Tonight our Torah group met again. We did not discuss two books, as usual, but only one, spending a lot of time particularly on a particular ritual for determining the guilt or innocence of a woman accused of being unfaithful to her husband. Instead of being weighed down with a stone, as the witches were later, and dying whether she was innocent or guilty, the woman in this trial, the "sotah," was made to drink water with dirt taken off the temple floor before the entire community. If nothing happened to her, she was innocent. If her belly sagged (many commentators thought this was a reference to miscarriage), she was guilty and thus shamed before everyone. We know how grody that temple floor was, slick with blood from the constant sacrifices, but it wouldn't kill her, so the consensus was that this was actually a humane way of dealing with suspicions, far preferable to killing her because of suspicions one could not prove.
In the same book, we read about the Nazarites, who, like Samson, dedicated themselves or were dedicated by their parents to God and grew their hair as a sign of being set apart. No one seems to know exactly what their role was in the Temple, but women were also Nazarites. One wonders what their families had to say about that. Maybe they were widows or orphans, and, like the convent for Catholic women in Europe, the Temple provided a place for them to be protected. In any case, it was interesting in the midst of another book that was largely taken up with numbers few know how to interpret, like the census of books we had read recently. No one knows whether these numbers are meant to be read primarily as a sort of numerological code or to be taken literally, boasting of the multitudinous Hebrew populations in the desert. So these other details provide something a bit more intriguing to grasp a hold of in the midst of this parashah.