Father and Son: Are they allowed to testify together?

Rosh Hashanah (1:7) | Natan Rickman | 15 years ago

The Mishnah in Rosh Hashanah discusses that a father and a son who come to the Beit Din to testify about the new moon are not allowed to testify in front of the Beit Din, due to their relationship. The question that arises is why are a father and son not allowed to testify together? Why does Rebbi Shimon allow it?

The Rambam lists as the 178th positive commandment, testifying in Beit Din. The obligation covers any nature of testimony - whether it will save another from a capital punishment or if it will obligate someone to payment or death.

The Torah’s view of one who holds back testimony is that they have committed a great sin and crime against the society. Since the justice system relies on testimony in order to judge fairly and justly, this person aided to the breakdown of society by not testifying. The punishment that the Torah gives is the obligation to bring a korban Oleh ve’Yored.

However, there is a distinction that is made between the different types of testimony in reference to the witness having to come forward on his own volition or waiting and only testifying when called. In a monetary case the witness does not need to approach the Beit Din, but is allowed to wait until called to give the testimony.

However, in the case of a capital or other issurim the person needs to approach the Beit Din alone and offer the testimony. The distinction between the two cases is that in the case of murder or any other issurim there has also been an offence to both man and Hashem. By withholding the evidence the person is allowing the society to become both lacking in morals and creating a void where G-dliness should be.

The Torah sets various parameters and guidelines on how to accept a witness and his testimony. The pasuk writes, “That through two witnesses the matter should be established”. This verse is understood as setting out a number of rules, for example the two witnesses need to see the event at the same time, that the testimony needs to be understood by the judges without the need for an interpreter and that the testimony needs to be spoken and not written.

The Torah in Devarim writes that “fathers shall not die because of sons and sons shall not die because of fathers” The Gemara in Sanhedrin (27b), learns that this verse discusses both that the son cannot testify on a capital punishment case of his father, but also that father and son cannot testify together, not because we are afraid that they will lie but because it is a gzeirat ha’katuv.

The question is asked, how can Rebbi Shimon allow the father and son to testify? The Gemara answers that this case example is of Moshe and Aaron, who stood together as the very first witnesses of the Jewish people. Therefore, if Hashem HKBH was prepared to accept these two brothers as witnesses, then why should the Rabbis not.

Another answer is given by the To’hor Ve’Emes that the concept of sanctifying the month and therefore deciding when the Yomim Tovim will be, was given to the Jewish people. Allowing us to have some control over time and being able to define when the Yom Tov is. Rebbi Shimon’s position is explained that their testimony represents the great strength and spiritual ability that the Jewish people have in being able to define and set the kedushat Yom Tov and does not primarily reflect the classical form of eydut, which is a testimony about an event or a person. Therefore, father and son can join together and testify.

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