Friday, August 10, 2012

Suspect Wives and Jealous Husbands: Question 23

Numbers 5 is one of those chapters that anti-Judaic people often use to point out the supposed unfairness of Torah.

But it's also understandable why they get this impression.

In Numbers 5, it says that if a man is jealous--he feels that his wife has cheated on him--even if he has ZERO proof and even if she is INNOCENT of wrongdoing, the presence of jealousy means that she must be taken before the Temple court, be humiliated (e.g. have her hair exposed), and then undergo the trial of the Sotah.


How is it fair that an innocent woman should be humiliated in public on the basis of nothing more than her husband's jealousy?


  1. Maybe the whole reason the man is jealous is because of something she does? She might not have committed anything, but she might be playing with his mind or given him the impression that she is doing something.

    On the other hand, I wonder how this would be of any benefit to their relationship, after he humiliates her, she will go home and love him even more, lol... :P

  2. If it turned out the wife was innocent, I imagine it would be a VERY long walk home...

  3. God does not have to be fair, but he is never unjust. :) I think the intention is LOVE, not humiliation. We just have to experience it to understand it. The letter of the law kills but the spirit gives life.

    1. This is what I believe as well. Some things may appear unjust. But His ways are just.

      I know someone who has endured terrible hardships. At times she'll talk about why such things were allowed to happen. All I can tell her is that there will be justice...eventually. Many times we must wait till olam habah. We don't always see justice in our day. But justice is inevitable because G-d is just.

  4. Let us look at this from another angle. What way could the wife proof her innocence if her husband suspected her? This was a way for her to proof in public that she was innocent.

    The big question: Why was her head uncovered?

    My take on this is that it was symbolic of her husband's authority rather than a form of humiliation. (1 Cor 11:10)

    Thus my questions:
    1. Why did she need to come out from under her husband's authority?
    2. Does the priest have the right ot remove her husband's authority?

    1. According to historical authorities (see The Mishnaic Sotah Ritual: Temple, Gender and Midrash By Ishay Rosen-Zvi and also the Sotah tractate in Talmud), the Sotah had a lot more than just her hair uncovered. The historical authorities on the Sotah Ritual say that she was left totally exposed.

      If you want to hear something depressing, this is a link to Mishneh Torah (Rambam's summary of Oral Torah) which describes in rather lurid detail how the ordeal of the Sotah unfolds:

    2. But is that what is written in Scripture? Or is it the traditions of man?

    3. First, traditions can be good. For example, your family probably has certain family traditions. They shouldn't be dismissed on the basis of being "traditions of men." Also, keep in mind that Paul observed Jewish tradition (Acts 21). The only thing to be wary about is when traditions of men are used in a way that contradicts the Torah of G-d.

      Believe it or not, you use the Oral Tradition every time you pick up a Bible. The only way you can know what the words mean--the cultural concepts-- is because there is an ancient Jewish tradition which records these meanings.

      This doesn't mean that you view Oral Tradition as a primary authority in its own right; rather, it shows that you have availed yourself of all available historical sources, what one might call secondary authorities.

      In summary, Scripture is the most reliable and best legal and historical authority. But we're only able to understand the Bible because we use secondary resources which explain what the letters mean, what the terms mean, how the grammar works, etc. Without the body of historical sources, the task of interpreting the Bible would be impossible.

    4. Hi Peter,
      I was not referring to traditions in general. I have no problem with traditions that do not contradict Scripture.

      My question was specific to this scripture and the traditions you mentioned. It goes to what is the Scriptural intent of this process. Was it to humiliate the wife or provide her with a process to proof her innocence?

    5. Well, there are several ways to look at it. There's evidence for several different views. Personally, I think the evidence that the Sotah ritual was humiliating is more persuasive. The humiliating nature of the ritual seems to act as a deterrent, the idea that men would be reluctant to put their wives through such humiliation unless they were absolutely convinced of her guilt.

      But, hey, I could be wrong.

    6. Peter, I think you are right! The deterrent element, for both the wives and the husbands, seems to be built here.