IDENTITY, PROOF OF:
In criminal cases the witnesses were required to be certain of the identity both of the accused and of the victim, as well as of the nationality to which the victim belonged (Sanh. 40b). When the accused succeeded in escaping among a crowd of people, where he could not be clearly identified, or even when found with only one other person who was beyond all suspicion of crime, there could be no trial (ib. 79a, 80a; Maimonides, "Yad," Roẓeaḥ, iv. 67). The mere testimony of the witnesses was believed; and they did not need to bring any proofs to establish the identity of either the criminal or the victim.
In the case of lost objects, the loser had to describe "convincing signs" ("simanim mubhaḳim") before the object was restored to him. By "convincing signs" the Rabbis understood such marks of identity as referred to the measure or weight of the object, to the number of objects found, or to the place where found. An exception was made in the case of a scholar who was known never to deviate from the exact truth; to him the found object was returned on his simple claim, even though he could not describe the object itself. If the object did not possess any intrinsic marks by which it could be identified, the finder was not obliged to announce his find in public, as was the custom with regard to found objects which did possess such marks (see Finder of Property). In all cases the testimony of witnesses with regard to the ownership of the object superseded any proof of identity advanced by those claiming it (B. M. 24a, 28a; "Yad," Gezelah, xiii. 5, 6; xiv. 13; Shulḥan 'Aruk, Ḥoshen Mishpaṭ, 262, 3, 21; 267, 7, 9).
In the case of an 'Agunah the Rabbis manifested great leniency with regard to the kind of evidence required to establish the death of her husband, so that she should not remain in continual suspense and be prevented from marrying again. They were, however, very strict regarding the proofs necessary to identify a corpse. If it was found within three days of death, the identity of the person could be established if convincing peculiarities were found on the body, such as a superfluous or missing limb, or an unusual growth, or if the face and forehead could be recognized. Testimony derived from the garments, however, or from such general characteristics as the color of the hair or the size of the body, was not sufficient to establish identity. If the body had been in water, although for a long time and had been cast up on the land, no special marks were necessary to establish the identity; for water was supposed to preserve the body. The question of identity, in connection with a dead body, through which a woman might become free from the shackles of uncertainty, is, on account of its frequent occurrence, discussed in all its details by rabbinical authorities in their various responsa (Yeb. 120a et seq.; "Yad," Gerushin, xiii. 21, 22; Shulḥan 'Aruk, Eben ha-'Ezer, 17, 22-28; "Pitḥe Teshubah," ad loc.).
- Mielziner, The Jewish Law of Marriage and Divorce, § 61, Cincinnati, 1884;
- Mendelsohn, Criminal Jurisprudence, §§, 86, 127, Baltimore, 1891.