Bava Basra 30 - 36
Mystery of The Stolen Silver
|Reuven enters the court of Rabbi Ami, presents a claim against Shimon that he stole a block of silver from him and produces a single witness who testifies that he saw the theft. Shimon responds by admitting that he took the silver but claims that it actually belonged to him although it was in Reuven's possession.
|Torah law does not give sufficient credence to the testimony of a single witness to conclusively decide a lawsuit but it does require the defendant to take an oath that he is telling the truth in denying the witness' testimony. Rabbi Ami therefore presented his dilemma by detailing all the possible judgments and why they are inapplicable.
|1)Make Shimon Pay?
No! Only the testimony of two witnesses can conclusively establish that he took something which was not his. Here he should be believed to say that the silver belonged to him because if he were lying he would simply have denied that he ever took the silver.
No! He cannot conclusively be believed because of the aforementioned alternative since there is a witness who testifies that he did take the silver and he would have been required to take an oath that he did not.
|3)Let Shimon take an oath?
No! The oath which the Torah recognizes as valid for negating the testimony of a single witness is one which directly confronts that testimony. Shimon is incapable of taking such an oath because he has already admitted taking the silver. He cannot take an oath to substantiate his claim that the silver was his because the testimony of the witness did not relate to that claim.
|Rabbi Abba, who was present when the case was being tried, offered a ruling which was accepted by the court. Shimon, he explained, is in the position of an accused who can only exonerate himself by taking an oath. Since he technically cannot take the required oath he is in the same position as someone who is ineligible to take an oath because his record of dishonesty disqualifies his credibility and must therefore pay. Shimon too has, with his admission, forfeited the privilege of taking an oath and must return the silver.
- Bava Basra 33b
A Mother's Memory
If someone lays claim to an object which he once owned but is now in someone else's home the defendant is believed with his counter-claim that he purchased the object since there is no other reasonable explanation as to how it reached his home. This is not true, however, in regard to ambulatory objects such as slaves or animals since the disputed property could have walked into the home of the defendant and there been detained. The Sage Rava rules that if the slave was a baby in a crib the defendant will be able to claim that he purchased it since the child was unable to reach his home on its own. To the challenge that perhaps the baby was left there by its mother who subsequently forgot to retrieve him, Rava cited a rule of human nature:
- Bava Basra 36a