א׳ בכסלו ה׳תשע״ו (November 13, 2015)

Sota 18a-b: The Woman Does Not Drink and Repeat

We have learned that a woman whose husband has warned her of his concern regarding her behavior with a certain man will drink the “bitter water” of a if she is seen having secluded herself with that individual. Our Gemara asks whether the woman can be put through this ordeal more than once. The position presented by Rabbi Yehuda is that a woman cannot be a judged as a sota more than once. He supports this with a story that once Nehunya Hofer Shihin testified before the court that a woman could be a sota more than once, but that his position was accepted only if she was married to a second husband, but not with the same husband.

According to the Mishna in Massekhet Shekalim (5a) Nehunya Hofer Shihin – whose name literally means “Nehunya the ditch digger” – was one of the appointed workers in the Temple, whose official position was to be responsible for water for Jerusalem generally, and specifically for the pilgrims coming to the Temple during the holidays. The Gemara tells that Nehunya was an expert in choosing the correct place to dig wells, thus he was able to fill cisterns not only from the collection of rainwater, but from underground reservoirs, as well.

It appears that “the great cistern” referred to was one with which were familiar. In the Gemara in Massekhet Yevamot (121b) a baraita is brought that tells the story of Nehunya Hofer Shihin‘s daughter who fell into “the great cistern.” When the report reached Rabbi Hanina ben Dosa, he reported that all was well, and after a time that she had been saved. When questioned about it, Rabbi Hanina ben Dosa said that throughout the ordeal he was certain that Nehunya Hofer Shihin‘s daughter was safe because she would not be punished with the very object that her father devoted his life to.

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