For the week ending 31 July 2010 / 19 Av 5770

Shavuot 36 - 42

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
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  • Oaths and curses
  • Oath of a guardian disclaiming responsibility for loss
  • Atonement for taking a false oath in such a case
  • When the oath is in regard to multiple claims or multiple claimants
  • The oath required by the court when there is a partial admission by the defendant
  • The seriousness of lying under oath
  • Avoiding deception on the part of the oath-taker
  • When an oath is required in regard to real estate
  • The rabbinically instituted oath for total denial
  • If the borrower before witnesses must repay before witnesses
  • When a denial can backfire
  • When no oath is taken in financial cases

The Denial Boomerang

  • Shavuot 41b

"Pay me the hundred zuz which I loaned you."

To this demand came the response: "No such thing ever took place.

Following this exchange the lender produced witnesses who testified that there was indeed a loan but that it had been repaid.

In contrast to the position of the Sage Abaye that the borrower is exempt from payment, the Sage Rava contends that he is obligated to pay. This is how he explains his position:

"Anyone who claims that he never borrowed is considered as admitting that he never paid."

The logic of Rava's position is that a person is believed to obligate himself even if he is contradicted by a hundred witnesses.

Why a person has such absolute credibility in regard to his financial obligations is the subject of discussion among the commentaries. One explanation, that of Mahari Even Leiv, is that anyone has the right to make a gift, and an admission is considered as an expression of gift granting which cannot be challenged by opposing witnesses.

This approach is refuted by the Ketzot Hachoshen on the basis of our gemara. One who denies that a loan ever took place can hardly be viewed as one who is interested in making a gift! His alternate explanation is that although in all other matters a man cannot testify about himself, the Torah gives him credibility when it comes to assuming responsibility in financial matters.

What the Sages Say

"When the Torah warns that the punishment of the nation for its sins includes 'they will stumble over one another' (Vayikra 26:37), it also informs us that each will be responsible for the sins of another because all Jews are responsible for each other."

  • Beraita - Shavuot 39a

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