Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Sotah

Just a quick thought. The crazy thing about sotah is that it works about equally well if it kills nobody at all. Think about it- it is only used when there are only two people who know whether or not the woman is guilty, and both of them have a vested interest in keeping the information secret. If the woman is actually guilty and nonetheless gets away with it, she's hardly going to tell anyone. She goes off, perhaps with her faith challenged, perhaps thinking at her husband cheated on her, but the husband is happy and the society continues to function thinking that everything works.

The more important use of the water is to keep everybody scared off, both of adultery and later of failing to admit it and agreeing to go through the ritual. Even if nobody ever dies, belief in the efficacy of the whole thing is probably not going to be shaken- firstly, because there's a general presumption that only the innocent would dare to go through with something that they know will kill the guilty and is besides shameful and scary, and secondly, because the whole thing is probably so rare that nobody thinks that there's an overwhelming trend (after all, they stopped the practice when there were a lot of adulterers.) And when everyone really does believe in it, only the innocent will dare to go through with it, so that there becomes absolutely no practical impact to the question of whether it would kill the guilty.

Everyone avoids adultery to a large degree, chooses uncompensated divorce the rest of the time, and the truly innocent have a foolproof way of convincing their communities and husbands of their innocence, all without actually ever requiring open miracles. Not that I'm saying that it didn't actually work the way the text claims- miracles and all- but it doesn't need to. (And after all, the gemara says that even G-d lies for shalom bayit....)

10 comments:

Halfnutcase said...

I was just thinking about this a few weeks ago, although I don't remember why, so I wonder who the person is who labored to bring this thought in to the world (as in the story about the guy who labored for days to figure something out and then heard a teacher giving his chiddush to a class before he even published it, and they said once he made the chiddush everyone could get it on their own because he brought it in)

Halfnutcase said...

sotah

tobie, I think this might interest you, I really wish I'd checked it before I read your comment, although I'm not in a place to put my thoughts in to words, perhaps you would enjoy doing it for yourself.

Halfnutcase said...

sotah

it didn't work, so I'm going to try this again

here is the site if it doesn't work:
http://curiousjew.blogspot.com/2007/05/sotah-waters.html

Tobie said...

Yeah, I read Chana's post- I even linked to it in my post, I think, about the adultery thing (a way that even the woman can believe that the system works. I really do like the idea, but I've heard the Sifri before (back in Templars, actually), so it's hard for me to have a fresh perspective on it.

And as for the labor to bring it into the world- I only came up with this Monday, so I guess the credit is all yours ;)

Halfnutcase said...

So I'm the one that "contaminated" you? ;)

and how did I know that you and channa were school mates out of the three bais yakkov's I've heard about in chicago?

Halfnutcase said...

Tobie, concerning the sifri that chana quoted, consider for a moment your assumption, and what would happen if when they actualy used to waters of the sotah. If the girl had done so, and she got off, she would therefore assume that her husband had also not been pure. Her husband, one the other hand, if he had been pure with regard to znus, he would therefore regard his wife as pure, if he had not been pure then he would regard her as certainly not less than him, and quite possibly better, knowing that she got off because he could not accuse her in purity.

Further, it seems clear that chazal sometimes used the word znut in a more fast and loose manner than its legal definition. Legaly znus means "forbiden relations" and allways when a child is born from an act of znut, the child is a mamzer, by diffinition. This comes to exclude the possibility of an unmarried boy and girl sleeping together who could theoreticaly get married (see ramban in kedoshim on the statement thou shall not give they daughter to znus) In orther meanings chazzal frequently extended it beyond its strict legal definition, to the point of all relations outside of marriage (see rashi on that same verse) and even sometimes to other things that involve a person alone. Certainly if one reads chazzal they did not think that any but the most exceptional boys where particularly pure in this regard, and so it would seem that depending on how they ment znus, it could very well be used aa a justification for your conclusion.

also it is worthy to note, that in cases were everyone was sure that she had done it (as often happens) then it would seem that he would be putting his reputation in grave communal danger by accusing her, as the not-guilty virdict would most cernainly be attributed to his sleeping around.

Tobie said...

I wonder how literally the Sifri is meant to be taken- after all, there's no indication of it in the text, and it occupies an interesting place between pure midrash halacha and pure aggada- so there's no way of knowing whether it was meant as rhetoric, divine justice, or an attempt to describe reality. If the last, it's obviously not from knowing what was going on with the husbands- not that there were an sotahs in the time that it was said- so it could just be a way of trying to explain why nobody's dying....

Halfnutcase said...

are there any recorded incidents of the sotah waters actualy working, or is it all just theory?

like, why wasn't batsheva subjected to the sotah waters?

There have to be other examples of where it might have been used but was not.

Tobie said...

Well, Batsheva hadn't been warned not to be alone with David- because, of course, how could Uriah have known? The requirements do seem technical and unlikely, but there's no source that says that it was all theoretical, so I have no idea.

e-kvetcher said...

Uriah was not jewish, right? SO the lwas would not apply?