This ancient ritual represents supreme inequality.

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The harsh ritual is softened somewhat in the Mishnah, in the assertion that a woman's merits may postpone her punishment even for many years ("pending merit," Mishnah Sotah 3: 4), and in the law that "As the water probes her [the alleged adulteress], it probes him [the adulterer] as well" (Mishnah Sotah 5:1).

Although the Sotah trial was probably discontinued (if it was ever indeed practiced) during the Second Temple era, its cultural presence continued due to the study of Tractate Sotah as part of the talmudic codex.

With the growth of awareness of gender issues, the question of the representation of femininity and the tractate's attitude to it has arisen in all its acuteness. The extreme character of the ritual and its essential inequality have led to different ways of coping with it, ranging from apologetics to severe criticism. It has also inspired various artistic treatments, such as the play Sotah, created and performed by the Jerusalem Theater Company (1999), and the journal Elu ve-Elu 4 (1997), a publication of the Elul beit midrash in Jerusalem, dedicated entirely to examining Tractate Sotah from critical, feminist and modernist viewpoints.

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Ishay  Rosen-Zvi

Ishay Rosen-Zvi is a professor of Talmud and Ancient Jewish Thought in the Scholion program for Jewish Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. His Ph.D. work dealt with textual and cultural aspects of Tractate Sotah. His research interests focus on gender and sexual ethics in the Talmud as well as ancient Jewish hermeneutics.