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Home -- Content: Series 7 (Laws) -- Translation: English -- Book: 1 (Tora) -- Part: 1 (Positive) -- Command: 223 -- Text
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The Sharia of Moses in the TORA
Part 1 - The 248 Positive Commandments of the Tora

223 - THE LAW OF A SUSPECTED ADULTERESS


Numbers 5:12 -- "Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: 'If any man's wife goes astray and behaves unfaithfully toward him”

Both Scripture and the Mishnah set out in detail the terms and procedure of the extraordinary ordeal referred to here. Concern for the purity of the family and the moral integrity of the individual provides the rational basis of the commandment. “The fear of this trial,” avers Maimonides, “keeps away great evils that ruin the home.”*

* Moreh Nebuchim III, 49

A married man who had become jealous had to warn his wife before two witnesses of his suspicions against her in the following terms: “Do not go aside with such-an-one.” If after receiving such a warning, she was seen going secretly apart with the man expressly specified, she became subject to the law of the suspected adulteress. Husband and wife were thereupon forbidden to consort with one another, and she could be taken up to Jerusalem and made to drink of the water of bitterness that causeth the curse (Numbers 5:18). The Mishnah goes on to relate: “They used to bring her up to the Great Court (i.e. the Great Sanhedrin of seventy-one judges) that was in Jerusalem and admonish her in like manner as they admonished witnesses in capital cases, and say to her, ‘My daughter, much sin is wrought by wine, much by light conduct, much by childishness, and much by evil neighbors; do thou – for the sake of His great Name written in holiness, that it be not blotted out through the water of bitterness – make confession’”* If she pleaded innocence she was taken up to the Eastern Gate, where the rite in its entirety was performed. The blotting out of the Holy Name along with all other writing on the scroll containing the curse – as accomplished in the water of bitterness (Numbers 5:23) – obviously constituted a contravention of a negative commandment. The sages, however, maintained that it was out of consideration for the establishment of peace between husband and wife that the Lord had permitted erasure of His Holy Name.**

* Sot. 7a
** Ned. 66b

The sages further interpreted the Scriptural concluding verse, Then the man shall be free from iniquity… etc. (Numbers 5:31) as establishing that only where the man himself was clear of misconduct did “the water of bitterness” cause the curse to take effect.*

* Sot. 28a

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