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A Witness Cannot Become a Judge – Gefet 13

A Witness Cannot Become a Judge – When and Why?

 An Examination of Tosfot’s Approach

The mishana on daf 25b describes situations where there are a number of witnesses who saw the new moon, and among them, members of the Sahedrin:

תלמוד בבלי מסכת ראש השנה דף כה עמוד ב

/משנה/. ראוהו בית דין וכל ישראל, נחקרו העדים, ולא הספיקו לומר מקודש עד שחשיכה – הרי זה מעובר. ראוהו בית דין בלבד – יעמדו שנים ויעידו בפניהם, ויאמרו מקודש מקודש. ראוהו שלשה והן בית דין – יעמדו השנים, ויושיבו מחביריהם אצל היחיד, ויעידו בפניהם, ויאמרו מקודש מקודש – שאין היחיד נאמן על ידי עצמו.

The Mishna describes how, in a situation where three of the members of the Sanhedrin saw the new moon, two of them turn into witnesses, while the third joins two others to make up the beit din in front of whom they will testify. The gemara stops at this stage and conceptualizes the Mishna:

למימרא דעד נעשה דיין

This means that the gemara claims that a rule arises from our Mishna – a person who is a witness can become a judge.

This wording in the gemara causes us to think – it is clear that the gemara sees in this wording a chiddush which is not obvious. We will sharpen the chiddush – in a court there are three roles: the litigant, the witnesses, and the judges. Are these roles rigid or flexible? Would we think that lawyers who represent one side could also be witnesses? Would we think that witnesses could also be judges? The judge is an objective figure who is external to the situation, and he must remain so in order for the judgement to be just. Could it be that a witness could turn into a judge? Can this really be the meaning of the words of the mishna and gemara? Rashi here explains the statement of the gemara and adds an important component.

רש”י מסכת ראש השנה דף כה עמוד ב

למימרא דעד נעשה דיין – מי שראוי להיות עד בדבר נעשה דיין, ואלו כולן ראוים להיות עדים, שהרי כולם ראוהו.

Rashi’s wording limits the statement of the gemara. It is not talking about a person who starts off in the role of witness and then turns into a judge, rather about a person who is fitting to be a witness, yet did not actualize this potential to be a witness. Still, we are left with the question that we asked  – can we really accept this rule when we are talking about testimony where there are litigants in the picture and not objects? The Mishna here talked about testimony as to the molad of the moon – here it is understandable why a potential witness can turn into a judge, but can this be true for testimony about a loan or murder? The gemara continues and raises this question itself, by contrasting our Mishna with a Mishna that deals with the question of if a witness can become a judge in capital cases.

לימא מתניתין דלא כרבי עקיבא, דתניא: סנהדרין שראו אחד שהרג את הנפש מקצתן נעשו עדים ומקצתן נעשו דיינין – דברי רבי טרפון, רבי עקיבא אומר: כולן נעשים עדים, ואין עד נעשה דיין.

The gemara shows us that with regards to capital cases, there is a discussion parallel to the one about our Mishna. Rabbi Tarfon and Rabbi Akiva argue as to the question of whether or not potential witnesses to a murder can turn into judges. Rabbi Tarfon says that they can, just like what our Mishna says about sighting the molad. Rabbi Akiva says they can’t. The gemara continues and says that even Rabbi Akiva, who disagrees with regards to capital cases will agree with the Mishna in cases which are not capital cases.

Of these two opinions, the opinion of Rabbi Tarfon is surprising – can a person who witnessed a murder be a judge? We will examine Rashi’s words and will see that he limits the opinion of Rabbi Tarfon.

רש”י מסכת ראש השנה דף כו עמוד א

ומקצתן נעשין דיינים – אבל המעידים לא ישבו וידונו עמהם, דהראוי להעיד אית ליה לרבי טרפון נעשה דיין, אבל עד עצמו לית ליה דנעשה דיין, וגבי עדות החדש גופה נמי לא אכשרנא במתניתין להיות העדים נעשים דיינים, דאם כן למה לי יושיבו מחבריהם, יעידו בפני יחיד, ואחר כך ישבו הם עמו ויקדשו, והכי אמרינן ליה בפרק שני דכתובות (כא, ב).

Rashi emphasizes that what Rabbi Tarfon says is that there is no difference between capital cases and all other cases of testimony in the Torah. With regards to all types of testimony, a potential witness can be a judge! Therefore, our entire hypothesis, that it is problematic for a judge to be a person who was present during the event, is negated! Does Rabbi Akiva agree with our hypothesis?

– אפילו תימא רבי עקיבא, עד כאן לא קאמר רבי עקיבא התם – אלא בדיני נפשות, דרחמנא אמר ושפטו העדה, והצילו העדה. וכיון דחזיוהו דקטל נפשא – לא מצו חזו ליה זכותא, אבל הכא – אפילו רבי עקיבא מודה.

The discussion in the gemara determines that our hypothesis is incorrect. Even Rabbi Akiva himself, who agrees with regards to capital cases does not think that this is because a witness can be a judge, rather because there is a special requirement in capital cases to try and find the litigant innocent. The discussion in the gemara leaves us with an open question of contrasting two situations – testimony regarding the molad of the moon and testimony regarding murder. What is the law regarding testimony in monetary cases and in questions where there are litigants? Should we relate to them as we would in the case of the molad of the moon or as capital cases? Rashi’s words also raise the question of if a witness can ever become a judge? These two points are raised and developed by Tosfot in our sugiya and also in Masechet Ketubot:

תוספות מסכת ראש השנה דף כו עמוד א

דרחמנא אמר ושפטו העדה והצילו העדה – תימה דבפרק אלו הן הגולין (מכות דף יב.) נפקא ליה מקרא אחרינא דאמר מנין לסנהדרין שראו באחד שהרג את הנפש שאין הורגין אותו עד שיעמוד בב”ד תלמוד לומר עד עמדו לפני העדה למשפט ויש לומר דעיקר דרשה מהתם וקרא דהכא איצטריך דלא יליף מהתם לשאר דינין להצריך ב”ד אחר דשאני התם דאמר רחמנא והצילו העדה ומיהו הוא הדין לענין מכה חבירו כדמוכח בפ’ החובל (ב”ק דף צ: ושם) ובעד נעשה דיין יש דינים חלוקים כמו שפירשנו בפ’ ב’ דכתובות (כא: ושם ד”ה הנח) דבעדות החדש דאורייתא עד הרואה הוא דנעשה דיין ובקיום שטרות דרבנן אפילו עד המעיד נעשה דיין ובדיני נפשות אפילו עד הרואה אין נעשה דיין.

In the beginning of Tosfot’s words, they point to the fact that capital cases are not special in any way – it is not only with regards to capital cases that Rabbi Akiva opposes a person who witnessed an event becoming a judge. Even when there is a physical attack, Rabbi Akiva will not allow for a witness to be a judge! Tosfot come to this conclusion through their regular method of comparing sugiyot. In Masechet Makkot the gemara brings a braita which is very similar to our sugiya:

דתניא, רבי עקיבא אומר: מנין לסנהדרין שראו אחד שהרג את הנפש, שאין ממיתין אותו עד שיעמוד בב”ד אחר? ת”ל: עד עמדו לפני העדה למשפט, עד שיעמוד בב”ד אחר. (מכות יב א).

Tosfot point to a seeming contradiction between the sugiyot. Here, in Rosh Hashana, Rabbi Akiva learns the exception of capital cases from the passuk “והצילו העדה” which was said about the murderer. In Makkot, Rabbi Akiva learns this law from a different passuk which was said about the one who kills by accident. What is the meaning of this? Tosfot answer that the derasha in Makkot is the main one, and it is not only in the case of the premeditated killing that a witness can’t be a judge. The truth is, say Tosfot, that in the entire area of injuries, this is Rabbi Akiva’s opinion, as is stated in Masechet Bava Kamma as well. If so, why do we need two pesukim? Tosfot answer that we need two pesukim in order to emphasize that this law that a witness can’t become a judge is only in capital cases and cases of injury, but not in other cases.  

In the continuation, Tosfot comment that there are situations where even someone currently serving as a witness can become a judge. We are urged to look at the Tosfot in Masechet Ketubot. We will look there in order to see the full picture of Tosfot’s approach to the concept of אין עד נעשה דיין:

תוספות מסכת כתובות דף כא עמוד ב

הנח לעדות החדש דאורייתא – ובדאורייתא אין עד נעשה דיין וטעמא דאין עד נעשה דיין משום דבעינן שיעידו לפני הדיינין כמו שמפרש רשב”ם דכתיב ועמדו שני האנשים אלו העדים לפני ה’ אלו הדיינין וי”מ משום דבעינן עדות שאתה יכול להזימה ואם העדים נעשו דיינין עדות שאין אתה יכול להזימה היא שלא יקבלו הזמה על עצמן ומיהו לפי טעם זה אם העדים קרובים לדיינין אינם יכולים להעיד דלא יקבלו הזמה עליהם אלא כיון דבני הזמה נינהו בב”ד אחר עדות שאתה יכול להזימה קרינא בהו ה”נ יהיה הדיין נעשה עד ודוקא בעד המעיד אמרינן דאין עד נעשה דיין דשייכי הני טעמי אבל עד שאינו צריך להעיד כגון שיש אחרים שיעידו או כגון שראוהו ביום שאינו צריך להעיד דלא תהא שמיעה גדולה מראייה נעשה דיין ודווקא בדיני ממונות אבל בדיני נפשות אפילו עד שאין צריך להעיד אין נעשה דיין לר”ע דאמר במסכת מכות (דף ו. ושם) אפילו הן מאה כולן עדים וטעמא מפרש בפרק ראוהו ב”ד (ר”ה דף כו. ושם) משום דכתיב והצילו העדה והנך כיון דחזו דקטל תו לא חזי ליה זכותא ודווקא בדאורייתא אבל בדרבנן אפילו עד המעיד נעשה דיין.

In Ketubot, Tosfot claim that in cases where there is no problem of objectivity, a serving witness can become a judge. Why then, with regards to testimony about the new month is this problematic? Tosfot claim that the reason for this has to do with the fact that we are speaking about a Torah law. There are two interpretations of this:

  1. The interpretation of the Rashbam – in Torah laws, there is a גזרת הכתוב: “ועמדו שני האנשים….. לפני ה’…..”. We will quote the entire passuk so that we can see the interpretative process of the Rashbam:

דברים פרק יט (יז) וְעָמְד֧וּ שְׁנֵֽי־הָאֲנָשִׁ֛ים אֲשֶׁר־לָהֶ֥ם הָרִ֖יב לִפְנֵ֣י יְקֹוָ֑ק לִפְנֵ֤י הַכֹּֽהֲנִים֙ וְהַשֹּׁ֣פְטִ֔ים אֲשֶׁ֥ר יִהְי֖וּ בַּיָּמִ֥ים הָהֵֽם:

  1. Others – the testimony about the new month needs to be a testimony which can be refuted, meaning testimony where other witnesses could come during the discussion and say that these witnesses couldn’t have seen the moon at that time, as they were with them in a different place where it is not possible to see the moon. If these witnesses are judges, they would not agree to accept these other witnesses who are speaking out against them.

Tosfot add that these problems exist only when this person actually testified and also judged in practice, however a potential witness can be a judge, and in rabbinic laws where there are no גזרות כתוב, or requirement for it to be testimony that can be refuted – there is no limitation regarding a witness’ ability to become a judge, and even a witness who testified in practice can become a judge.

Capital cases are the exception where even a potential witness cannot be a judge, but this is because of the special גזרת הכתוב which requires us to relate to the litigant as innocent, and the person who saw the killing is unable to do that.

Thus we have seen three different ways of understanding the concept of אין עד נעשה דיין, and through this, we can also understand the concept of עד נעשה דיין in different ways:

  1. A potential witness cannot be a judge – this is the law in capital cases, cases of accidental killing, and injury according to the opinion of Rabbi Akiva. Only in these areas is there a problem of the judge being involved in the incident, but in other areas, there is no problem for a potential witness to become a judge.
  2. An active witness cannot become a judge – this law is in types of testimony that are on a Torah level, either because of the גזרת הכתוב of the Rashbam or because of the requirement for it to be testimony which can be refuted. This is the law regarding declaring the new month.
  3. An active witness can become a judge – in types of testimony that are rabbinic, and therefore in these types of testimonies only, does the phrase “אין עד נעשה דיין” not have any meaning.

All of these understandings are different from what we had originally thought – we thought that the problem is that there are two different roles here, that the role of the judge is objective by definition, and therefore a witness cannot become a judge, not even a potential witness. However, Tosfot show us that this is only correct in the areas of injuries and capital cases, but in monetary cases, there is nothing preventing a potential witness from becoming a judge. In light of this, it seems that the role of the judge here is not what we had originally thought. The judge can certainly be involved in the details of the case. Only transgressions which are not monetary in nature have the special requirement, and there, it is possible that the role of the judge is different. Maybe only there do we need the judge to be totally disconnected, as his being involved would create a flaw in his ability to judge, since the case at hand is not involving money, but rather a human life.

(Translated by Daphna Ansel-Nizan) 


Rabbanit Yael Shimoni

Rabbanit Yael Shimoni is the Ramit and Deputy Rosh Yeshiva at Yeshivat Drisha in Kfar Etzion. Rabbanit Shimoni has learned at Migdal Oz, Matan, and the Susi Bradfield Women’s Institute for Halakhic Leadership at Midreshet Lindenbaum. She holds a BFA from Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design and a BEd in Torah Shebe’al Peh and Jewish Thought from Herzog College. She is currently studying towards an MA in Jewish Thought Education at Herzog College. Rabbanit Shimoni taught gemara and halakha at Pelech High School and served as a ramit for shana bet at Migdal Oz. She directs Meshivat Nefesh, the online responsa program of the rabbaniyot of Beit Hillel. She is also a plastic artist and member of “A Studio of Her Own.
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