Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Burden of proof in the Talmud

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: Burden of Proof. In this week’s ‘Daf Yomi,’ the rabbis spin out all the hypotheticals—and then some—from a few simple verses from Exodus about open pits and a goring ox to see who might be at fault when things go wrong.
Most legal systems are drawn up in the form of elaborate codes, with sections covering every technicality and eventuality that might occur. Biblical law, however, is very different: It usually takes the form of brief, concrete examples, miniature narratives. Take the case of the goring ox from Exodus, which has been at the foundation of Tractate Bava Kamma. It implies a basic principle of fairness, which is that the owner of livestock is obligated to take reasonable precautions to prevent them from causing damage or injury. But the principle is only implied, not stated. It is up to the rabbis of the Talmud to make the implication explicit, and in the process to supply halakhah with the abstract principles needed to give the law flexibility and consistency.

One such principle familiar from American law is “burden of proof.” Nothing like this expression can be found in the Bible, but it is bound to come up in many kinds of civil disputes. ...
I find it striking that the Talmudic standard of burden of proof is not far from the modern standard of innocent until proven guilty.

Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.