Sotah, Chapter Six, Mishnah One
Chapter six returns to discuss the process which needs to occur for a woman to become a sotah, the same topic with which the tractate began. In the first mishnah of the tractate we learned that the husband must first warn her not to be secluded with a certain man, and then she must be secluded with that man. Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Joshua debate whether witnesses are needed to testify that she was secluded with that man in order for her to become a sotah. According to Rabbi Eliezer, witnesses are not necessary. However, in the absence of witnesses the husband himself must see that she was secluded. According to Rabbi Joshua, two witnesses are necessary. In our mishnah, these same two tannaim debate whether or not the woman is prohibited to her husband if there is just a rumor that she was secluded. Although without at least some witnessing she cannot become a sotah, such that she drinks the water, a rumor might, under certain circumstances, be sufficient to cause her to be prohibited to her husband.
1) If a man warned his wife and she secluded herself [with another man], even if he heard [that she had done so] from a flying bird, he must divorce her and give her the ketubah, the words of Rabbi Eliezer.
2) Rabbi Joshua says: until women who spin by moonlight discuss her.
Section one: In this situation, the husband has already warned his wife not to be secluded with a certain man. He then heard a rumor that she had secluded herself with the suspected man. The husband heard the rumor from a flying bird, which means that he had no idea where the rumor came from. This is not sufficient for the husband to make her drink the sotah waters. Nevertheless, according to Rabbi Eliezer this is sufficient to cause her to be forbidden to him due to suspected adultery. In any case, since he does not have any evidence that she was indeed secluded, he must pay her the ketubah.
Section two: Rabbi Joshua requires that the rumor be one that the women who spin by moonlight are gossiping about. Since the women are saying that his wife committed adultery, it would not be appropriate for him to maintain her as a wife. Therefore, he must divorce her, but still pay her the ketubah. However, a rumor from a flying bird is not sufficient to make her prohibited to him.