Friday, November 7, 2014

Fact-Checking the Torah -- Leviticus 4

For this week I said to read Leviticus 4.  There are two urban legends about offerings to atone for sin and I have already busted one of them.  I said the whole offering, not the sin offering, is brought for the sin of not obeying a positive commandment.
I already said there are 613 commandments in Jewish law.  (I think I said it.  Anyway.)  248 of them are positive such as observing Passover.  365 of them are negative such as “don’t commit murder.”
But not all of the negative commandments result in a sin offering.
Mishnah tractate Keritot lists 36 negative commandments that if performed willfully, may involve a court case if committed in public and witnesses perform hatraah and so on.  Then the court can condemn the sinner to flogging.
The definition of keritot is seeing all your descendants die before you die.  If the Big 36 are committed willfully but a court cannot try the sinner, the punishment is keritot by Gd, the only One who would know if the sin was actually committed and it was willful.
For willful sins aside from the big 36, either due process can be observed or not.  If not, Gd will take care of it even if it doesn’t fall into the big 36.  “Vengeance is MINE,” said the Lord (not yours). 
If due process can be observed, and it is a capital crime, the death penalty can be imposed.  If it’s not a capital crime, usually damages can be imposed by the court.
And those are willful transgressions, the second kind.
The third kind is, maybe the transgressor had a moment of forgetfulness, absent-mindedness, or just plain ignorance, or made a mistake in his facts.  It is not possible for the court to punish in this situation, even with due process, and Gd refuses to punish in this situation.  THIS IS THE CASE TO WHICH LEVITICUS 4:2 SPECIFICALLY REFERS as kicking off a sin offering.
Yes, I know I was shouting.  That was just to get your attention. 
There are 365 negative commandments.  They only generate a sin offering if the person did not sin willfully.  Willful sins are punished either by a court, or by Gd with extirpation of one’s descendants in one’s lifetime. 
Have I said it in enough different ways to make an impression?  Good, then I’ll discuss a general principle of Jewish law which I have not discussed up to now but which particularly helps with another urban legend specifically about sin offerings.
For next week read Leviticus 5:1.

© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved

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