Witnesses are guilty of perjury if it is proved, by the evidence of at least two other competent and consistent witnesses, that they had not been present at the time and at the place where they had testified to have been when the event in issue had happened (Mak. 1:4). Such false witnesses are known as edim zomemim (lit. conspiring witnesses). It is not sufficient that anything to which those witnesses had testified is contradicted by new witnesses, to the effect that what they had testified was untrue (as for "contradictions," see witness ): such contradictions are only the starting point of the evidence required to convict those witnesses of perjury (Maim., Yad, Edut 18:4), namely, that they could not possibly have witnessed the facts to which they had testified (ibid. 18:2). Even though the evidence of the first set of witnesses had been accepted by the court as truthful, it is the evidence of the latter set of witnesses, testifying to the "alibi" of the first, that is to be accepted as conclusive (Mak. 5b; Yad, Edut 18:3) irrespective of the actual number of witnesses in each set. The latter set of witnesses must testify in the presence of the first set. Should this not be possible, e.g., if the first set are dead, this constitutes a "contra-diction" and both testimonies will be discarded (cf. Yad, Edut 18:5). Where no evidence of perjury in the technical sense was available, but the evidence had conclusively been contradicted (e.g., where the murdered man appeared in court alive), the court would inflict disciplinary lashes (Makkat Mardut – see flogging ; Yad, Edut 18:6; Sha'arei Ẓedek 4:7, 24 and 45; Rosh, resp., 58:4; et al.). The punishment for perjury is laid down in the Bible: "You shall do to him as he schemed to do his fellow… Nor must you show pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot" (Deut. 19:19–21). The Sadducees interpreted this law literally: the false witness would not forfeit his life, unless and until the man against whom he had testified had been executed; but the Pharisean interpretation, which is the source of the law as it was eventually established, was that the witness must be made to suffer what he had schemed to do, but not what he had actually caused to occur, to his fellow (Sif. Deut. 190; Mak. 1:6) – so that the biblical law was held to be applicable only where a man had been sentenced on the strength of false testimony, but before he was executed; the witnesses who had testified against him were then formally tried and convicted of perjury (Yad, Edut 20:2). This was a highly improbable contingency, as there was hardly an interval between sentence and execution (see practice and Procedure). The enunciation of this rule is followed in the Talmud by the objection that it could not be right to take the life of the witness when the life of the person he had schemed to kill had not in fact been taken; or, if the Bible really required that to be the law, then a fortiori must the life of the witness be taken after that person had been executed: if a man is liable to die because of having intended to kill, surely he must be liable to die if he had actually killed. The objection was dismissed in reliance on the rule (see penal Law) that no criminal offense can be created by analogy or logical deduction (Mak. 5b; and cf. Sanh. 74a and 76a; et al.). Later commentators theorized that God's presence in the court (cf. Deut. 19:17) would sufficiently enlighten the minds of the judges to detect the falsehood of the testimony in time, before execution, for it is written, "do not bring death on the righteous and innocent, for I will not acquit the wrongdoer" (Ex. 23:7). It follows that the offense of perjury can have been committed only where the accused had not yet been executed, for a man who was executed must have been rightly convicted (Naḥmanides, commentary, Deut. 19:19). The rule was, however, limited to capital cases only. Perjured witnesses were given the same non-capital punishments   as had already been inflicted on those against whom they had testified (Yad, Edut 20:2), and where the defendant in a civil case had paid the judgment debt, the amount so paid was recovered from the witnesses (Tur, ḤM 38:2). Where the sanction imposed on the strength of their testimony could not be imposed on them (e.g., where an alleged manslayer had been banished to a city of refuge , or where a priest had been suspended from office), they would be flogged (Yad, Edut 20:8–9; Tur, ḤM 38:3). To be convicted of perjury, no previous warning had to be given to false witnesses (Ket. 33a; Yad, Edut 18:4; Tur, ḤM 38:9). No single witness could be convicted of perjury: the conviction had always to be in respect of both (or all) the witnesses who had testified falsely together (Mak. 1:7); and when once one false witness had alone been convicted, it was said that innocent blood had been shed (Mak. 5b). As perjured witnesses are disqualified from being admitted as a witness in future, all convictions of perjury must be given wide publicity (Sanh. 89a; Maim., Yad, Edut 18:7), to fulfill the biblical command that "all others will hear and be afraid" (Deut. 19:20). -BIBLIOGRAPHY: D. Hoffmann, in MWJ, 5 (1878), 1–14; O. Baehr, Das Gesetz ueber falsche Zeugen nach Bibel und Talmud (1882); J. Horovitz, in: Festschrift… David Hoffmann (1914), 139–61; idem, Untersuchungen zur rabbinischen Lehre von den falschen Zeugen (1914); J.S. Zuri, Mishpat ha-Talmud, 7 (1921), 46; Gulak, Yesodei, 4 (1922), 161–3; ET, 8 (1957), 609–23; L. Finkelstein, The Pharisees, 1 (19623), 142–4; 2 (19623), 696–8; Z. Dor, in: Sefer ha-Shanah Bar-Ilan, 2 (1964), 107–24; P. Daykan, in: Sinai, 56 (1964/65), 295–302; S. Schmida, "Li-Ve'ayat Edei Sheker" (Diss., 1965). ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: M. Elon, Ha-Mishpat ha-Ivri (1988), 1:331f.; idem, Jewish Law (1994), 1:397f. (Haim Hermann Cohn)

Encyclopedia Judaica. 1971.

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