The Bible Says What? ‘It was wrong to let the women live’

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The Bible Says What? ‘It was wrong to let the women live’

 Rabbi Fabian Sborovsky takes a controversial topic from the Torah and looks at a Progressive perspective

The Torah has its fair share of war and violence, including moments where it might seem things have gone too far for modern tastes. The war with the Midianites at the end of the book of Bamidbar is a severe example.

A plague had occurred among the Israelites, reportedly because an Israelite man brought a Midianite woman into the camp. It only ended when both were killed and Moses is commanded – as his final act as leader before his death – to take revenge.

The Torah reports how the Israelites killed every man, including the five kings of Midian, without suffering a single casualty. 

Moses, however, is angry. Not because of all the death, but the lack of it – why did they not also kill the women? In his mind, it was a woman who brought the plague to the people previously, so all the adult women should also be killed. This instruction is carried out, with the younger girls taken as slaves.

This is all very unpleasant. It is certainly a horribly twisted version of egalitarianism. What it can teach us is a warning about the nature of violence. What may start out as a seemingly justified act of violence can spiral so quickly. Once we have a taste for it, we lose control and don’t know where to stop. 

The initial action was a command from God, perhaps seen as a justified retaliation, but it is Moses personally who pushes for more. And if Moses, after all he has learnt being such a great leader, can fall into this trap, how much more of
a warning it is to us. 

How much more careful we should be to resist the urge towards violence, because who knows where it may take us?

Rabbi Fabian Sborovsky serves Menorah Synagogue, Cheshire Reform Congregation

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