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Friday, 1 May 2015

Swearing on a Bible you don't believe in

Daf Yomi Kesubos 88



Yesterday, Rabbanit and I were honoured to attend the swearing-in of Judge Daniel Zalmanowitz.  He is now the fourth Orthodox Jewish judge in Edmonton.  What impressed us most about the ceremony was that when it came time to swear, Judge Zalmanowitz put his yarmulke on his head, placed his hand upon the Artscroll Tanach, and took the oath.   It was clearly a moment that he took with the utmost seriousness and understood that an oath on the Bible was a religious act, thereby warranting a head-covering. 

The Mishnah states: If a single witness testifies that the ketubah money has already been paid, the woman can only claim her payment if she takes an oath.

Rava taught: This oath is a rabbinic enactment in order to put the husband’s mind at ease. 
Rav Papa taught: If he is smart, he could make her take a biblical oath, as follows: He gives her the ketubah money before a new witness.  He then takes both witnesses to testify that she has been paid (which she admits).  He then claims the first payment was given as a loan (in the presence of one witness, which forces a biblical oath upon her).

Rashi explains: For a biblical oath, one must use G-d’s name or epithet and hold the Torah in his hand; whereas for a rabbinic oath, it is merely an oath with the penalty of a curse attached to it.

The ritual of swearing on the Bible in court is all well and good if you’re an Orthodox Jew or a conservative Christian who believes that G-d wrote the Bible.   But what if you don’t believe that the Bible is the inerrant word of G-d?  Generally speaking, atheists don’t swear on the Bible in G-d’s name.  Instead, they make an affirmation of their commitment.  But how can anyone who believes the Bible is the handiwork of mortal men and open to change take an oath over it?!   If the Bible’s truth can change and be reinterpreted, what use is it as a moral compass?

How do you view the Bible?  Is it holy, written by the Almighty, or is it a nice religious document that is an “evolving truth”?   Could you swear to the truth of the Bible?  Could you swear that the Bible is “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?’  If not, how could you ever use it to attest to the fact that you intend to tell “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth”?


The Torah is sacred.  It is the ultimate source of truth.  If you start to question the truth of the Bible, you will find that the entire foundation of your value-system and indeed, western civilization itself, will be called into question.  May you merit accepting, embracing, and swearing on the truth!