Thursday, June 23, 2016

Naso--Sotah Re-"Examined": Male Privilege?

[Reposted from May 29, 2014, after an accidental erasure]


The recent mass murders committed by Elliot Rodger reawakened heated discussions of misogyny, harassment and male privilege, along with the usual re-heating of the cultural battles over guns in the US.  However, I came to question notions of male privilege in parshas sotah not because of the Rodger case, but because of a posting by Rabbi Jonathan Gewirtz.

Ironically, I agreed with some of what he wrote, particularly that "[p]eople feel that when they see people sin, or act in a way that perhaps doesn’t live up to all the ideals a Jewish person could exemplify, they have a right to denounce them, curse them, and write them off."  

However, his use of the parshas sotah as a paradigm for saving broken marriages--that the entire purpose of the administration of the mayim hame'arerim was "G-d [] figuratively jump[ing] through hoops to pacify the husband...[] do[ing] a miracle to convince her husband that she didn’t betray him"--got me to do what the Rodger crime didn't.

G-d-ordained male privilege?

Let's take a closer look.

To be sure, let's assume two things for arguments sake.  One, the obvious--it took a lot to get us to this point: a warning to not be secluded with a particular man was blatantly ignored, so there was some wrongdoing on her part. Second, let's assume--in line with Rabbi Gewirtz' piece--that the woman came through the ordeal and was proven innocent of the accusation.  

Much is made of the woman's behavior; the series of Rashis that illustrate how all the steps in both the offering of the minchas sotah up until the actual administration of the oath and the waters are a mida-k'neged-mida for various elements of her waywardness.

In fact, the entire process is set up to get her to confess; if guilty, she faces a choice between a gruesome death on one hand, or divorce, penury [losing her kesuva] and general opprobrium for infidelity on the other.  And, just in case she doubts the efficacy of the waters, the process leading up to the drinking is supposed to tip the scales [and avoid the possible erasure of G-d's Name] by eventually forcing a confession.

This, then, raises the question: if she knew she'd have to go through this to prove her innocence, what would stiffen her resolve in the face of this humiliation? I posit that she knows what awaits at the end: she gets her kesuva back, and she gets the brachos of "ve'niksa venizre'a zara". I'll take it a step further: she now has the opportunity to WALK, take her money and her brachos. [Notice that the posuk says she'll conceive. It doesn't say it has to be with the current cad.] 

Wait...is he really a cad?  Well...if after trying to get her killed [and using the name of G-d to do it] he would refuse to give a get, that might prove it further, but even granting that point can't be directly supported from sources, other indicators of the cad's character can:

1] Rashi on 5:12 indicates that the guy, for starters, is stingy: he withheld the matnos kehuna, so he drags himself to the Kohen to deal with this;

2] Sotah 2a states that a man's zivug is commensurate with his deeds, indicating that somewhere along the line, he should have looked in the mirror [the converse--that a man's deeds reflect his spouse's--is not necessarily true, which is why it remains unstated];

3] Sotah 3a that posits that the kinui which sets the whole process in motion is actually forbidden, and is prompted by an "impure spirit"...

But--didn't G-d allow His name to be erased for shalom bayis? Isn't that the whole point of the story?

Actually...if you jump to the mishnah on 47a, where a proliferation of adultery leads to the suspension of the practice of mei sotah, where the water has lost its efficacy [especially when the husbands were themselves unfaithful] indicates that clearly there were lost marital causes not worth saving--possibly even mandating divorce; but G-d as it were no longer got involved, at least not in the same way.

It's eminently possible that G-d was willing to go so far to have the Name erased to protect the WIFE's honor, even given the appearance of impropriety on her part [which she suffers for.  Very much in public.]

Now she has a marriage settlement and can present the case of a murderous spouse...and even use the kohanim who administered the process to prove it.


There is a reason we have the Shalom Task Force and Bat Melech. Not all marriages are worth saving. For a long time "go back, for shalom bayis" was the communal default. Parshas sotah might have been used to promulgate that once upon a time. But if one is "bodek" the parsha again--like the waters, when they work--one will see that it can be used to indicate the opposite.

1 comment:

Rabbi Jonathan Gewirtz said...

Well-thought out, though I don't know if I agree. If you read my blog, however, my point was that a woman suggested that because of her behavior, which she felt was less than correct, another woman's husband ought to divorce her. Her thoughtless comment reveals her own cavalier attitude toward marriage.

My point was that G-d does not feel marriage should be viewed as expendable. Of course, if couples cannot get along there is an option to divorce, but it should be a last resort after both parties have tried to work on the relationship.

I'm not going to discuss a misogynist who doesn't know how to treat a spouse, male or female, but I fear that immediately crying "abuse" also undermines the ability of people to have marriages that work.