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עשה תורתך קבע – אמור מעט ועשה הרבה

Mitzvah 37: Not to bear false witness

Posted by rabbiart on April 29, 2008

The first question we might wish to ask is whether this commandment, which is of course based on Shemot 20:12, is a general commandment against lying under any circumstances.  The text there reads  לֹא-תַעֲנֶה בְרֵעֲךָ עֵד שָׁקֶר A slightly different version of the commandment is given in Devarim 5:16, where the text reads וְלֹא-תַעֲנֶה בְרֵעֲךָ עֵד שָׁוְא. The  word used in Shemot, sheker, means “lie”.  The word used in Devarim, shav, means “in vain”, as in the commandment not to take the name of HaShem in vain.  In each verse, the word in question is preceded by the word ed, which is the Hebrew word for “witness.”

In the interpretation given by Sefer HaHinuch, this commandment refers only to testimony given in court, and, we might suppose, a Jewish court specifically.  Now the situation becomes complex, and disturbing as well.  In rabbinic tradition, only men are qualified and able to give testimony in a bet din.  According to Maimonides, there are ten categories of people who are disqualified from being witnesses. (“Laws of Witnesses”, Chapter 9, Paragraph 1) Women, servants and minors are among the excluded.  Does that mean it is OK for them to lie? Since this commandment is understood by rabbinic Judaism to refer to courtroom testimony, does that mean there is no general commandment against lying?

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