The Wayward Woman (Sotah)

          In Parshat Naso, there is a woman who is accused of an illicit sexual affair. The women needs to drink bitter water with God’s name broken up into it. If her thigh doesn’t sag and her belly doesn’t distend she is innocent; if not she is guilty.

          What is sad is that a husband can be jealous and accuse his wife of an illicit relationship but not vice versa. A woman who has evidence that her husband has cheated has no recourse, whereas a man is able to force his wife to perform this ritual. The rabbis were uncomfortable with this practice.  The Mishnah states that an early rabbinic leader discontinued the ritual of the sotah (Sotah 9:9). The entire body of rabbinic literature cites only one example of its implementation. It is evidence of shinui haitim, the changing nature of the times. What made sense in one time period does not in another.

          As we read the passage on the Sotah as well as the Nazir, one who according to the rabbis should be criticized for making an excessive vow, let us recognize that not every biblical passage needs to correspond to our lives today; however that does not mean that there are not lessons that we can derive from them. We have moved from a world of the Sotah to a world of #MeToo, where women’s testimonies are believed and valued. Let us recognize that the Sotah is a vestige of our past that teaches us how society used to function and let us praise God that our society has moved on from there.

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