In this week's parshah, we read about the sotah, the woman who is suspected of having illicit relations with a man outside of her marriage and the ritual undertaken to determine whether or not she is culpable. Two things struck me about this narrative in the torah portion. First of all, it evoked some of the work that I had done in anthropology in which African tribes (such as the Azandi) perform certain rites to discern whether or not an adultery has occurred. Determining a human beings fate is left to chance as determined by poisoning a chicken and whether or not it survives. Having spent a lot of time in Salem as a child, it also drew a comparison to the witch trials of the the New World in the late 17th century and onward.
Secondly, I was struck by the silence of the accused adulterous woman during this whole procedure. Feminists often critique the lack of female perspective in Jewish texts, including the TaNaCH (Hebrew Bible) and that is readily apparent here.
This week, I attempted to write a poem using the Korean poetic form of Sijo, which was introduced to me by my poetic Rebbe, Dena Weiss. However, it didn't seem to fit the emotion I was trying to capture or the mystery as to whether or not my narrator was actually culpable of the crime. I wanted to describe the experience of the sotah ritual from the perspective of the accused but, in Michael Hanneke fashion, leave the outcome of the poem open-ended. The Italian title follows the famed opera and is the cognate of the Hebrew word, sotah, which literally means "the one who went astray."
Where did I walk? face all flush without witness.
The desert whispers in your ear.
Bring a hint of barley, on parade before the priest.
His cauldron boils from the Temple floor.
If not, not. If so, may goddess gates sag, womb wither.
If so, let smoke blow each curse away--
along with a name.