Friday, November 14, 2014

Fact-Checking the Torah -- Leviticus 5:1

We are busting urban legends about offerings and sin offerings in particular.  To sum up; a sin of failing to obey a positive commandment is atoned by a whole offering; a non-willful sin of failing to obey negative commandments is atoned by a sin offering.  Your assignment was to read Leviticus 5:1.
The only way a sin offering atones for transgression of negative commandments is if the sinner made a mistake, wasn’t paying attention, forgot the contents of the commandments, or didn’t know what he was doing, AND WAS ALONE AT THE TIME.
If somebody was with him, that person should have performed hatraah and cannot testify in court against the sinner if hatraah is missing. 
The only way the person owes a sin offering is if he realized he had done something wrong later.  Or suspected he had.  Such as seeing blood on a plate of food.  He realizes he ate from that plate but he doesn’t know if he ate blood.
The only way he will bring a sin offering is if he decides he did eat the blood.
That is paskening for yourself.
I already said a couple of times that Jewish law prohibits paskening for yourself.
So this person should not bring a sin offering UNLESS he consults somebody about what happened.
That is what Leviticus 5:1 is about.  The only person the sinner can consult is somebody experienced in the law and that expert is going to say “was anybody with you at the time?”
When the sinner says no, the expert is going to say that nobody can exact anything of him, except Gd Who would know if the transgression was done willfully or not. 
The urban legend I just busted is that a priest would go around arbitrarily assigning people to bring sin offerings.  If the priest saw the sin committed and didn’t stop it and warn the sinner, he cannot testify in court about it and that means he can’t exact a sin offering.  Plus some of these commandments carry the death penalty and it takes two witnesses because it’s possible this is the third strike.  Or they are the subject of keritot.
Those are the specifics.  The general principle is that anybody who wants to deprive somebody else of property bears the burden of proof. 
This is the same as in American law.  The prosecution has the burden of proof in a criminal trial; the plaintiff has the burden of proof in a non-criminal (civil) trial.
Nobody can require another person to bring a sin offering without adequate proof that one of the negative commandments was violated, and the accuser has to prove that it was a mistake, an incident of forgetfulness or absent-mindedness, or ignorance.  But Leviticus 5:1 requires the witness to speak up in court.  And the commandment of hatraah requires him to speak up when he saw the transgression about to occur.
This feeds back into oaths and that’s the next lesson.  For next week, take a look at Leviticus 6:19.
© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved

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