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:וַתְּדַבֵּ֨ר מִרְיָ֤ם וְאַֽהֲרֹן֙ בְּמשֶׁ֔ה עַל־אֹד֛וֹת הָֽאִשָּׁ֥ה הַכֻּשִׁ֖ית אֲשֶׁ֣ר לָקָ֑ח כִּֽי־אִשָּׁ֥ה כֻשִׁ֖ית לָקָֽח

"And Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married; for he had married a Cushite woman." (Numbers 12:1)

Moses married Zipporah, the daughter of Jethro, from Midian. (Exodus 2:21) Is there any reason to believe that the woman in the above verse from Numbers is Zipporah?

Everyone I have seen that cites this story assumes that Zipporah and the "Cushite woman" are the same, however I don't see how you could learn this from the simple reading of the verse.

Some problems with believing that Zipporah and the woman are the same is that Zipporah was not a Cushite (someone from the land of Cush) but rather was from Midian.

It has been suggested that perhaps Cushite does not refer to the nationality in this case but perhaps the color of the woman's skin (maybe she was black), but yet we still do not have good supportive evidence for this, and even if we did we do not know Zipporah's skin tone.

So we cannot conclude from the simple reading of the text that this woman and Zipporah are the same, other from the fact that both are referred to as the woman Moses married.

What are the opinions? Is Zipporah and the Cushite woman the same person?

Could Miriam and Aaron be referring to a previous marriage that Moses had? I recall a Midrash that talks about Moses becoming a prince in Cush, and possibly marrying the Queen of Cush. The verse does not indicate whether the woman is Moses' current wife, only that Moses had married her, possibly indicating that the marriage was no longer.

(Note: I am aware of what Rashi has to say on the matter.)

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  • duplicate judaism.stackexchange.com/q/35807/759
    – Double AA
    Commented Feb 1, 2018 at 15:35
  • The straightforward read of the verses is the Kushite woman's father was Chovav, unlike Tzipporah whose father's name was Yitro. Different people.
    – Double AA
    Commented Feb 1, 2018 at 15:36
  • I always read it as Tzipporah being relegated and denigrated after Yitro left, since we are not told that Moshe Rabbeinu took a second wife, a detail which would likely have relevance, considering the pre-Chazalic preference for avoiding מרבה נשים Commented Jul 24, 2019 at 12:47

3 Answers 3

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Mefarshim from here.

  1. The Mefarshim that say Zipporah was the Cushite do not necessarily get this from the simple reading of the verse. See Rabbeinu Bachya/Bechaye who bases this off of a Gematriya (based in Tanchuma here), so very not Peshat. See Ralbag who tries to prove that it is Peshat, as does Hakesav Vehakabbalah. See also Netziv for another take. For a fascinating point, see Shadal to Shemos 4:25. See Ibn Caspi who calls out Onkelos and many of the Rishonim for translating Kushis as beautiful. Also, see here for a nice explanation of an open vs. closed canon approach, which plays a major role here.

  2. I find it hard to believe that "everyone you saw" says that it was Tzipporah, tons of Mefarshim suggest that this was the Queen of Kush. See Targum Pseudo-Yonasan, Daas Zekeinim, Rashbam, Ibn Ezra (Yesh Omrim, he personally disagrees), Bechor Shor, Chizkuni, Ibn Caspi, Akeidas Yitzchak, (opinion quoted by Abarbanel), Shadal (in Mishtadel) and Hakesav Vehakabbalah (in the name of most Mefarshim, he personally disagrees), based off of "Divrei Hayamim Shel Moshe". I'm sure I could find more, which I am adding.

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  • Hi sorry it took me so long to hit accepted
    – ezra
    Commented Mar 23, 2018 at 15:38
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The unnamed Cushite wife of Moshe mentioned in the Torah was Queen Adoniyah of Cush. She was the first wife of Moshe before Tzipporah.

As mentioned in the Torah in parshat Shemot 2:14-15, after Moshe had killed the Egyptian, Pharoah had wanted him to be executed. Moshe fled Mitzrayim at the age of 18 (like is discussed in Midrash HaGadol to Shemot 2:14) and traveled to the Kingdom of Cush which was ruled over at that time by King Kikanus. Queen Adoniyah was the wife of King Kikanus of Cush. When Kikanus died, in the tenth year of Moshe's flight from Mitzrayim, the people elected Moshe to be their King in place of Kikanus.

Because Moshe was appointed King of Cush, he was given the Queen of the late King as his wife. But Moshe never consummated that marriage sexually because of the tradition going back to Shem, Cham and Yafet, the children of Noach. Moshe was a descendent of Shem while Queen Adoniyah was of descendent of Cham.

All of this is recorded in Sefer HaYashar on parshat Shemot.

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Ben Tzion Luria in his essay in Hebrew "Ancient Chapters" in Sefer Yosef Breslevski, pg. 206, footnote 41, suggests that there was a Midianite tribe named the "Cushim" or the "Cushanim" (yes, perhaps as in Cushan Rish'ataim1). This word as the name of a tribe appears already in the Mari texts of the 19th century - it's possible they inter-married with the Midianites2. This tribe is mentioned in Tanach in relation to the Midianites:

"As a scene of havoc I behold The tents of Cushan; Shaken are the pavilions Of the land of Midian!"(Chavakuk 3:7)

Therefore, it's possible that Tzipporah was both a Cushite and a Midianite at the same time.


1 As for how could Cushan, king of Aram Nahara'im, be related to Midianites, Luria suggests a complicated theory that "Aram Nahara'im" doesn't refer to the Aramaic city/province but to a different place, more in the area of Edom (and neighboring Midian). I can also suggest that at least some of the Midians were nomads (we see this from the location of the Midians in the story of Baal Pe'or and the subsequent war, and during their invasions in the time of Gidon), so Cushan's tribe might have journeyed to Aram (the edge of Aram, at least, isn't too far from the northern Israeli border).

2 Perhaps also worth mentioning that Nimrod, king of Akkad, was a son of Cush - perhaps the ancient Cushanim were related to the Babylonian descendants of Cush.

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