July 30, 2022

Ketubot 18

Within today’s daf (Ketubot 18b), reference is made to the principle of אין אדם משים עצמו רשע – ‘a person may not make themselves into an evildoer’ which teaches that self-incrimination and confessing is inadmissible.
On first glance, this rule simply appears to be a procedural principle that is a ‘scriptural decree’ derived from Devarim 17:6 (‘by the mouth of two witnesses, or three witnesses, shall the one liable to death be put to death; he shall not be put to death by the mouth of one witness’).
However, the Rambam (Hilchot Sanhedrin 18:7) adds a further layer of explanation to this rule, writing that, ‘the Sanhedrin may not execute or lash a person who admits committing a transgression, because perhaps the person may have lost their mind, or perhaps they are one of those embittered people who are anxious to die and who stab their stomach with their swords or who throw themselves from the rooftops. Similarly, we fear that such a person may come and admit committing an act that he did not perform, so that he will be executed’.
What this tells us is that aside from אין אדם משים עצמו רשע teaching us about inadmissible evidence, it also teaches us that we – as a community – should be cognizant of those in our community who may be suffering, and that the institutions in our community should put safeguards in place to ensure that they are not used by such people as a means to self-harm or commit suicide.
Nowadays we do not have a Sanhedrin that inflicts physical punishments. Still – and oftentimes despite appearances – there are people around us who, notwithstanding how great their lives may seem from a distance, may be feeling so low that they wish to hurt themselves or take their own lives. Of course, it is not always possible to know that this is the case, but if we suspect that we know people in such a situation, we should reach out to them asap, remind them that they are valued and precious while, at the same time, helping them find the professional support that they likely need.
Yet it is precisely because we often don’t know how others feel that we should be ‘machmir’ (strict) to fulfil the mitzvah of ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ and therefore create opportunities to remind those – both in our inner and wider circle – that they are valued, that they are precious, and that they matter to us.
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