Saturday, September 22, 2007

Did Rav Ashi Deny Knowing Testimony in Beis Din?

There is a known rule throughout Shas that once a person has finished testifying, he cannot go back and alter his testimony. In our Gemora (Kesuvos 20), Rav Ashi denied knowing testimony for Rav Kahana, but later remembered and testified? How could he do so? Didn’t he already testify that he didn’t know? The Hagaos Ashri (#16) states that it is therefore clear that he did not deny knowing testimony in Beis Din. Other Rishonim, however, argue that the rule above is only if someone actually testified regarding events that happened. However, if he says he is not aware of the events and later remembers, this is not called going back and changing what he had said. He simply remembered that he knew testimony.

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Daf Yomi - Kesuvos 20 - Highlights

Conflicting Witnesses

Rav Nachman said: if they were here and other witnesses would contradict them the contradiction would be valid, and we would not pay attention to their testimony as it is contradicted testimony. Not that they (the witnesses in the document) are not here, and if they were here they might even admit, why should we believe them?

Rav Nachman therefore said: we put the pairs of witnesses against each other (cancelling each other out) and leave the money in the hands of its owner, as in the case of Bar Shatya.

Bar Shatya sold some of his possessions, and two witnesses came and testified that he did so when he was insane. Two others that he did so when he was of sound mind. Rav Ashi said: the pairs of witneses are against each other, and we leave the possessions in the hands of Bar Shatya. We only say this if he (person like Bar Shatya) has a chazakah (holding of ownership for an extended time) from his fathers. However, if he does not, we say that he bought it when he was insane and he sold it when he was insane.

Rabbi Avahu said: witnesses can only be made zomimim when they are present. Witnesses can be contradicted even when they are not present. If witnesses are attempted to be made into zomimim but not when they are present, it still counts as a contradiction.

Authenticating Signatures

Mar states: if there are witnesses verifying that the handwriting of witnesses signed on a document is indeed authentic, or this can be verified from a different document that had been questioned and subsequently authenticated by Beis Din, they (the witnesses who say that though this is an authentic signature it was from when they were young etc. see 19b) are not believed. The Gemora asks, this implies that it had to have been questioned, implying that if it was not questioned they are believed.

This is a proof to Rabbi Asi. Rabbi Asi stated: A document cannot be validated through another document, unless the other document had been questioned and was subsequently authenticated by Beis Din.

Nehardai stated: a document cannot be authenticated unless two marriage documents or documents of the sales of fields are produced (with their signatures) and the owner was there for three years without any complaints.

Rabbi Simi bar Ashi added: these other documents must come from a contract involving a party besides the person who wants to verify the present document. Why? Perhaps he forged the third document based on the signatures of witnesses from other documents in his possession. If so, perhaps he will also forge signatures from documents that are in other people’s possession? It is too difficult for a person to copy signatures that he merely saw and does not have the document to copy from.
Jogging a Witness’ Memory

The Beraisa states: a person can write down his testimony on a document, and testify from it even after many years. Rav Huna states: this is only if he indeed remembers it himself. Rabbi Yochanan said: even if he does not remember it himself (but knows that he wrote it).

Rabah says: it is evident from Rabbi Yochanan that if two people knew testimony and one merely forgot it, the other person can remind him.

The Gemora asks: can the person he is testifying for remind him? Rav Chaviva says that he can, and Mar the son of Rav Ashi says that he cannot. The halachah is that he cannot. If the witness is a rabbinic student, he can be reminded.

This is as happened when Rav Ashi knew testimony for Rav Kahana, and Rav Kahana said, “do you remember testimony for me in this matter?” Rav Ashi said he didn’t. Rav Kahana said, “isn’t this what happened?” Rav Ashi said that he didn’t know. However, Rav Ashi later remembered that this is indeed what had happened, and testified to that effect. Rav Ashi saw that Rav Kahana was stunned that he had testified. Rav Ashi told him, “Do you think I relied on your reminder of the events? I reminded myself and fully remembered.”

The Beraisa states: fresh mounds of earth that are close to either a city or a path, whether the mounds are old or new, should be considered impure (containing dead bodies). If they are far away from the city or path, the new ones are considered pure and the old ones are considered impure. What is considered close? Within fifty cubits is close. What is considered old? Within sixty years is old. These are the words of Rabbi Meir. Rabbi Yehuda states: Close refers to the closest, and old means it is not remembered when it was established.

What does the Beraisa mean when it says “city” and “path?” If it refers to actual cities and paths, is there a doubt whether or not it has a status of impurity? Didn’t Reish Lakish say that the sages found a reason to state that all places in Eretz Yisrael that are not known to be impure are not?

Rabbi Zeira explains that a city refers to a city next to a cemetery, while a path refers to the path in a cemetery. The Gemora asks, it makes sense regarding the path of a cemetery, as sometimes twilight arrives and they bury the person in a mound. However, in a city next to a cemetery, everyone is buried in the cemetery! Rabbi Chanina answered that because women bury their dead infants and lepers bury their limbs outside the city, and a woman only goes fifty cubits outside the city as if she will go more people will talk about her. Therefore, there generally is no impurity in other places in Eretz Yisrael.

Rav Chisda says: it is apparent from the law of Rabbi Meir that a person only remembers testimony for sixty years, not more. The Gemora says that this is incorrect. Rabbi Meir was only talking about something which is not upon him to remember. However, when he was specifically made a witness he remembers for even longer.


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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.

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Tuesday, September 18, 2007


The Gemora (Kesuvos 17) asks: How should one dance before a bride?, and Beis Shamai says she is to be described as she is, while Beis Hillel opines that she is always to be described as pleasant. Beis Shamai asks Beis Hillel: How is one permitted to one lie? To which Beis Hillel replies, shouldn’t one praise a buyer’s purchase to him? It seems as if Beis Hillel is avoiding the question. On the other hand, how can Beis Shamai just ignore the requirement to judge positively?

The Mishneh Halachos (12:278) suggests that Beis Hillel’s reply was to distinguish between one who asks about the kallah at the beginning (should he even meet her?), versus after they are married. If someone comes to ask about her at the beginning, Beis Hillel would agree that one must speak the truth. To do otherwise would transgress the prohibition against offering bad advice. (See the Gemora in Kesubos 75a-b where not all failings or blemishes are visible.) However, after they are married, to speak the truth (where the truth is not pleasant) would produce nothing but pain. Here, Beis Hillel argues, one must judge positively that there is something pleasant about her. For this reason, Beis Hillel used a comparison to a buyer, after he had purchased.

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