Tag Archives: Sotah

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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Homiletics or Halacha: An Example from Eglah Arufah

I always find it fascinating when seemingly aggadic statements become the basis of Halachic argumentation.  An interesting example that I just came across appears concerning the topic of eglah arguah. The Gemara in Sotah asks why the eglah arufah ritual is done with a childless calf in a barren valley.  It answers that something that has borne no fruit brought in a place that bears no fruit will come to atone for the person who was killed and can no longer produce fruit.  The Gemara then questions what fruit are being referred to.  It rejects the possibility that it refers to children, as logically that would dictate that an elderly or impotent person who was killed would not obligate the bringing of an eglah arufah.  Thus, the Gemara concludes that the killed person is no longer able  to perform mitzvoth. Continue reading Homiletics or Halacha: An Example from Eglah Arufah