For the week ending 5 June 2010 / 22 Sivan 5770

Makkot 2 - 8

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
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  • The law concerning witnesses exposed as liars
  • Which such witnesses are punished with the penalty they tried to inflict and which receive lashes
  • When they are free from any punishment
  • How it is possible for one of them alone to be punished
  • False witnesses regarding payment of a ketubah or the terms of a loan
  • When the shmitah year cancellation of loans does not apply
  • When can a loan with an unspecified date for repayment first be collected
  • Some laws concerning disqualification of a mikveh
  • When one is guilty of a sin punishable by lashes and simultaneously obligated to compensate victim
  • How witnesses are exposed and how they share responsibility
  • The fate of false witnesses if the defendant has been executed
  • When one false witness disqualifies the entire set
  • Seeing or testifying separately and the role of a translator
  • Location of Sanhedrin and frequency of capital punishment
  • When accidental homicide warrants exile to a city of refuge

The Sage's Fame and Name

A woman brought a pair of witnesses to court to testify in her behalf but they contradicted themselves in their interrogation and were therefore disqualified. The same thing happened with a second pair of witnesses. When she succeeded in presenting a third pair of witnesses who did not contradict themselves, Rabbi Shimon bar Lakish (Reish Lakish) raised the challenge that she had already established herself as one who brings false witnesses, and they too should be disqualified. "If she has aroused suspicion," countered Rabbi Elazar, "are all Jews also to be suspected as liars?"

A similar case came before Rabbi Yochanan who offered the same rejoinder as Rabbi Elazar when Reish Lakish raised his objection. When it thus became clear to Reish Lakish that the source for Rabbi Elazar's position was Rabbi Yochanan, the master of both of these Sages, he scolded Rabbi Elazar for failing to mention to him that he had learned what he said from "Bar Nafcha".

Why Rabbi Yochanan was referred to as Bar Nafcha is explained by Rashi (Mesechta Sanhedrin 96a). One version is that Rabbi Yochanan's father was a blacksmith (nafcha in Aramaic) so that he was called "Bar" (the son of) "Nafcha". Another version is that this was a nickname which paid tribute to Rabbi Yochanan's exceptional beauty by using a term indicating the exact opposite – the blackened face of a blacksmith – as a reverse euphemism.

What the Sages Say

"If one is punished for simply attaching himself to sinners – such as the first two false witnesses who could have committed their crime without him – we can conclude that one who joins people doing a mitzvah even in a peripheral manner will earn a great reward."

  • Rabbi Akiva - Makkot 5b

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