SOṬAH ("Faithless Wife"; "Woman Suspected of Unfaithfulness"):
Treatise in the Mishnah, Tosefta, and Babylonian and Palestinian Talmuds, devoted in the main to an exact definition of the rules of procedure in the case of a wife either actually or supposedly unfaithful (Num. v. 11-31). In most editions this treatise is the sixth in the order Nashim, and is divided into nine chapters containing sixty-seven paragraphs in all. The following is a summary of the contents:
- Ch. i.: On the manner in which the husband should manifest his jealousy and restrain his wife from improper relations with another man; the consequences to the wife if she does not heed her husband's warnings (§§ 1-2); how the suspected wife is brought before the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem, how exhorted to confess, if she is guilty, and how admonished (§§ 3-6); with what measure one metes, it is meted unto him also; if a woman adorns herself for sin, God renders her hideous (§ 7); Biblical examples of recompense both of good and of evil: Samson followed whither his eyes led, and they were pierced (Judges xvi. 21), while Miriam stood for an hour on the river-bank because of Moses (Ex. ii. 4), and, as stated in Num. xii. 15, all Israel waited for her seven days (§§ 8-9).
- Ch. ii.: How the offering of jealousy is prepared (§ 1); how the priest pours the consecrated water into an earthen vessel and whence he takes the earth which he puts in the water (§ 2; comp. Num. v. 17); how he writes the book (comp. Num. v. 23), the verses which are written in it, and the material employed (§§ 3-4); the time and the cases to which the confirmation of the oath on the part of the wife refers (§§ 5-6; comp. Num. v. 22).
- Ch. iii.: Way in which the jealousy-offering is brought (§§ 1-2); cases in which the woman has a right to refuse to drink the bitter water (§ 3); commencement of the efficacy of the water of bitterness, and the problem whether a meritorious deed performed by the woman at some previous time may protect her from the action of the water; discussion, in this connection, of the admissibility of instructing women in the Law (§§ 4-5); cases in which the jealousy - offering is burned; distinctions between Israelites and priests and between men and women with regard to certain rights and punishments (§§ 6-8).
- Ch. iv.: Women to whom the water of bitterness is not given (§§ 1-4); cases in which the court itself warns the woman against questionable relations with a man (§ 5).
- Ch. v.: The water of bitterness affects the adulterer as well as the adulteress (§ 1); list of several textual interpretations that were delivered by R. Akiba and R. Joshua b. Hyrcanus on the day on which Gamaliel II. was deposed and Eleazar b. Azariah was elected "nasi" (§§ 2-5; comp. Ber. 28a).
- Ch. vi.: The amount of testimony regarding the unfaithfulness of a woman which prevents her from drinking the bitter water, and testimony which causes her to lose her Ketubah.
- Ch. vii.: Prayers which may be said in any language, such as the "Shema'" and the daily prayer (§ 1); what may be said only in the holy tongue (Hebrew), such as most of the sections of the Torah, and the formula spoken at the ḥaliẓah by the woman whom her brother-in-law refuses to marry (§ 2); the method of reciting these formulas, and the time and the modeof reading the portions of the Law (§§ 3-7); the story of King Agrippa II., who wept when he heard the words "Thou mayest not set a stranger over thee, which is not thy brother" (Deut. xvii. 15), since he was himself a descendant of Herod and consequently an Idumean, and to whom the people cried out: "Thou art our brother" (§ 8).
- Ch. viii.: The address by the priest anointed for war, delivered to the army before battle (§ 1; comp. Deut. xx. 2 et seq.); interpretation of Deut. xx. 5-9; those who are ordinarily exempt from military service, and wars from which they are not exempt (§§ 2-7).
- Ch. ix.: The breaking of the neck of a heifer in case the assassin of a man found murdered is unknown (§§ 1-8; comp. Deut. xxi. 1-9); the time of the abolition both of this custom and of the use of the water of bitterness in the trial of women suspected of adultery (§ 9); the discontinuance of other customs, things, and virtues; on many ordinances proclaimed at various times; the gloomy portents of the Messianic time (§§ 10-14); an enumeration of the different grades of holiness and piety, the highest being the gift of the Holy Spirit (§ 15).
The Tosefta is divided into fifteen chapters and contains a large number of haggadic and exegetic interpretations, as well as various historical statements and narratives. Particularly noteworthy is the exegesis of several passages, including Deut. xxi. 7-8 (Tosef. ix. 2-9), I Sam. iv. 8-9, Nah. i. 1-2, and Cant. viii. 5-6. Certain sections of interest are devoted to the explanation of contradictions between Biblical statements; for example, Tosef. xi. 11 seeks to harmonize I Sam. x. 2. a passage locating Rachel's grave "in the border of Benjamin," and Gen. xxxv. 19, which describes her burial-place as being near Beth-lehem, in the district of Judah. In like manner xi. 18 and xii. 3 seek to harmonize II Sam. xxi. 8 with iv. 23, and II Chron. xxii. 2 with II Kings viii. 17 respectively. The narratives of special interest are those concerning Simeon the Just—who received, while in the Temple, a premonition of the death of the emperor Caligula (xiii. 6), and who prophesied his own end (xiii. 8)—and the account of the despair which seized the people after the destruction of the Temple, so that many refused to eat meat or to drink wine, until R. Joshua taught them to observe restraint even in their mourning for the loss of their independence (xv. 11).The Two Gemaras.
Both, Gemaras contain many tales and legends, haggadic interpretations, sayings, and proverbs, in addition to their elucidations of mishnaic passages. The following examples may be cited from the Babylonian Gemara: "Heaven destines a wife for every man according to his merits" (2a); "Whoso is jealous of his wife must be filled with an evil demon" (3a); "The proud man is even as the unbeliever and the idolater" (4b); "Adultery is the most grievous sin, nor can atonement be made for it by any merit or good act" (ib.); "Whoso neglecteth his wife and is untrue to her causeth her to become unfaithful and to commit adultery" (10a).
Other points of interest in the Babylonian Gemara are the introductory words on the position of the treatise Soṭah among the other tractates of Nashim (2a), and the stories relating to the coffin of Joseph (13a), the grave of Moses (13b-14a), and the attitude of Joshua b. Peraḥyah toward one of his pupils, who, according to some expositors, was Jesus (47a in the uncensored editions of the Talmud).
With regard to the Palestinian Gemara, special mention may be made of the story of the modesty of R. Meïr, who would disregard his own rank and dignity in his eagerness to restore peace between husband and wife (i. 4, 16d). The very interesting statement is also made that there was indeed a man named Job; but that the calamities described in the book which bears his name never befell him, for he was made its hero simply on account of his sincere and profound piety (v. 5, 20a).