Can a Woman Be a Witness?

Sponsored by Sharona and Josh Halickman

 in Memory of Rivka Haut z”l,

Beloved Mother of Sheryl Haut and Tamara Weissman,

Activist on Behalf of Agunot

and Board Member of Torat Reva Yerushalayim


In Parshat Metzora, Vayikra 15:28 we read: “When she has become pure from her discharge-impurity, she shall count seven days for herself and afterwards she becomes purified.”


From this pasuk we learn that a woman is fully relied upon and trusted to count the seven white days and immerse in the mikva on the proper day.


She counts the seven days “for herself” without anybody checking up on her.


Considering that the consequences for not observing the laws of family purity properly is the punishment of Karet, it is clear that a woman can be trusted and relied on for testifying about serious matters.


According to the Shulchan Aruch, Even HaEzer 17:3, in the case of an agunah (a woman whose husband who has disappeared without leaving his wife a valid Jewish divorce) when determining whether a woman’s husband is dead, so that she can remarry, one witness, male or female is sufficient.


If the agunah remarries and it turns out that her husband was still alive there would be serious ramifications including the fact that her children would be mamzerim yet a woman who testifies that she knows that the agunah’s husband is dead is believed.


In the realm of keeping kosher, a woman is fully trusted to run her own kitchen without the need of a mashgiach’s supervision. A woman could even serve as a shochet. In that case, the entire community would rely on a woman to slaughter their animals.


The Rambam, Yad, Edut 9:2 writes: women, kings, a Kohen Gadol (High Priest) and family relatives are disqualified from giving testimony. However, this is not due to a lack of credibility but rather a Divine Torah decree.


We may try to guess why women were disqualified from giving testimony but there is no specific explanation given to us in the Torah.


According to the Rambam, giving testimony in court is a legal obligation. When summoned, an individual may not avoid testifying. By exempting women from being witnesses, a woman avoids the stress of public testimony, examination, close questioning and cross examination.


In the case of capital punishment, a witness whose testimony leads to an execution must participate in the execution. As it says in Devarim 17:7, “The hand of the witness shall be the first upon him to put him to death.” The Torah may have wanted to spare a woman from the role of executioner and therefore exempted her from testifying.


It is not a coincidence that women are now taking on more leadership roles in the areas of family purity, kashrut and in the case of agunot by training to become Yoatzot Halacha (advisors of Jewish law) in the realm of family purity, Mashgichot, certifying the kashrut of restaurants and Toanot (advocates) on behalf of modern day agunot (women whose husbands refuse to grant them a Jewish divorce).


Although women are not summoned to testify in court, there is no question that women can be trusted and relied upon in the most serious areas of Jewish law.