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Why are Women Disqualified From Serving as Witnesses?

Halacha disqualifies women from serving as witnesses in court, and this disqualification applies on the level of Torah law. At first glance, this disqualification might appear unfair, discriminatory, or degrading to women. Some might "accuse" the Torah of relegating women to "second class" status, or of assuming that they have less intelligence or integrity than men, as reflected by their disqualification for rendering testimony.

This assumption is very far from the truth. The Aruch Ha’shulhan (Rabbi Yechiel Michel Epstein of Nevahrduk, 1829-1908) writes explicitly (Hoshen Mishpat 34:19) that we cannot know the reason for women’s disqualification, and it is simply a divine decree. This Halacha falls under the category of "Hukim," Torah laws whose underlying rationale eludes us and cannot be explained by human reasoning, like the ritual of the Para Aduma (red heifer). As such, one cannot reach any conclusions whatsoever regarding the Torah’s general attitude toward women, or regarding anything else, on the basis of this Halacha. This is simply an expression of the divine will whose reason we do not understand. In fact, Halacha also disqualifies a Jewish king from serving as a witness. This means that when Mashiah arrives and becomes king, he will not be accepted as a witness in a Jewish court. Mashiah will be one of the most brilliant and pious men who ever lived, near the stature of Moshe Rabbenu, and, according to some, even more brilliant than King Shelomo. Clearly, his disqualification has nothing at all to do with questionable intelligence or integrity. These are laws which we should not even attempt to understand, and which we should simply accept as part of God’s will as expressed through the Torah.

The Torah in Parashat Korah (Bamidbar, chapter 16) tells of the revolt mounted by Korah against the authority of Moshe Rabbenu. The Sages teach that Korah’s mistake was his insistence on understanding the rationale behind all the Torah’s laws. He took a Tallit made entirely from Techelet, and asked Moshe whether it requires Sisit, with a Techelet string. Moshe answered that it indeed requires Sisit, whereupon Korah began ridiculing Moshe and challenging his authority. If a single thread of Techelet suffices for an entire garment, Korah said, then it makes no sense for a garment made entirely of Techelet to require an additional thread. Similarly, he asked Moshe whether a house filled with Sifreh Torah requires a Mezuza, and Moshe replied that it does. Once again, Korah ridiculed Moshe, claiming that there is no reason for a house filled with Torah scrolls to require a small Mezuza on the doorpost.

Korah demanded a sound, logical explanation for every Halachic detail. He refused to accept a Torah law that was not comprehensible to the logical, human mind, and this led him to reject Moshe’s authority. We believe in the Torah’s laws and accept the fact that there are certain Halachot whose underlying reasoning is not within our grasp. And we believe that even these laws are an expression of the divine will, no less than those laws whose rationale we can understand.

 


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