Abstracts

OATHS

P.C. Albert, The Jewish Oath in Nineteenth-Century France, Tel-Aviv University, 1982, Pp. 43 (Spiegel Lectures in European Jewish History, 3) - This is a well-documented and fascinating lecture on the struggle of French Jewry in the 19th century for complete legal equality, and the final cessation of use of the oath more judaico. The matter was important, since the oath still had a variety of uses, not known in Common Law systems, for the purposes of proof; the significance of the issue lay in the fact that the special oath was not designed as a dispensation for those who objected on religious grounds to the normal procedure: it was not comparable to the modern substitution of the Old Testament for the Christian Bible, since in France at that time the normal oath involved no such religious affirmation, while the oath required more judaico was, at this time, prescribed specifically for Jews. Moreover, the author contends, it was of a deliberately humiliating character - sometimes being required to take place in the Synagogue, on the sefer torah. Professor Albert relates the issue to the history of anti-semitism in France, and to the struggle for full emancipation. The issue also throws interesting light on the internal divisions between the Jewish establishment, in the form of the Central Consistory, and Jewish secularists. The author's account, based on archival sources, of the arguments and the course of litigation casts much light on an important area of legal and social history. (B.S.J.)

G. Giesen, Die Wurzel sb' "schwren": Eine semasiologische Studie zum Eid im Alten Testament, Bonn: P. Hanstein, l981, Pp. xii, 445, Price: DM 98.00 (Bonner Biblische Beitrge, 56); see BL 1983, p.65.

B. Lifshitz, "Evolution of the Court-oath with Imprecation" (Heb.), Shenaton Hamishpat Ha'ivri 11-12 (1984-1986), 393-406. - The penalty for false oaths is extremely severe and affects the whole congregation, not merely the one who takes the false oath. The proliferation of unscrupulous people who had qualms about taking false oaths prompted the early Gaonim to abolish and replace it with the imprecation. The imprecation or curse only affected the individual concerned, and could be imposed upon a person who was not liable to a Biblical or Mishnaic oath. The ceremony of imprecation was a standard one, and applied to all situations involving solemn undertakings. From R. Saadyah Gaon onwards, the imprecation was given the same halakhic status as the oath, except that it only applied to the guilty party. One reason for this upgrading was the need to deal with the proliferation of false oath-takers. It was, however, also necessary to introduce distinctions into the ceremony depending upon whether the source was Biblical, Mishnaic or Rabbinic legislation. The author traces the evolution of the imprecation with special reference to the period prior to R. Saadyah Gaon. The development of the "herem stam" is also treated, and its origin in the need to provide a remedy where neither the oath nor the imprecation could be administered is demonstrated. In the period of the Rishonim, the oath was restored to its original position, and the imprecation was virtually abolished. The "herem stam", however, remained in effect and was administered wherever the oath could not be imposed. (D.B.S.)

 

 

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