94 J. Duncan M. Derrett
incompetent to give testimony (m. Sanh.III. 3-5), a list by no means
free from controversy. It includes those guilty of breaking pentateuchal
prohibitions, such as usurers, eaters of improperly slaughtered animals,
and robbers; or rabbinical prohibitions, such as dice-players and pigeon-
flyers. But one is not â€œsuspectâ€ until witnesses testify to his being a law-
breaker (why should they?); what if no such witnesses come forward?25
One may be proved suspect even after the case has been disposed of26,
whereupon the decree may be annulled. One who has been flogged in court
is incompetent to swear, until it is proved that he has repented27, but who
knows whether he has? One whose fellow-suitor is a suspect person may,
or may not, take the oath (m. Å ev. VII. 4): which course will Heaven adopt?
We need not ask ourselves primarily how much the court of Heaven
knows as to the truth of matters sworn to â€”granted the infinite inquisit-
iveness and recording ability of the heavenly bureaucracy28â€” or the private
intentions of the person who swears as to the future, though indeed the
earthly court could be wrong on so many counts. What is more relevant
is the capacity of the oath-taker which could depend on secret and hardly
pertinent particulars. Furthermore some oaths are rabbinically forbidden
which the court of Heaven might regard as cogent (m. Å ev. VI. 5). Such
intricacies amount to a danger for the person upon whom an oath is
imposed, or who chooses to take an oath: for example there are cases
where persons (e.g. a posthumous son) are able to swear to facts of which
they can have no personal knowledge (ibid. VII.7).
Would one not avoid oaths altogether? In the modern bet din oath-
taking is regarded as disgraceful. How did the disciples comment when
Jesus prohibited divorce? One sympathises, and wonders if Jesusâ€™s answer
is altogether adequate (Mt 19:10-12). Avoiding oaths one is free from
Heavenâ€™s censure on the ground. But one may lose money thereby. The
non-suspect (!) can content himself or herself with a simple â€œYeaâ€ or
â€œNayâ€. Remember the decrees of the court of Heaven cannot be reversed.
Under Antithesis (1) physical harm is not included. Under the chapter
NezÃ®qÃ®n the law of Moses, as amended, such injuries are dealt with.
â€œEye for eyeâ€ means pecuniary damages, as is well known. Apart from
Maimonides, Code XIII.IV. 2,3; trans. Rabinowitz 196.
Maimonides, Code XIII.IV. 2,9; trans. Rabinowitz 198.
Maimonides, Code XIII.IV. 2,10; trans. Rabinowitz 198.
Lk 10,20; Ps 56,9(8); Mt 19,28; Rev 20,12. SB II 162. Mt 12,36. Angels record idle
chatter: b. Há¾¾ag 5b, trans., A.W. Streane, A Translation of the Tractate Chagigah (Cambridge
1891) 23. â€œLight wordsâ€ are read back embarrassingly to the speaker: Midrash Rabba
Leviticus XXVI (Soncino Press translation, 325). SB I, 639-640. Remember 1 Cor 11,10!