Thursday, June 05, 2008

Naso: The Bitter Waters of Sotah as Selective Abortion of Bastards

An admittedly weird idea occurred to me as I read through the parsha of Sotah. Nowhere in the text does it say that the woman dies. What if, rather than killing the adulterous woman, the bitter waters cause her to abort the fetus?

That is, perhaps we are talking about a pregnant woman, and the husband suspects that he is not the father, and so is jealous of his wife. See the following points which might bolster that reading.

There is a focus on "besides your husband." Thus,
כ וְאַתְּ, כִּי שָׂטִית תַּחַת אִישֵׁךְ--וְכִי נִטְמֵאת; וַיִּתֵּן אִישׁ בָּךְ אֶת-שְׁכָבְתּוֹ, מִבַּלְעֲדֵי אִישֵׁךְ. 20 but if thou hast gone aside, being under thy husband, and if thou be defiled, and some man have lain with thee besides thy husband--
I suppose it is necessary for clarity, because otherwise even the innocent woman could not denyוַיִּתֵּן אִישׁ בָּךְ אֶת-שְׁכָבְתּו. But it can also be read as questioning the paternity. "You are pregnant. Did you sleep with anyone beside your husband?"

Indeed, earlier, when spelling out the offense, we have:
יג וְשָׁכַב אִישׁ אֹתָהּ, שִׁכְבַת-זֶרַע, וְנֶעְלַם מֵעֵינֵי אִישָׁהּ, וְנִסְתְּרָה וְהִיא נִטְמָאָה; וְעֵד אֵין בָּהּ, וְהִוא לֹא נִתְפָּשָׂה. 13 and a man lie with her carnally, and it be hid from the eyes of her husband, she being defiled secretly, and there be no witness against her, neither she be taken in the act;
The phrase שִׁכְבַת-זֶרַע is really unnecessary, and Chazal (and Karaites!) make derashot from it. Is not וְשָׁכַב אִישׁ אֹתָהּ sufficient? But perhaps שִׁכְבַת-זֶרַע actually means a shechiva which yields zera, progeny.

Then, in the curses, we do not see that she dies. Rather,
כא וְהִשְׁבִּיעַ הַכֹּהֵן אֶת-הָאִשָּׁה, בִּשְׁבֻעַת הָאָלָה, וְאָמַר הַכֹּהֵן לָאִשָּׁה, יִתֵּן ה אוֹתָךְ לְאָלָה וְלִשְׁבֻעָה בְּתוֹךְ עַמֵּךְ--בְּתֵת יְהוָה אֶת-יְרֵכֵךְ נֹפֶלֶת, וְאֶת-בִּטְנֵךְ צָבָה. 21 then the priest shall cause the woman to swear with the oath of cursing, and the priest shall say unto the woman--the LORD make thee a curse and an oath among thy people, when the LORD doth make thy thigh to fall away, and thy belly to swell;
כב וּבָאוּ הַמַּיִם הַמְאָרְרִים הָאֵלֶּה, בְּמֵעַיִךְ, לַצְבּוֹת בֶּטֶן, וְלַנְפִּל יָרֵךְ; וְאָמְרָה הָאִשָּׁה, אָמֵן אָמֵן. 22 and this water that causeth the curse shall go into thy bowels, and make thy belly to swell, and thy thigh to fall away'; and the woman shall say: 'Amen, Amen.'
A fallen thigh and swollen belly may be understood as the signs of an induced miscarriage. She would still be shamed, and thus be "a curse and an oath among thy people." But nowhere does it say that she would die.

Indeed, perhaps this could be an explanation of the terming of the waters mei hamarim. This is admittedly really out there, but contrast to Ruth 1, where Naomi calls herself Mara because of the loss of her sons:
כ וַתֹּאמֶר אֲלֵיהֶן, אַל-תִּקְרֶאנָה לִי נָעֳמִי: קְרֶאןָ לִי מָרָא, כִּי-הֵמַר שַׁדַּי לִי מְאֹד. 20 And she said unto them: 'Call me not Naomi, call me Marah; for the Almighty hath dealt very bitterly with me.
כא אֲנִי מְלֵאָה הָלַכְתִּי, וְרֵיקָם הֱשִׁיבַנִי יְהוָה; לָמָּה תִקְרֶאנָה לִי, נָעֳמִי, וַה' עָנָה בִי, וְשַׁדַּי הֵרַע לִי. 21 I went out full, and the LORD hath brought me back home empty; why call ye me Naomi, seeing the LORD hath testified against me, and the Almighty hath afflicted me?'
Finally, what is the contrast to the fallen thigh and swelled belly? The Torah states:
כח וְאִם-לֹא נִטְמְאָה הָאִשָּׁה, וּטְהֹרָה הִוא--וְנִקְּתָה, וְנִזְרְעָה זָרַע. 28 And if the woman be not defiled, but be clean; then she shall be cleared, and shall conceive seed.
Is the Sotah water a segulah for women to give birth? Chazal indeed saw it that way -- that if she was innocent, it brought blessing. But assuming that we do not adopt this interpretation, what is the meaning of וְנִזְרְעָה זָרַע?

I would suggest that the idea is that she is pregnant. And since her thigh did not fall and her belly did not swell -- she did not abort the fetus, she will carry the baby to full term and וְנִזְרְעָה זָרַע, have a child.


Michael said...

Other ideas that would reinforce this line of thought:
1) The fact that Chazal stress that the point of the sotah procedure is to prevent the birth of illegitimate children. (See Ramban on Posuk 20.)

2) "Ubar yerech imo" and a "nefel" is a stillborn child, hence "lanpil yareich" means to abort a fetus.

Very creative and I like this a lot. Perhaps when the Kohanim rush her out because of tumah, it refers to tumas leida.

joshwaxman said...

Very neat!


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