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Rabbi Rafi RankDear CyberRav,

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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