The Mishna (Ketubot 2:10) in today’s daf (Ketubot 28a) lists the realms of testimony where an adult is relied upon when speaking about things that they saw when they were a child while, at the same time, acknowledging that there are some things which demand further testimony than just what one adult remembers from what they witnessed as a youth.
Fundamentally, the principle taught by the Mishna, as later crystalized by the Rambam (Hilchot Edut 14:3), is that the validation of a document, or the validation of a detail from a wedding, which confirms testimony about a broader legal decision relating to monetary or marital matters can be made on the basis of what an adult says concerning things they remember from their childhood. However, if – rather than validating a document – an adult gives testimony about something they remember from their youth that has a direct legal impact concerning decision-making about someone’s ownership of a particular location, this testimony is not accepted.
Interestingly, the examples of the latter that are mentioned by the Mishna involve an adult recollecting memories from their youth concerning someone owning a particular pathway or owning a particular spot from where they delivered speeches or eulogies. But why shouldn’t this be reliable as testimony in a court?
This question is addressed by Rabbi Yosef Teichtel (in his ‘Biurei HaShittot’ on Ketubot 28a) who explains, while referencing the Rashba, that the point here is not that we are concerned that a child will lie or, in this case, that an adult will lie about things they saw as a child. In fact, while Jewish law does not generally rely on the testimony of a child, we do not presume that children lie. However, the concern is that children (and in this instance, adults testifying about things they saw as children) at times testify about what they now remember that they saw – which can be a blend of the memory of an event, as well as the way they now remember this event in their memory – and it is very hard to distinguish between the two.
Though in terms of legal proceedings this makes the testimony of minors a tricky issue, what it actually means is that children are often blessed to see things more positively and they often recall things to be nicer and grander than they necessarily were (nb. if, as an adult, you’ve visited a family home which you previously visited as a child, you may have experienced the dissonance of having remembered that the rooms were larger than they now seem to be).
Both fortunately, and unfortunately, we grow up. Yet, as John O’Leary explains in his beautiful book ‘In Awe’, while there are senses that we develop with adulthood, there are other senses that are prominent in our childhood that we are encouraged grow out of. However, as he explains, these senses of wonder, expectancy, immersion, belonging and freedom are key to how we dream, innovate, achieve impossibility, connect authentically, and impact profoundly – and we’d do well to reconnect to them.