Tag Archives: Rashi

The Role of Witnesses and the Court – Making a New Reality

In today’s daf (Sotah 31b) appears a well known rule: every time that the Torah believes a single witness, his words is accepted as though it were the testimony of two witnesses. The line as it appears in the gemara is:

תלמוד בבלי מסכת סוטה דף לא עמוד ב
אמר עולא: כל מקום שהאמינה תורה עד אחד הרי כאן שנים, ואין דבריו של אחד במקום שנים!

Rashi comments on this:

רש”י מסכת סוטה דף לא עמוד ב 

כאן בבת אחת – מתני’ כשהעידו שניהם בתוך כדי דיבור דבטלו דבריו מיד דלא נתקיימה עדותן בב”ד והיכא האמינהו תורה כשנים כגון אם העיד עדותו ויצא דתו לא מצי חד לאכחושיה.

The simple implication (as Tosafos point out here) is that the testimony is viewed as true immediately. The problem is that in Yevamos there is a Gemara which implies that when it comes to a witness giving testimony that a woman’s husband died we only believe the witness absolutely after an official decision has been taken on the part of the beis din to allow her to remarry. Based on this, Tosafos give a different opinion:

 תוספות מסכת סוטה דף לא עמוד ב

נראה לפרש הכא בזה אחר זה שקיבלו עדות הראשון והורו ע”פ עדותו מיהו תימה עולא גופיה דאמר הכי אליביה תני לא היתה שותה מה דוחקיה למימר הכי והא מתניתין לא משמע ששהה השני אחר הראשון עד שהורו ואסרוה עליו ואמרו אינה שותה וי”ל דמתניתין בסתם קתני אי נמי רבי יצחק ועולא הוה מתרצי לההיא דהאשה זוטא כדמתרצי אליבא דר’ יוחנן בפ’ שני דכתובות

Essentially, they state that the halachah dictates that we would only believe a single witness absolutely after a decision has been taken based on his testimony.

Tosafos and Rashi here argued about a very fundamental issue; do we view the witnesses as clarifying the events which took place to us, and we believe them to any extent the Torah tells us to (Rav Asher Weiss has an essay on this topic on Parashas Mishpatim)? Alternatively, do we see the court as creating a new reality based on their testimony? This debate is current both in batei din and in modern secular courts. Do the courts create legal realities, such as a marriage, or ownership, or do they merely respond to events and clarify the things which have anyway happened?

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Me’Inyana de’Yomah in the Daf Today

Today in the daf (in the Mishna) there is a disagreement between two Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Eliezer the son of Rabbi Yossi HaGlili. The Mishna relates their different opinions about the cities given over to the Leviim:

משנה מסכת סוטה פרק ה משנה ג
בו ביום דרש רבי עקיבא (במדבר ל”ה) ומדותם מחוץ לעיר את פאת קדמה אלפים באמה וגו’ ומקרא אחר אומר (שם) מקיר העיר וחוצה אלף אמה סביב אי אפשר לומר אלף אמה שכבר נאמר אלפים אמה ואי אפשר לומר אלפים אמה שכבר נאמר אלף אמה הא כיצד אלף אמה מגרש ואלפים אמה תחום שבת רבי אליעזר בנו של רבי יוסי הגלילי אומר אלף אמה מגרש ואלפים אמה שדות וכרמים:

If we look in Rashi on this Mishna:

רש”י מסכת סוטה דף כז עמוד ב 

מגרש – רחבה פנויה מזריעה ומבתים ומאילנות לנוי העיר להיות לה לאויר ואלפים לא הוזכרו לתתן ללוים ולא נאמרו אלא ליציאת תחום שבת.

Rashi is saying that according to Rabbi Akiva the Leviim would not have been required to perform any agriculture themselves. Instead, they would rely on what others would give them (presumably maasros). Presumably he understood this from the famous passuk in Parashas Korach:

במדבר פרק יח 

(כא) וְלִבְנֵ֣י לֵוִ֔י הִנֵּ֥ה נָתַ֛תִּי כָּל־מַֽעֲשֵׂ֥ר בְּיִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל לְנַחֲלָ֑ה חֵ֤לֶף עֲבֹֽדָתָם֩ אֲשֶׁר־הֵ֣ם עֹֽבְדִ֔ים אֶת־ עֲבֹדַ֖ת אֹ֥הֶל מוֹעֵֽד:

It would seem that the point for him is that the Jews will supply Leviim with their food and therefore there will be no need for agriculture. After all, if most of the Jews are farmers and they each give one tenth to the Leviim (and there are presumably less Leviim than any other tribe), then they should have more than enough food. There was no planning for a time when this might not happen (alhough I think it’s interesting to wonder how this would have worked in the Northern Kingdom).

On the flip side, Rabbi Eliezer here is saying the opposite – of course there was a plan for a rainy day. Even if the Jews were meant to support the Leviim, the Leviim were not left helpless.

I think the relevance of this issue to the modern concern with Haredim is obvious. Should we support the bnei Torah among us and let them just sit and learn and serve Hashem for all of us and thus raise the spiritual lives of us all to greater spiritual heights, or should we assume that it is important (either morally, see the Rambam, or practically) that everyone take responsibility both for their spiritual life and their physical survival. We learnt (again in daf yomi) not long ago about a Yisachar Zevulun relationship. At what level is it a desirable institution? I don’t know how to apply all this (especially as it seems to be a disagreement), and I acknowledge the difference between Talmud Torah and Avodah in the Mikdash (though it can go either way), but I think it should be a part of the discussion.