Sanhedrin, Chapter Five, Mishnah Two



Mishnah two continues to discuss the inquiries and examinations performed on the witnesses by the judge.


Mishnah Two

1)                     The more a judge examines the evidence the more he is deserving of praise.

a)                                           Ben Zakkai once checked with regards to the stalks of figs.

2)                     What is the difference between inquiries and examinations?

a)                                           With regards to inquiries, if one [of the two witnesses] says “I do not know”, their evidence becomes invalid.

b)                                          But if to one of the examinations one answered, “I do not know”, or even if they both answered, “We do not know”, their evidence remains valid.

c)                                           Yet if they contradict each other, whether during the inquiries or examinations, their evidence becomes invalid.



This mishnah discusses the questions regarding the circumstances of the crime itself.  Although the mishnah lists seven official “inquiries” that must be asked, with regards to “examinations” the more the judge asks the better able he is to ascertain the truth.  Ben Zakkai (who is usually called Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai) once even checked to see if the witnesses who testified that a murder was committed under a fig tree knew what the stalks of the figs looked like.

The second half of the mishnah discusses cases where one of the witnesses does not know the answer to one of the questions.  If the witness could not say where the crime took place or when it took place, both of the witnesses testimony becomes invalid.  These are called “inquiries”.  However, if one cannot answer with certainty one of the substantive questions regarding the crime, the rest of his testimony is not invalidated.  These are called “examinations”.  Even if both cannot answer the question, the other parts of their testimony are not necessarily invalidate.  In other words, not knowing a detail does not necessarily disqualify all of their testimony.  Rather the judges will have to decide when making their decision if there exists enough testimony to convict the accused.

If, however, the two witnesses disagree with regards to a detail, then all of their testimony is invalid.


Questions for Further Thought:

·                      Why if one of the witnesses does not know how to answer an “inquiry” is all of the testimony invalid, whereas if one does not know how to answer an “examination” the testimony is invalid?

·                      Why is all of the witnesses’ testimony invalid if the two disagree with each other, whereas if they merely cannot answer the question their testimony is still valid?