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Thought for the Day: Plotting Witnesses vs Contradicted Witnesses

"Al pi shnayim eidim yakum davar" -- On the basis of the testimony of two witnesses the matter shall be decided.  Seems simple enough.  As trite as the expression may be, looks can be deceiving.  First of all, Chazal learn that "the matter" being decided is not just what happened, but also when and where it happened.  The testimony has to be made by two witnesses who are permitted to testify together; two brothers -- even Moshe Rabeinu and Aaron haKohen -- cannot be a group.  In fact, since another pasuk specifies "two or three", it means that two is no worse than 100.  If you had one group of 100 witnesses that includes two brothers, then the testimony of the whole group is not acceptable.  (Which is why the m'sader k'dushin will specify precisely who the witnesses are, to the exclusion of others; there tend to be a lot of related people at weddings, after all.)

Then just to add to the fun, the Torah introduces (Ta-Da): Eidim Zomemim (plotting witnesses).  These are witnesses that are plotting to cause a loss to another Jew.  Their punishment, when caught, is to do to them what they planned to do to their fellow Jew.  Here's how that works.  Group A testifies that Reuvein stole Shimon's cow on Sunday at 10:00AM at the corner of Sacramento and Devon.  If group B comes in and says that group A are lying, nothing happens; mistrial.  I only believe a group of two witnesses because the Torah says so.  Clearly someone is lying; but whom?  On the other hand, if group B says, "We don't know nor care what group A said happened, but we are here to testify that they were with us in the Dells on Sunday morning at 10:00AM."  Now group A have been m'zomimified (that word is copyright Feb 12, 2013 CE; you have to pay me to use it), and will have to pay Reuvein the cost of the cow.  Wait!  How do we know who's lying?  We don't; the Torah says that two witnesses establish a matter, and that two witnesses who contradict them simply nullify each other, and two witnesses who testify about where another group of two witnesses were or weren't m'zomimify.

Now look at this cool case: Group A says that Master Shmuel blinded one eye and knocked out one tooth of his faithful eved k'nani (goyish slave), Bob.  Group B says, "Nuh-uh!!  Master Shmuel knocked out one tooth and blinded one eye of his faithful servant, Bob."  What difference does it make?  Since an eved k'nani goes free if a tooth is knocked out or one eye is blinded, then whatever happened first sets him free, and then he gets paid for the loss of the second.  Payment for the loss of an eye is much, much more than that payment for a lost tooth, so big money is at stake here.  On the face of it, this is contradictory testimony and you might it's a wash; throw the case out.  As it turns, we determine contradiction by the effect rather than the event.  That means that since they agree that something happened that would set Bob free; no contradiction -- two sets of witnesses testified that Bob should go free, so Bob goes free.  What about the money?  One set says Shmuel owes Bob (now Reuvein as an eved k'nani becomes a Jew upon being freed) for the loss of a tooth; let's say $1,000 for arguments sake.  The other group says Shmuel owes Reuvein for the loss of an eye; let's say $100,000 for arguments sake.  That means they agree that Shmuel owes Reuvein $1,000, so that's the pay out.

Suppose another group comes and m'zomimifies either A or B.  Or suppose B m'zomimifies A.  Then what happens.  I wish I could tell you... my chavrusa and I have been working on that (Bava Kama, 73B/74A) for going on a week now.


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