Monday, May 28, 2007

The Sotah Waters

Who is the Sotah?

The Sotah is a woman who finds herself in a very specific, very peculiar set of circumstances.

    1. She was warned by her husband, in front of two witnesses, not to be alone with a particular man (he warns her due to his jealousy and/or because he suspects her of improper behavior with this man)

    2. She was alone with that particular man and was seen (by either one or two witnesses; there's a difference of opinion in the Gemara)
At this point she is no longer allowed to live with her husband unless she does one of two things:

    1. Refuses to take the test of the sotah waters, in which case she gets a divorce and loses her marriage settlement (To make this very clear: Nobody forces the Sotah to drink the bitter waters. She can say no. She should say no if she is guilty of adultery. The court does not wish her to die in a terrible and frightful manner if this can be avoided.)

    2. Drink the sotah waters (She has the option to back out of this; indeed, the priest and the judges beg her to confess and refuse the waters if she is truly guilty. It is only after the scroll has been blotted out and/or the woman has taken the oath that she is forced to drink.)
If she is guilty, she dies a horrible death. If she is not guilty, she blossoms, looks youthful and bears children if she was formerly barren, or now has an easier time in childbirth (if it was formerly painful.) She is blessed.

The most fascinating thing I ever learned in connection to Sotah was taught to me at Templars (this is one of the few times where I can truly say, "Thank you Templars!")

It has to do with this verse:

לא וְנִקָּה הָאִישׁ, מֵעָו‍ֹן; וְהָאִשָּׁה הַהִוא, תִּשָּׂא אֶת-עֲו‍ֹנָהּ. {פ}
31 And the man shall be clear from iniquity, and that woman shall bear her iniquity.

There are many interpretations of this verse. The most fascinating interpretation is offered by the Sifri to Numbers 5:31:

(Thanks so much to Moshe Y. Gluck of ESefer for scanning this for me. When people you don't even know take the trouble to scan sources for you, it demonstrates that something very beautiful exists in the world, namely, kindness. Thank you.)

This Sifri is incredible.

Here's what it says, in effect:

The water will only punish the woman if her husband is clean of that sin. If, however, her husband committed adultery, regardless of whether or not she herself sinned, she goes unpunished and does not die. In order to accuse your wife, you have to hold the moral high ground. If you the husband committed adultery, then you have no right to accuse your wife of being an adulteress.

Tit for tat. Fair and square. Because it is very fair. Even if you are not an adulterer now, if at one point in time you were an adulterer, this was your sin. How dare you accuse your wife when this was the sin you yourself committed! Verse 5:31 is cause and effect, "And the man shall be clear from iniquity," that is, he himself never committed adultery, "and that woman shall bear her iniquity," and in that case the woman shall be punished.

In other words, people who live in glass houses shouldn't cast stones.

Isn't that excellent? I think it's one of my favorite takes on the Torah.


Anonymous said...

Excellent, indeed.

Shmuel said...

That is interesting.
Thanks for showing that. Poetic justice takes on a whole significant meaning...

Anonymous said...

A very interesting post, the 'light' feminist side of me likes this!

Larry Lennhoff said...

The Sifri's interpretation is bolstred by the fact that Rabbi Yochanon ben Zakki abolished the Sotah ritual 'when immorality inreased in Israel'. When so many sotah tests gave false negatives the deterrent value vanished and it was no longer worth erasing Hashem's name to perform the test.

Larry Lennhoff said...

I am afraid you are underestimating the impact of being divorced without your ketubah monies. This was often a woman's sole asset - if she was divorced without ketubah her practical choices were to return to her father's house (if he would have her) or live a life of grinding poverty.

You might find the book Chattel or Person: The Status of Women in the Mishnah an interesting read.

Anonymous said...

In response to "The Sotah Waters" and "Women and Talmud Torah":

א וְהַנָּחָשׁ, הָיָה עָרוּם, מִכֹּל חַיַּת הַשָּׂדֶה, אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים; וַיֹּאמֶר, אֶל-הָאִשָּׁה, אַף כִּי-אָמַר אֱלֹהִים, לֹא תֹאכְלוּ מִכֹּל עֵץ הַגָּן. 1 Now the serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said unto the woman: 'Yea, hath God said: Ye shall not eat of any tree of the garden?'
ב וַתֹּאמֶר הָאִשָּׁה, אֶל-הַנָּחָשׁ: מִפְּרִי עֵץ-הַגָּן, נֹאכֵל. 2 And the woman said unto the serpent: 'Of the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat;
ג וּמִפְּרִי הָעֵץ, אֲשֶׁר בְּתוֹךְ-הַגָּן--אָמַר אֱלֹהִים לֹא תֹאכְלוּ מִמֶּנּוּ, וְלֹא תִגְּעוּ בּוֹ: פֶּן-תְּמֻתוּן. 3 but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said: Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.'
ד וַיֹּאמֶר הַנָּחָשׁ, אֶל-הָאִשָּׁה: לֹא-מוֹת, תְּמֻתוּן. 4 And the serpent said unto the woman: 'Ye shall not surely die;
ה כִּי, יֹדֵעַ אֱלֹהִים, כִּי בְּיוֹם אֲכָלְכֶם מִמֶּנּוּ, וְנִפְקְחוּ עֵינֵיכֶם; וִהְיִיתֶם, כֵּאלֹהִים, יֹדְעֵי, טוֹב וָרָע. 5 for God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as God, knowing good and evil.'
ו וַתֵּרֶא הָאִשָּׁה כִּי טוֹב הָעֵץ לְמַאֲכָל וְכִי תַאֲוָה-הוּא לָעֵינַיִם, וְנֶחְמָד הָעֵץ לְהַשְׂכִּיל, וַתִּקַּח מִפִּרְיוֹ, וַתֹּאכַל; וַתִּתֵּן גַּם-לְאִישָׁהּ עִמָּהּ, וַיֹּאכַל. 6 And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat; and she gave also unto her husband with her, and he did eat.
ז וַתִּפָּקַחְנָה, עֵינֵי שְׁנֵיהֶם, וַיֵּדְעוּ, כִּי עֵירֻמִּם הֵם; וַיִּתְפְּרוּ עֲלֵה תְאֵנָה, וַיַּעֲשׂוּ לָהֶם חֲגֹרֹת. 7 And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig-leaves together, and made themselves girdles.
ח וַיִּשְׁמְעוּ אֶת-קוֹל יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים, מִתְהַלֵּךְ בַּגָּן--לְרוּחַ הַיּוֹם; וַיִּתְחַבֵּא הָאָדָם וְאִשְׁתּוֹ, מִפְּנֵי יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים, בְּתוֹךְ, עֵץ הַגָּן. 8 And they heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden toward the cool of the day; and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God amongst the trees of the garden.
ט וַיִּקְרָא יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים, אֶל-הָאָדָם; וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹ, אַיֶּכָּה. 9 And the LORD God called unto the man, and said unto him: 'Where art thou?'
י וַיֹּאמֶר, אֶת-קֹלְךָ שָׁמַעְתִּי בַּגָּן; וָאִירָא כִּי-עֵירֹם אָנֹכִי, וָאֵחָבֵא. 10 And he said: 'I heard Thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.'
יא וַיֹּאמֶר--מִי הִגִּיד לְךָ, כִּי עֵירֹם אָתָּה; הֲמִן-הָעֵץ, אֲשֶׁר צִוִּיתִיךָ לְבִלְתִּי אֲכָל-מִמֶּנּוּ--אָכָלְתָּ. 11 And He said: 'Who told thee that thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat?'
יב וַיֹּאמֶר, הָאָדָם: הָאִשָּׁה אֲשֶׁר נָתַתָּה עִמָּדִי, הִוא נָתְנָה-לִּי מִן-הָעֵץ וָאֹכֵל. 12 And the man said: 'The woman whom Thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat.'
יג וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים לָאִשָּׁה, מַה-זֹּאת עָשִׂית; וַתֹּאמֶר, הָאִשָּׁה, הַנָּחָשׁ הִשִּׁיאַנִי, וָאֹכֵל. 13 And the LORD God said unto the woman: 'What is this thou hast done?' And the woman said: 'The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat.'
יד וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים אֶל-הַנָּחָשׁ, כִּי עָשִׂיתָ זֹּאת, אָרוּר אַתָּה מִכָּל-הַבְּהֵמָה, וּמִכֹּל חַיַּת הַשָּׂדֶה; עַל-גְּחֹנְךָ תֵלֵךְ, וְעָפָר תֹּאכַל כָּל-יְמֵי חַיֶּיךָ. 14 And the LORD God said unto the serpent: 'Because thou hast done this, cursed art thou from among all cattle, and from among all beasts of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life.
טו וְאֵיבָה אָשִׁית, בֵּינְךָ וּבֵין הָאִשָּׁה, וּבֵין זַרְעֲךָ, וּבֵין זַרְעָהּ: הוּא יְשׁוּפְךָ רֹאשׁ, וְאַתָּה תְּשׁוּפֶנּוּ עָקֵב. {ס} 15 And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; they shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise their heel.' {S}
טז אֶל-הָאִשָּׁה אָמַר, הַרְבָּה אַרְבֶּה עִצְּבוֹנֵךְ וְהֵרֹנֵךְ--בְּעֶצֶב, תֵּלְדִי בָנִים; וְאֶל-אִישֵׁךְ, תְּשׁוּקָתֵךְ, וְהוּא, יִמְשָׁל-בָּךְ. {ס} 16 Unto the woman He said: 'I will greatly multiply thy pain and thy travail; in pain thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.' {S}
יז וּלְאָדָם אָמַר, כִּי-שָׁמַעְתָּ לְקוֹל אִשְׁתֶּךָ, וַתֹּאכַל מִן-הָעֵץ, אֲשֶׁר צִוִּיתִיךָ לֵאמֹר לֹא תֹאכַל מִמֶּנּוּ--אֲרוּרָה הָאֲדָמָה, בַּעֲבוּרֶךָ, בְּעִצָּבוֹן תֹּאכְלֶנָּה, כֹּל יְמֵי חַיֶּיךָ. 17 And unto Adam He said: 'Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying: Thou shalt not eat of it; cursed is the ground for thy sake; in toil shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life.
יח וְקוֹץ וְדַרְדַּר, תַּצְמִיחַ לָךְ; וְאָכַלְתָּ, אֶת-עֵשֶׂב הַשָּׂדֶה. 18 Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field.
יט בְּזֵעַת אַפֶּיךָ, תֹּאכַל לֶחֶם, עַד שׁוּבְךָ אֶל-הָאֲדָמָה, כִּי מִמֶּנָּה לֻקָּחְתָּ: כִּי-עָפָר אַתָּה, וְאֶל-עָפָר תָּשׁוּב. 19 In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken; for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.'
כ וַיִּקְרָא הָאָדָם שֵׁם אִשְׁתּוֹ, חַוָּה: כִּי הִוא הָיְתָה, אֵם כָּל-חָי. 20 And the man called his wife's name Eve; because she was the mother of all living.
כא וַיַּעַשׂ יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים לְאָדָם וּלְאִשְׁתּוֹ, כָּתְנוֹת עוֹר--וַיַּלְבִּשֵׁם. {פ} 21 And the LORD God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins, and clothed them. {P}
כב וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים, הֵן הָאָדָם הָיָה כְּאַחַד מִמֶּנּוּ, לָדַעַת, טוֹב וָרָע; וְעַתָּה פֶּן-יִשְׁלַח יָדוֹ, וְלָקַח גַּם מֵעֵץ הַחַיִּים, וְאָכַל, וָחַי לְעֹלָם. 22 And the LORD God said: 'Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil; and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever.'
כג וַיְשַׁלְּחֵהוּ יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים, מִגַּן-עֵדֶן--לַעֲבֹד, אֶת-הָאֲדָמָה, אֲשֶׁר לֻקַּח, מִשָּׁם. 23 Therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken.
כד וַיְגָרֶשׁ, אֶת-הָאָדָם; וַיַּשְׁכֵּן מִקֶּדֶם לְגַן-עֵדֶן אֶת-הַכְּרֻבִים, וְאֵת לַהַט הַחֶרֶב הַמִּתְהַפֶּכֶת, לִשְׁמֹר, אֶת-דֶּרֶךְ עֵץ הַחַיִּים. {ס} 24 So He drove out the man; and He placed at the east of the garden of Eden the cherubim, and the flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way to the tree of life. {S}

Because it is the woman that listened to the serpent instead of the voice of her husband and her influence from the serpent caused the Man to listen to the voice of his wife instead of the voice of God. The woman initiated the first sin and ate from "the tree of knowledge" and caused her husband to eat of it also. Since, it the Torah is believed to be the word of God and Eve came from Adam, it is Adam's responsibility to listen to God's word and it is Eve's responsibility to listen to Adam. In effect the woman may gain the knowledge and learning of the Torah but she must submit, respect, follow, and go through her husband to get it. There is a deeper meaning to this, the literal interpretation of this has often been misunderstood and exploited against women to satisfy men's egos that they are superior and have a right to dominate. The illustration is more to outline that a man's spiritual role was meant to be active and that a woman's spiritual role was meant to be passive. But when their original nature was reversed it caused them both to fall. Spiritually male and female have equal importance and equal value, only that their function is different.

Anonymous said...

I see you were able to get the Sifre just fine. Indeed, when there's a will, there's a way ;-)


Holy Hyrax said...

How can a husband be sinful of adultery. Back when you had these laws still applicable, men can have more than one wife, so how can he cheat?

Looking Forward said...

which HH, I take it to mean that they mean adultury in the same way that the first halacha in kitzur shulchan aruch hilchos kidushin means adultury. AKA it means any case of sleeping with someone you are not married to, or even many other behaviors of only distant relation.

Holy Hyrax said...

but biblically, adultery only constitutes a married woman sleeping around or a man sleeping with a married woman. If a married man sleeps with a non married woman, is that adultery?

Looking Forward said...

coloquialy? yes. In the gemorah's times and earlier common use was not always what the formal legal and biblical use were, and these things made themselves in to the talmud and the midrash, especialy the midrash because those were generaly sermons to more common people.

I'm just citing one alternative use of the term though, it may still mean the litteral pshat, or ot may mean a much, much more broad interpretation (the halacha's use included things that one does in private as well as things done with other people)

Tobie said...

The Sifri says "z'nut"- a general term for sexual immorality, not "ni'uf"- adultery. Z'nut is related to the word for prostitute (zonah), so probably it was all general sorts of sleeping around and not technical legally punishable adultery.

Anonymous said...

i feel funny to post on your blog, that is today, since ive been following your blog for almost a year now.
I enjoy all your Divre Torah, all your humour, and of course your views on life in general.
well i usually cannot post as blogger for some reason or another ruins by ability to comment-

anyways the reason for my post was to tell you a dvar torah which i think is up your alley.

i heard from someone: Why is it that in parshat nassoi the torah repeats itself 12 times by the nesseam what each of them gave, couldnt the torah condense it? its everyone gave the same.
I heard a very nice answer, that, by the nesiam they were such great people, and each didnt care to out do the other, i dont care if my neighbor has a lexus, so ill get the BMW, each one gave what they were able to give (and it ended up everyone gave the same, and i doubt they made up themself a deal to all give the same originaly)

have a shabat shalom, and thanks for your blog :)

Juggling Frogs said...

This is beautiful.

I bookmarked it and sent the link to three people before coming back to this window to thank you for sharing it.

All the best,

Anonymous said...

@Holy Hyrax: If a man sleeps with a woman married to another man, he has committed adultery (just like she has).