Miriam was not kissed


While much in Judaism has been changed and improved, the way the Bible intended, a serious problem remains that needs to be altered, the attitude to and treatment of women. The attitude is seen in the following rabbinic interpretation.


Deuteronomy 34:5 states that Moses died “in the land of Moab by the mouth of the Lord,” which some rabbis said was a kiss. Similarly, Numbers 33:38 records that his brother Aaron died “on Mount Hor…by the mouth of the Lord.” The rabbis noted that this phrase, which they understood was a loving gesture by God toward the two Israelite leaders, was not said to describe their sister Miriam’s death. This puzzled them because they felt that Miriam was also a leader of the Israelites – she participated in leading the women in singing praise for God’s miracle at the Red Sea in Exodus 15: 20 and 21.

The rabbis asked: Why didn’t God kiss Miriam?

They replied that God did not kiss Miriam because she was a woman and it is not considered appropriate to use these words in the description of a woman’s death.

There are three problems with this rabbinical lesson. First, it is a blatant anthropomorphism to imagine that God has human lips and kisses people. Second, the plain meaning of the passage is not what the rabbis read into it. The Hebrew al pi does not necessitate the translation “by the mouth.” The two Hebrew words generally mean “by” or “accordance with the command or direction.” Moses died a natural death in accordance with the laws of nature that God created. As Maimonides states in his Guide of the Perplexed 2:48, when the Torah states that God did something it should be understood to mean that the event occurred naturally, by the laws of nature. The Torah states that God did it implying only that God was the ultimate cause because God created the laws of nature. Third, ignoring the first two problems, what is significant and bothersome is that certain rabbis chose to make this statement. Whether they meant it allegorically or not, their statement belittles women.

Whether we understand that these rabbis were saying that it is improper for God to kiss a woman or that it is improper to say that God would do so, the interpretation implies that women should be treated differently and seems to be saying that God does not love women as God loves men.

Fortunately this attitude is beginning to change, another of the many things in Judaism that changed and is changing. But not fast enough.