Article: Warning Your Wife: Would-be Sotah Scenario?


“I’m on my way to work,” the husband calls out to his wife, “That electrician is still working on the fuse box, so I’m leaving the door ajar. Remember not to close it until he leaves!” Ten minutes later, when morning traffic and a cool wind disturb her household tasks, the wife—forgetful of the stranger in the basement until he comes upstairs in a trail of dust—had locked the door.

The laws governing a sotah (wayward wife) state that a husband who wishes to implicate his wife in secluding herself with a stranger must first issue a kinui (warning) to her that she not put herself in a situation of stirah (solitude) with a particular man. A woman who nonetheless ignores her husband’s warning—which cannot be retracted, even by a forgiving husband, once stirah occurs—has but one recourse: she must drink the mei sotah (waters of the sotah—a special preparation by a kohen in the Beis Hamikdash) before she is permitted to live again with her husband.

The laws of yichud (seclusion of a woman with a strange man or vice versa) would equally apply to any woman—married or not, even without a husband’s warning.1 In most contemporary situations an innocent transgression would normally have no bearing on a marriage. However, an issue may arise innocuously when a husband advises his wife concerning yichud with any particular individual. What if the wife forgets her husband’s warning—such as in the above scenario where he reminded her to leave the door ajar so she is not home alone with the handyman, but she mistakenly closed the door? Has she inadvertently placed herself in the position of a would-be sotah? If that is the case, is she prohibited from continuing to live with her husband indefinitely since there is no mei sotah solution in current times?

Practically speaking, there are many reasons why the above scenario is not categorized within the strictures of a sotah; primarily, an unsuspecting husband’s “warning” is not offered with the intention of kinui, only as a friendly reminder about the laws of yichud. In addition, even when she admits to closing the door, her testimony would only be valid if her husband trusts her. However, the Beis Din cannot unconditionally accept a husband’s claim that he believes his wife, because it would be difficult to verify that he does not have an ulterior motive—such as using the situation as a reason to file for a get (Jewish bill of divorce).

A woman in this situation can simply refrain from verbalizing her mistake in closing the door, and would not be considered guilty of stirah—there are no witnesses (and no one is ever required to incriminate themselves in this manner). Even if she did admit to the yichud situation and her husband’s statement that he believes her that the door was closed would be accepted, she is still considered innocent of sotah-hood. She issues a statement that she remained faithful to her husband; by virtue of her admission to wrongdoing when she could easily have lied, she has ne’emanus (trustworthiness) or, alternatively, zechus hata’anah (the right to argue [in her own] defense). On the strength of either of these grounds, her testimony is irrefutably accepted.


For halachic guidance on regular yichud issues, see:


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  1. It should be noted that in the case of kinui, the laws of stirah are much stricter than the normal parameters of yichud; exclusions such as ba’alah ba’ir (her husband is in town) or pesach pasuach (an open doorway [to the public]) do not apply.