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Shabbat Parashat Chayei Sarah| 5763
Classic Agunah Issue – II – testimony
The biggest leniency employed to allow the remarriage of a woman whose husband has disappeared (agunah) is the dramatic lowering of standards regarding testimony on his death. Although there is a broad rule that two “kosher” witnesses are required for all matters of marital status (Gittin 2b), here, one witness, including a host of people who are usually unfit to testify, is valid.
At least part of the rationale for the laxness is the circumstantial evidence which is created by the following situation. If the wife/widow marries based on weak testimony, and it turns out that her husband is indeed alive (classically, he comes back home) then there are severe consequences (Yevamot 87b). Part of the rationale of this stringency is to make sure that the wife (who knows her husband better than anyone else) will investigate the matter with extreme thoroughness and not remarry unless she is convinced that her husband is, without a doubt, dead. We can, thus, say that “because of the [potential] stringency at the end, we are lenient towards her in the beginning” and allow her to remarry based on testimony which is not usually sufficient in such matters (ibid. 88a). Some Rishonim understand this logic as an application of Torah law (Tosafot, Ketuvot 22b) and some see it as an extraordinary rabbinic leniency (Tosafot, Yevamot 88a).
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