Friday, September 21, 2007


The Gemora (Kesuvos 17b – 18a) states: If two witnesses said that they were coerced to testify falsely on account of a threat to their finances, they are not believed.

The Gemora asks: What is the reason for this?

The Gemora answers: It is because that a person is not believed to establish himself as an evil person. (Rashi explains that every witness is assumed to be reliable; by issuing a self-incriminating statement, he will be disqualifying himself from further testimony. Just as a person cannot testify regarding his relative, he may not testify about himself because he is related to himself.)

The following question was raised to the poskim years ago: A man testified in Beis Din that he married off his minor daughter, but he refused to state the identity of this man. His intention was to put pressure on his wife for her to accept a divorce without receiving any alimony payments and to have equal visitation rights for the children. Do we accept his testimony and consider the girl as a married woman?

Rav Eliyahu Pesach Ramnik, Rosh Yeshiva of Ohavei torah in Far Rockaway applied the principle of ‘a person is not believed to establish himself as an evil person’ as the basis for his ruling. He explained: The father, who is testifying that he married off his minor daughter is establishing himself as a wicked person for several different reasons. Firstly, if in truth, he has married her off in order to extort money from his wife, using a mechanism of the Torah in this manner causes a tremendous desecration of Hashem’s name, and if the wife does not concede to his demands, the child will remain an agunah her entire life. This will result in an even bigger chilul Hashem. Secondly, he is transgressing the prohibition of paining another fellow Jew. The pain and the embarrassment that he is causing his wife and daughter to endure is indescribable. Thirdly, the Gemora in Sanhedrin (76a) states that one who marries his daughter to an elderly man transgresses a Biblical prohibition of causing his daughter to sin, since she will not be satisfied in that marriage; certainly in this case, the father will be violating this prohibition, for the daughter does not even know the identity of her true husband. Based on these above reasons, it emerges that by accepting the father’s testimony, he would be rendered a rasha, and therefore, his testimony should not be accepted and his daughter would not be regarded as a married woman.

Rav Yitzchak Zilberstein, in his sefer Chashukei Chemed questions the above conclusion. He cites several Acharonim who rule that when a man has already been established as a rasha regarding other matters, his testimony can still be valid (provided that he is not disqualified from offering testimony) even though it also renders him a rasha. The Chacham Tzvi (responsa 3) rules that if someone has violated a light transgression in our presence, he would still be believed that he has violated an even stricter prohibition. This is because his testimony is not rendering him a rasha, he already has established himself a rahsa. It is for this reason that we will be compelled to accept the father’s testimony that he married off his daughter, for this man has already been established as a rasha. He is desecrating the name of Hashem by using the Torah’s mechanisms for evil purposes and by causing pain and grief to his wife and to his daughter.