12a Why don’t we ask them?

by | Dec 5, 2020 | Psachim

פסחים דף יב עמוד א

אמר: ומה אילו דייקינן בהני סהדי דהאי דקאמר שלש – בתחלת שלש, והאי דקאמר חמש – בסוף חמש, והויא עדות מוכחשת ולא קטלינן, ואנן ניקום ונקטיל מספיקא? ורחמנא אמר ושפטו העדה והצילו העדה


Conceptually speaking, Rava asks that since there is a possibility that they are lying, why do we interpret their words to accept their testimony?


Clearly Rava didn’t like the reinterpretation that was promoted by Abbaye. What would Rava have done, given Abbaye’s case?


This may be reflected in the Rava’s language in the question, ומה אילו דייקינן, which has two translations. It can be translated, “and what if we were to be precise”, or it can be translated “and what if we were to ask”.

If the former is correct, the gemora seems to be saying that being precise in our interpretation of what the witnesses  said, without making assumptions about which part of the hour the witnesses were referring to, there is a possibility that they may be lying. We should then not condemn the defendant according to Rava, due to the fact that the witnesses may be lying. The Gemora could also be interpreted in  “Brisker fashion”, that the Gemora is saying that Abbaye’s method is unacceptable, because without making any assumptions there is a possibility that they are lying, without explaining what is the correct method1.

 If one explains the Gemora like the latter, then the Gemora is stating that the correct course of action is to ask the witnesses.

If we do not explain that the Gemora itself asks that we should ask the witnesses, then I would like to ask that question.  Since we are not sure what the witnesses mean, why don’t we ask them? Why don’t we make sure that they clarify exactly what they meant to say?

I therefore conclude that the second explanation is correct, and indeed Rava says that we must make sure they clarify their words.


I listened on AllDaf.com to 10 Authors, and six of them explained like the former translation. Rabbi Eli Stefansky explained in [what I referred to previously as] “Brisker fashion” and Rabbi Moshe Elefant, Rabbi Aryeh Lebowitz and Rabbi Zecharia Resnik explained like the later translation.


So I ask Rabbi Shalom Rosner, Rabbi Sruly Bornstein, Rabbi Shloime Shwartzberg, Rabbi Eluzar Nissim Rubin, Rabbi Eli Mansour, and Rabbi Elimelech Freidman; Why don’t we ask the witnesses what they meant to say?

  1. Since the Rava only directly discusses why Abaye is wrong, some with a Brisker education would consider it wrong to infer what the correct course of action would be.