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Se’if 10 – Mechaber: The plaintiff claims a maneh from the defendant outside court. The defendant appoints witnesses and admits in their presence that he owes the plaintiff the maneh he is claiming. Subsequently, based on that admission, the plaintiff sues the defendant in court for the return of the maneh. The defendant responds in court that he already repaid the maneh to the plaintiff.

Judgment in this case will be entered for the defendant provided he takes the shevuat heseit oath of denial in support of his statement that he repaid the loan. If, however, the defendant responds in court that he never borrowed money from the plaintiff and witnesses testify that he had previously admitted his debt to the plaintiff in their presence, the court considers him a liar because he already admitted the debt in their presence and a person’s admission is equivalent to the testimony of 100 witnesses.

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If, instead of responding that he never borrowed money from the plaintiff, the defendant simply says, “I have nothing of yours in my possession” or “I don’t owe you anything” or “You are lying” (Rema) or “I don’t know what you are talking about,” he does not assume the status of a liar since he is entitled to explain that by saying these things, he meant, “I have already repaid you.”

Ner Eyal: A litigant is allowed to explain what he said in court provided his explanation clarifies his initial statement rather than contradict it. The question discussed by the Mechaber in this se’if is whether a person who told the court, “I don’t owe the plaintiff anything” is contradicting himself if he later says, “I don’t owe you anything because I repaid you yesterday.”

According to the Rosh, he is not contradicting himself. He is simply clarifying his initial statement. It is as if he said the following: “The reason I said, ‘I don’t owe you anything’ is because I repaid the loan. I did owe you yesterday when I admitted the debt, but meanwhile I repaid it. So today, I don’t owe you anything.”

Other halachic authorities disagree with the Rosh. According to them, the defendant’s statement of “I have nothing of yours in my possession,” or “I don’t owe you anything,” or “you are lying,” or “I don’t know what you are talking about,” means he never borrowed any money from the plaintiff, which contradicts his initial statement.

The Mechaber, consistent with his position in the Beit Yosef, rules in accordance with the Rosh.

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Raphael Grunfeld received semicha in Yoreh Yoreh from Mesivtha Tifereth Jerusalem of America and in Yadin Yadin from Rav Dovid Feinstein. A partner at the Wall Street law firm of Carter Ledyard & Milburn LLP, Rabbi Grunfeld is the author of “Ner Eyal: A Guide to Seder Nashim, Nezikin, Kodashim, Taharot and Zerayim” and “Ner Eyal: A Guide to the Laws of Shabbat and Festivals in Seder Moed.” Questions for the author can be sent to rafegrunfeld@gmail.com.