Skip to main content

Thought for the Day: מודה במקצת -- Taking an Oath for Partial Admission

While still just a lad and when TV was only black and white, I knew very little about courtroom procedure.  I had some, of course, because of Divorce Court and Perry Mason.  They drama was always introduced by a witness being called and then asked if he swore to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.  The witness, of course, always answered, "I do."  (Similar to getting married, when you also make promises without thinking too much.)

One may very well ask: What's the point?  I mean, was he planning on lying, but the clever court system has boxed him into a corner?  What corner?  If he was planning to lie anyway, what's one more lie?  The answer, I found, is that lying is not a crime (apparently) unless you specifically affirm/swear that you won't.  Another explanation I saw was that it is a reminder to the witness to answer the question he is being asked and only the question he is being asked.  That is: if the lawyer asks, "Do you have the time?"  The correct response is either "yes" or "no"; the actual time should not be offered unless appropriate follow up questions are asked.  (I did not make up that example!)  I love America.

Since one of the mitzvos by which each Jew is bound is to always tell the truth (unless doing so will unnecessarily cause hurt feelings), there should be no need for a litigant to swear to the veracity of his statement.  In fact, usually there is none.  More in fact, we enjoined by Chazal to eschew swearing any time, as the penalty for a false or even unnecessary oath is extraordinarily harsh.  "Usually", because, again of course, there are exception.  One notable exception is מודה במקצת/partial admission.

Here's how that works: Reuvein claims Yehuda owes him 1000$.  Yehuda, though, only admits to owing Reuvein 500$ (and there are no witnesses).  In that case, Yehuda pays the 500$ and then takes a Biblically mandated oath that he is telling the truth.  The question is, obviously (after the riveting and crystal clear introduction above): What does the oath accomplish that being a frum Jew did not accomplish?

The gemara (Bava Metzia 3a) explains.  Let's suppose Yehuda really owes Reuvein 1000$.  Any normal person is not going to be so brazen as to claim he owes nothing to someone who has been so nice to him.  Therefore Yehuda (being normal) will not claim he owes nothing.  That being the case, why would Yehuda not admit to the whole amount?  Yehuda (being normal) really does want to admit to the entire debt, but he doesn't have the money right now.  Yehuda -- being absolutely normal and embarrassed at coming up short -- therefore devises a clever rationalization: "I'll just admit to half now to give myself a little bit of time to get together the other half.  Of course I'll pay the remainder as soon as I am able."  (The picture you should have in your head is the little guy with the pitchfork in the red suit on Yehuda's left shoulder is making an impassioned plea to the little guy with the halo in the white robes on Yehuda's right shoulder.)

In that case, the requirement of taking an oath with stop the rationalization.  Denying the entire claim does not engender an oath because if someone is to brazen as to deny any benefit from someone who has been so kind to him, then he is also brazen enough to ignore the commandment not to lie.  The Torah doesn't require robbers to swear; that would just compound their sin.  The Torah only requires good people to swear in order to help the to stay good.

Honesty compels me to note that this is not the whole story.  Suppose that Yehuda denies owing Reuvein anything, then two witnesses come and testify that they know that Yehuda actually does own Reuvein (at least) 500$.  Now we don't have the line of reasoning above, but the Torah does still require and oath from Yehuda regarding the remainder of Reuvein's claim.  Why?  Oh gosh... the gemara goes on for more than two pages with some of the most complex reasoning  I have ever to prove that it is obvious.  Ah.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Thought for the Day: Battling the Evil Inclination on all Fronts

Yom Kippur.  When I was growing up, there were three annual events that marked the Jewish calendar: eating matzos on Passover, lighting candles on Chanuka, and  fasting on Yom Kippur.  Major news organizations around the world report on the "surreal" and "eerie" quiet of the streets in even the most secular neighborhoods of Israel.  Yom Kippur.

As you know, I am observant of Jewish law.  Some have even called me "ultra orthodox" (not in a kind way).  Given that, I have a question.  How likely do you think that I would be tempted to eat on Yom Kippur, that most holy day of the year?  Let's make the scale zero to ten, where zero is "as likely as driving through McDonald's on Shabbos and ordering a Big Mac with extra cheese." and ten is "as likely as breathing regularly".  Take your time.  If you answered "zero"; thank you, but -- sadly and penitently -- no.  The answer is more like nine; I'd like to say lower, but i…

Thought for the Day: Sometimes a Food Loses Its Identity When It Loses Its Bracha; Sometimes It Doesn't

Let's start with a question: Why are We Allowed to Drink Coffee and Whiskey Made by Non-Jews?  Before you ask,"Why would I think that I shouldn't be able to drink whiskey and coffee made by non-Jews?", I'll tell you. Simple, we all know that Chazal made a decree -- known as בישול עכו''ם/bishul akim -- that particular foods cooked by non-Jews are forbidden.  There are basically two criteria that determines if a dish falls into this category:
Is not consumed raw.Fit for a royal banquet. Cooked carrots, therefore, are not a problem since they can be eaten raw (I actually prefer them that way).  Baked beans are find because the are not prestigious enough.  (For great synopsis of the laws, see the article on the Star-K site, FOOD FIT FOR A KING, by Rabbi Moshe Heinemann, shlita.)  There are lots of cool questions and details (baked potatoes are prestigious, does that make even potato chips and issue?) which are for another time.  Clearly, though, both coffee an…

Thought for the Day: Coming Into This World for Torah, Avodah, and Acts of Loving Kindness

This TftD is so self-serving that I should be embarrassed.  But I am not... talking about grandchildren is always off budget.  I have, bli ayin hara, a beautiful new grandson; born at 6:11 PM CDT last Friday night.  The secular (aka -- by me, anyway -- slave) date is October 20, 2017 CE.  The Hebrew (aka Real) date is certainly Rosh Chodesh חשון/Cheshvan and certainly in the year 5778 since Creation.  The date, you ask... good question!

Sundown on Friday night was 6:01 PM CDT, which means he was born either at the end of the last day of תשרי or the beginning of the first day of Cheshvan; a period know as בין השמשות/twilight.  What's the big deal, you ask... I am so glad you asked.  We all deal quite handily with בין השמשות every week and every holiday; we're just stringent.  We start Shabbos and the first day of Yom Tov before בין השמשות; that is, before sundown.  Likewise, we end Shabbos and the first day of Yom Tov after בין השמשות; some 42, 50, 60, or 72 minutes after sundo…