THE DRINK OF ADULTERY
I get upset every time I read about the sotah in the Torah. Even though I know that a suspected adulteress is not tested that way any more and perhaps never was, still-it is so mean-spirited. The whole idea makes me angry. What about the man? Is he never suspected of wrong-doing?
No Fan of the Bitter Waters
Dear No Fan of the Bitter Waters,
So, you don't like the whole sotah ritual? I can see why it would not be popular today. It's the sort of thing that a rabbi who is interested in tenure would not reinstitute. On the other hand, I wonder if it wasn't the Torah's way of getting a woman off the hook. After drinking a concoction of sacred water, tabernacle earth, and curses rubbed off into the watery mixture, she might not have felt all that well, but would her "thigh sag"? What does a sagging thigh even mean? Okay—I realize that some women might be sensitive to that, but could a thigh sag over night based on a drink of that sort? I don't think so. No sagging thighs--no adultery. No adultery--one more couple goes home with a conflict resolved.
I wonder if, in God’s great wisdom, a ritual is devised wherein the irrational jealousy of a man is not dissolved in the waters of an equally irrational ceremony.
As for male adultery, remember that in the biblical scheme, a man could marry multiple women. Today, by our standards, that does not strike us as fair, but it was the accepted practice in ancient times. On the other hand, if a man consorted with a married woman, such action would end in death to both.
I don’t mean to minimize your discomfort with the sotah ritual. I only think that if we could place ourselves in their time frame, we might see it differently, as a means for reconciling a husband and wife. Though if I were the husband and put my wife through that, I wouldn't eat anything she cooked for me for approximately three months.
Rabbi Rafi Rank
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