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My chavrusa and I were going through Sanhedrin (40b) this evening, and the topic of how to get accurate statements from witnesses. Rashi mentioned the concept of moving the witnesses around in order to get them "confused" so that they'll state the truth:

כר״ש בן אלעזר. להטריחם דאמר (לעיל לף לב:) מסיעין היו את העדים ממקום למקום כדי שתטרף דעתן עליהן ויחזרו בהן׃

My chavrusa and I started talking about this practice, and we were wondering whether there is any recognition in the gemara that coerced testimony may not be valid. I'm familiar with the concept of "כפין אתו עד שאמר רצה אני", but I don't think this is similar... that concept is uniquely suited to situations where there is a mitzvah being done. Here, he is simply giving testimony about a case. Is there a parallel in halacha?

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I think I remember hearing somewhere that they specifically not valid. – Hacham Gabriel Feb 24 '12 at 3:08
Maybe it's not so much that they'll tell the truth in their confusion, but rather that if they're indeed lying, they'll have a harder time keeping their story straight, and so their untruthfulness will be exposed? – Alex Feb 24 '12 at 4:14
Incidentally, Rambam (Hil. Edus 1:4) states that the witnesses are to be "diverted from one topic to another" (Kesef Mishneh there points out that evidently Rambam understands the Gemara's ממקום למקום as meaning "from one topic to another" rather than "from one place to another"). This would make sense as a tactic to smoke out false testimony, because again it would make it hard for them to keep their stories straight. – Alex Feb 24 '12 at 4:43
I guess the theory is along the lines of Mark Twain's "If you tell the truth, you don't have to remember anything." (Then, too, Rambam might be talking here specifically about witnesses for capital cases - that's the context for the Gemara you quoted - and in that case we're more willing to take the chance that truthful testimony will be mistakenly discredited than that false testimony be accepted and an innocent person executed because of it.) – Alex Feb 24 '12 at 14:39
@Alex, besides Chazal and Mark Twain, there's a contemporary psychological research measuring and exploiting the premise that lying requires more "cognitive load" than telling the truth and therefore is more difficult when additional cognitive load is imposed (e.g.). I agree with Alex that "coerced" is the wrong word here, as B"D are not trying to force a particular testimony, but to prevent a false testimony, whatever it is, from being presented and accepted at face value. – Isaac Moses Feb 24 '12 at 17:33

This is written as an answer since I am not entitled to write comments.

The question seems to infer how to ask the witnesses questions to make sure they are telling the truth and to see if they retract them. I quote a gemoro at the very end of yibamos which gives an example.


Does not R. Tarfon, however, hold that inquiry and examination11 are necessary? Surely it was taught: It once happened that a man came before R. Tarfon to give evidence on behalf of a woman.5 My son', he said to him, 'What6 do you know concerning this evidence?' 'I and he', the other replied, 'were going on the same road, and when a raiding gang pursued us he grasped the branch of a fig tree, pulled it down, and drove12 the gang back. "I thank you,13 Lion", I said to him, and he replied, "You have correctly guessed my name, for so I am called in my home town: Johanan son of Jonathan, the Lion of Kefar Shihaya", and after some time he died'. The Master said to him: Did you not tell me thus, 'Johanan son of Jonathan of Kefar Shihaya the Lion'?14 — 'No', the other replied, 'but it is this that I told you: Johanan son of Jonathan, the Lion of Kefar Shihaya'. Having examined him closely15 two or three times and the man's replies invariably agreeing, R. Tarfon permitted his16 wife to marry again!17 —

This English version of the whole talmud has now ended its "copyright" and is available for everyone on the net.

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Maybe you should add that the proof you suggest comes from "R. Tarfon changed the order of the words to test the man's accuracy," note 15. – Avrohom Yitzchok Apr 10 at 15:44
Yes that is correct. – newcomer Apr 10 at 17:45

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