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Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Sotah

Folio 8a

But she is already there!1  — They lead her up2  and lead her down, for the purpose of wearying her.3  For it has been taught: R. Simeon b. Eleazar says: The Court causes the witnesses to be taken from place to place that their mind may become confused and they retract [their evidence, if false].4

WHERE THEY GIVE SUSPECTED WOMEN THE WATER TO DRINK etc. This is quite right in the case of suspected women; because it is written: And the priest shall set the woman before the Lord.5  Likewise is it with lepers; because it is written: And the priest that cleanseth him shall set the man … before the Lord.6  But why a woman after childbirth? Is it to say because they come to stand by their offerings; for it has been taught: A person's offering is not sacrificed until he stands by it? If so, it should also apply to men and women with a running issue!7  — It does indeed also apply to them, and the Tanna [in the Mishnah] only specifies one of them.8

Our Rabbis have taught: They do not give two suspected women the water to drink at the same time, so that the heart of one should not become defiant because of the other.9  R. Judah says: It is not from this reason, but Scripture declares, [The priest shall cause] her [to swear]10  — her alone. And for the first Tanna it is likewise written 'her'!11  — The first Tanna is R. Simeon who expounds the reason of Scriptural texts12  and [here] he states the reason: What is the meaning of 'her'? Her alone, so that the heart of one should not become defiant because of the other. What difference is there, then, between them? — The difference between them is the case of a woman who is trembling.13  But even if [a woman] is trembling, may we give her the water to drink [simultaneously with another woman] when, behold, we may not perform precepts in bundles?14  For we have learnt: They do not give two suspected women the water to drink at the same time, nor purify two lepers at the same time, nor bore the ears of two slaves at the same time,15  nor break the necks of two calves at the same time,16  because we may not perform precepts in bundles! — Abaye said, but others declare it was R. Kahana: There is no contradiction; the latter case referring to one priest,17  the other to two priests.

A PRIEST SEIZES HER GARMENTS. Our Rabbis have taught: And let the hair of the woman's head go loose.18  I only have here mention of her head; whence is it derived that it applies to her body?19  The text states: 'the woman's'.20  If so, what is the object of the text declaring, 'And let the hair of the head go loose'? It teaches that the priest undoes her hair.21

R. JUDAH SAYS, IF HER BOSOM WAS BEAUTIFUL etc. Is this to say that R. Judah is afraid of impure thoughts being aroused and the Rabbis do not fear this? Behold we have heard the opposite opinion of them; for it has been taught: In the case of a man [who is to be stoned] they cover him with one piece of cloth in front, and in the case of a woman with two pieces, one in front and one behind, because the whole of her is considered nudity. This is the statement of R. Judah; but the Sages say: A man is stoned naked but a woman is not stoned naked!22  — Rabbah answered: What is the reason here?23  Lest she go forth from the Court innocent, and the priestly novitiates become inflamed through her, whereas in the other case she is stoned. Should you reply that it may cause them to be inflamed by another woman, Raba24  declared: We have learnt a tradition that the evil impulse only bears sway over what a person's eyes see. Raba asked: Is it, then, that R. Judah contradicts himself and the Rabbis do not contradict themselves? But, said Raba, R. Judah does not contradict himself as we have just explained,25

To Part b

Original footnotes renumbered.
  1. V. Mishnah p. 30.
  2. The Temple-mount to be charged by the judges, then lead her to the bottom, and finally up again.
  3. So that she may be more disposed to confess.
  4. V. Sanh. 32b.
  5. Num. V, 18.
  6. Lev. XIV, 11.
  7. Ibid. XV, 14, 29.
  8. Who do not enter the Temple precincts owing to a condition of defilement, and consequently stand at Nicanor's gate.
  9. One may be guilty and the other not. The first may refuse to confess because the other does not confess.
  10. Num. V, 19. V. Ned. 73a.
  11. So why does he give his own reason?
  12. V. B.M. 115a.
  13. And therefore we cannot say she is defiant, and on the view of the first Tanna, as explained, she might be submitted to the ordeal at the same time with another suspected woman.
  14. Each must have separate attention.
  15. Ex. XXI, 6.
  16. Deut. XXI, 1 ff.
  17. Administering the water to two women, when it would be performing a precept in bundles.
  18. Num. V, 18.
  19. That be uncovers her bosom, as stated in the Mishnah.
  20. And not merely 'the hair of her head'.
  21. And unravels the locks.
  22. V. Sanh. 45a.
  23. That R. Judah is against the exposure of her bosom.
  24. In the parallel passage in Sanh. 45a the name is Rabbah.
  25. The case of a suspected woman is not analogous to that of a woman who is to be stoned.
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Sotah 8b

and the Rabbis likewise do not contradict themselves. What is the reason here?1  Because [it is written], That all women may be taught not to do after your lewdness.2  In the other case [of stoning], however, there cannot be a severer warning than that.3  Should you argue, Let both be inflicted upon her,4  R. Nahman said in the name of Rabbah b. Abbuha: The text states: Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself5  — choose for him [or her] a light death. Is this to say that Mishnaic teachers disagree [with respect to this teaching] of R. Nahman?6  — No; everybody is in agreement with R. Nahman's teaching, but they differ here on the following point: [the Rabbis] hold that disgrace is worse than physical pain, and [R. Judah] holds that physical pain is worse than disgrace.7

IF SHE WAS CLOTHED IN WHITE etc. It has been taught: If black garments became her, they clothe her in mean garments.

IF SHE WORE GOLDEN ORNAMENTS etc. This is obvious. Since she has to be made repulsive how much more is it necessary to do this!8  — What you might have thought is that with these ornaments upon her, the disgrace would be greater; as the proverb declares, 'Stripped naked, yet wearing shoes'. Therefore we are taught [that all ornaments must be removed].

AFTER THAT [THE PRIEST] TAKES A COMMON ROPE etc. R. Abba asked R. Huna, Does [the absence of] a common rope invalidate the ceremony of a suspected woman? If the purpose is that her garments should not slip down from her, then a small belt would also suffice; or is it perhaps as the Master said: 'She girded herself with a belt [to adorn herself] for him,9  therefore the priest takes a common rope and binds it over her breasts', and consequently [its absence] does invalidate the ceremony? — He replied: You have [the reason stated:] After that he takes a common rope and binds it over her breast so that her garments should not slip down from her.

WHOEVER WISHES TO LOOK UPON HER COMES TO LOOK etc. This is self-contradictory! You say: WHOEVER WISHES TO LOOK UPON HER COMES TO LOOK; consequently it makes no difference whether they be men or women. Then it is taught: ALL WOMEN ARE PERMITTED TO LOOK UPON HER — hence women are [permitted] but men are not! — Abaye answered: Explain it10  as referring to women. Raba said to him, But the Mishnah states: WHOEVER WISHES TO LOOK UPON HER COMES TO LOOK! But, said Raba, [the meaning is:] WHOEVER WISHES TO LOOK UPON HER COMES TO LOOK, it makes no difference whether they be men or women; but women are obliged11  to look upon her, as it is said: 'That all women may be taught not to do after your lewdness.'


GEMARA. R. Joseph said: Although the measure13  has ceased, [the principle] IN THE MEASURE has not ceased.14  For R. Joseph said, and similarly taught R. Hiyya: From the day the Temple was destroyed, although the Sanhedrin ceased to function, the four modes of execution15  did not cease. But they did cease! — [The meaning is:] The judgment16  of the four modes of execution did not cease. He who would have been condemned to stoning either falls from a roof [and dies] or a wild beast tramples him [to death]. He who would have been condemned to burning either falls into a fire or a serpent stings him. He who would have been condemned to decapitation is either handed over to the [Gentile] Government17  or robbers attack him. He who would have been condemned to strangulation either drowns in a river or dies of a quinsy.18

It has been taught: Rabbi19  used to say: Whence is it that in the measure with which a man measures it is meted out to him? As it is said: By measure in sending her away thou dost contend with her.20  I have here only a se'ah;21  whence is it to include a trikab and half a trikab, a kab and half a kab, a quarter, an eighth, a sixteenth and a thirtysecond part of a kab? There is a text to state, For all the armour of the armed man in the tumult.22  And whence is it that every perutah23  reckons together into a great sum? There is a text to state, Laying one thing to another to find out the account.24  Thus we find in the case of a suspected woman that in the measure with which she measured it was meted out to her. She stood at the entrance of her house to display herself to the man; therefore a priest sets her by the Nicanor-gate and displays her disgrace to all. She wound a beautiful scarf about her head for him; therefore a priest removes her headgear and places it under her feet. She beautified her face for him; therefore

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Original footnotes renumbered.
  1. That the Rabbis do not scruple to disgrace the suspected woman, whereas in the case of the woman who is stoned they do.
  2. Ezek. XXIII, 48.
  3. Viz., the stoning itself; therefore the Rabbis are against the exposure of the body.
  4. Disgrace as well as death by stoning.
  5. Lev. XIX, 18.
  6. That when R. Judah says a woman is stoned naked except for a loin-cloth in front and behind he evidences disagreement with R. Nahman.
  7. Therefore the former believe that a woman about to die would prefer to be clothed although it may involve a more protracted death, while R. Judah takes the opposite view, v. Sanh. (Sonc. ed.) pp. 294-5.
  8. Why, then, does the Mishnah mention it?
  9. Her paramour; v. infra p. 38.
  10. The phrase, WHOEVER WISHES etc.
  11. The word [H] 'are permitted', is apparently derived here from the root [H], 'to warn'; hence 'are warned, obliged'.
  12. V. Num. V, 21 f.
  13. Meted out by a Jewish Court of Justice.
  14. Referring to Divine retribution.
  15. V. Sanh. 90a.
  16. Through Divine intervention.
  17. Which executes him by the sword.
  18. V. Sanh. (Sonc. ed.) p. 236.
  19. [The parallel passage in Sanh. 100a has 'R. Meir'].
  20. Isa. XXVII, 8.
  21. The word for by measure is connected by Rabbi with se'ah, a dry measure of which a trikab (equals three kab) is a half. Se'ah is taken as representing a very serious offence.
  22. Isa. IX, 4, E.V. 5. The Hebrew words for 'armour' [H] and 'armed man' [H] are likewise connected with se'ah.
  23. A small coin, here representing a minor offence which is not overlooked for punishment.
  24. Eccl. VII, 27.
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