Q. I recently heard that a rabbi declined to take an oath in a law court, claiming it was contrary to his religious belief, and insisted on making an affirmation. Surely taking an oath is permitted by Judaism?
A. There is a saying that someone who cannot be believed without taking an oath cannot be believed at all. But oath taking is certainly known in Judaism, though, as Justice Elon explained in detail in an Israeli case, Baker v. Eilat (1978), its purpose has undergone change.
Originally the oath established a person’s claim and not merely their credibility. Later it was necessary to “intimidate” witnesses and evoke their conscience because in the contemporary moral and social climate people took liberties with the truth.
Orthodox Jews, however, regard the taking of an oath very solemnly and seriously and are often very apprehensive about taking the Divine Name in vain, even unintentionally. Thus, strange though it may seem on the surface, the rabbi may have felt that an oath would have been contrary to his religious belief and preferred an affirmation.