The Woman as Witness
A man asks two witnesses who witnessed an act which somehow affects him monetarily to testify in his behalf and they swear that they do not know anything about the testimony he requires. When they subsequently repent their sin they must bring a sin offering of either an animal, fowl or flour according to their means (Vayikra 5:1, ).
This atonement, which is the main topic of this entire fourth perek, applies only to those people whose testimony is valid in court. It does not apply to women, relatives of either of the litigants or to those disqualified as witnesses because of their dishonest behavior.
How about a single witness whose testimony cannot gain a judicial victory of the claimant but can compel the defendant to take an oath to prove his innocence?
Rabbi Elazar, son of Rabbi Shimon, contends that this witness ability to indirectly win the case for the claimant by placing the defendant in the position of paying in order to avoid swearing renders his false oath one that caused a monetary loss and he must therefore make the above-described atonement. Although the other Sages disagree with his position they do concede, says the Sage Abaye (Shavuot 32a), in cases where the Torah accepts the testimony of a single witness as conclusive. One such case is where this witness testifies that a man has died and he is believed to allow the wife to collect the Ketubah money due a widow and to marry someone else. Another is the case of a suspected adulteress who has not only been warned by her husband in front of witnesses to avoid a suspected paramour but has been seen by witnesses secluded with him. In order to maintain her marriage she must drink the special water described in Bamidbar 5:11-31. But if a single witness subsequently testifies that he saw her have adulterous relations with that suspect, he is believed and she is subject to divorce and loss of her Ketubah compensation. Since in both of these cases the single witness has the power to directly affect the Ketubah money, the oath he takes in denial of knowing testimony makes him liable for atonement.
An interesting point is raised by the commentaries. In both of the above-described cases in which a single witness testimony is effective the rule is that a womans testimony is also effective. Does this mean that a woman who takes an oath of denial in such cases will also be liable for atonement? Their conclusion is that the exclusion of women mentioned in the first mishna is without exception. The Torah stresses in the first passage that if he is a witness which limits this atonement to one who is a valid witness in all cases, not only in two exceptional ones.
The Letters of Lying
An oath is required by the Torah of a defendant in certain lawsuits: if the claimant has a single witness testifying in his behalf; if the defendant admits to a part of the claim; and if a shomer guard wishes to prove his claim that he is free of responsibility for the object entrusted to his safekeeping which he cannot return.
There are some exceptions to this rule. One of them is when real estate is the subject of the claim. The only opportunity the claimant has to impose an oath on the defendant which means that if the defendant refuses to swear he is obligated to pay is when he has another lawsuit with that defendant in which an oath is required. He can then demand, on the basis of gilgul shavua, to also swear even in regard to the real estate claim.
This can inspire two scenarios described by our gemara: 1) Reuven has a claim against Shimon for one hundred zuz in addition to a claim on real estate in which he cannot demand an oath. He therefore decides to claim 200 zuz in the money lawsuit so that Shimon will truthfully deny 100 and be forced to take an oath on the rest, leaving himself open to a gilgul shavua on the real estate. 2) In the same scenario Shimon anticipates Reuvens strategy and decides to outwit him by making a total denial of his claim which will exempt him from taking an oath according to Torah law and will only truthfully admit his debt of 100 out of court. In this manner he avoids being trapped into the gilgul shavua scheme of Reuven.
In both cases, rules the gemara, there is something improper. In the first case Reuven is guilty of violating the Torah command to distance yourself from falsehood (Shmot 23:7). In the second case it is Shimon who is the liar. Although in neither case is the lie being used to acquire someone elses money it is still condemned as a deviation from the truth.
Maharsha notes that the Hebrew word for falsehood sheker serves as a sort of acronym for the elements of the two above-mentioned cases. The first letter shin is an abbreviation of the Hebrew word for oath shavua. The numerical value of the next two letters kuf and reish are 100 and 200 respectively. The shavua oath which is being pursued or avoided through collecting claims of 100 and 200 add up to the sheker lie in each case.