Kenneth Cohen

Obligation to Testify

In Verse one of Chapter five of Vayikra, there are instructions regarding giving testimony. There is a command to testify about what one hears. The Torah uses the words, ושמעה קול אלה, translated according to Rashi, as referring to one who heard of admission of guilt by one of the parties.

If one refuses to state in court, what he heard, he has committed an offense. The Rabbis go even further in saying that if one could have made a difference, but remains silent, and because of not having his testimony, the guilty party gets away with his crime, it’s as if he committed that very crime.

We see how the Torah addresses every aspect of human life. One may feel that it’s better for him not “to get involved,” but the Torah seems to be saying the opposite.
This is a law like any of the other 613. It is listed in the Sefer Hachinuch as Mitzva number 122. It is a positive commandment to give testimony.

The details of this Mitzva are somewhat complex. There is a difference if we are dealing with money matters or capital cases. Nevertheless, the message is clear. Jews must get involved and not give in to apathy. There are various causes that we are presented with. Some involve the giving of charity, while others ask that we donate our time. On certain occasions, the correct thing to do, might be to drop everything and protest.

It is clear that one day, when we reach 120, we will be confronted with the following question. Did we do all that we could, when our input could have made a difference? Hopefully, the answer will be a resounding, “Yes!”

About the Author
Rabbi Cohen has been a Torah instructor at Machon Meir, Jerusalem, for over twenty years while also teaching a Talmud class in the Shtieblach of Old Katamon. Before coming to Israel, he was the founding rabbi of Young Israel of Century City, Los Angeles. He recently published a series of Hebrew language-learning apps, which are available at