Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Parshat Naso: Sotah--Another look

You might wish to start by reading about the trial-by-ordeal of the woman suspected of adultery, found in Parshat Naso, Numbers, chapter 5, verses 11-31. Here's my first look at the Sotah ritual. I encourage you to read Elie's response.

Debbie, from the synagogue that I often attend in Manhattan, has another way of interpreting Sotah: In her d'var Torah (discussion of Torah), she said that, however humiliating the Sotah ritual was, it did have the major advantage of depriving the husband of the right to take out his unprovable suspicions on his wife, forcing him to put the matter in G-d's (or the Cohen's/priest's) instead. There being nothing in the water that could have made the wife sick (unless she was "blessed" with multiple chemical sensitivities and could have had an allergy reaction to just about anything), the "potion" given to the women "worked" only by what we now call the placebo effect--that is, if the wife believed that it would work, it might have worked. So it was almost a given that the wife would be found innocent, and the husband deprived of the right to take revenge.

It may take me a while to respond to comments, so I apologize in advance.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

For context, remember this was a woman in the the land of Israel approximate 3000 -3500 years ago, not a college educated woman in NYC today. The alternative to Sotah was probably honor killings that remain prevalent in that region of the world today. Sotah, beyond just being the placebo affect, was probably responsible for saving many marriages and lives. Our ancestors were entering Israel from Egypt, not the Upper West Side.

Wed Jun 11, 11:52:00 AM 2008  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

True. That's pretty much what Debbie was saying. This ruling probably saved many women from honor killings and/or physical abuse.

Wed Jun 11, 12:39:00 PM 2008  
Blogger Elie said...

Thanks for the link! Don't have too much to add to that post, but I want to say that I like Alex's point as well. In fact, the traditional view of the Sotah ritual was exactly what Alex stated - saving marriages.

Wed Jun 11, 01:35:00 PM 2008  
Blogger Tzipporah said...

Shira, the Rebbetzin's Husband recently pointed out that the woman in the Sotah trial is already necessarily guilty of having been alone with a man not her husband, after having been warned not to be in that situation.

While modern Western mores may find it offensive that this situation is prohibited, or that her husband expected her to do as he said, that was in fact the norm of the times.

You could not bring a woman as a suspected Sotah unless she had already put herself in a compromising situation.

Wed Jun 11, 02:44:00 PM 2008  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Elie, you're always welcome.

Tzipporah, I'm a p'shat (literal meaning of the text) kind of person by nature, and this is the way I read it: The text says quite specifically ". . . or if the spirit of jealousy come upon him, and he be jealous of his wife, and she be not defiled; 15 then shall the man bring his wife unto the priest, . . . " I'm assuming, from what I've read elsewhere, that the rabbis, at a later date, insisted that the husband have at least some reasonable cause to be suspicious (such as the wife having been alone with another man for a sufficient amount of time), but the *original written text* (Torah sheh-bi-ch'tav) says quite clearly that a husband can bring his wife up on charges just because he's a jealous type. That's why removing from the husband the authority to take revenge and forcing him to bring his wife before a priest may very well have been a literal life-saver.

Wed Jun 11, 06:09:00 PM 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shira and Tzipporah may both be right. If (absent Sotah) there would have been a risk of honor killings in most jealous husband cases, kol vachomer (even more so) would there be such a risk if the wife had actually been in a compromising situation!

Wed Jun 18, 12:29:00 PM 2008  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Indeed, Woodrow, that seems quite likely.

Wed Jun 18, 08:39:00 PM 2008  

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