The Bitter Waters – Numbers 5

Question

11 Then the Lord said to Moses, 12 “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘If a man’s wife goes astray and is unfaithful to him 13 so that another man has sexual relations with her, and this is hidden from her husband and her impurity is undetected (since there is no witness against her and she has not been caught in the act), 14 and if feelings of jealousy come over her husband and he suspects his wife and she is impure—or if he is jealous and suspects her even though she is not impure— 15 then he is to take his wife to the priest. He must also take an offering of a tenth of an ephah[c] of barley flour on her behalf. He must not pour olive oil on it or put incense on it, because it is a grain offering for jealousy, a reminder-offering to draw attention to wrongdoing.

16 “‘The priest shall bring her and have her stand before the Lord. 17 Then he shall take some holy water in a clay jar and put some dust from the tabernacle floor into the water. 18 After the priest has had the woman stand before the Lord, he shall loosen her hair and place in her hands the reminder-offering, the grain offering for jealousy, while he himself holds the bitter water that brings a curse.19 Then the priest shall put the woman under oath and say to her, “If no other man has had sexual relations with you and you have not gone astray and become impure while married to your husband, may this bitter water that brings a curse not harm you.20 But if you have gone astray while married to your husband and you have made yourself impure by having sexual relations with a man other than your husband”— 21 here the priest is to put the woman under this curse—“may the Lord cause you to become a curse[d] among your people when he makes your womb miscarry and your abdomen swell.22 May this water that brings a curse enter your body so that your abdomen swells or your womb miscarries.”

“‘Then the woman is to say, “Amen. So be it.”
23 “‘The priest is to write these curses on a scroll and then wash them off into the bitter water. 24 He shall make the woman drink the bitter water that brings a curse, and this water that brings a curse and causes bitter suffering will enter her. 25 The priest is to take from her hands the grain offering for jealousy, wave it before the Lord and bring it to the altar.26 The priest is then to take a handful of the grain offering as a memorial[e] offering and burn it on the altar; after that, he is to have the woman drink the water. 27 If she has made herself impure and been unfaithful to her husband, this will be the result: When she is made to drink the water that brings a curse and causes bitter suffering, it will enter her, her abdomen will swell and her womb will miscarry, and she will become a curse. 28 If, however, the woman has not made herself impure, but is clean, she will be cleared of guilt and will be able to have children. (Numbers 5:28).

My questions are: What is the bitter water? And nowadays (after destruction of the Temple) where should the burnt offerings be brought?

8 months

Answers

  1. The Bitter Waters were made from a piece of parchment that had the oaths contained in verses 19-22 (excluding the two phrases of the narrative that appear in verses 21 and 22). God’s Name was written out in full, and the parchment was then placed in water, and the words on the parchment were erased by the water – including the Name of God. That was the water that was given to the woman to drink and it was the water that is referred to as the cause of whatever happened to her afterward.

    Due to the fact that the Bitter Waters was essentially a spiritual experience, the practice was discontinued in the Second Temple period since due to the lowly spiritual levels of the Nation it was no longer having the effect that it was supposed to. Since that time the Bitter Water ceremony has never been used.

    Best wishes from the AskTheRabbi.org Team

  2. But Rabbi what people do if their wife goes astray and becomes unfithful to him

  3. Does the water tastes bitter due to mixing the ink into water?If so which ink was used?

  4. Today if a couple has marital issues they need to find wise and sensitive people to help them get through them. In Jewish Law if there is incontrovertible proof that a wife has been unfaithful to her husband the couple must divorce.

    There are two opinions within the Rabbinic writings. The first is that the waters were bitter simply because of the potential damage that they can wreak. The second opinion is that something was added to the water that gave it a bitter taste.

    Best wishes from the AskTheRabbi.org Team