Ketubot 81 - 87
Who is More Believed?
"I know this woman to be suspect of swearing falsely." This disclosure made to the Sage Rava by his wife caused him to withdraw from the woman her right to take an oath. His court had imposed an oath upon her to allow her to verify her denial of a monetary claim made against her, and based on his wife's statement, Rava took away this right.
As in any case of a defendant suspected of swearing falsely, the oath was transferred to the claimant, who was empowered to collect his money after swearing that he had not been paid.
Another case came before Rava in which someone wished to collect a debt based on a note that he produced. Rava's disciple Rabbi Papa confided to him that he knew that this note had been paid. Rava asked him if there was a second witness to discredit the note, and when he heard that there was no other witness he rejected Rabbi Papa's testimony.
Rabbi Ada bar Masna, who observed this, asked his master why the testimony of Rabbi Papa was less reliable to him than that of "the daughter of Rabbi Chisda," Rava's wife. The sage's reply was that he was absolutely familiar with the character of the daughter of Rabbi Chisda, and he was certain that she never lied, a familiarity he did not have concerning Rabbi Papa.
Rava never meant to intimate, writes Rabbi Moshe Feinstein in his responsa (Iggerot Moshe, Yore Deah 54 and repeated in his responsa on Orach Chaim and Even Haezer), that he considered his wife a more pious person than his disciple. This is evident from the challenge of Rabbi Ada, which was based on Rabbi Papa's piety, and from Rava's response which did not refute that assumption. Believing someone because of his record of piety cannot, however, make his testimony any more effective than that of a single witness, which the Torah ruled was insufficient in monetary matters. Even the testimony of tzaddikim as great as Moshe or Aharon is not given more credence than that of any single witness.
This is true, however, only when the judge believes the witness based only on his record as a righteous person. But if he has an intimate knowledge of the character of the witness and has had many occasions to observe that person's steadfast aversion to lying, we consider the testimony of such a witness equivalent to the judge himself seeing the act reported by the witness. For Rav, this was so in regard to his wife but not in regard to his disciple.
[The applications of this principle by Rabbi Feinstein range from aged parents relying on the special kashrus arrangement made for them by non-observant children (a question he was asked in Moscow back in 1934), to a kohen believing his wife who reports that she was violated by an Arab before the marriage and therefore forbidden to him (a question put to him in 1961 from Eretz Yisrael.)]
Three Stories -- Two Reasons
Three stories with one theme and two reasons: Someone deposited with Rabbi Measha seven pearls wrapped in a sheet. A sudden death prevented Rabbi Measha from informing his household that he had undertaken to watch these pearls for their owner. When the owner came to claim the pearls from the heirs and accurately described the package he had left for safekeeping, the heirs argued before the court of Rabbi Ami that perhaps the pearls belonged to their father. Rabbi Ami rejected their claim and offered two reasons for doing so. One was that he knew Rabbi Measha was not a man of means who would own such a treasure. Secondly, the claimant provided an accurate description of the contested pearls which indicated that they belonged to him.
The same situation arose regarding a silver goblet deposited by a man who subsequently died. Rabbi Nachman gave the very same ruling. The third story concerned a precious silk garment deposited with Rabbi Dimi and it was Rabbi Abba who gave the identical ruling based on the two reasons for discounting the possibility that the disputed property may have belonged to the deceased.
Are these two independent reasons or are they interdependent? What if the deceased was indeed a man of means who could afford owning something of the value of the disputed property -- would the identifying description provided by the claimant still serve as valid proof that it indeed was his?
The answer to this question given by Tosefot and Rosh is that the only time that the claimant is awarded the disputed object is when both reasons are there. Should the deceased have been a man of means, the identifying description would not serve as sufficient proof for the claimant.
Tosefot explains this by pointing out that if he were a man of means we assume that he purchased it from the claimant whose ability to accurately describe it could be based on earlier ownership. Rosh suggests a different approach. If he were a man of means, we assume that someone who frequented his home and saw the precious object described it to someone else -- (the visitor himself is disqualified from making such a claim, as his familiarity with the object is based on his frequent visits) -- who then proceeded to claim it on the basis of his ability to describe it.