In Ketubos 10:, Rabban Gamliel seats a lady on a barrel of wine to test her virginity. If wine can be smelled on her breath she is not a virgin, and if not then she is; there is no odour from the lady's mouth, and so she is declared a virgin. A source from Judges, about Yavesh Gilad, is also brought down there.

The barrel of wine test appears anatomically problematic, very easy to repeat and verify, and not something I would expect to have only a peshat. I have searched the internet using Google, and checked obvious seforim, but all the perushim I have found have been literal- with some trying to provide medical justification for why a non-virgin woman would have breath smelling of wine if she sat on a wine barrel, e.g here.

Is there a non-literal interpretation of the barrel of wine test somewhere in Chazal? Does the lady, the barrel of wine, and her breath, symbolize something?

  • Why do you use a pejorative term "anatomically problematic", regarding a procedure performed by Rabban Gamliel? – IsraelReader Aug 21 '18 at 19:52
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    I modified by saying "appears". Read simply, with no perush, it is difficult to understand the mechanism, no? – Daniel Moskovich Aug 22 '18 at 7:46
  • Thank you for your modification. I’m amazed how science has taught us what the ancients already knew; the concept that blood alcohol is discernible in the person's breath. A person ingests alcohol via his stomach, and the alcohol enters his blood stream, which then reaches his lungs, which is then discernible in his breath. This is the basis of the Breathalyzer device. However the ancients knew something else, which was that alcohol can also enter the blood stream via other parts of the body, not just the stomach. – IsraelReader Aug 22 '18 at 11:46
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    If you're looking for someone who understands the Gemara ONLY in a non-literal way, you probably won't find one since this is a halachic gemara and not aggada. That being said, there are meforshim who comment why specifically wine was used and they explain that part of the story in a more aggadic manner. – Gavriel Oct 11 '18 at 11:58
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    Which Meforshim are these? What do they say? – Daniel Moskovich Oct 11 '18 at 14:40

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