Thursday, 29 September 2016

Bava Metzia 3: Oaths and Claims of Partial Ownership

The rabbis instituted the halacha that people take oaths regarding ownership of a found item to dissuade people from just taking other people's things.  They go on to debate whether the claimant holds the burden of proof regarding ownership.  Sumachos speaks against the rabbis when he states that in cases of uncertain ownership, both parties take an oath.  The rabbis attempt to reconcile Sumachos's principle with the agreed upon rules of the rabbis, which state that no such oath is required.  

Rabbi Yosei brings up a case where two people make a deposit with a bailee.  One person gives one hundred dinars and the other gives two hundred dinars.  No one can recall which person gave the higher sum, but both people claim that they gave more money.  Rabbi Yosei teaches that each person should be assumed to have given only 100 dinars and that the deposit should be held in a safe place until Elijah comes.  

The rabbis argue about whether oaths should be required in this case.  They also consider the value of punishing an intentional swindler.  Witnesses are more valuable than even a ledger.  And the rabbis discuss the trustworthiness of the oath of a labourer.  

When a person testifies that they owe money, even if it is only part of the sum that it is claimed that he owes, he takes an oath that he does not owe the remainder of the amount owed.  He is believed.  It is understood that a person would not exhibit insolence by lying in the face of another person who knows the truth.  

It is amazing that our justice system continues to rely upon the 'oaths' of witnesses.  Even though there is no longer an understood fear of G-d and of G-d's punishments, people 'swear' to tell the truth and we believe them.  What can we rely on as incentive to tell the truth?  When do we believe a person whether or not they swear that they are telling the truth?  

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