Here is a story from the Talmud with relevance to current events:

It once happened that Tuvia sinned and Zigud alone came and testified against him before Rav Papa. Whereupon, Rav Papa had the witness, Zigud, punished. Zigud exclaimed: Tuvia sinned and you punish me, the witness! Rav Papa said to him: It is written in the Torah: "A single witness shall not rise up against a man." [Deuteronomy 19:15]. When you testified against him alone, all you did was to bring him into disrepute. You knew you were the only witness and you knew I could not condemn him on the basis of a single witness, so I am having YOU punished. [Tractate Pesachim, 113b]

My question is: is it the judge's job to order more investigations, or simply to rule based on what is brought before him?

  • Re. this case, but not nec. limited to it, simply put a judge is not obligated to investigate a claim halachically deemed as unsubstantial (e.g. a single witness offers testimony). To the contrary, unsubstantiated allegations or testimony is libelous and therefore the subject providing the information violates the negative ‘A single witness shall not...’ [and would incur the prescribed penalty]. (With regards to Kavanaugh, no valid corroboration of the plaintiff’s allegation was provided. Exactly as the Talmud asserts, all the allegations accomplished “was to bring him to disrepute”.) – Oliver Sep 28 '18 at 20:40

A very serious question.

  1. There are not many Halachic court procedures that were accepted between Sages as the Gemmorah clearly shows. I remind you, that at their times there was no Talmud and the Mishnah wasn't so widely accepted as the final Halacha. In other words, all the Sages had when doing justice was the Torah and their personal experience.
    So why the Talmud brings stories instead of Halachos? My bet - the Sages were pretty much "improvising". Those improvisations were recorded in the Gemmorah and that turned into the Halacha MUCH LATER.

  2. Maybe this could explain why R' Papa decided to hear the only witness in the first place, as it seems from Rambam (Edus 5:1) that the Torah's warning is for the court, not for the witness (see SHU"A also!). So seemingly R"P wanted to punish Zigod for something that did not become the Halachah (see Rashba"M that mentions spreading rumors). And because this story is not so "Halachic" it is brought here as an example for the preceding statement (G-d hating a single witness) and not in Sanhedrin to learn Halachah that a single witness can be punished.

  3. For two witnesses to be valid, they have to see each other (Rambam ibid). So if one person shows up and says he didn't see another witness around a trial cannot start and no investigation can be carried out. Theoretically, in a case of a body was found or a woman raped, a court can turn to the public or send the messengers to sniff around until two valid witnesses could be found (or made).

  4. We do have, however, the idea of the presumption of innocence, so Tuvia is innocent until proven otherwise.

PS: 3. I also remind you, that in the times of the Sages, the Jews were under [adifferent levels of] foreign control, ranging from a full autonomy to total lack of such. Lots of politics both in the Holy Land and Babylon, you know how Rebbi acted for example. So your question about the judges' ability to investigate crimes is not only limited by the judges' determination to find the truth but by the local politics.

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