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CIRCUMSTANTIAL EVIDENCE:

Evidence consisting of circumstances which afford reasonable ground for believing in the guilt or innocence of an accused person. Circumstantial evidence is generally stated to be inadmissible according to Jewish law; but this assertion is incorrect. All evidence is more or less circumstantial, the difference between direct and circumstantial evidence being only a difference in degree. The former is more immediate, and has fewer links in the chain of connection between the premises and the conclusion than the latter.

The Mosaic law requires that every fact be proved by the testimony of two witnesses (Num. xxxv. 30; Deut. xvii. 6, xix. 15), and the Talmudic law requires that each witness testify to the whole fact, and that the witnesses shall not be permitted to supplement each other's testimony (B. Ḳ.70b). But, admitting that it requires the positive testimony of two witnesses to every material fact in the case, this does not preclude the court from drawing inferences from the facts proved; and wherever such inferences are drawn—this is necessarily done in every case at law—circumstantial evidence is to that extent recognized as legal.

In criminal law the necessity for at least two witnesses is strictly maintained (Sanh. 37b; Maimonides, "Yad," Sanhedrin, xii. 3, xx. 1).

In civil matters the testimony of one witness is in some cases sufficient to compel the party against whom the witness is produced to take the oath of purgation; and, on the other hand, the production of one witness in favor of the party absolves him from taking this oath, in cases where he would otherwise have been obliged to take it (Shebu. 32a). The law likewise recognizes certain presumptions arising from a given state of facts; although these presumptions may be rebutted by positive testimony, they establish a prima facie case without further proof (Ḳid. 80a).

For further discussion of this subject see Evidence and Presumption.

J. Sr. D. W. A.
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