The end of Mei Sotah

Sotah (9:9) | Yisrael Bankier | 3 years ago

Towards of the end of the masechet, the Mishnah describes how the spiritual decline of the Jewish people had legal ramifications. The first two listed (9:9) are that the rise in murders brought an end to the process of eglah arufa. Recall that this process was performed if a body was found left on the roadside, with the murderer unknown. The Mishnah continues that, with rise in adultery, the process of mei sotah also ended.

The Gemara (47b) cites a beraitah that explains as follows. The parasha that discusses the process of sotah ends (Bamidbar 5:38), "and the man shall be clean of sin, and the woman shall bear her sin." The Chachamim deduce that the mei sotah are only effective if the husband has not violated that same sin. The Beriata continues (citing the same pasuk cited in our Mishnah) explaining that the mei sotah would only work if that sin was not violated by his children either. The Beraita adds the even relationships out of wedlock would prevent the mei sotah from having an effect. Based on this Beraita, since the rise in promiscuity significantly reduced the likelihood of mei sotah being effective, the Chachamim ending the process.

The Rambam (Sotah 3:18) adds, considering that the mei sotah was then ineffective, performing the process of sotah nonetheless would be detrimental on two counts. Firstly, part of the process was that parchment with Hashem's name was wiped in the mei sotah. The permit to do so was only in the case where mei sotah would be effective; otherwise wiping out Hashem's name is a serious prohibition. Secondly, if she did commit the crime, since the mei sotah would not be effective, she might share the truth with her friends and claim that the mei sotah is simply a joke.

The Tosefta (14:1) however explains the both the eglah arufa and mei sotah ended for the same reason. Both processes are only performed in a case of doubt – we do not know who the murderer is in the case of eglah arufa and, despite being witnessed in seclusion with another man, we do not know if adultery was committed. In both cases, even if one person witnessed the sin, then either process would not continue. The Tosfeta explains, that it was not simply the increase in murders that brought an end to eglah arufa, but murders committed in the open. Consequently, the likelihood increased that someone saw the murder. The Tosefta continues that once promiscuity became more prevalent in the open, it was likely that if the affair was committed, someone saw it. Once again, this would mean that mei sotah would be ineffective.

According to both these explanations, the decline in behaviour meant that the technical requirements of mei sotah could no longer be met and was therefore ended.

The Ramban however describes the process of sotah as the only law in the Torah that is dependent on a miracle for its outcome. It is however only miraculous as long as Am Yisrael are deserving of it. Its presence was to deter immoral acts and ensure the Am Yisrael are clean of mamzerut, so they can be fit for Hashem to dwell amongst them. The Ramban, at the end of his comment, summarises that this miraculous process was a great honour for Klal Yisrael. The lack of effectiveness of the mei sotah with the decline was not only technical in nature. It was also that once they became corrupt, Am Yisrael no longer merited the miracle that was there to ensure that we continue to be a holy people. Note however that the masechet ends with the ultimate turnaround and teshuva of our people – may we merit to be a part of it soon.

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