AND THEY SHALL SPREAD THE CLOTH. “This is a figurative expression meaning, the matter is as white [i.e., as clear] as a sheet.” This is Rashi’s language, which is the interpretation of Rabbi Yishmael found in the Sifre and Mechilta. But there is no need for it. For this was the custom in former time in Israel: they would bring the groom and bride into the bridal chamber and examine them, and the witnesses would guard them outside — these being termed shoshbinin (friends) by the Sages. When they separated, the witnesses would enter and take the cloth on which he laid with her and see the proof of her virginity. This [procedure] is known in the Talmud and in books of Agadah [homily], and they would call this cloth sudor. Therefore, Scripture states that her father and mother should spread the cloth which they took from the hands of the witnesses and say, These are the tokens of my daughter’s virginity. Now surely there is still a need to clarify matters with respect to many items about which Scripture spoke briefly. But the intent of [the Sifre and Mechilta in] stating “This is a figurative expression,” is only in accordance with the opinion which holds that the law concerning a man who defames his wife applies even if he has had no sexual relations with her. [It is according to this opinion that the phrase and they shall spread the cloth cannot be literal, for if no cohabitation took place, there can be no evidence in the sheet. Hence, the phrase is figurative, meaning that they are to prove their complaint “as clear as a sheet.”] But the plain meaning of Scripture is in accordance with the Sage that this law applies only after he has had conjugal relations with her [and in that case the phrase and they shall spread the cloth is to be understood literally]. And thus the Rabbis said in the Gemara: “Rabbi Eleazar ben Yaakov says, The term cloth is literal, and the law is in accordance with his words.” And such indeed is the sense of the section [of the Torah]. For Scripture stated first, Then the father of the maiden, and her mother, shall take and bring forth the tokens of the maiden’s virginity. Thus the verse is speaking of both [the father and mother]. Afterwards it reverts to the father alone: And the maiden’s father shall say etc. It then reverts and states, and ‘they’ shall spread the cloth — the two of them. Now, the reason [for these changes] is that [basically] the claim concerns only the father for [if the husband’s accusation is proven false,] the fine [of a hundred silver shekels, imposed upon the husband] belongs to the father. Scripture, however, made the mother a partner in this affair because women occupy themselves with the subject of the sheet, for it is they who are knowledgeable and expert in blood, and it is proper for the mother to take hold and bring it [the cloth] to court. But the claim, I gave my daughter unto this man to wife is that of the father, for the mother is not the adversary of her daughter’s husband. Or it may be that after the father presents his arguments in court, he takes hold of the cloth which his wife had brought under the corners of her garment and they both spread it before the court. Thus the mother is not mentioned in the section and did not appear in court at all except for the matter of “the cloth,” which is to be understood in its literal sense, as I have explained.