Friday, November 21, 2014

Fact-Checking the Torah -- Leviticus 6:19

People don’t bring sin offerings except for mistaken, absent-minded, forgetful, or ignorant transgression of the 365 negative commandments, and then only after they realize they may have committed the transgression, and they can only be forced to do so if somebody can witness to the transgression.  That is the meaning of Leviticus 5:1.
The person who says an individual has to bring a sin offering has the burden of proof.  Proof requires witness evidence and a person can’t testify against himself.  If the transgressor wants to impose a suspensive guilt offering on himself, that is different.  One rabbi was famous for doing this, until a colleague told him at least don’t do it the day after Yom Kippur; not even you can legitimately owe a guilt offering the day after you have honestly repented.
The potential witness has to testify unless he can swear that he doesn’t know anything about the case.
If he is found to have legitimate testimony to give, he may be subjected to atonement for swearing falsely that he didn’t. 
This means an offering.  But it starts a whole new cycle because whoever accuses him of swearing falsely also has the burden of proof.
The cynical will say that somebody might lie just to get the transgressor in trouble, but the liar doesn’t benefit from the sin offering and if the liar is caught, he will have trouble testifying later.  The court will be suspicious of anything he says, and so will people who need a court case to prove one thing or another but can’t rely on him as a witness.
The only person who can benefit from a sin offering is a priest.  Nobody else has a rational incentive for false testimony about a sin offering.
The cynical would say that the priests will impose sin offerings without testimony because of Leviticus 6:19 which says he gets to eat it.  But the priest can’t eat it if he is tameh, which I will discuss later, and he can become tameh if he wanders around among the population watching for people to sin so that he can impose a sin offering on them. 
Since the person who answers a summons to testify about a potential sin offering has to take an oath if he says he doesn’t know anything about the case, this is another example of how Jewish law cannot prohibit all oaths and vows without hamstringing its legal system.
Now.  Why does a nazir owe a sin offering?  Which of these negative commandments did he mistakenly, ignorantly, unconsciously, or forgetfully transgress? 
He didn’t.  The reason he brings a sin offering is that Torah says he has to.  The rabbis were not satisfied with that, and tried to find something reasonable to say about it.  They came up with the fact that the nazir causes himself pain by not using products that he is normally allowed to use. 
For next week we’ll finish up with Deuteronomy  23:23 so read it.
© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved

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