The eligibility of the five women to testify may depend on the fulfillment of their objective, particularly in cases of remarriage. * On Rambam's Laws of the Suspected Adulteress.
In Hilchot Sotah (Laws of the Suspected Adulteress), Maimonides explores the complex legal procedures and guidelines surrounding cases where a woman is suspected of adultery, known as a Sotah. This section of the Mishneh Torah delves into the process and consequences associated with allegations of marital infidelity.
THE SOTAH RITUAL
The concept of Sotah originates from the Torah, specifically in the book of Numbers (Bamidbar) 5:11-31. It outlines a ritual ordeal wherein a husband who suspects his wife of being unfaithful brings her before the priests at the Temple. The wife is given a special potion called the "bitter water" to drink. If she is innocent, the water will have no harmful effects. However, if she is guilty, she will experience physical consequences as a divine intervention.
ALLOWING TESTIMONY IN CASES OF SUSPECTED ADULTERY
Amidst the discussion of Sotah laws, Maimonides introduces a specific provision in Law 1:15. This provision allows certain individuals, including women, servants, maid-servants, and those disqualified due to Rabbinic prohibitions, to testify in cases involving a woman suspected of adultery. Maimonides also establishes that even relatives may offer testimony against the accused woman in such situations.
TESTIMONY AMONG WOMEN WITH MUTUAL ANIMOSITY
Interestingly, Maimonides highlights a notable aspect within this law, indicating that even five women who bear animosity toward each other can testify against one another. The five women are generally understood to be individuals who share close family ties with the woman's first husband. This includes the woman's mother-in-law, her mother-in-law's daughter, her husband's other wife, her yevamah (the widow's husband's brother), and her husband's daughter from another marriage. These women, due to their familial connections, hold a unique position in providing testimony in cases of suspected adultery.
The testimonies of these five categories of women hold weight in terms of declaring the accused woman forbidden to her husband. However, these testimonies do not carry enough significance to compel her to drink the bitter water or forfeit her ketubah payment. Instead, she is entitled to receive her ketubah payment and depart from her husband's household.
One may question whether the hatred among the five women is solely directed towards causing the woman to be divorced from her first husband or if there is a broader objective. According to the Kessef Mishneh's interpretation, the concern is that these women may testify falsely about the death of the woman's second husband, leading to her remarriage. However, if the woman's first husband were to return, she would be forced to leave both relationships. This suggests that the motive behind their testimony is primarily related to the woman's marital status and the desire to ensure she remains divorced from her first husband.
The distinction made by the Kessef Mishneh regarding cases where the woman remarried after her first husband's death is noteworthy. It implies that the eligibility of these five women to testify depends on whether their objective would be fulfilled. In cases of remarriage, their testimony about the second husband's death would not serve the purpose of causing the woman to be divorced from her first husband. Therefore, their testimonies may not be admissible in such scenarios.
However, the disagreement raised by the Beit Shmuel and Rabbi Akiva Eiger introduces another perspective. They question the assumption that the eligibility of the five women to testify is solely tied to the woman's divorce from her first husband. The passage mentioned in Chapter 7, Halachah 3, seems to imply that even if the woman who remarried hates the woman married to her first husband, she can still offer testimony. This interpretation suggests that the remarried woman's motive for testifying goes beyond the objective of divorce. Instead, it may be driven by a desire to maintain the prohibition between the woman and her first husband, even if the remarried woman herself has moved on.
In light of these differing interpretations, it becomes necessary to consider the underlying principles guiding these laws. Is the primary concern the relationship between the woman and her first husband, or is it the overall prohibition between the two women, regardless of the remarriage? Further analysis and examination of additional sources and commentaries may shed more light on this matter.