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Escorting the Sotah

Sotah (1:3) | Yisrael Bankier | 6 days ago

Masechet Sotah describes the process applied to a woman suspected of adultery. The process only begins if the woman was pre-warned against being in seclusion with a particular man and subsequently witnessed in seclusion with him. The Mishnah (1:3) explains that after those two incidents, the husband takes his wife to the Sanhedrin in Yerushalaim. The Chachamim maintain that they are joined by two talmidei chachamim to ensure that they do not have relations on the journey. R' Yehuda however argues that they can go alone. The Gemara (7a) initially explains that during their marriage the husband is trusted with being alone with his wife when she is in niddah. Considering that the prohibition of niddah is more severe, he should be trusted in our case. The Gemara however continues that that logic justifies the Chachamim's position. Considering that the prohibition of Sotah is more lenient than niddah, it heightens the concern justifying the need for them to be escorted. In other words, the severity of the prohibition is the deterrent, which is absent in our case.

The Gemara however continues by citing a Beraita that explains that R' Yehuda's position is based on the pasuk, "and the husband will bring his wife to the kohen." The logic cited earlier in the Gemara requiring the escort, is presented in the Beraita in the name of R' Yossi. There the Chachamim respond differently, arguing that the prohibition of niddah is temporary; the drive to violate the prohibition is not strong, since she will soon be permitted. In this case however, if she indeed had an affair she would be prohibited to him forever. The challenge to resist violating the prohibition is greater, consequently the two talmidei Chachamim must join them.

Understanding the Chachamim's two counter arguments is important. The Tosfot R' Akiva Eiger explains that the practical difference is found if the wife was a niddah when they go to Yerushalaim. According to the first argument, that the husband is trusted in the case of a niddah due to its severity, the Chachamim would agree in this case that they may travel alone. Since we have the added severe prohibition, there is no concern about prohibited activities on the journey. According to the second argument, that the husband is normally trusted when his wife is a niddah because the prohibition is temporary, they would still need to be accompanied – the issue of Sotah is permanent.

The Tosfot R' Akiva Eiger however cites the Tosfot who notes that yichud, being in seclusions with one who is an issur arayot (prohibited relation), is a biblical law. Even if we may trust them, why can one be in yichud with his niddah wife in breach of this biblical law? The Tosfot answer that the biblical prohibition only covers relationships that are permanently prohibited, excluding niddah. The Tosfot R' Akiva Eiger therefore asks, if that the permit of yichud with one's wife who is a niddah does not apply to sotah, how could R' Yehuda (initially) use it as grounds to permit them go to Yerushalaim alone? The Amudei Ohr explains that this is not a question on R' Yossi for indeed this may have been the substance of the counter argument of the Chachamim. However according to R' Yehuda it is difficult to understand why he did not differentiate between niddah and sotah and why the Chachamim did not provide this distinction in their counter argument.

The Amudei Ohr cites the Gemara (Yoma 13b) that discusses a kohen gadol that, whilst in the middle of his service, hears that a close relative died. R' Yehuda argues that he must stop, since he is then prohibited for eating from the korbanot. R' Yossi however maintains he can continue – the prohibition is temporary as he will be permitted that evening. The Gemara however asks, that we find that if the kohen gadol's wife dies on Yom Kippur, R' Yehuda allows the kohen gadol to continue. The Gemara explains that the difference is that on Yom Kippur everyone is prohibited from eating. The Amudei Ohr notes that we find that R' Yehuda differentiates between objects prohibited to individuals and to everyone. He continues that R' Yehuda permits yichud with one's wife who is a niddah since unlike a relative, a woman in niddah is forbidden to everyone. Similarly in our case, R' Yehuda reasons that since the sotah is also prohibited to everyone equally, he can draw on niddah to allow them to travel alone.

This explains why the Chachamim do not respond with the same argument they provided to R' Yossi. R' Yossi understands that the basis for yichud with a niddah wife being is that the prohibition is temporary, much like the Tosfot explain. Consequently, the Chachamim argue that the prohibition of Sotah is (potentially) permanent. R' Yehuda's basis of the permit of yichud with a wife in niddah is based on her being universally prohibited. Consequently, the Chachamim respond by pointing to the flaw in using the severity of the prohibition as a basis for drawing the conclusion.

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