SHEVU'OT


SHEVU'OT (Heb. שְׁבוּעוֹת; "Oaths"), sixth tractate of the order Nezikin in the Mishnah, Tosefta, and the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmuds. It deals with oaths of various kinds but also with some aspects of ritual impurity. A link between these apparently diverse subjects is indicated in Leviticus 5:1–13. The fact that Shevu'ot, with eight chapters, follows Makkot, with three, seems to contradict the rule that the sequence of tractates within a given order is in the descending order of the number of chapters. However, it is clear from the Talmud (see Shevu. 2b, bottom; also Rashi in loc.) that Makkot was once joined to Sanhedrin, giving it a total of 14 chapters (see H.L. Strack, Introduction to the Talmud (1931), pp.27, 51; Ḥ. Albeck, Mishnah, Seder Nezikin (1952–9), p. 3).

The contents of the Mishnah in brief are as follows: chapter 1 opens with the terse statement: "Oaths are two, which are four," i.e., to the two kinds of oath referred to in Leviticus 5:3, called shevuʾot bittui ("oaths of utterance"), the Oral Law added two similar ones. Examples of these oaths are given at the beginning of chapter 3, and with them the discussion on oaths actually begins: "(I swear that) I will eat"; "I will not eat"; "I have eaten"; and "I have not eaten." This differentiation helps to establish whether, and what, sacrifices are due in case of their violations. The phrase, "two, which are four," characteristic of the oldest stratum of the Mishnah, is used also with regard to ritual uncleanness and introduces chapter 2. In fact, most of the rest of the first chapter deals with this subject, which is continued in chapter 3. Chapter 3 distinguishes between shevu'at bittui and shevu'at shav ("vain" or "false oath"). The latter applies when one asserts by oath something contrary to accepted knowledge, or impossible, e.g., swearing that a man is a woman or that one saw a flying camel. Swearing that one will violate a religious precept also belongs to this category. The following four chapters deal with judicial oaths. In fact it is because of the legal significance of the oath that Shevu'ot was placed in the order Nezikin, which deals predominantly with matters of law and judicial procedure. Chapter 4 deals with shevu'at edut ("oath of evidence"); chapter 5 with the shevu'at ha-pikkadon ("oath relating to bailments"), in accordance with Leviticus 5:21ff.; chapter 6 with the shevu'at ha-dayyanim, i.e., oaths imposed under certain circumstances by the court on the defendant; and chapter 7, having noted that according to Torah law the plaintiff has the privilege of being allowed to take an oath and consequently of receiving judgment in his favor, goes on to discuss instances when by rabbinical enactment the defendant also has the right to take an oath. Chapter 8 deals with the oaths of the four bailees (*shomerim) in accordance with Exodus 22:6–16.

The Tosefta to this tractate is divided into six chapters. Chapter 1:5–7 and chapter 3 are of a halakhic Midrash (a Mekhilta) to Leviticus, which does not fit in with the work and has been inserted in the Tosefta. The terminology and the names of the tannaim mentioned in it make it clear that this fragment comes from the school of Ishmael. Tosefta 3:6 sees all crime as a rebellion against God, e.g., if one bears false witness, one commits an injustice not only against one's neighbor, but one also "denies Him who commanded: 'Thou shalt not bear false witness.'" Tosefta 3:7 gives expressions found in magical texts which served as incantations and, having found their way into Israelite folklore, were employed as oath formulas (Lieberman, Greek Hellenism, p. 91).

The Gemara of the Babylonian Talmud on this tractate includes a good deal of aggadic material. One discussion lists mitzvot which, if fulfilled as a reward, cause one to have male offspring (18b). Another cites a series of courtroom laws which assure fair trial (30b–31a). Thus, if a rabbinical scholar and an uneducated person (am ha-areẓ) come to be sentenced, both of them have the privilege of being seated. There is an interesting discussion of the names of God in 35a and b. The Babylonian Talmud (26a, cf. Tosef. 1:7) also gives the statement that Ishmael, a disciple of Neḥunya b. ha-Kanah who interpreted the whole Torah according to the hermeneutical rule of kelal and perat, followed the same principle, while Akiva, a disciple of Nahum of Gimzu who interpreted in accordance with ribbui and mi'ut ("extension and limitation"), construed the Torah like his master (see *Hermeneutics). The Jerusalem Talmud contains very little aggadic material. The major aggadic section discusses various types of atonements (1:9; 33b–c). It also quotes the first verse of the prayer for rain in Greek (3:10, 34d), as it was obviously recited by the common people on occasions of drought (Liebermann, ibid., 8–20). Shevu'ot was translated into English in the Soncino edition by A.E. Silverstone (1935). For bibliography see the main articles on *Talmud, *Mishnah, *Tosefta.

[Arnost Zvi Ehrman]


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