In most versions of Yehoshua, when detailing the cities each Shevet gave to the Leviyim, Reuven's cities are missing. (Some versions add them after 21:35, but the conclusion of the Radak followed by the Minchas Shai is that they're not supposed to be there). Rav Hai Gaon, quoted by the Radak, addresses the question, but just says

אף על פי דהכא לא חשיב להו בדברי הימים חשיב להו

Even though it doesn't list them here, it lists them in Divrei Hayamim (1 6:63-64)

Does anyone explain why they're not listed in Yehoshua?

  • I wonder if there's a hint here that during the time of the allotment of cities, Reuven were in the middle of some sort of defensive battle and couldn't hand over the cities, because of these same security issues.
    – Harel13
    Commented Aug 2, 2021 at 7:20
  • @harel13 the next perek says that Yehoshua called them together for a talk, so they were obviously around, not off fighting. I wonder though, if they were reluctant to give the cities because initially they would of been the leviim if not for the changing of the beds after Rachel died, and therefore gave it only later on. Although I've never seen anyone suggest this.
    – Chatzkel
    Commented Aug 3, 2021 at 17:44
  • @Chatzkel interesting, though in light of Datan and Aviram and On joining up with Korach, and in light of the fact that the firstborn lost the priesthood because of the sin of the calf, I think it's less plausible.
    – Harel13
    Commented Aug 3, 2021 at 17:51

2 Answers 2


Daas Soferim on 21:38 suggests that when the cities were being allotted, there weren't suitable ones in Reuven's territory. (There are various criteria for them, listed in Makkos 10a and codified from there in Rambam, Hil. Rotzeach 8:8 - not too big or too small, in commercial areas, etc.) So the Leviim got, in effect, an IOU from Reuven to build four such cities in their territory and allocate them to the Leviim.

(Now, one of them, Betzer, had already been chosen by Moshe in Devarim 4:43. It's possible that it was already suitable, but that Yehoshua didn't want to list just that one if he couldn't list all four. It's also possible that Moshe chose Betzer even though it didn't fit all those criteria, and then instructed Reuven to upgrade it accordingly - and that this job hadn't been completed by the time the lottery was being conducted.)

By the way, Daas Soferim further notes, in his commentary on 21:3, that in the last census in the desert, the Leviim numbered only 23000 males one month and older. Even adding in the wives and newborns and girls and the oldsters who didn't die in the desert, they weren't that badly in need of all 48 cities right away.


The Judaica Press Mikraos Gedolos on Yehoshua quotes Keli Yakar on this (unfortunately a broken link on hebrewbooks):

K. Y. suggests that since all of the Levitic cities served as refuge cities, it was obvious that Reuben, who had exerted himself to save the life of his brother Joseph, would donate his cities toward this end. It was therefore unnecessary to mention them.


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