As we have learned, in order for the laws of a sota to come into play, the husband must warn his wife that she should not be secluded with a certain man, and his warning notwithstanding, she does exactly that. In order for the seclusion to be considered significant, it must be long enough for the man and woman to have engaged in at least the beginning of an act of sexual intercourse. Several suggestions are raised with regard to the definition of that length of time:
- Rabbi Yishmael says, it is the amount of time it takes to walk around a date palm
- Rabbi Eliezer says it is the amount of time it takes to prepare a cup of wine
- Rabbi Yehoshua says that it is the amount of time it takes to drink it
- Ben Azzai says the length of time it takes to roast an egg
- Rabbi Akiva says the amount of time it would take to eat it
- Rabbi Yehudah ben Beteira says the amount of time it would take to swallow three eggs
- Rabbi Eliezer ben Yirmiya says sufficient for a weaver to knot a thread
- Hanin ben Pinhas says enough time for a woman to extend her hand to her mouth to remove a chip of wood from between her teeth
- Pelimo says sufficient for her to extend her hand to a basket and take a loaf.
After listing all of these different opinions, Rav Yitzhak bar Rav Yosef quotes Rabbi Yohanan as saying that each of the Sages based his statement on his personal experience with sexual relations. To the objection that ben Azzai was single, the Gemara offers three possible explanations:
- He had been married, but he left his wife
- He was quoting what he learned from his teacher
- Sod ha-Shem le-yere’av (see Tehillim 25:14) – those who fear God have hidden knowledge, even of things that they did not experience personally.
Although ben Azzai never received formal Rabbinic ordination, he was considered one of the great scholars of his generation. Apparently he did not learn until he was an adult, when he met Rabbi Akiva’s daughter who promised to marry him if he studied Torah. Although it is clear that he did so, we do not know whether he actually married her or not. If he married her, he soon divorced her, because his desire for Torah study did not allow him time to live a normal family life.