“and you shall seek, and you shall inquire and you shall question thoroughly and behold it is true, the matter is substantiated.” (Devarim 13,15)
It is a positive commandment to interrogate witnesses with a comprehensive interrogation and to thoroughly inquire of them with all our strength to reach the root of the matter and its truth in the fullest intention. Derived from the same basis Chazal have said “Be deliberate in judgement”. The point of all of this is so that we should deliberate about the matter, we should distinguish all the truth about it and we should not be rapid in judgement lest we kill the innocent or lose his money by the truth being hidden. About this it says “and you shall seek, and you shall inquire and you shall question thoroughly and behold it is true, the matter is substantiated.” Anyone whose eyes are open, will look and see that the multitude of warnings and the fact that the Torah repeats this issue in different words is in order to warn us well about this issue for it is a very significant matter and a strong pillar that the blood and soul of society rests on. There is no reason to prolong discussion of the root of the commandment for it is obvious.
Amongst the laws of the commandment is that which Chazal say that every witness must be examined with seven examinations and these are “In which cycle of the seven cycles of seven years which combine to form a yovel did the action about which he is testifying occur?” “In which year of the seven years of shmitta (did it occur)?” “In which month of the year?” “Which date of the month?” “Which day of the six days of the week?” “What time of the day?” “Where did it happen?” Even if he says “he killed him today” or “he killed him yesterday” we still ask him all these questions. If the two witnesses are unable to answer all these questions, their testimony is invalid.
Apart from these seven inquiries, which are identical for all testimonies, included in this commandment of interrogation is the necessity to ask him about the act itself to which he is testifying, if he testified about someone stating that he served idols – one must ask him which idol he served? And with which kind of service? If he testifies about someone that he profaned the Shabbat, one says to him “by which act (of the thirty-nine forbidden acts) did he profane it?” “and how did he perform that act?” If he testified that someone ate on the Day of Atonement, one says to him “which food did he eat?” and “how much did he eat?” and so too with any other inquiries.
Apart from all of these questions that we have mentioned, which are termed inquiries and interrogations and are the main part of the testimony through which the perpetrator will be condemned or released, the court of law (Beth Din) will question the witnesses about numerous other issues which are not the main part of the testimony like, “what was the victim wearing? Or the murderer?” So too they may ask him about the colour of the earth in that place and various other similar questions. The witnesses are not required to answer these questions and even if one of them says “I don’t know” about some of the questions, his testimony is accepted. However, if the two witnesses contradict one another, their testimony is invalid.
This commandment applies regarding money matters in every place and at every time and to men who are worthy of judging. Regarding the matters of capital punishment, lashes and fines, they apply in Eretz Yisrael at a time when the Sanhedrin are sitting in their place.