
    – hazoriz
    Sep 12, 2017 at 12:23

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