Sotah, Chapter Seven, Mishnah One



Beginning with this mishnah and continuing through the end of the tractate, the Mishnah discusses things that must be recited.  Some of these must be recited in Hebrew and others can be recited in any language.  The reason that these are discussed in Mishnah Sotah is that the first example is the oath that the priest makes the sotah swear, which may be recited in any language.


Mishnah One

The following may be recited in any language:

1)      the section concerning the sotah,

2)      the confession made at the presentation of tithes,

3)      the shema, 

4)      the prayer (the amidah), 

5)      the grace after meals,

6)      the oath concerning testimony,

7)      the oath concerning a deposit.



The mishnah lists seven recitations which can be made in any language. 

Section one: The first is the oath that the priest makes a sotah swear (Numbers 5:19-23).  The Talmud derives this by using a midrash.  It may also be that since the sotah has to understand what she is swearing to, if she doesn’t understand Hebrew it can be recited in any language that she does understand.  This rationale lies behind most, if not all, of the other recitations listed in this mishnah. 

Section two:  On Passover of the fourth and seventh year of the seven year sabbatical cycle, each householder must come to the Temple and confess that he has not withheld tithes in his home (see Deuteronomy 26:13-15).  This would include all forms of tithe, each of which must be disposed of in the proper fashion.  This confession may be recited in any language. 

Section three:  The Shema, one of the two central parts of Jewish prayer, recited twice daily, can be recited in any language.  Since the Shema is the central declaration of faith, it must be understood by the person reciting it, and therefore can be recited in any language.

Section four:  The amidah, the other central feature of Jewish prayer, which is recited thrice daily (and more on special occasions) can also be recited in any language. The Talmud says that since the amidah is the prayer in which human beings approach God with their requests, it would not make sense for it to be recited in a language which the speaker does not understand.

Section five:  For similar reasons, the grace after meals may be recited in any language as well.

Section six:  If a person thinks that another person knows testimony about his case, and the other person denies such knowledge, he may force him to take an oath that he does not know any testimony (see Leviticus 5:1, 6 and Mishnah Shevuot 4:3). This oath may be recited in any language, since it is critical that the person swearing understands what he is saying.

Section seven:  If a person thinks that he gave a deposit to another person, but that person denies having received such a deposit, the claimant may make the other person swear that he does not have the deposit.  This too can be recited in any language for the same reason as above.