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The Torah states that both Moshe (Devarim 34:5) and Aharon (Bamidbar 33:38) died al pi Hashem, by G-d's mouth. Rashi quotes the Talmud (Bava Basra 17a) that this means they died by a neshikah meitah, a "Divine kiss".

When the Torah records the death of Miryam (Bamidbar 20:1) the term al pi Hashem is not used, rather it just plainly says she died. However, Rashi still insists she died from a neshikah meitah, even though the Torah doesn't explicitly say this. He claims that to say Miryam died by G-d's mouth would be disrespectful to the Most High.

I wonder why Rashi would say this would be disrespectful. The only thing I can think of is that Miryam is a woman, and perhaps suggesting G-d "kissed" a woman is disrespectful. However I'm not following that logic. G-d doesn't "kiss" anyone in the physical sense and what's worse about "kissing" a woman versus a man? In fact, in my Americanized mind the thought of kissing a man seems more disrespectful than kissing a woman. Could someone explain Rashi's comment here?

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The way your question is phrased makes it seem like the fact that Moshe and Aharon died via "kiss" originates from the Talmud, while the fact that Miriam died via "kiss" and that it would be improper to write this are Rashi's own additions. In fact all of this is in the Talmud, so to whatever extent you have a question it is on the Talmud not on Rashi.

Bava Batra 17a

תנו רבנן ששה לא שלט בהן מלאך המות ואלו הן אברהם יצחק ויעקב משה אהרן ומרים אברהם יצחק ויעקב דכתיב בהו בכל מכל כל משה אהרן ומרים דכתיב בהו על פי ה' והא מרים לא כתיב בה על פי ה' אמר ר"א מרים נמי בנשיקה מתה דאתיא שם שם ממשה ומפני מה לא נאמר בה על פי ה' שגנאי הדבר לומר

Our Rabbis taught: Six there were over whom the Angel of Death had no dominion, namely, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Moses, Aaron and Miriam. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob we know because it is written in connection with them, in all, of all, all; Moses, Aaron and Miriam because it is written in connection with them [that they died] By the mouth of the Lord. But the words ‘by the month of the Lord’ are not used in connection with [the death of] Miriam? — R. Eleazar said: Miriam also died by a kiss, as we learn from the use of the word ‘there’ [in connection both with her death] and with that of Moses. And why is it not said of her that [she died] by the month1 of the Lord? — Because such an expression would be disrespectful. (Soncino translation)

While the Talmud does not state what the disrespect is, there are parallel versions of this teaching in other Midrashic sources. In one of them, it explicitly states that the disrespect is to use the term when speaking of a woman:

Yalkut Shimoni Parshat Chayei Sarah

ששה לא שלט בהן מלאך המות אברהם יצחק ויעקב דכתיב בהו בכל מכל כל משה אהרן ומרים דכתיב בהו ע"פ ה' ומרים אע"ג דלא כתיב בה אתיא שם שם ממשה ומפני מה לא נאמר בה שגנאי הדבר לומר אצל אשה

Similarly, in the version recorded in Yalkut Midrashei Teiman (on the pasuk of Miriam's death) there is no mention of disrespect but it states that the reason why the Torah doesn't say "by the mouth of God" buy Miriam is that she was a woman:

שלשה מתו בנשיקה משה ואהרן ומרים נאמר במשה על פי ה' שנאמר וימת שם משה עבד ה' ונאמר באהרן על פי ה' שנאמר וימת אהרן שם בהר ההר ונאמר במרים ותמת שם מרים ותקבר שם [ומפני שהיא אשה] לא נאמר בה על פי ה

Rambam, too, assumes the disrespectful aspect is that Miriam was a woman:

Guide for the Perplexed 3:51

Our Sages said that the same was the case with Miriam; but the phrase "by the mouth of the Lord" is not employed, because it was not considered appropriate to use these words in the description of her death as she was a female. (Friedlander translation)

R. Yosef Chaim of Baghdad explains this explicitly:

Ben Yehoyada Bava Batra 17a

ועם כל זה לא נקיט כן להדיא במרים דאף על גב דהוא דרך משל ודמיון עם כל זה גנאי הדבר למנקט לשון זה של נשיקת פה בנקבה

And all this notwithstanding, it does not use this [terminology] explicitly by Miriam because even though it is metaphorical it is still degrading to use the terminology of a mouth-kiss by a woman.

It seems that the "disrespect" is the association of the erotic connotation of kissing a woman with God. That is to say that it is not the erotic connotation of kissing a woman on it's own that is deemed inappropriate for the Torah to discuss; indeed, R. Chaim Hirschensohn notes that the Torah had no problem describing Yaakov kissing Rachel:

Nimukei Rashi 4:381

אם שהנשיקה בעצמה איננה נגד נימוס הכבוד דכתיב וישק יעקב לרחל אבל לזכור על פי ה' איננו דרך כבוד

Rather it is the association of God with the eroticness that is inappropriate.

Similarly, Shir Hashirim is replete with eroticness but it is not problematic because the eroticness is not associated with God (in the text).


1. This is clearly a typo, and should say "mouth". It appears with the word as "month" in the PDF (linked) but I don't know how it appears in the original printed volume.

  • You brought all the sources that say it is improper, but the question stays unanswered - WHY? I didn't see much explanation in your answer. WHY G-d can not touch a woman's lips? – Al Berko Aug 30 '18 at 12:02
  • @Alex It's important to note the inconsistent language used by the later sources like the Ben Ish Chai. The original teaching from Rabbi Eliezer does not say to whom it is disrespectful (G-d or Miriam or both). Yalkut Shimoni and Moreh Nevuchim say it is because Miriam is a wife (emphasis being the translation as 'a woman' is not here). It is only the later sources, like Ben Ish Chai, that change the teaching to be 'female' or 'women'. Since Shir HaShirim uses the phrase of 'kisses with His mouth' with G-d, it must be something particular to Miriam then. And that means she was married. – Yaacov Deane Aug 30 '18 at 13:22
  • @ezra For G-d to kiss someones wife, even figuratively, is disrespectful both to the wife and to G-d. And that is in keeping with the principle of 'Maggid d'varav l'Yaacov v'mishpatav l'Yisrael.', that G-d also keeps the mitzvot. – Yaacov Deane Aug 30 '18 at 13:25
  • @AlBerko It seems that the "disrespect" is the association of the erotic connotation of kissing a woman with God. – Alex Aug 30 '18 at 18:36
  • @YaacovDeane Rambam himself says elsewhere in Moreh Nevuchim (1:6) that אשה means female. – Alex Oct 10 '18 at 2:20

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