Sotah, Chapter One, Mishnah One

 

Introduction

Numbers 5:14 states, “And a fit of jealousy came upon him and he was jealous about his wife.”  The phrase “and he was jealous” is an active verb in Hebrew, and not an adjectival phrase as I have translated it in English.  It is as if the verse states “and he jealoused his wife”.  The rabbis understand this active verb not to be a state of mind of the husband but rather a warning that the husband states to his wife not to associate with a certain man, the man about whom he has suspicions.  Throughout, I will translate this verb “kine” as “warn”.  Our mishnah discusses this process.  Again, we should note that the sotah ritual cannot be enacted unless there is some type of legal procedure that precedes it.  This legal procedure makes it more likely that the husband’s suspicions are true. 

This mishnah and many others refer to the “bitter waters”.  This is the water that the Sotah must drink as part of her test.  The phrase comes from Number 5:23.

 

Mishnah One

1)                     One who warns his wife [not to associate with a certain man]:

a)                                           Rabbi Eliezer says: he warns her on the testimony of two witnesses, and makes her drink [the bitter waters] on the testimony of one witness or on his own testimony.

b)                                          Rabbi Joshua says: he warns her on the testimony of two and makes her drink on the testimony of two.

 

Explanation

In tomorrow’s mishnah we shall see that the “warning” is a two-part procedure.  First the husband must warn her not to associate with a certain man.  If after this warning she is secluded with that very man, the husband can take her to the Temple for her to undergo the Sotah test.  Without both steps, the Sotah ritual cannot be enacted. 

In our mishnah, Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Joshua debate regarding the testimony necessary for each step.  Both rabbis agree that he must warn her in front of two witnesses, the usual number for any legal procedure.  They disagree with regard to her seclusion, the final step that will lead the husband to bring her to drink the bitter waters.  According to Rabbi Eliezer, even the husband may testify that she was secluded with the man about whom she was warned, and thereby bring her to the Temple to undergo the Sotah test.  Rabbi Joshua holds that just as “warning” requires two witnesses, so too does her the final step that will cause her to have to drink the bitter waters.

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