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Measure for Measure As a Hermeneutical Tool In Early Rabbinic Literature: The Case of Tosefta Sotah

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Measure for Measure As a Hermeneutical Tool In Early Rabbinic Literature: The Case of Tosefta Sotah
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  journal of jewish studies , vol . lvii , no . 2 , autumn 2006 Measure for Measure as a Hermeneutical Tool in Early Rabbinic Literature:The Case of Tosefta Sotah * I shay R osen -Z vi The Hebrew University, Jerusalem S cholars have long noticed the centrality of the principle of ‘measure formeasure’ to rabbinic thought. 1 They have tended, however, to read rab-binic sources as basically continuing the biblical theology of divine justicewhich presents the God of Israel, the supreme judge of history, as paying allmen and nations back for their actions. 2 This scholarly tendency has blurredthe distinctive ways that rabbinic sources develop and implement this famousbiblical notion of ‘poetic justice’. 3 In this paper, I shall o ff  er an analysis of the functioning of the principle of ‘measure for measure’ in tannaitic (early rabbinic) literature through a closereading of one of its central and most lengthy appearances in the Mishnaand Tosefta of Tractate Sotah. Decoding this allegedly strange and uniquecase will help us also to understand the concept’s ordinary usage in tannaiticMidrashic literature in general.I will argue that the Mishna and Tosefta of Tractate Sotah—unlike most * This paper is a revised version of a chapter from my dissertation: The Ritual of the Sus- pected Adulteress (Sotah) in Tannaic Literature: Textual and Theoretical Perspectives (PhD Dis-sertation, Tel Aviv University, 2004; in Hebrew). I would like to thank my two advisors, Prof.Moshe Halbertal and Prof. Adi Ophir, for numerous conversations and invaluable pieces of ad-vice. A previous version of the paper was presented at the AJS conference in Boston (December2003) and was greatly enriched by the discussion which followed. I am also greatly indebted toDaniel Birenbaum for his editing assistance. 1 See the discussions of B. Jacob, Auge Um Auge: Eine Untersuchung zum Alten und NeuenTestament (Berlin: Philo Verlag, 1929), 90–120; I. Heinemann, Darkhe Ha  aggadah (Tel Aviv:Devir, 1974), 64–70; E. E. Urbach, The Sages: Their Concepts and Beliefs (Cambridge: HarvardUniversityPress,1979), 371–373, 438–439; Y. Amir,‘Measurefor MeasureinTalmudicLiteratureand in The Wisdom of Solomon’,H. G. Reventlow and Y. Ho ff  man (eds), Justice and Righteous-ness: Biblical Themes and Their Influence (She ffi eld: She ffi eld Academic Press, 1992), 29–46. Theimpressive amount of scholarship on ‘measure for measure’ (and especially its legal implication:‘an eye for and eye’) in biblical and rabbinic literature is due, among other things, to the Chris-tian polemics against the biblical law of  Talion : ‘“an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” is saidto be the most widely known principle of Biblical law [...] Scholars have expended a sometimesdisproportionateamount of e ff  ort on it, often as a reaction to the criticism in the Sermon on theMount’ (B. S. Jackson, ‘The Problem of Exod. 21:22–25 [ Ius Talionis ]’, Vetus Testamentum 23(1973), 273–304; 273; see the long bibliography cited there in n. 1). Benno Jacob’s classic book isa clear example of that phenomenon (as was noted already by Urbach, 881 n. 68). 2 See, for example Urbach, The Sages , 439: ‘Numerous dicta, aphorism, stories and parableswere added by the sages to those already found in the Bible in order to prove that the principle of ‘measure for measure’ was not abolished’; Amir, ‘Measure for Measure’, 29: ‘the later rabbinicalconcept is essentially already present in biblical Judaism’. 3 On this conceptand its usagein biblical scholarshipseeK.L. Wong, The Idea ofRetributionin the Book of Ezekiel  (Leiden: Brill, 2001), 197–200.  270 journal of jewish studies other tannaitic literature which employs the ‘measure for measure’ princi-ple as a hermeneutic tool, as a way of connecting and explicating biblicaltexts—use the rule as an explanation and justification of a rabbinic ritual. Iwill further suggest that it is the unique character of the Sotah ritual itself inits rabbinic form that necessitates the exceptional implementation of the rule.Uncovering this unusual case will provide us with better tools to understandthe ways in which the tannaitic Midrashim and specifically the Mekhilta toExodus use the rule in general.First, some introductory words regarding the Sotah . Chapter five in thebook of Numbers describes a ritual performed to test suspicions raised by ahusband regarding his wife’s sexual fidelity. The jealous husband is requiredtobring his wife tothe priest in the Temple where she is subjected to an ordealwhose character is unparalleled in biblical law. The priest prepares a potion,consisting of ‘holy water’, dust from the temple floor, and ink from an oathwritten on parchment. As the woman drinks the potion, the outcome of thetrial manifests itself on her body, confirming or refuting her husband’s suspi-cions.Rabbinicliteraturedeals extensivelywiththisritual,devotinganentire trac-tate in the Mishna and the Talmudim to it. The first three chapters of MishnaSotah describe the ritual in a more or less continuous narrative as does thebiblical account. The Mishnaic ritual, however, di ff  ers significantly from thebiblical account, both in the details and in the overall quality. The privatepriestly ritual becomes in the Mishnaic reformulation a grand public eventdirected by the Rabbis: ‘and whoever wants to stare at her comes and stares’. 4 The conditions required to compel the woman to undergo this test have alsobeen completely altered to comply with the strictures of Talmudic legal evi-dence: the wrongdoer must be explicitly warned, before committing the sin,about the consequences of her actions and witnesses must be present at thescene of the crime. A number of new procedures have also been added overthe course of the ritual. Even the ritual’s conclusion in which the woman is di-vinely punished has been radically altered: from the private infliction of dam-agesto the woman’s sinning organsalone,to adramatic deathanda theatricaldeformation of her body for public consumption. 5 In what follows I shall examine a long unit in the Tosefta which interpretsthe Sotah ritual according to the logic of ‘measure for measure’. A close read- 4 m. Sot 1:6. 5 ForafullerdiscussionontherelationshipbetweenthebiblicalandrabbinicritualseeRosen-Zvi, Sotah . Note that while my dissertation deals extensively with the sex and gender ideologiesmanifested in Tractate Sotah (see esp.ch. 7–8), these issueswill be treated onlyincidentallyin thispaper(see,forexample,belownn.20–22) whosefocusis thehermeneuticand rhetoricalaspectsof thesetexts.Itis hard to knowifand howtheritualwasactuallyenacted andperformed duringtheSecond Temple era. However,the second temple versions of the ritual, which appear in the worksofPhilo( de spec.leg. III,52–62) andJosephus( Ant. III,270–273) as wellasin Qumran(4Q270.4),are much closer to the biblical text then the Mishnaic description, and do not resemble at all thecolorful elaboration of the rabbis. Moreover, the Mishna itself (9:2) notes that the Sotah ritualceased to be practiced already during the days of the Second Temple. The extensive deliberationsofthe rabbisregardingthenatureoftheritual—whichseem to srcinatemostlyin themid-secondcentury (Usha period) and after—are therefore most probably academic and theoretic in nature.On this question also see Rosen-Zvi, Sotah , 177–192.  measure for measure as a hermeneutical tool 271ing of this unit followed by a comparison with other more common appear-ances of therule in Tannaiticliterature will help us understandtheexact func-tion of this rule in early rabbinic texts. A. Structure and Mimicry: Tosefta Sotah 3:2–5 Chapters 3 and 4 of Tosefta Sotah include a large aggadic collection whichdeals with three related principles of divine retribution: first, ‘By the samemeasure by which a man metes out, so too is meted out to him’ (3, 1–4, 10);second, ‘the same location at which the crime first began, from there the ret-ribution begins to overtake’ (4, 10–15); and lastly, ‘What she wanted is notgiven to her, and what she had in hand is taken away from her’ (4, 16—4,19). Each rule opens with an example from the Sotah ritual, followed by aseries of examples from biblical narratives. Thus, the following examples arepresented in relation to the first rule: Sotah, the Flood, the tower of Babel,Sodom, Egypt, Sisrah, Samson, Abshalom, Sennacherib, and Nebuchadnez-zar. Following this list, comes a series of positive examples of the same rule:Abraham, Joseph, and Moses. 6 All examples follow their chronological orderin the Bible, except for the first one in each list which is taken from the Sotahritual itself, the very subject of this tractate.Let us examine the aggadic unit which opens this collection, presenting theSotah’s punishment in the context of the first principle: 7 äããîù äãéîáù äèåñá åðéöî ïëååì åããî äáìëä éðôá äãéîòî ïäë êëéôì®äðåì÷ úà úåàøìåéðôì äãîò àéä 1. äùàø ìòî äôë ìèåð ïäë êëéôì®åéìâø úçú äçéðîåïéãñ äñøéô àéä 2. ®úå÷éøåî äéðô êëéôì äéðô åì äèùé÷ àéä 3. ®úåèìåá äéðéò êëéôì äéðéò åì äìçë àéä 4. éøöîä ìáç àéáî ïäë êëéôì®äéããî äìòîì åøùå÷åïéöéöá åì äøâç àéä 5. ®íéáøì äðåì÷ äàøî ïäë êëéôì äøùá úà åúàøä àéä 6. ®úéñîð äëéøé êëéôì äëéøé åì äèùô àéä 7. ®äáö äðèá êëéôì äðèá ìò åúåà äìá÷ àéä 8. ®äîäá ìëàî äðáø÷ êëéôì íéðãòî åúåà äìéëàä àéä 9. 6 The positive examples of ‘measure for measure’ are cited only in the context of the first,general principle. The other two are specific punitive implementations of the rule and thus do notinclude positive examples. 7 t. Sot 3:2–5 (according to MS. Erfurt). The di ff  erent paragraphshave been brokeninto linesand numbered in order to emphasis their special structure and help follow the discussion below.The priority of Ms. Erfort in this place, and the Geniza fragment supporting it, are discussed inlength in: I. Rosen-Zvi, ‘The Sin of Concealment of the Suspected Adulteress: Reading ToseftaSotah 3:5’, Tarbiz 70 (2001) (in Hebrew), 367–401; 370–372 (cf. n. 12 below).  272 journal of jewish studies íéøîä íéî ä÷ùî ïäë êëéôì®ñøç éìëáïéçáåùî úåñåëá ïéé åú÷ùä àéä 10. ¬äéìò íéðô íéùî øúñá áùåéäåàì øîàì óùð äøîù óàåð ïéòå §ðùøáã ®íéùé íéðô øúñå ¬ïéò éðøåùú¬éåìâá äìù ïéøúñ àéöåäù ¬øçàäìâú ïåàùîá äàðù äñëú §ðù®ìä÷á åúòøøúñá äúùò àéä 11. 1. She stood before him—therefore a priest stands her up in front of everybodyto show her shame.2. She spread a sheet—therefore a priest takes her cap from her head and putsit under his foot.3. She painted her face for him—therefore her face is made to turn yellow.4. She put blue on her eyes for him—therefore her eyes bulge out.5. She tied on a belt for him—therefore a priest brings a rope of twigs and tiesit above her breasts.6. She showed him her flesh—therefore a priest shows her shame in public.7. She pushed her thigh at him—therefore her thigh falls.8. She took him on her belly—therefore her belly swells.9. She fed him goodies—therefore her meal o ff  ering is food for an animal.10. She gave him wines in elegant goblets—therefore the priest gives her thebitter water to drink in a clay pot.11. She acted in secret—and He who is enthroned in secret directs his faceagainst her, since it is said: the eyes of the adulterer watch for twilight, thinkingno one will glimpse me; then, He masks his face.Another interpretation: the Omnipresent brought her secret out into theopen, since it is said: His hatred may be concealed by dissimulation, but hisevil will be exposed to public view. This Tosefta passage seems to present the sequence of the ritual, from be-ginning to end, as one continuous punishment, measure for measure, for thesuspected woman’s alleged crime. This presentation of the whole ritual as apunishment, rather than as a divine test (‘trial by ordeal’) 8 as it appears in theBible, deserves special attention. However, the especially complicated struc-ture of this unit (as the table above attempts to reveal, at least partially) de-mands some structural remarks preceding an analysis of the unit’s punitivelogic: the Tosefta presents di ff  erent stages of the ritual (left column in theHebrew text), and matches each of them with a parallel stage of the crime al-legedly committed by the Sotah (right column). The same structure is main-tained throughout: ‘she’ plus a verb in the past tense, set against ‘therefore(the priest)’ plus a verb in the present tense. The punishment presented in theleft column is very similar to the description of the ritual in Mishna Sotah ch.1–3. Thus, our Tosefta passage refers to the presence of an audience (‘stands 8 See J. Milgrom, Numbers (The JPS Torah Commentary; Philadelphia and New York: TheJewish Publication Society, 1990), 346–348 (Excursus 8: ‘The Judicial Ordeal’).  measure for measure as a hermeneutical tool 273her up in front of everybody’), 9 the tearing of her clothes and the accompany-ing humiliation (‘brings a rope [...] shows her shame in public’) and furtherspecifies that the results of the drinking appear on her face (‘... her face ismade to turn yellow [...] her eyes bulge’). 10 All these elements appear in theMishna, but not in the Biblical source. In fact, half the stages of the ritualdescribed in this section (paragraphs 1 and 3–6) do not appear in the biblicaltext at all. 11 The ten paragraphs which comprise this section 12 are arranged accordingto the chronological procession of the crime, as opposed to the order of theritual. Thus, for example, the deadly results of the drinking of the potion(paragraphs 3–4) are presented before the tying of the rope by the priest (5),contrary to the order of the Mishnaic ritual—in which the rope appears asone of the acts of debasement described in Mishna 1:6—and, one might add,contrary to plain logic. Indeed, the desire to assign a parallel stage in theritual to every specific stage in the crime must necessarily confuse the chrono-logical order on one side or the other. 13 Therefore, only the story of the crime(right column) is presented chronologically in four successive stages: prepa-rations (paragraphs 1, 2), adornment (3–5), intercourse (6–8) and finally, the 9 m. Sot. 1:6. The biblical ritual is a closed priestly one and includes no reference to anyaudience, other than the priest and God. See Milgrom, Numbers , 348–350. Note that the versequoted in the Mishna as a source for the existence of audience is taken from Ezek. 16 and notfrom the Sotah ritual in the book of Numbers. Philo and Josephus (n. 5 above) also do notmention any audience in their versions of the ritual. 10 m. Sot. 3:4. The srcin of this description, di ff  ering significantly from the biblical one (‘Herbelly ...’), is found in R. Shimon’s statement in Sifre Num. 8: ‘R. Shimon b. Yochai says: Butwhat will let all the bystanders know that this one [=the Sotah] in the end will die [in such a waythat:] “Her belly will protrude and her thigh distend” [as the Torah states]? But [instead] as soonas she drinks,her face will turn green, her eyes will pop [...]’. Rabbi Shimon explicitly rejects thebiblical result of being suspended and hidden; instead he constructs an alternative conclusion tothe ritual—immediate and theatrical—for all to see. 11 Some of the stages (i.e. paragraphs 3–5) do not appear at all in the two previous chaptersof the Tosefta which discuss the ritual, and so seem to be taken directly from the Mishna. Note,however, that not all the stages mentioned here appear in the Mishna (i.e. paragraph 2). It seemsthat the Tosefta brings together di ff  erent (even contradictory, as in the case of the results of thedrinking in paragraphs 3–4 and 7–8) traditions in order to maximise the stages of the ritual andthus also the parallel stages of the imaginary sin! 12 Paragraph 11 is a general summary of the whole unit and does not refer to any specificstage of the sin or the ritual. This paragraph, and the cryptic theology it seems to promote, arethe subject of my Hebrew paper on this text (Rosen-Zvi, ‘Sin of Concealment’) and will not bediscussed here. 13 Note that there is no possible way to preserve the internal order of both columns while atthe same time creating a full correlation between them. Paragraphs 3 and 4 are clear examples:In order to create a parallelism between the beatification of the woman’s face—which appears,chronologically, at the beginning of the crime story—to their, parallel yet inverted, deformationby the water (‘her face is made to turn yellow’), the Tosefta had to place the deformation at thevery beginning of the text, and not in its proper place at the very end of the ritual. Note alsothat it is much easier to preserve the chronological order of sin than of the ritual. The sin, unlikethe ritual, does not have one set order, and so could be arranged creatively to fit the ritual. Theclearest example of this is the location of the ‘love feast’ after, rather than before, the actualintercourse (contrary to the common motif in the rabbinic imagination of food and wine asseductive tools) in order to oppose it to the forced drinking (and the sacrifice) at the very end of the ritual.
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