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Bible Encyclopedias

The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia

Clerical Errors

Errors made in the writing of documents, especially legal documents, for the prevention of which the Jews have many stringent laws. The Jewish official scribes were notably exact in the preparation of legal documents (Git. 2b); for an error was often fatal to the validity of the instrument. Care is taken not to write an acknowledgment of indebtedness on any substance on which it may be easily altered. Such an instrument would be absolutely invalid even though it were intended to be used immediately for the collection of the debt (Shulḥan 'Aruk, Ḥoshen Mishpaṭ, 42, 1). But if the instrument is a bill of sale, it is valid (ib., gloss), because there would be no reason for the holder of the instrument to make any alteration in its terms.

Alterations in Deeds.

Some authorities adopt the general rule that an instrument which is not prepared in accordance withthe rabbinical ordinances is ipso facto invalid (ib., gloss). The instrument of indebtedness may be written in any language, but the scribe must take care that it does not deviate from the prescribed form of documents (ib. 42, 2). If an erasure is made, it must be noted on the instrument before the witnesses sign (ib. 44, 5-11). It is the duty of the witnesses and the court to scan the instrument carefully to note whether the rules for writing it have been complied with (ib. 45, 2).

These rules are numerous. The scribe must write his letters of equal size and equidistant (ib. 42, 3). He must spell the amounts of money in full, and not merely use the letters (corresponding to modern figures) to designate the amount (ib. 42, 4). He must not write at the end of a line words that can easily be altered, such as the amounts from three to ten; as these by the addition of a letter or two can be raised to ten times their original amount (ib. 42, 4). The failure to close the instrument with the universally accepted formula, "All is fixed and established," is absolutely fatal (ib. 44, 9). If the scribe has omitted the date of the instrument, it is nevertheless valid, but is no lien on goods sold to third persons (ib. 43, 1). If the date is partially written, it is sufficient; as, for instance, if the scribe has omitted the thousands of the date (ib. 43, 2), or has written "on the fourth day," omitting "beshabbath" (of the week) (ib. 43, 4), or if he has erred in the day of the week (ib. 43, 5). But if the instrument is written by the debtor himself, it is valid even though it has no date at all and is without witnesses, and was delivered in the presence of witnesses without the customary "livery of seizin" (ib. 40, 2; 43, 6). If the instrument is wilfully antedated it is void; but if antedated by mistake it is valid, though it can not serve as a lien on property sold to a third person (ib. 43, 8). If the document is postdated it is valid (ib. 43, 12); but a bill of sale should not be postdated unless this fact is noted thereon (ib. 43, 13). If the date appears to be a Sabbath, or the Day of Atonement, the instrument is valid; for, inasmuch as no instrument can be written on those days, it is presumed to have been postdated (ib. 43, 14; 239, 2).

Contradictions and Erasures.

If there is a contradiction in the amounts mentioned in the instrument, the amount last stated governs (ib. 42, 5). If the coinage in which payment is to be made is not stated, the coinage of the place where the contract was made governs. If the place is not stated, then the coinage of the place where the debt is sought to be collected governs (ib. 42, 14).

If there is an erasure of one letter of the name on the last part of the instrument, it may be supplied from the statement of the name in the beginning; but if more than one letter is obliterated, the instrument is void. If by the error of the scribe there is more than one letter entirely omitted from the name in the last part of the instrument, it is valid for the bearer of the last name, it being presumed that the scribe has erred in the first name by writing two letters too many; but it is not to be supposed that he would err in omitting two letters of a name (ib. 42, 6).

All interlineations, obliterations, and erasures must be noted before the final formula; and if they occur in the names of the parties or in the amount, and are not so noted, the instrument is void (ib. 44, 5). The formula used is "The word . . . is interlined," or "The words . . . are obliterated." In bills of divorce, erasures or interlineations in the formal parts do not affect the validity of the instrument; but if they occur in the essential parts, it is void, unless they are noted at the end as in the case of other instruments (Shulḥan 'Aruk, Eben ha-'Ezer, 125, 19). The modern rule, however, is stricter and will not tolerate any such imperfections in the "get." To insure accuracy and freedom from clerical errors the Seder ha-Geṭ. (Eben ha-'Ezer, Rules 46-52) prescribes that the writing must be clear and neither crooked nor confused; the letters must be separately written and not joined together; the letters of two lines must not run into each other; nor should the letters extend beyond the marginal line. There must be no erasure of ink-spots or of words, no roughness in the letters, and no writings over erasures. In case any of these rules be violated a new geṭ must be written.

  • Shulḥan 'Aruk, Ḥoshen Mishpaṭ, ,
J. Sr.
D. W. A.

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Bibliography Information
Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Clerical Errors'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. 1901.

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