Witnesses and Testimony
In this section the Torah deals with the laws of witnesses and testimony. Guilt in criminal cases or monetary obligation in civil cases must be established by the corroborated testimony of two witnesses. Normally in a case where one pair of witnesses is contradicted by a second pair, the case remains unresolved. However, there is one particular circumstance where different principles apply. For example, if two witnesses testify that Reuven killed Shimon, and then two other witnesses come and testify that they know nothing about the alleged crime but that the first pair of witnesses was with them in a place where they could not have possibly seen the murder — we then believe the second pair. We not only believe that the first pair was lying but we also punish them with the exact same punishment to which they were attempting to subject Reuven. Stranger still, if the court executes Reuven based on their testimony and it is only later that the second pair of witnesses comes and reveals that the first set lied in the above manner, that first pair is not punished at all. They can only be punished if this revelation occurs after the court has declared Reuven guilty but before he is actually executed.
Abarbanel, as well as many other commentators, is puzzled as to why the second pair is believed over the first pair, and why the first pair is not punished at all when the individual that they attempted to frame actually loses his life as a result of their treachery.
Abarbanel first mentions Rambam, who does not attempt to explain the reasoning behind the law but rather considers it a Divine decree. Ramban and Ralbag, however, give a logical explanation as to why the second pair is believed. When the testimony of contradictory witnesses is canceled out, it is because they are both testifying on exactly the same thing. In this case, however, the two pairs are testifying on two very different things. The first pair is testifying on an act; the time and place are secondary facts that help to establish the veracity of their description of the act. The second pair is testifying on the first witnesses themselves, not the act. Both pairs are testifying about where the first pair of witnesses was located at the time of the alleged act. In essence, the first pair is testifying about themselves — i.e. where they were located. The Torah is clear that witnesses cannot testify about themselves or about people or situations in which they have a personal stake. Thus, the testimony of the first pair regarding themselves is disqualified and all that remains is the testimony of the second pair.
In order to explain the counterintuitive law that the first pair is punished only for their treacherous intent, but not if they actually succeed, Abarbanel offers two possible explanations. First of all, courts and judges are considered
Another possible explanation is that