Talmud Tips

For the week ending 13 January 2018 / 26 Tevet 5778

Shavuot 37 - 43

by Rabbi Moshe Newman
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Shaking the World’s Foundation

“Know that the entire world trembled when the Holy One, blessed is He, said at Mount Sinai: Do not take the Name of the L-rd, your G-d, in vain (Shemot 20:7)….”

The beraita on our daf teaches that this is the beginning of the warning that the Beit Din gives a person prior to his taking an oath stating that he is exempt from further payment. The court wants the defendant to be aware of the serious repercussions of making a false oath, and hopefully he will decide to confess to his monetary obligation — if in fact he is liable — rather than swear falsely that he has no obligation.

The beriata continues with the wording of this warning as follows: “Regarding all other transgressions of Torah law, the Torah states that G-d will ‘cleanse’ (the person who transgresses and atones — Shemot 34:7), but here (for a vain or false oath) the Torah states that G-d will ‘not cleanse’ the person.” (Shemot 20:7) In addition, there are other severe consequences regarding the unique nature of the punishment for a false oath that are explained to the person prior to his making the oath, as taught in the continuation of the beraita.

The Maharsha explains that G-d created all of existence with the Name of G-d and with the letters of the Name of G-d, and therefore the existence of the world and its foundation depend on His Name being spoken only in truth. But if one who speaks G-d’s Name in a manner of falsehood — i.e., “non-existence” — he weakens and “shakes” the very existence of the world, causing the world to tremble, as it were, and brings down upon himself unusually severe retribution.

  • Shavuot 38b-39a

When a Denial is an Admission

Rava said, “One who claims that he did not borrow is, in essence, claiming that he did not pay back the loan.”

This is the ruling of Rava, who disputes the ruling of Abayei in the following case presented in our sugya:

A person — let’s call him Reuven — claims that another person — let’s call him Shimon — borrowed a hundred from him and did not pay it back. Shimon’s counterclaim is that, “Nothing ever happened (meaning, I never borrowed that money from you.)”

Then Reuven brings two witnesses to the court who testify that Shimon did indeed borrow a hundred, but they also say that they saw Reuven repay that loan.

What should be the ruling of the court? Abayei contends that since the witnesses testify that the loan was paid back, Shimon is exempt from needing to pay. Rava disagrees and states that Shimon is obligated to pay for the loan that Reuven claims was made, as proven by Reuven’s witnesses, despite the fact that these same witnesses say that Shimon already repaid this loan. Why? Rava’s explaination: “One who claims that he did not borrow is, in essence, claiming that he did not pay back the loan.”

But how is a person believed to obligate himself in the face of witnesses who say he is exempt, having repaid the loan? Testimony of witnesses has the power of credibility in court even to convict a defendant in a capital case!

One approach is that the defendant is not actually believed more than the witnesses, but since he has the ability to create a new obligation on himself, we say that this is what he is doing, and is therefore obligated to pay. Another approach is that although normally a person is not believed in matters that relate to himself (i.e., he cannot testify about himself since he is a relative of himself), here, where we are dealing with an admission of financial obligation, he is believed, due to a special Torah decree. The verse (Shemot 22:8) states: “When a person (defendant) claims (admits) that this amount is it (what I am obligated)…” — which teaches that he is believed to assume this financial obligation. (See Ketzot Hachoshen, Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat 34:4, for further discussion of these approaches.)

  • Shavuot 39a

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