Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Avoda Zara 16: Selling Animals to Gentiles, Building With Gentiles

In their wisdom, the rabbis wish to ensure that we do not sell items to Gentiles that might be used as weapons against us.  They discuss the sale of shields, slabs of iron, shovels and axes.  

Will animals sold to Gentiles be used to desecrate Jewish law - or will they be used against Jews, either monetarily or through force?  The rabbis consider whether or not the animals are healthy, whether or not the animals can bear children, and whether or not the animals are suitable for work.

A new Mishna teaches:

  • we are not permitted to sell lions, bears or other animals that might cause damage to the public to Gentiles
  • we may not build buildings, scaffolds, courthouses (for judging capital cases), or stadiums (where people are thrown in and gored by bulls)
  • we are permitted to build altars and bathhouses with Gentiles as long as they are not directly used for idolatry
  • we are not permitted to help build any place where an idol will be placed
The Gemara questions which animals can cause damage, which are "lame", the differences between different types and sizes of animals, and which animals work.

Regarding our help with building, we learn that there are three types of buildings used by Gentiles: Kings' buildings, bathhouses, and storehouses.  Are we permitted to build those structures not used by kings?  Or all of these buildings?  Should we be careful to build them without scaffolding, stadiums or storehouses?

Today's daf ends with a story about Rabbi Eliezer.  A baraita teaches that he was seized for teaching Torah, and he was about to serve idolatry.  The officer asked Rabbi Eliezer why he engaged in Torah study, such an idle hobby.  Rabbi Eliezer responded by saying that the true Judge is correct.   The officer thought that Rabbi Eliezer was referring to him.  He said, "since you accepted my words, I promise to free you."  We have to wait until tomorrow learn what happened to him.

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

Avoda Zara 15: Selling, Lending, Renting to Those Who Transgress

Some brief thoughts, on Tu B'Shvat 2018, about today's daf:

  • Selling small animals to Gentiles may be permitted 
  • Gentiles would not commit bestiality with their own animals for the animal would become sterile
  • Large animals may not be sold to Gentiles because they would be worked on Shabbat
  • What is wrong with a Gentile working his/her animal on Shabbat?
  • Lending and renting animals to Gentiles is not permitted; lending is like selling
  • An animal might be bought just before Shabbat and tested on Shabbat; such n animal will respond only to its owner's voice, causing the owner to break halacha of Shabbat
  • We are not permitted to rent to Gentiles for they could bring idols into a Jewish-owned home
  • The rabbis use examples to prove whether or not renting leads to acquisition/ownership
  • An animal might be sold to a Gentile if the seller believes it would be eaten right away
  • Beit Hillel permits a cow that is suitable for plowing to someone who is suspected of working on shemita
  • Raba notes that the seller shouldn't be punished for selling to another person who transgresses
  • Similar examples are cited, including selling a plowed field during shemita to someone suspected working on shemita
  • Kutim are also suspected of bestiality with small animals and thus animals are not left with Kutim
  • One may not sell to a Jewish thief
  • The rabbis are not sure whether or not one may sell shields to Gentiles
  • One should try to maintain good relationships with Gentiles, but if it is possible to avoid selling grains, one should avoid that sale

Monday, 29 January 2018

Avoda Zara 14: Animals and Plants Forbidden Because of Idol Worship?

A brief examination of today's daf:

  • The rabbis continue to identify items that are used toward the practice of idol-worship
  • Which plants are exempt from the laws of shemita? The rabbis investigate the meanings of words they do not know
  • Our previous Mishna specified items that were used for idol worship including white chickens, and white wheat
  • How do we know if one is buying a chicken for purposed of idol-worship? The rabbis share the wording that one might use if he were looking for a item for idol-worship
  • if a person asks for a damaged chicken, etc., we do not suspect idolatry and thus it is permitted
  • it may be impossible to determine whether or not a person is scheming
  • The rabbis wonder whether or not it is permitted to sell bad date trees
  • again the rabbis do not know the meanings of certain words and thus they have difficulty knowing what is forbidden and what is permitted to be sold to one who worships idols
  • A new Mishna teaches:
    • in places that sell small, non-working animals, we may sell them to Gentiles; in places that do not sell small animals, we cannot sell them
    • In all places we may not sell large animals or their babies regardless of health
    • Rabbi Yehudah permits selling a lame animal; Ben Beseira permits selling a horse
  • The Gemara debates whether or not this proves that selling small animals is not intrinsically forbidden
  • The rabbis wonder whether Gentiles commit beastiality when left alone with animals
  • They decide that in places where Gentiles are suspected of this behaviour, one may not leave animals with them
Interesting that alien cultures are suspected of beastiality; Jews have often been suspected of heinous acts as well.

Sunday, 28 January 2018

Avoda Zara 13: Gentile Fairs, Slaves, and Animals

Is a Jew permitted to purchase something from a store where some of the taxes but not all will go toward the practice of idol worship?    Is a Jew permitted to enter a Gentile fair and purchase items in that place, unaware of whether or not the money will benefit idol-worshippers?  The rabbis reference the halachot that apply to priests who debate whether or not to leave the holy land of Israel if they feel that they must learn from someone outside of HaAretz.  We learn that the rabbis are somewhat lenient on these points.  They understand the importance of maintaining business relationships with Gentiles.

The Gemara takes a gory turn and discusses the previous baraita's notion that an animal should be destroyed.  They consider the notion of destruction - maiming an animal, starving an animal, slaughtering an animal.  The rabbis speak of the differences between sanctified and non-sanctified animals.  They note that one is not permitted to blemish a sacrificial animal.  

Such practices are compared with those permitted regarding Gentile slaves versus Jewish slaves, who are not permitted to be harmed.  Gentile slaves and animals are not to be lowered; they are not to be raised up, either.  We are told the story of two rabbis who meet at a Gentile fair, both wearing new sneakers.  Each chastises the other for transgressing the prohibition from buying at a Gentile Fair.  In fact, each had purchased the sandals from individual homeowners, who are not required to pay taxes that will benefit idol-worship.  

We end today's daf with a new Mishna, which teaches us about those items which cannot be sold to Gentiles at any time.  These items will be used in the practice of idol worship:

  • a rounded, circular item thought to have healing powers
  • benot shuoch
  • petotarot
  • frankincense
  • a white rooster, used for sacrifice to an idol and thus only sold with a group of other roosters or with a severed toe
  • a palm tree, chatslav, natsav (These are added by Rabbi Meir)  

Saturday, 27 January 2018

Avoda Zara 12: Idol-Worshippers, Water

To recap yesterday's daf, the Gemara examines stories of Onkelos and conversions to Judaism, kings' customs, and contact with Gentiles during festivals.  It also introduces a new Mishna which teaches that Jews are permitted to do business with those who live outside of the city if the city houses many active idol-worshippers.  

Similarly, Jews can do business with city dwellers if active idol-worship is happening outside of the city.  Road designated only to travel to those who worship idols are not permitted.  However, roads that pass through or beside idol-worshipping cities are permitted for Jews to use.

The rabbis wonder why we should be kept separate from our neighbours.  Could a Gentile drop non-kosher food into our pot if we were cooking close to each other?  Could food splatter?  It is the rabbis' discussion of travel to and from these towns that we understand their explanation of the Sages' rulings.  

As Jews, not only are we obliged not to worship idols, but we cannot be seen to be worshipping idols.  Thus we cannot bend down to remove a thorn from our food, pick up coins, or drink from a fountain that is carved with the face of an idol -- as long as someone is present.  If no-one is seeing us, we are permitted to bend over, for no one will believe that we are bowing to an idol.  If any of these actions might save a life, however, we are permitted to risk being seen as an idol-worshipper.

We are taught a number of halachot regarding water.  

  • We should avoid drinking water straight from a pond or river with our mouths or hands.  This is because we might accidentally drink a leech.  
  • If we do swallow a leech, we should drink vinegar until water has been heated for us to drink.  Because this is a life/death situation, it is permitted to heat that water on Shabbat.
  • If we swallow a hornet we will die from internal stings; however, we are still permitted to break halachot of Shabbat in order to prolong our lives long enough to state of our last instructions.
  • We should avoid drinking water at night because of the shavriei, the evil spirit that follows water.  If we must drink, we can ask another person for the water or we can knock on the jug and state that we have been warned by our mother about the power of the shavriei found in white cups.
A second Mishna teaches us that in a town of idol-worshippers, there may be stores decorated for the holidays and stores that are not.  It is permitted for us to shop intones that are not decorated for the holidays.  The Gemara begins by suggesting that only stores decorated with roses and myrtle should be avoided, for they are the ones that provide us with the benefit of sweet aromas because of idol-worship.

Friday, 26 January 2018

Avoda Zara 10: King Antonius and Rebbe

The rabbis discuss postdated loan documents.  Often documents would be dated based on the beginning of a ruler's reign.  Different 'rosh hashanahs' and festivals were counted as the start of different segments of time.

Speaking about the days that kings are crowned, we are offered numerous stories which illustrate the crowning of kings and the relationships between students and teachers.  How do they determine this date?  How do they determine which is the day the king is crowned and which is when his son is crowned?  How do they determine which is the king's birthday and which is his son's birthday?

A story is told about Rebbi and Antonius.  Antonius said that he wanted his son to succeed him and he wanted to exempt a city from paying taxes, but the nobles would not allow it.  Rabbi told a story of climbing on top of Almoni, and give Almoni a dove, and then tell Almoni to let the dove go.  Antonius interprets: I should ask the nobles to let my son succeed me, and then I should ask my son, Asvirus, to exempt the city from paying taxes.

When Antonius complained that the nobles were oppressing him, Rebbi walked with Antonius in the garden, uprooting one tree each day.  Antonius interprets: I should kill one noble each day and not deal with all of them together.

The Gemara helps us understand why the Rebbi spoke in non-verbal metaphors.  Perhaps he was afraid of the nobles.  And whispering wouldn't have been effective.

We learn that Antonius's daughter, Gira, was accused of being promiscuous.  Antonius sent Rebbi a plant called gargira, suggesting that Gira had gar,  illicit sexual relations.  First, Rebbi sent back coriander, which is called kusbarta.  Kus barta, slaughter his daughter.  Antonius responded with karti, leeks, meaning that he was uncomfortable with karet, cutting off.  The response of Rashi would be chas, compassion, lettuce.  Tosafot believe that kus barta was meant to mean coverup for your daughter, and that Antonius misunderstood.

Antonius would send Rebbi a leather bag of gold each week. At the top of the bag was straw to hide the gold.  Rebbi did not want the gold.  Antonius said that Rebbi's descendants would need it to pay tribute to his descendants.  

Antonius learnd Torah at Rebbi's house.  He would take two guards with him through a cave, killing one on arrival and the other on return.  No-one was supposed to see him there, but one day Rabbi Chanina bar Chama was present at Rebbi's home.  When Antonio complained, Rebbi explained that the rabbi was not a regular person.  Antonius intimidated Rabbi Chanina by sending him to witness his dead servant at the door.  Rabbi Chanina asked G-d to revive him; he could not return without having met the king's request, nor could he run from the king.  G-d brought the servant back to life.  Antonius was impressed.

Antonius looked up to Rebbi.  He lowered himself; he had Rebbi step on him when getting into bed.  

In contrast, there was a kaiser who hated Yisrael.  He asked his nobles that if one has a sore foot, should he cut it off and heal from the infection or should he let the wound fester and cause pain?  They advised him to cut it off.  But not Yisrael.  Keti'a bar Shalom explains, using verses, why the Jewish people cannot be wiped out. The rabbis discussed this in some detail.

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Avoda Zara 9: Calculating a Date

Today's daf offers us insight into the tools our ancestors used for memorizing dates, empires, and other details.  The rabbis speak about scribes remembering dates.  They teach us about how many years each empire ruled over Israel. Knowing when the Temple was destroyed, scribes can calculate the years that different Empires were in power.  

Mnemonics are recommended as a memory tool.  Key markers of time include the giving of the  Torah at Sinai, the destruction of the Temple, famines, the Sabbatical cycle and jubilee years.  Knowing these critical events and some of the years between them can help a scribe - or others - calculate the date of almost any event.

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Avoda Zara 8: Personal Prayer, Gentile Festivals, Roman Conquests

Just before learning a new Mishna, we find the source of a prayer practice that I continue today.  Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi teaches that after we have recited ...b'shomeya tefila, the prayer that ends with 'listens to prayer', we are permitted to pray our own personal prayers for as long as we want.  Even if that is as long as the Yom Kippur confessional.

Our new Mishna repeats some of what we were just learning.  Rabbi Meir says that we avoid business transactions with Gentiles on their festivals: Kalenda, Saturnalia, Kretisis, the day of the festival of their kings, the birthday and the death day of the king.  The rabbis add that any day that involves burning is a day of idol worship and thus business must be avoided.  In addition, when a man shaves his head and beard, when he is released from prison, when he returns from the sea, and when he prepares his son's wedding, business should be avoided for that day alone; with that man alone.

After a story is told regarding Adam's interpretation of the shortening days as punishment for his sins - for which he observed a festival for eight days, we learn about with whom we should avoid doing business.  The rabbis seem to be concerned about us putting up fences and doing less and less business with Gentile communities.  Instead we must be sure that it is only the one person observing a festival or celebration, etc. who is subjected to this disruption.  

At the same time, some rabbis note that Jews in exile are considered to be worshipping idols by force.  A Gentile's wedding celebration is used as an example - if all of the Jews in town are invited, their kosher food and drink are considered to be tainted by the environment.  We are to avoid celebrating with Gentiles for the following year, in case it is related to the wedding and thus idol worship. This sort of teaching encourages Jews to avoid assimilation; to keep to ourselves.

The rabbis explore the origins of the festival of Kretisis, which has to do with a Roman victory at the time of Cleopatra VII (30-31 CE).  We learn the rabbis' versions of the history of the Roman Empire including multiple battles with the Greeks.  In fact, one story is told of the Roman victory based on intellect.  The Greeks are asked which is more valuable - which should stand as a base for the other - between a pearl and a precious stone, a precious stone and an onyx, and an onyx and a Torah scroll.  The Greeks see the Torah scroll as most valuable. The Romans say that they have a scroll along with the Jewish people and thus the Greeks should submit to them.  The Jews were then protected for 26 years and afterward were subjugated.  

The rabbis then tell of the destruction of Jewish existence before the fall of the Temple.  The Sanhedrin was dissolved and one would be killed, along with their town, for ordaining judges.  We learn that Rabbi Yehuda ben Bava sat  between two large mountains in the middle of nowhere - well, between Usha and Shefaram.  There he ordained five Elders: Rabbi Meir, Rabbi Yehuda, Rabbi Shimon, Rabbi Yosei, and Rabbi Elazar ben Shammua.  Possibly Rabbi Nechemya was also ordained at that time.  When the Romans were coming, Rabbi Yehuda ben Bava insisted that the others run, for he would be killed either way.  The Romans found him.  It is said that he was like a sieve, having been pierced at least 300 times with their spears.  

At the end of our daf, the rabbis discuss what these newly ordained judges were able to do.  Murder cases should only be heard when there is a Sanhedrin; the consequences are not binding otherwise.  Did the judges move from one place to another, hearing all cases?  Or were some cases left untried?

Monday, 22 January 2018

Avoda Zara 7: Botched Sales, Business on Christian Festivals, How to Pour Out Our Hearts to G-d

Amud (a) focuses on questions related to a botched sale.  For example, when a customer gives a dyer fabric and the dyer decides to do extra work on the fabric without permission.  Must the customer pay for these changes, as the item has been enhanced?  Or should the dyer owe the customer the fabric that was brought in to dye?  Similarly, we are told of the example of one who only pays some of what is owed for a field.  Does the seller offer the buyer only some of the land; perhaps the low quality land?  Or does the buyer renege on the deal and give all of the money back?  

The rabbis debate about who does have power in these situations - the person doing the changes - and who should have power in these situations.  They say that they are discussing "who is at a disadvantage".  They also discuss whether we have received instructions from the Mishna which suggest sequential actions or congruous actions.

A new Mishna begins to specify some of the the terms of our last Mishna.  Rabbi Yishmael says that we should not engage in business with Gentiles for the three days before and the three days after their festivals.  The rabbis disagree; we are only to avoid business with Gentiles for the three days before the festival.  

Does it matter if the business provides no benefits to us?  Does it matter if we are living in or outside of the diaspora?  Nachume the Mede suggests that we are permitted to sell horses of any sex to Gentiles both before Christian festivals, even the sabbath, and to sell horses on any day in times of war.  This is because Gentiles do not use horses in war, and riding horses is not forbidden on Shabbat.

Today's Gemara ends with the rabbis exploring other words of Nachum the Mede and Rabbi Acha bar Minyumi.  We learn that prayer for oneself should follow other prayer and that meditation is key; "Isaac went out to meditate in the fields" (Genesis 24:63).  The rabbis discuss sichi and whether it refers to prayer, meditation, or something unique that we pour out to G-d.

Sunday, 21 January 2018

Avoda Zara 6: Don't Benefit Idolators, Lime as Cosmetic

In their discussion about the use of an animal that is treifa, disqualified from use in sacrifice, they turn to discuss Noah. Noah was described in the Torah as righteous; did that mean that he was perfect in every way?  The rabbis argue that perhaps Noah himself was a treifa, and I assume this refers to his physical body as being different from the norm in some way.

Moving on to discuss the limitations on buying, selling , or otherwise benefitting Gentiles before their festivals, the rabbis speak of Nochrim, Christians, in particular.  We learn that Christians celebrate every Sunday, in addition to their major festivals: kalenda, saturnalia, and kretesis.  For the three days leading up to Christian worship - whether their festival was one or more days - Jews are not to do business with Christians.  This might assist Christians in their idolatry, and Jews are also commanded to blot out all idolatry in the world.  

In discussing what is distressing and what causes pleasure, we are told that borrowing and lending are both forbidden even though a Christian might be distressed after paying back a loan.  Further, women were permitted to use cosmetics including lime on their skin as a beautification tool (lime was a hair remover and skin purifier) as long as the lime was removed before the Festival.

Saturday, 20 January 2018

Avoda Zara 5: Praise of G-d Through Torah, Mitzvot, Tzedaka as the Meaning of Life

If G-d knows all things, why do we ever do anything against G-d's will?  Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi suggests that we made the golden calf to teach sinners that it is always possible to repent.  Rashi adds that the golden calf was a more tempting, less resistible creation, too.  Similar with King David and Bat Sheva - she was an overwhelming temptation, and she (or G-d, through Bat Sheva) taught David that individual repentance is always possible.

The Gemara questions why the sins of our people and of King David were recorded.  Again, this is to teach us all that repentance is possible.  We need to learn both about the repentance of the community (through the communal sin of idol worship) and the repentance of the individual (through the sins of David with Bat Sheva).  

Rabbi Shmuel bar Nachman teaches that David is the one who raised the burnt offering of repentance.  Further, our mitzvot in this world follow us into the next; our sins this world follow us into the next.  Rabbi Elazar says that our actions are tied to us like a dog.  This is why Yosef did not lie with Potifar's wife when she made advances - he did not wish to be with her in the World-to-Come. 

Reish Lakish asserts that our ancestors saved our lives by making the golden calf.  They would have been like angels who do not reproduce.  Then the rabbis argue about reproduction, including the notion that intercourse might have been only for the pleasure of doing that mitzvah.  After receiving Torah at Sinai, though, people were instructed to "return to your tents".  The rabbis interpret this to mean that men should return to their wives and the mitzvah of intercourse.

The Gemara circles around the overarching conversation about why we are here.  We are here, the rabbis say, to live as long as possible and perform as many mitzvot as possible in efforts to honour our Creator.  Perhaps Adam did not appreciate G-d because he did not appreciate the woman provided for him.  Perhaps Moshe did not appreciate G-d's wish to be asked for help because only after forty years did he receive a knowledgeable heart.  Proof texts are provided for all interpretations, of course.  Does this mean that a student cannot truly understand the full intent of the student's rabbi for 40 years?

The Gemara interprets a verse: Happy are Yisrael; when they engage in Torah and chesed, acts of loving-kindness, their yetzer ha'ra, evil inclination, is delivered into their hands but they are not brought into that inclination.  This is a metaphor for "tzedaka and Torah lead to happiness".  

Tana d'vei Eliyahu teaches that we should bear the yoke of Torah like an ox and become like a donkey to bear that burden.  A very negative view of Torah learning and practice.  Interesting that Torah, mitzvot and tzedaka are described both as meritorious, burdensome, and the centre of the meaning of life.

The Gemara turns to our Mishna's statement regarding festivals, where our selling/buying power is eradicated.  The rabbis are sceptical - do we truly suspect one of idolatry for preparing early for a festival?

We are taught that there are four days each year when anyone who sells an animal must tell the buyer if the animal's mother or child was already sold so that thy will not both be slaughtered that day.  These days are those that precede Shemini Atzeret, Pesach, Shavuot and Rosh HaShana.  It is not is not required for the seller to disclose if the mother was sold in the last three days, because people do not proper for festivals that far in advance of the Yom Tov.  Perhaps this is the same for Yom Kippur.  

We learn that one day is enough time to prepare an animal that will be eaten.  If it will be sacrificed, even more than three days of preparation might be required.  30 days before Pesach are set aside to teach the laws of Pesach.  Or, according to one rabbi, only two weeks before Pesach offer enough time to teach these laws.  It takes time to examine animals for even tiny blemishes.

An argument follows regarding the ways that a Gentile might sacrifice as an offering to G-d.  Not nearly as much time would be needed, for different rules apply to the preparation of an animal.  The rabbis question whether or not a Gentile is permitted to offer an animal that is actually missing a limb.  This argument ends our daf.  There is an assertion that an animal being sacrificed should resemble human beings - Noah, who was not visibly a tereifa, or blemished in any way. 

Thursday, 18 January 2018

Avodah Zara 3: Rewards and Punishments, Gentiles and Jews, G-d's Daily Schedule, This World and the World-to-Come

Our daf begins with a conversation about keeping mitzvot as Jews and as Gentiles.  Gentiles are called upon to keep only seven mitzvot known as the Noahide Laws.  Our rabbis find proof for their assertion that Gentiles could not keep even their seven mitzvot.  Their next questions revolve around the conversation that G-d must have had with the Gentile community.  How would G-d's expectations change?  Should Gentiles be held to any standard at all regarding religious obligations?  And what about Jews who choose to observe - who deserves reward?

We learn about the rabbis' projections about what G-d did when Gentiles insisted on performing mitzvot.  A story of sukkot is presented.  The Gentiles were told it was the easiest mitzvah for it cost no money, and they assembled their sukkot.  But G-d intensified the heat of the sun and the Gentiles gave up on that mitzvah.  Isn't this unfair treatment?  No, say the rabbis, because some summers last so long that Yisraelim are also disadvantaged.  Converts, whom we are told did not exist in the times of David, were unable to perform mitzvot, too. We hear the rabbis speaking of G-d's laughter, at least for one day, watching some of us suffer in our attempts to please G-d.

The rabbis are so bold as to describe G-d's daily schedule.  Different rabbis add different tasks.  This originates in a conversation about G-d's laughter.  Rav Yehuda suggests that over the first three hours of the day, G-d engages in Torah study.  Then G-d judges the world for three hours.  If the world should be destroyed, G-d moves to the chair of mercy. Following this, G-d feeds the entire world for three hours.  This begins with the biggest animals and ends with the smallest, which are said to be lice eggs.  Over the last three hours of the day, G-d laughs with the leviathan.  Or perhaps he teaches children who have died.  Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak adds that G-d regularly laughs with his creations, but rarely does G-d laugh at his creations.

The Gemara turns back to focus on how we are rewarded for learning or neglecting Torah.    Rabbi Levi says that if we stop learning so that we can gossip, we are force-fed burning coals.  Reish Lakish teaches that when we learn Torah at night, G-d rewards us during the day.  Further, if we learn Torah in this world, we are rewarded in the World-to-Come.  Rav Yehuda notes that people are like fish because we both die immediately if we come upon dry land, which is the same as refraining from Torah study and the practice of mitzvot.  Both die if the sun beats down on us.  Rabbi Chanina teaches that all sicknesses are handed down from heaven except for chills and fevers, which are due to our own negligence.

Finally, we learn that Gehenna is not separate from this world.  Instead G-d will allow the sun to beat down heavily.  This serves as judgement for the wicked.  Simultaneously, tzadikim are cured through this action.

Avoda Zara 2: Why is Yisrael Treated Differently?

We begin this new Masechet with a short but very powerful Mishna.  It states that for the three days before "eidehen", the festivals of idolators, Jews are forbidden to buy or sell from idolaters, to lend to or borrow from them any objects or money, and to pay or collect any loans.  Rabbi Yechuda permits collecting loans from them because this hurts them.  The rabbis disagree, saying that while it pains them now to pay their loans, it benefits them later. 

The Gemara begins with a lengthy discussion about the word "eidelhen" to describe the festivals of idolators.  It is noted that that word is spelled with either an aleph or an ayin in the Mishna.  Each spelling would indicate a different negative prediction.  One would suggest karov yom edam, the day of their downfall. The other would suggest "yitenu edeilhem v'yitzdaku, they will bring witnesses and be justified, referring to testimony against oneself in court.  The rabbis consider other possible meanings as well.

Rabbi Chanina bar Papa teaches that in the future, G-d will hold a Torah and reward all people who engaged in Torah learning.  Gentiles will come together.  G-d will insist that each nation present itself one at a time.  Romi will be judged first as the most important nation.  The rabbis argue about whether or not a king should wait for judgement, how we know that Romi is the most important nation, and other practical questions about this judgement.

In this tale, G-d would ask Romi how it helped Israel to "engage in Torah".  The response was that that all things they did or built was done so that Yisrael could engage in Torah, including the management of bathhouses.  But wouldn't G-d see us as establishing markets and bathhouses simply to benefit ourselves - or provide housing for prostitutes?!

It is said that Romi left, sad about its judgement.  Peras entered next.  Like Nebuchadnezzar's dream, Rav Yosef suggests that Peras was like a bear in how it ate, drank, was obese, hairy, and always moving.  It built bridges, conquered cities and made wars so that Yisrael could engage in Torah.  Again, G-d said that this was for their benefit - to collect taxes, to find people who would serve the king.  Peras also left, dejected.

In their discussion of this story, the rabbis note that Peras thought it was different from Romi.  In fact, all nations believe that they treat Yisrael better than other nations.  Further, every nation wishes for a reward.  They note that Romi and Peras were mentioned because it was believed that these nations would last until moshiach.

The story continues, where the Gentiles are upset with the idea that G-d offered them the Torah and they refused it.  We are given proof texts that suggest the same.  We are taught that these nations were descended of Esau.  Further, G-d did hold a mountain over their nations just like for the nation of Yisrael, and they still chose to refuse it.

Today's daf is focused on the notion of separating Yisrael from the other nations.  It provides 'proofs' and justifications for the idea that G-d favoured Yisrael not for our compliance but because no other nation complied.  The end of today's daf posits that G-d did not give the nations the Torah because they did not observe the seven Noahide laws that they had already been given.  Why share more obligations/mitzvot?  The rabbis are eager to explain both the hatred that they face and the reasons that they deserve exceptional treatment from G-d.  

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Shevuot 49: Guardians, Oaths, Lies, and the Importance of Word Choice

Today's daf marks the last day of Masechet Shevuot.  The rabbis introduce one last Perek. It is concerned with the four types of guardians or watchmen.  A new Mishna states that these guardians are the shomer chinam - the unpaid guardian, the borrower, the shomer shachar - the paid guardian, and the reenter.

  • the unpaid guardian swears about damages when a deposit was broken, captured, killed, lost or stolen and he is exempt
  • a borrower pays for any damage to the deposit unless it died while working, in which case he is exempt
  • the paid guardian and the renter swears and both are exempt if the deposit was broken, captured, or died; he must pay if the deposit was lost or stolen
The Mishna goes on to describe a number of cases where witnesses swear differently.  One might swear that the damage did not occur, or that one did not take any money and thus is actually an unpaid guardian, or that a borrower did not steal an ox, or many many other cases.  

The Gemara begins with a basic question: who wrote this Mishna, and who decided that there are four guardians?  After arguing, Rabbi Nachman bar Yitzchak states that there are four guardians but only three laws applying to them ( for the paid guardian and the renter are subject to the same halachot).

Returning to arguments discussed early in this masechet, the rabbis debate about positive and negative applications of an oath.  They discuss the possibility of being forced to swear and thus to lie.  

At the end of today's daf, Reish Lakish notes that there are four meanings of the word "ki".  These are if, perhaps, rather, and because.  Depending on the meaning of this word, a judge might interpret a witness's claim inappropriately.  Thus we end our daf and Masechet Shevuot with a reminder of the importance of choosing our words carefully, especially when we make an oath. 

Monday, 15 January 2018

Shevuot 48: Oaths and Grocers, Moneychangers, Divorced Women, Orphans, When There is No Claim, When Partnerships Dissolve

The rabbis continue their discussion about our last Mishna.  Some of the salient points from today's daf include:
  • when two witnesses saw the new moon without enough witnesses
    • if the difference in their measure is 1-2 ploughshares above the horizon, the testimonies are considered to concur; either witness can testify with someone else in a monetary case
    • thus we learn that two witnesses who agree are believed even if another disagrees
  • when one asks a grocer for a dinar's worth of fruit and swears he paid a dinar, keeping the fruit
    • the fruit must be visible and not put away
    • the grocer can only take the coins if he has a proof - if not, the customer doesn't need to swear
  • when one asks a moneychanger for a dinar's worth of smaller coins and the customer swears that it was given and keeps the coins
    • usually Sages believe a grocer when the customer is holding the fruit but not a moneychanger
    • usually a moneychanger is not believed, but fruit rots and thus fruit is given before money is exchanged (because fruit rots and so a person might see rot and change their mind)
  • when a woman who wants to collect the rest of a partially paid ketuba, she must swear and orphans must swear to collect
    • to whom do they swear? the one who borrowed from their father?
    • they do not swear
      • one doesn't inherit a claim to money that one's father could have collected only by swearing - an uncertainly
      • collecting from the beit din is discussed
    • heirs of widows who die without collecting their ketubah have 25 years to do so
    • the rabbis discuss other related concerns including sons who inherit from fathers who are not required to swear 
    • judges' rulings stand in all cases
  • when there is no claim
    • the rabbis discuss reasons that people would swear without a claim including feeling entitled
  • when partners split up
    • who must swear about a loan?
    • shemita cancels loans, thus the timing of the dissolution makes a difference

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Shevuot 47: When One Cannot Swear

Continuing their deliberations about who is required and who is not required to make oaths, the rabbis continue to speak of those who cannot swear.  They wonder why gamblers are discussed.  If they Torah law excluded them, their cases are disqualified based on rabbinical law.  

The rabbis are unsure about the correct text of the Mishna and the halacha.  Perhaps the disputed money is divided.  Rabbis in Bavel argue that G-d will punish the guilty party for transgressing the oath made on Sinai (which included that we should not steal).  Rabbi's in HaAretz argue that the defendant must pay because s/he cannot swear.  

In addition to learning about orphans' oaths, we learn the example of a man who is accused of taking another man's property when that other man with the only witness.  He agrees that he took the item, saying that it belonged to him.  But two witnesses are required to exempt him.  He only had one witness.  The rabbis explain that because he took the item from the hands of the other, he is not believed.  As a thief he is unable to swear for he is not trustworthy.  And if one is required to swear but he cannot, he must pay restitution.

Does an oath settle a dispute between any two parties?  The rabbis suggest that this is not the case when it comes to heirs.  An heir might know that his father owed 50 but did not know whether or not he owed more.  He cannot swear because he is uncertain.  This moves into a conversation about how we are influenced by each other.  Namely, the consequences of an oath affect both parties.  The rabbis connect the verse that teaches this point with other verses that teach us that if one touches someone anointed with oil, the oil touches him as well.  The slave of a king is called a king.

What about when a person is definitely lying?  Our Mishna had spoken of one who swears based on his ledger but the proof against him was evident.   Why would both he grocer and the workers have to swear?  The rabbis determine that the workers swear to the employer in from to the grocer, who knows the truth.  His presence would keep them from swearing falsely due to embarrassment.  The grocer would also swear and collect from the employer.

We learn that if two pairs of witnesses contradict each other, either pair is permitted to testify by itself in a another case.  We don't know which is lying, and we cannot follow either's testimony. The rabbis have different opinions about what should be the protocol if each pair has signed different contracts.  

Saturday, 13 January 2018

Shevuot 46: Who Must Swear, The Need for Proof

If a worker claims to have been hired for two zuz but the employer says that the was employed for one zuz, who must swear?  The rabbis suggest different solutions.  Does the employer swear because most people remember getting paid?  Is a proof required?  If the employer faces no evidence condemning him, does he swear and then is he believed?  

What if one gives his garment to a craftsman to be fixed, and they argue about whether one or two garments were to be returned.  If the garment has not been returned within the quoted 'ready' time, then it is permitted to go along with the worker's request.  But if the garment is late, he is to be given two garments.

The rabbis debate why the employer, worker, or others should swear and then collect.  Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak suggests that we learn this through Rabbi Yehuda.  He was quoted in a baraita saying that whenever the Torah tells the employer to swear, the Sages decided that the worker should swear and collect.  Or perhaps this is when the employer claims partial responsibility.  If the employer denies all responsibility (ex., I never hired him at all), the worker must bring proof of having been hired.  The rabbis also argue about who wrote which baraitas.  

Comparing different cases, the rabbis examine the notion of "proof", threats, and the trustworthiness of the person who might be asked to swear.  What is most interesting to me here is that the rabbis consistently consider the context of the potential crime.  The rabbis are aware of human nature - the possibility that people might say things that are exaggerated and should not be taken as absolute predictors of behaviour.  

A number of people are disqualified from swearing.  For example, one who has wounds on his back is not suspected of creating those him/herself.  If a person has been wounded, s/he need only swear about those wounds he might have done to himself.  The rabbis argue about whether or not a vain or false oath leads to swearing automatically.  One might not have intended to lie falsely, it is explained.

Thursday, 11 January 2018

Shevuot 44: Lost Securities; Collecting from Rabbinic Oaths

We begin with the rabbi's continued discussion of securities that have been lost.  They discuss securities that are worth as much as the loan itself.  We learn about Rabbi Yitzhak's law: when a lender acquires a security, to him it will be tzedaka.  If the security is tzedaka, then halachot apply to whether/when it can be given to another.

We begin the last Perek of Masechet Shevuot.  The Mishna says that when one is forced to swear about Torah proofs, it is to avoid paying.  Workers, victims of theft, those wounded, one who claims from a defendant who is disqualified from swearing, and a grocer swearing about his ledger - all of these take an oath on rabbinic, not Torah oath, and still collect.  

If at the end of a day that he worked, a worker claims that he was not paid and his employer says that he paid him, the worker swears and collects.  Rabbi Yehuda says that this only happens if there is a partial admission: if the worker claims wages of 50 dinars but the employer claims that there are only 2 dinars in payment. 

If witnesses testify that one entered another's home without permission to take a security and the owner accuses one of taking an item, the owner must swear how much was taken.  He will collect.  A partial admission might also happen when one claims that two kelim were taken and the the other says he took only one. 

Another case describes witnesses testifying that one was unbruised when he entered but bruised when he left a home.  He accused the owner of wounding him and he denied it.  In this case, if one swears that the other wounded him, he can collect damages.

Finally, our Mishna teaches more about Rabbi Yehuda.  He says that if one swears and collects only if the owner at least partially admits guilt.  For example, he would have to claim that he wounded the person only once when the other claims that he was wounded twice.

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Shevuot 43: Exemption From Oaths, Swearing Regarding Lost Securities

The rabbis continue to consider who might be exempted from making certain oaths.  They speak about a shomer chinam, a volunteer guardian, and a shomer sachar, a paid guardian.  A shomer sachar is held to a higher standard regarding how the item they are responsible for is kept.  

Next, the rabbis consider what was meant when the the Mishna referred to oaths being restricted to things that can be measured.  The general rule is determined to be that one swears only when the claimant's oath and the denial are both quantified.  The rabbis note that this has come to include claims of "full" verses "empty", a large verses a small lamp, etc.  

We are introduced to a new Mishna regarding lost securities. We already know that a borrower is liable for an item that was lost while in his care. But what if the value of the lost item is in dispute?  Some of the points of this Mishna include:
  • If the lender says that the security was worth two dinars and thus the borrower still owes two and the borrower claims that it was worth four, he is exempt
  • If the lender says that the security was worth two dinars and the borrower claims that it was worth three dinars, each must swear
  • If the borrower says that the security was worth eight dinars so that the lender owes him four dinars and the lender claims it was worth four, he is exempt
  • If the borrower says that the security was worth eight and the lender claims it was worth five dinars, he must swear
  • The one who was watching the security is the one who must swear
  • the security might be shown to prove its worth
The Gemara debates which cases might be referenced by he suggestions of this Mishna.  One of the examples shows a part of life two thousand years ago.  Shmuel tells us that Levi lent 1000 zuz to Yehuda and took the handle of a shovel as security, which is worth less than one zuz.  If he loses the security, he forfeits the loan.  If two handles were taken for securities, he does not forfeit half of the loan if he loses one of them - but of course he forfeits the loan if he loses both of them.  Even this is debated, and Rav Nachman suggests that the value of the security lost could be subtracted from the loan.  Other examples are debated as well.

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Shevuot 42: Tainted Documents, Oaths and Children

The rabbis continue to help us understand oaths in specific circumstances.  Some of what is discussed today includes questionable oaths:  what we do not need to know from a witness, flawed documents, when we trust the lender, and oaths and children.  Some brief points that stood out:

  • people remember prices and those recounts should be trustworthy
  • a person should not pay when swearing about a document even if that payment is for another debt
  • rabbis disagree about whether more than two witnesses strengthens a case
  • there may be cases where one should swear to deny the claim of a child (or a deaf-mute, etc.)

Monday, 8 January 2018

Shevuot 41: Warnings, Knowing the Months

Points from today's daf, briefly:

  • the rabbis debate which source is used to prove that warning is required
  • when one has been warned, one has agreed to be killed for his transgression
  • how do we know whether a person has been warned for one transgression and not another?
  • the example of a woman who may have been warned about being removed from her adulterer or about being killed for her transgression
  • a chaver/a needs no official warning 
  • the rabbis speak of testimonies that match and testimonies that do not match
  • the rabbis disagree about whether or not Rav Yochanan ben Zakai could have dismissed testimony based on the disagreement about the size of fig stems (they walk through his life's events to determine if he could have judged at the time of that case)
  • The rabbis discuss whether it is necessary for witnesses to correctly answer detailed questions about what they saw
  • The rabbis better understand whether or not a witness heard that the month was me'ubar, which is assumed to be known by the second half of the month
  • We end with a conversation about by when a person must have blessed a new moon

Sunday, 7 January 2018

Shevuot 40: Questioning the Witness

The rabbis share a new Mishna: There are seven chakirot, basic questions regarding witness testimony:

  • which shemita cycle of the yovel when/where they saw the testimony
  • which year of the shemita cycle was it
  • which month
  • which day of the month
  • which day of the week
  • which hour of the day
  • where were you
Rabbi Yosi says that only the day, hour, and location are asked.  We should also ask questions including did you recognize the victim of the crime?  Did you warn the transgressor if he served idolatry?  In that case, which idol did he serve and in what way?  

Others suggest that the more bedikot, deeper investigatory questions we ask, the better.  A case where one was murdered under a fig tree is used as an example of asking multiple questions.  Ben Zakai asked the witness if the figs had large or small stems.  We learn that the basic questions must be answered affirmatively for the witness testimony to be valid.  The more detailed questions need not be answered for the testimony to be valid.  

We learn what to do when chakirot and bedikot contradict each other.  Is all testimony disqualified?  Through examples, we are taught that the rabbis consider a one-hour discrepancy between two witness accounts is permitted.  However, the sun is at a different place in the sky when there is a two-hour difference in witness accounts, and thus their testimony is invalid.

The rabbis walk us through the process whereby a verdict is decided upon.  They continually lean toward believing witness testimony.   For example, if witnesses seem honourable, a student is silenced if he attempts to give a reason that judges are obligated to listen to other reasoning.   Cases are heard and decided upon on the same day.  If absolutely necessary judges will carry the case over to the following day.  However, they are not permitted to drink wine at all over that time period.

The Gemara discusses the source for the seven overriding questions for witnesses.  Rav Yehuda answerers with the city destroyed because of the majority of people were serving adultery.  Much energy is spent disputing the validity of the source of this assertion.  

A berate teaches about Rabbi Yosi's question to the Sages: if a witness said "he killed him yesterday", do we still have to ask which shemita, which year, which month, and which day?  What if it was not yesterday but "just now"?  The Sages agree that the basic questions are still asked in this case.   As well, recognizing the victim could mean knowing his/her name; it could mean knowing whether s/he was Jewish or not.  And while  they were at it, the judges could ask about whether or not there was a warning.  They could also ask the witness about what type of idolatry might have been followed.  

Saturday, 6 January 2018

Shevuot 39: Oaths of Partial Admission; Who Is Punished When One Swears Falsely

After yesterday's daf introduced a new Mishna, today we learn more about Shevuot haDayanim, the oaths of partial admissions.  We begin with the thoughts from a baraita:
  • Oaths of partial admission can be said in any language understood by the defendant
  • the defendant is told that the world shook when G-d told us not to take G-d's name in vain
  • Regarding falsifying this oath only, we are told that G-d will not cleanse/forgive (lo y'nakeh)
  • regarding falsifying this oath only, G-d punishes the transgressor and his family 
  • perhaps falsifying this oath leads to punishment of the entire world
  • perhaps the punishment is given immediately when all other sins might be postponed for two or three generations due to one's other meritorious behaviour
Proof texts are provided for each of these suggestions, of course.

The rabbis name some of the ways in which one might falsify an oath:
  • one who takes money to order others to swear
  • water and fire do not wear away the wood and rocks of one's house; false oaths do
  • when one says "I will pay and not swear", s/he is escorted out of the beit din immediately so that s/he does not change her mind and recant later
  • when administering the oath, he is told "You do not swear according to your own da'at, intent, rather according to the data of G-d and of the beit din
  • mitzvot refer to those given on Sinai and those given later ex. regarding Megilat Esther; others to be enacted by the Sages
  • our Mishna noted that the words said to a sota before she drinks, giving offerings, prayer, birkat hamazon, and a number of oaths can be made in any language
The rabbis consider the notion that one's family or even the entire world is punished when one swears falsely.  Would an entire family be punished with karet?  The rabbis note that there are a number of Torah verses describing how each of us is responsible and accountable for the actions of those around us.  They use these verses to suggest that the entire world will be punished when one person made a false oath.  This refers to those who could have protested but did not; not those who were unaware.  The rabbis consider the severity of punishment facing different parties in these situations from a perutah to a litre of gold.

Thursday, 4 January 2018

Shevuot 37: Lying About Oaths, Documents

If a person was warned not to swear falsely but did so regarding monetary matters, the halacha is stringent.  The rabbis discuss whether punishment includes both lashing and bringing an offering.   The offering must be worth a greater amount than that for other transgressions regarding false oaths.  In their discussions, the rabbis also note that the only exemption might be if someone believed that he was swearing in truth.  

The Gemara considers a person who was witnessed being warned about his behaviour.  He is liable for lying about being warned, as well as for his other transgressions.   But if there is a document proving that money is not owed or has not been paid, he is exempt.  The rabbis discuss the notion of a document that carries legal power.  Documents can be ruined, lost, or tampered with.  Documents are used for different purposes, as well.  Some represent contracts; others symbolize a lien on land.   

Discussing documents and land, the Gemara moves into a conversation about how neighbours might steal land from each other.   We read a number of cases regarding documents that may not be relevant and are dismissed.  Further, we learn that the rabbis debate about whether or not stealing slaves should be compared with stealing land.

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Shevuot 36: Liability/Exemptions in Shevuot HaPikadon, Oaths Regarding Securities

The rabbis continue to debate and better understand our last Mishna.  They discuss the wording of an oath, considering possible differences between and curse and an oath.  Notably the rabbis argue about whether or not simply responding "no" or "yes" can qualify as an oath.  They prefer that a person says these affirmations twice to allow it as an oath.  On cursing using the name of G-d, the rabbis return to their conversation and wonder about the difference between G-d's true name and all other names for G-d.  To be called a curse, one must use the positive or the negative in his/her statement.  The positive cannot be inferred to be the negative or vice versa.  

Moving to Perek IV, we begin with a new Mishna:
  • A shevuot hapikadon, an oath regarding a security, applies to men, women, strangers, relatives, Kosher witnesses and invalid witnesses
  • when swearing oneself outside of the beit din, he is liable only if he denies taking the oath while in the beit din
  • the rabbis say that one is liable whether or not s/he denies, even outside of the beit din
  • one is liable whether or not s/he knew the punishment for the oath or if s/he knew s/he was swearing falsely
  • one is exempt if s/he believed that s/eh was swearing truthfully
  • liability requires an offering worth at least two shekalim
  • cheviot hapikadon is when one asks another for his deposit and the other swears that he is not holding a deposit; alternately, if one imposed this oath on him and he answered amen
  • he is liable for each oath if the oath was imposed upon him five times regardless of his location in our outside of the beit din because each time he could have admitted guilt
  • if five partners claim a deposit from another and he swore he gave no deposit, he is liable only once
  • if he said "You, you, you, you, you do not have deposits from me", he is liable for each; Some rabbis say that he is liable only if he said "shevua" at the end of each accusation
  • If one claims that another has a deposit, loan, theft of his and an aveidah, a lost object, and the other says "I have nothing of yours", he is liable only once
  • If he named each object in his denial, he is liable for each one
  • same goes for one denying having another's wheat barley or spelt
  • if one denies raping or enticing the other's daughter, he is liable if the oath is imposed upon him and he answers "amen"
  • Rabbi Shimon says he is exempt because he would not pay the fine anyway
  • The Sages say that he would pay for boshet, embarrassment and pegam, damages due to his own admission
  • if one denies stealing the other's ox and an oath is imposed upon him and he says "amen", he is liable
  • if he admits to stealing the ox but not slaughtering or selling it and the oath is imposed upon him and he says "amen", he is exempt
  • If one said, "your ox killed my ox" and the other denied it and the oath was imposed upon him and he answered "amen", he is liable
  • if one said "you wounded me" and another denied it and the oath was imposed upon him and he answered "amen", he is liable
  • If one said "your ox killed my Cana'ani slave" and the other denied it and the oath was imposed upon him and he answered "amen", he is exempt: he would not pay the fine even if he admitted his transgression
  • If one's Cana'ani slave said "you knocked out my tooth", or "you blinded my eye" and the other denied it and the oath was imposed upon the other by the slave and he said "amen", he is exempt
The general rule is defined: if the defendant would have had to pay due to his own admission, he is liable.  If not, he is exempt.

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

Shevuot 35: Exemptions, Swearing & Cursing in G-d's Name

A new Mishna:

  • If a person says, "I impose an oath on you if you do not testify that one promised to give me 200 zuz, and his did not give it to me", the witnesses are exempt.  This is because even if the statement is true, it is not necessary for one to give the 200 zuz.    Thus one is liable only for a claim on money that is required to be paid, like a deposit.  
  • If one said, "I impose an oath on you that you will testify for me after you see testimony," They are exempt, for the oath preceded actually witnessing the testimony. 
  •  If one said in the beit hakneset, "I impose an oath on all of you that if you all know testimony for me you will testify" they are exempt because one did not specify the witnesses.  
  • If one said, "I impose an oath on you, x and y, that if you now testimony for me you will testify" and they swore that they do not know testimony but they had heard it from another witness or one of them was a relative/invalid witness, they are exempt.  
  • If the claimant sent his slave to ask the witnesses to testify or the defendant made them swear, they are exempt because they were not asked to testify.
The Gemara pieces through these examples of instances where witnesses are made exempt  because of the manner in which they were approached or because they are not kosher witnesses.  

The Gemara notes that if one swears on the name of Heaven and Earth, they are exempt, but swearing on any of the names of G-d makes one liable.  Likewise, cursing any of the names of G-d or one's parents makes one liable.  "I impose an oath on you" is reasonable,  similar to commands given in the Torah.  Likewise, the halachot surrounding curses are based on curses in the Torah.  

The Rabbis speak about the name of G-d and the nature of G-d.  Names of G-d are put into two categories: those that can be erased and those that cannot.  Kel, Elokim, Eloka, Elokeikem, Echye Asher Echyeh, Aleph-Dalet, Yud Kei, Shkai, and Tzeakot cannot be erased.  Ha Gaol, Ha Gibor, ha Nora, Ha Adir, Ha Chazak, Ha Amitz, Ha Izuz, Chanun and Oakum, Erech Apayim, Rav Chesed may all be erased.  The rabbis continue to debate which names of G-d are holy and which are not.  They call upon different stories in the Torah to demonstrate their 

A few interesting points that we learn from today's daf:

  • Rav Yehudah taught that hosting guests is greater than receiving the Divine Presence
  • Avraham interrupted speaking with G-d to host guests
  • we are commanded to curse and swear with G-d's name and not to curse or swear in G-d's name

Monday, 1 January 2018

Shevuot 34: Monetary Matters, Testimony and Seeing/ Knowing

The rabbis discuss which oaths should be brought for which monetary crimes.  Through this conversation we learn more about which crimes are brought to court, which punishments apply to which people, and which rules are appropriate in which circumstances.  

The rabbis consider the two distinctive characteristics of monetary testimony:

  • a person can see without understanding
  • a person can know without seeing
In some cases, it is not necessary to see nor to know.  In some circumstances it is important either to see or to know.  One of the case examples is difficult to read in the context of modern social and legal rules.  It regards a claim that a certain man raped or enticed a woman.  When reviewing the case, the focus is on whether or not the offender can be proven liable for damages.  If she was not a virgin, for example, testimony is not relevant for she has lost no additional value after being raped.

The rabbis describe a number of examples of cases.  For example, one might be proven to be a liar in the past and thus not believable now.  In their discussions, the rabbis walk through different types of offences, status of accused and witnesses and range of consequences.