For the week ending 7 August 2010 / 26 Av 5770

Shavuot 43 - 49

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
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  • Limitations on the use of an oath in financial litigation
  • Dispute on value of lost item given as security for loan
  • The rights of the lender in item given as security
  • When it is the claimant and not the defendant who takes an oath
  • The employee who claims he wasn't paid
  • The suspected thief or assailant
  • When the one who is obliged to take an oath is considered to be untruthful
  • The storekeeper who claims he wasn't paid for goods ordered from him
  • Collecting a debt from orphans
  • When an oath can be demanded without a claim
  • The four categories of guardians and the oaths they take

Switching Roles

  • Shavuot 45a

Although the general rule of Torah law is that it is the defendant in a financial suit who takes an oath to prove his innocence, there are exceptions which the Sages instituted. One of these is the case of an employee who claims that he did not receive the wages due him. He is given the opportunity to take an oath that those wages were not received and can collect them despite the claim of the employer that he did pay.

The reason given for this innovation is that the employer is so preoccupied with his employees that he cannot reasonably be expected to remember whether he paid this employee or not.

The question that arises is whether this applies even to a case where there is only a single employee.

Tosefot points out that even if only a single employee is involved the law is the same because the Sages did not wish to allow for deviations which could undermine the principle. The Talmud Yerushalmi offers a perspective which makes this more understandable. The employer is so preoccupied with his business affairs that he cannot remember paying wages even to a single employee.

What the Sages Say

"When the Torah states (in a dispute between the owner and a paid guardian over responsibility for loss of items given for safekeeping) 'an oath of G-d shall be between them' (Shmot 22:10), it indicates that both parties bear responsibility if a false oath is taken (even the owner making the claim because he should have been more careful in dealing with someone he could trust – Rashi).

  • Rabbi Shimon ben Tarfon - Shavuot 47b

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