כ״ח באב ה׳תש״ע (August 8, 2010)

Shevu’ot 42a-b – Biblical oaths and Rabbinic oaths

The Mishnah on today’s daf (=page) lists a number of payments that will not be subject to Biblical oaths in bet din. Among them are claims of theft of slaves, legal notes, land, and consecrated items. Furthermore, claims made about monetary penalties (for example, double payments when an object is stolen; payments of four or five times the capital when the stolen item was cattle or sheep) will also not lead to an oath. Thus, even in situations where ordinarily the Torah would require an oath, e.g. there was a single witness or the person was modeh be’mikzat – he admitted to owing part of the claim – no oath will be required in these cases.

 

According to Rabbi Shimon, another case that is removed from the laws of oaths is a case of kodashim – consecrated items that belong to the Temple such that the person holding them is not responsible for them. If, however, he is responsible for them, i.e. he will have to replace them if the animal dies, then the laws of oaths will apply.

 

The clear ruling of the Mishnah notwithstanding, there was a well known tradition among the Ge’onim that required an oath in these cases on a Rabbinic level. Rav Hai Ga’on excluded kodashim from the Rabbinic oath, however, arguing that oaths only make sense in the context of a challenge or disagreement between people. The Rambam disagrees, requiring an oath even in cases where someone is challenged with regard to kodashim. He argues that we cannot allow people to take kodashim less seriously than they take ordinary monetary situations. The Ri”d distinguishes between a situation where the Temple treasurer is the suspect, where we do not require an oath and a case where an ordinary person is accused of stealing from the Temple, where under circumstances that would ordinarily require that an oath be taken, e.g. if a single witness testified that he stole, he would be required to take an oath on a Rabbinic level.

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