The mishnayot in the first chapter of Sotah describe the beginning of the process -- the accusing husband brings her to the court where they try to intimidate her into confessing, and if she doesn't they take her to the temple gate and begin humiliating her (loosening her hair, baring her breasts, etc). In 3:3 it then says:

If she said, "I will not drink [it]" before the scroll was erased, the scroll is archived, and her meal-offering is scattered on the ashes. [...] [However,] if the scroll was erased and she said, "I will not drink [it]," we force her mouth open and make her drink against her will. (Sefaria translation)

By this mishna we have a "deadline" after which she can no longer refuse to drink, but how early can she refuse and abort the whole process? If she says from the time her husband first brings her to the court that she will refuse, do they go through with the intimidation and humiliation anyway?

On the one hand, maybe they do because they hope it will get her to confess. On the other hand, the humiliation is at least immodest (as well as embarrassing), so one might think that if they could avoid unnecessary immodesty they would.

The mishna describes a sequence -- the man brings her, the court intimidates, they bring her to the gate, etc -- and I can't tell from when "if she refuses to drink" applies. (It's only mentioned after they've written the curse.) I'm not saying they would want to humiliate her if she's already refused, but maybe they're required to (just as the man is required to bring her if witnesses have testified that she was secluded after being warned).

If she refuses any time before they erase, the outcome is the same -- she's divorced without her ketubah. Given that, how early can she "jump" to that outcome?


2 Answers 2


The first time that Bet Din tries to lead her to stop the process is described in Mishna 1.4

היו מעלין אותה לבית דין הגדול שבירושלים, ומאיימין עליה כדרך שמאיימין על עדי נפשות. ואומרים לה: בתי! הרבה יין עושה, הרבה שחוק עושה, הרבה ילדות עושה, הרבה שכנים הרעים עושים. עשי לשמו הגדול שנכתב בקדושה, שלא ימחה על המים. ואומרים לפניה דברים שאינה כדאי לשמען, היא וכל משפחת בית אביה.

They take her at the great Bet Din. There, dayanim make "facilitation" to help her to stop, not to confess and stop the process.

Further she needs to walk a long distance, to weaken her resistances, when she is humiliated, they evacuate her loved people, to depress her, filling alone. In short, from the beginning they encourage her to stop the process. But when the limit fixed below is reached her unique possibility to stop is to confess

Before the limit below explained she can refuse to drink, and loses her ketuba. If she said she is unclean, that is, she did make adultery she, she can stop the process even if the Megila was already cancelled.

Sifre on Bamidbar 5 pasuk 24

ע. והשקה את האשה למה נאמר והרי כבר נאמר ואחר ישקה את האשה מה תלמוד לומר והשקה את האשה, שאם נמחקה המגלה ואמרה איני שותה מערערים אותה ומשקים אותה בעל כורחה, דברי רבי עקיבא. (וחכמים אומרים) [ר' שמעון אומר] ואחר ישקה את (האשה) למה נאמר [והלא כבר נאמר והשקה את (האשה) המים] ומה תלמוד לומר ואחר ישקה את האשה, שלשה דברים מעכבים בסוטה עד שלא נמחקת המגילה ועד שלא קרב הקומץ ועד שלא קבלה עליה את השבועה. ואין מגלתה כשרה להשקות בה סוטה אחרת. רבי אחי ר יאשיה אמר משקם בה סוטה אחרת

After the megila was cancelled in water if he doesn't wand to drink, they force her to drink. There are the words of Rabbi Akiva.

Mishna 3.3

נמחקה המגילה ואמרה טמאה אני, המים נשפכין ומנחתה מתפזרת על הדשן.נמחקה המגילה ואמרה איני שותה, מערערים ז אותה ומשקין אותה בעל כרחה.‏

If the Megila was already cancelled (and she says that she didn't say "I am unclean"), they force her to drink.


Rambam (Hilchot Sotah 3:2) writes that after she is brought to the Temple Mount, the first stage in the process is that she sits before the court there who proceed to intimidate her. She is able to refuse to drink the water at that stage.

(It’s possible that she can refuse earlier as well, maybe even before coming to the Temple Mount, but this Rambam at least provides an upper bound.)

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