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Q&A: Refusing to Testify

June 30, 2014

Question: I was asked by a friend to testify on his behalf in court, but I could end up losing my job if I do so. What should I do?

Answer: Maimonides counts testifying on another’s behalf as one of the 613 commandments of the Torah, but there is no commandment that prohibits one from refusing to testify. The only negative injunction is against testifying falsely. Thus, not testifying is counted as nullifying a positive commandment, an improper action that is not enforceable or punishable. Instead, our sages declared that one who refuses to testify on his fellow’s behalf is liable “at the hands of heaven.” That is, he will receive divine comeuppance.

There is also the matter of the law. If I understand your circumstances correctly, your boss may not fire you for testifying in any court, and if he were to do so anyway, you would have legal recourse.

We all know what it is like to face the false dilemmas of conflicting interests. Some say that this is what Maimonides meant by man’s new sense of morality after eating the forbidden fruit: Man was originally entirely objective and recognized concepts in terms of truth and falsehood, and therefore his perceived right was the truth and his perceived wrong was lies. However, post sin, man forever sees things in terms of subjective right and wrong, and has his decisions clouded by extraneous factors, factors that tend to blur his perception of what is truly right and what is truly wrong.

Ideally, you should overcome the test before you and testify as to what you know truthfully, and put your trust in God that because you are doing what He has bidden you to do, He will protect your livelihood and see that no harm comes to you for doing that which is right. However, it could be that because of the wicked choices of your fellow men, you will be made to suffer for choosing properly. This should be taken as yet another test. Standing up for what is right is possibly the greatest moral test to which men have been subjected; our father Abraham was nearly burnt alive for his convictions; others who followed in his ways were not so fortunate.



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