Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Zimri the exhibitionist? I don't think so!

In this week's Jewish Week, an "interesting" understanding of Zimri's sin:
Last week’s parsha concluded with the Kohain (Priest) Pinchas killing Zimri, a male Israelite, and Cozbi, a Midianite woman, stabbing them with a spear through their bellies while Cozbi and Zimri were defiantly having sexual relations in public — in front of Moses and “the whole Israelite community,” at the entrance to the Ohel Moed, the Tent of Meeting. [Numbers 25:6-8].
Hmm. The pesukim do not seem to say that.
ו וְהִנֵּה אִישׁ מִבְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל בָּא, וַיַּקְרֵב אֶל-אֶחָיו אֶת-הַמִּדְיָנִית, לְעֵינֵי מֹשֶׁה, וּלְעֵינֵי כָּל-עֲדַת בְּנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל; וְהֵמָּה בֹכִים, פֶּתַח אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד. 6 And, behold, one of the children of Israel came and brought unto his brethren a Midianitish woman in the sight of Moses, and in the sight of all the congregation of the children of Israel, while they were weeping at the door of the tent of meeting.
ז וַיַּרְא, פִּינְחָס בֶּן-אֶלְעָזָר, בֶּן-אַהֲרֹן, הַכֹּהֵן; וַיָּקָם מִתּוֹךְ הָעֵדָה, וַיִּקַּח רֹמַח בְּיָדוֹ. 7 And when Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he rose up from the midst of the congregation, and took a spear in his hand.
ח וַיָּבֹא אַחַר אִישׁ-יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶל-הַקֻּבָּה, וַיִּדְקֹר אֶת-שְׁנֵיהֶם--אֵת אִישׁ יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְאֶת-הָאִשָּׁה אֶל-קֳבָתָהּ; וַתֵּעָצַר, הַמַּגֵּפָה, מֵעַל, בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל. 8 And he went after the man of Israel into the chamber, and thrust both of them through, the man of Israel, and the woman through her belly. So the plague was stayed from the children of Israel.

He is taking the traditional explanation of stabbing them in one stab, while they were engaged in intercourse, as opposed to Ibn Ezra's interpretation of kavata as her tent. But even according to this traditional interpretation, el hakubba in the beginning of pasuk 8 refers to the man's tent. So how does this columnist think that they
were defiantly having sexual relations in public — in front of Moses and “the whole Israelite community,” at the entrance to the Ohel Moed, the Tent of Meeting
? True, the earlier pasuk spoke about appearing before Moshe and the Israelite community, but that was leading her in front of Moshe, perhaps in order to challenge him. As Rashi writes, in emphasizing an important theme:

before the eyes of Moses: They said to him, “Moses, is this one forbidden or is she permitted? If you say it is forbidden, who permitted for you the daughter of Jethro…?” as is stated there (Sanh. 82a).
לעיני משה: אמרו לו משה, זו אסורה או מותרת, אם תאמר אסורה, בת יתרו מי התירה לך וכו', כדאיתא התם:

But that does not mean that the intercourse itself was in public, and that Zimri and Cosbi were exhibitionists.

A bit later in the article, he cites the gemara about how there was never a Ben Sorer Umoreh, explaining that Chazal believed there was, but were falsifying history in order not to set a precedent. He then proceeds to falsify the story of Pinchas, to accord with his modern attitudes. But at least he was up-front about it.
Maybe, after this incident, God sees that it is best to keep Pinchas and his descendants away from society where their misplaced zealotry will not cause harm to others. As priests, their days will be spent sacrificing animals and performing other aspects of the service in the Mishkan (Tabernacle). Hopefully modern day Kohanim do not need to be sequestered away from society in this way.
So why did the plague stop after Zimri's action? And why, prior to Zimri's action, did Moshe command to kill anyone who attached himself to Baal Peor? And why does God follow it up with instructing Pinchas to go out and kill all the Midianites? This is a good way of stopping Pinchas from committing violence?!

Of course, we have some modern day misguided zealots, and some of them may look to Pinchas as a role model. And these kanoim should be countered. But not, I think, through deliberate falsehood.

And this is not the first time newspapers have seen fit to publish such a dopey idea.


Freelance Kiruv Maniac (Mr. Hyde) said...

Kol Hakavod for exposing this foul interpretation in the Jewish media.

Ariella's blog said...

I would think that this parallels Avashalom's taking the 10 concubines. The way he did this in public, according to the commentators, is to set up a tent on the roof. Entering the tent with a woman was as close as they got to a public display of intimacy.


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