Ordeal by Bitter Water
In Jewish culture, there is a practice in the Torah called “Sotah” that will determine if a woman truly cheated on her husband or not. In the Orthodox Jewish tradition, married women are supposed to hide their hair, because it is considered to be a private part of her body that belongs to their husband. They normally cover their heads with scarves, and even today, some Orthodox Jewish women still carry on the tradition with wigs and hats.
When a woman was accused of adultery, her husband would take her to the rabbi, who told her to untie their hair and expose it in front of everyone. As a married woman, this was considered to be a humiliating and indecent thing for other people to see her hair. Oat barley was ground up into a powder, and the woman was asked to swear an oath that she did not cheat on her husband. She wrote the oath on a piece of paper with the barley. Then, a Rabbi said a prayer, asking God to curse the wheat if she was guilty. It was mixed with with water, and she was forced to drink this bitter concoction. In the earliest form of the tradition, however, women were forced to write with the dirt they found on the floor of the Tabernacle, and drink dirt mixed with water, instead of barley.
The idea was that if she had lied inside the holy Tabernacle, God would know. If a woman was infertile after drinking the bitter water, they took this as a sign that she was cursed, and she truly did cheat on her husband. This does not take into account the possibility that maybe this woman had health problems that made her infertile anyway. There were probably some women who actually did cheat on their husband, and they got away with it, because we now know that while drinking barley water is gross, it is relatively harmless.
The Torah acknowledges the fact that sometimes, husbands are just jealous, and it is very possible that their wife is innocent of adultery. Before “Sotah”, women were publicly lynched whenever their husband accused them of cheating on them, even if there was no tangible proof. So, even though the Sotah trial seems very silly, it was actually a huge improvement on giving women an automatic death penalty just because her husband said so.