For the week ending 19 May 2007 / 2 Sivan 5767

Dow Jones Witness

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman -
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From: Lee Vyner
Dear Rabbi,

I heard that someone who gambles is viewed as being engaged in a type of theft that thereby disqualifies him from being accepted as a reliable witness in a Jewish court. If so, what about the stock market? People literally gamble as to the price of a particular commodity or stock, and the person who has a holding of this particular item certainly does not want the price to deteriorate. So is someone who trades on the stock market invalid as a witness?

Dear Lee,

Stocks are a legitimate investment. Buying stocks is essentially no different than buying diamonds, land, or wheat — commodities whose price naturally fluctuates. True, the stock market has an element of risk, but ‘lost wages’ is not synonymous with ‘Las Vegas’.

Gambling, on the other hand, is a game where each person hopes to guess the right number on the dice, land the best hand or pick the right horse. Gamblers are invalid as witnesses in a Jewish court.

The Sages of the Talmud differ as to why gamblers are invalid for testimony:

According to one opinion, someone who wins a bet is like a thief, because he collects prize money that he didn’t ‘earn’ and to which he has no true legal claim. Alternatively, since the person who loses doesn’t really pay with a full heart, the money “earned” by the winner is considered theft.

According to another opinion, only a professional gamester, whose sole source of income is from gambling, is invalid as a witness. His integrity is suspect because his form of work contributes nothing to society. Alternatively, one whose income is based on chance, and at the expense of the loss of others, cannot be relied upon to fully appreciate the financial loss his testimony might cause. According to this opinion, someone who gambles only part-time can be a valid witness, provided he’s involved in some productive profession.

The following story is told about the Chafetz Chaim: A man once asked the rabbi to bless him that he should win the lottery, but the Chafetz Chaim refused. The man asked, “But you give blessings to people who gamble on stocks, why not when they gamble on lotteries?” The Chafetz Chaim answered that he gives blessings to stock investors because if the stock goes up, no one loses money. But blessing one lottery ticket owner is a ‘curse’ upon the others.

  • Talmud Sanhedrin 24b
  • Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat 34:16
  • Story thanks to Will Shulman

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