Testimony of a Katan

Ketubot (2:10) | Yisrael Bankier | 15 years ago

We have seen in past articles that a katan (minor) is unfit as a witness. It may have been surprising when the Mishnah (2:10) listed cases where an adult is able to testify regarding something he saw when he was a minor. These include:

  1. Substantiating the signatures of his father, rebbi or brother (where

    another adult has also identified the signatures).

  2. The manner in which a woman got married (see 2:1)

  3. That a particular individual would either eat or be allocated a

    portion of trumah.

  4. The location of a beit ha’pras.

  5. The location of the techum Shabbat.

The Gemara (Ketubot 28a) and commentaries explain that each of the cases listed above all have rabbinic implication and the Chachamim therefore ruled leniently. If that is the case one must understand why we must wait till the katan has grown till we can accept his testimony.

The Ritva explains that ordinarily we require that a person is suitable to be a witness at the time of witnessing and at the time of testimony. In these cases, the Chachamim relaxed one of these requirements.

The Tosfot HaRid explains that the testimony is only received when he is an adult because if he is willing to testify about the matter as an adult, he must have a high level of certainty and confidence in the matter he is testifying about. It follows then, that when he is a child, we cannot be confident in his testimony.

A further difficulty however is raised in the Tosfot by the Riva that cites the Gemara (Pesachim 4b) that enables a minor to testify whether a house has been checked for chametz. There the Gemara justifies accepting the minor’s testimony by explaining that it is a rabbinic matter and therefore the Chachamim were lenient. (It is a rabbinic matter since after bitul chametz, the annulment of chametz, bedikat chametz (checking) is rabbinically required.) How is that case different from here where we only accept his testimony once he has grown up?

The Rashba explains that the case in Pesachim is different as the minor is testifying about something he did himself. The other cases however, regard matters he saw or can identify. It is regarding the former that one can rely with confidence on the minor in this rabbinic matter. (The Tosfot explain similarly that bedikat chametz is different as it is something that is in his ability to perform.)

Alternatively, the Rashba continues, bedikat chametz is different in that it occurs on a yearly basis and involves everyone. A minor would therefore be more familiar with it and may be relied upon.

From the above analysis we can develop an important insight into the katan. Firstly, it appears that when regarding many matters, they cannot be pushed or relied upon with confidence. If however once they grow up and on reflection still maintain their position, this may be relied upon in rabbinic matter.

More importantly, we find a further lesson in chinuch (education). There is a stark difference between matters in which a child spectates and a matter in which he takes an active role. Once a child is involved in the mitzvah the impact is so strong and clear that the Chachamim trusted him, even whilst he is a child.


18 Much of the content of this article was taken from http://www.dafyomi.co.il/kesuvos/insites/ks-dt-028.htm.

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