Commentary by James R. Hearst - date unknown
“YHVH Spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to the Israelite people and say to them:
If any man’s wife has gone astray and broken faith with him in that a man has had carnal relations with her unbeknown to her husband, and she keeps secret the fact that she has defiled herself without being forced, and there is no witness against her
But a fit of jealousy comes over him and he is wrought up about the wife who has defiled herself; or if a fit of jealousy comes over one and he is wrought up about his wife although she has not defiled herself
The man shall bring his wife to the priest.
And he shall bring as an offering for her on-tenth of an epah of barley flour. No oil shall be poured upon it and no frankincense shall be laid on it, for it is a meal offering of jealousy,
A meal offering of remembrance which recalls wrongdoing.”
Numbers 5:11 – 15
The marriage bond is sacred
Man seems paramount
This determines if the woman is holding a secret that she has gone astray
What if the man goes astray?
Attempt at judgment through the process of ordeal
This is to appease the man’s suspicions or jealousies
The woman could be justly accused
What if the woman suspects her husband is holding a secret?
A meal offering of jealousy
Remembrance which recalls wrongdoing
A form of coercion or torture to initiate confession
Jealousy is justified for the man, not for the woman.
The priest has great power
He mixes a potion which induces a trance
He protects the woman from an unjust husband
He is involved as a judge who must weight the evidence
The intervention prevents the husband from acting in some other way, taking justice into his own hands
There must be some public demonstration for resolution.
As Sotah is described, it is apparent that the innocent woman would pass the test and remain unscathed, a means of silencing a husband’s unfounded accusation. The guilty woman will become sterile, with belly distended and thighs sagging. Within the context of the times, this is better than the Code of Hammurabi in which a wife so suspected would have to prove her innocence by throwing herself into the river.
There is a symbolic aspect to the trail, in that the nation of Israel is also like the unfaithful wife. Moses administered a potion to the people of Israel and made them drink of it. (Exodus 32:20 – 21)
To what extent is a person who commits adultery devoid of sense? No person sins without losing a grasp on reality. Harmful decisions are made by those who fail to understand the consequences of their actions. To what extend are such actions or persons self destructive. Fields 19
Fortunately, in these modern days, the Women of Reform Judaism have provided some corrective surgery.
“Where was the woman’s voice? She may have sounded like this:
I am accused. My husband is jealous. He is jealous of my friendship with any man. … My husband has warned me to stay away, telling me in front of his friends who were with him. He is a big man in their eyes. I have not been alone with a man whom I have seen. Yet I still stand accused.” Feigenson 131
There is a need for determining the truthfulness and openness of such an act, and then a method of atonement and rebuilding of trust.
“The suspicion or lack of trust can come from either party, and may well be mutual. In the Bible, the woman is brought to an authority and is an object of the priest’s actions; in the following ritual, the couple approaches the clergy as equals, and both are immersed in waters, as both seek renewed commitment and trust.
Thus our way of commenting on this biblical passage is not only to use as a model, but also to transform it into something new and respectful of both parties.”