Broken: The Sotah

Oil on Birch Panels 64”x80” 2005

This painting of a broken relationship was inspired by the following text in the Hebrew Bible (Numbers 11-31) describing the”Sotah- the unfaithful wife”.

“If any man’s wife has gone astray and broken faith with him in that a man has had carnal relations with her unbeknown to her husband, and she keeps secret the fact that she has defiled herself without being forced, and there is no witness against her -- but a fit of jealousy comes over him and he is wrought up about the wife who has defiled herself; or ..... about his wife although she has not defiled herself -- the man shall bring his wife to the priest...”

The suspected wife is tested by drinking a potion of bitter water Into which the Priest has sprinkled dust from the floor of the Temple, and dissolved the ink from a parchment scroll on which was written an oath containing the name of God. If she is innocent she is showered with blessings, but 
if she is guilty, the bitter waters kill her.

In a time when women were almost universally considered chattel, the Sotah trial insists that a jealous husband does not have the power to personally punish his wife even when he suspects her of adultery. This dramatic ritual was a means of removing judgement from society and placing it in the hands of God. Moreover, If the husband himself has had prohibited sexual relations, then the adulterous wife will not die.

If she was guilty, moreover, she could escape the ordeal by accepting divorce. 
The trial of the Sotah manifests the paramount importance in Judaism of the husband-wife relationship. When it is broken, it can only be repaired or permanently destroyed by the intervention of sacred justice.

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