Sanhedrin, Chapter Three, Mishnah Three

 

Introduction

Mishnah three lists those people disqualified from testifying and judging.

 

Mishnah Three

And these are they  which are not qualified [to be witnesses or judges]:

1)                     A dice player, a usurer, pigeon racers, or traffickers in Seventh Year produce.

a)                                           Rabbi Shimon said:  “In the beginning they called them ‘gatherers’ of Seventh Year produce, but after the oppressors grew many they changed this and called them ‘traffickers’ of Seventh Year produce.”

b)                                          Rabbi Judah said:  “This applies only if they have no other trade, but if they have some other trade other than that, they are not disqualified.”

 

Explanation

There are four types of people who are disqualified from acting as witnesses or judges:  1)  The first is a dice player, in other words a gambler.  Such a person cannot testify since he is known to be a liar, especially with regards to monetary matters.  Another reason is that he doesn’t participate constructively in building society. 2)  A usurer.  He is also probably considered to not be trustworthy in monetary matters.  3)  A pigeon racer.  Racing pigeons was a form of gambling.  4)  Those who sell produce grown during the Seventh Year. According to Lev. 25:5-7 produce grown in the fields during the Seventh Year may be eaten by its owners, but it may not be sold.  One who therefore sells Seventh Year produce is engaging in forbidden business practices which according to our mishnah make him not trustworthy to testify or act as a judge.

Rabbi Shimon points out that this law actually was different in an earlier period. According to Rabbi Shimon at first the law was stricter and forbade even those who gathered Seventh Year produce from testifying or judging.  Although eating from the fields was permitted, a person who gathered the produce was suspected of later selling it, which was prohibited.  Therefore, they originally forbade even those who gathered Seventh Year produce from testifying. However, once the oppressors grew too many they relaxed the prohibition.  In the Talmud it is explained that the “oppressors” refers to the Roman government which demanded taxes from the produce grown on the land, even during the Seventh Year.  The Rabbis therefore permitted a person to gather his produce and give it for taxes.  When this happened they decided to allow people who gathered Seventh Year produce to testify.

Rabbi Judah adds an important qualification on those who are prohibited from testifying.  These people are disallowed to testify only if they have no other profession.  If gambling or racing pigeons was only a hobby or an irregular activity they could still act as witnesses or as judges.

 

Questions for Further Thought:

·                      What is the reasoning behind Rabbi Judah’s opinion?

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