Yevamot, Chapter Fifteen, Mishnah Four
This mishnah contains two mishnayoth, each dealing with a different topic. The first mishnah lists a few women who are not believed to testify that a womans husband has died.
The second mishnah discusses cases of contradictory testimony regarding the husbands death.
1) All are believed to testify for her [concerning her husbands death] except for her mother-in-law, the daughter of her mother-in-law, her rival wife, her sister-in-law and her husbands daughter.
a) Why is [the bringing of] a letter of divorce different [from testifying regarding] death?
1) The written document provides the proof.
2) If one witness stated, he is dead, and his wife married again, and another came and stated he is not dead, she need not leave [her new husband].
3) If one witness said he is dead and two witnesses said he is not dead, even if she married again, she must leave him.
4) If two witnesses stated, he is dead, and one witness stated, he is not dead, even if she had not married, she may do so.
Section one: Although women are generally not allowed to testify in a court of law, in order to make it easier for women to remarry, women are allowed to testify that men have died. Even a womans own relatives can testify that her husband has died. The only exceptions are certain relatives who are not allowed to testify for fear that they will lie in order to entrap the woman in an illegal marriage, which will cause her current marriage to be terminated. These women might hate the wife for various reasons. The mother-in-law might hate her daughter-in-law because she thinks that she is not good enough for her son. The daughter of her mother-in-law might hate her because she might eventually take away her inheritance. The rival wife might hate her because they compete for the husbands affections. Her sister-in-law might hate her, because if the husband dies without children, this wife could end up as her rival wife. The husbands daughter might hate her because she sees this wife as trying to take her own mothers place.
Although these women are not allowed to testify that a woman has died, they are allowed to bring her get to her (we will learn this halakhah in Gittin 2:7). The mishnah asks, why are they allowed to bring the get but not allowed to testify that the husband has died. After all, both divorce and death end the marriage. The answer is that with a get, the document itself is what proves that the marriage is ended. The one who brings the document is not testifying as to the divorce, but is merely a messenger. However, testifying as to his death is actually testimony, not verifiable in another way.
Section two: If one witness testifies that her husband died, and then she was remarried, and then another witness testifies that he did not die, she need not leave her new husband. However, if she did not marry before the second witness comes, she cannot remarry because there is now contradictory testimony.
Section three: If one witness testified that her husband died, and then she remarried, and then two testified that he is still alive, she must leave the second marriage. This is because we now have full testimony that her husband is alive and that the second marriage is illegitimate. The testimony of the one is nullified by the testimony of the two.
Section four: If two testify that her husband is dead, she can remarry, even if one other person testifies that he is alive. Again, the testimony of the one is nullified by the testimony of the two.