We’re talking about leprosy and the third great principle developed in its laws. The Torah for this is Leviticus 14, especially verses 33 through 49.
The first principle was that leprosy is limited in how it conveys tumah, the condition of being tameh, because all situations that cause tumah have only a limited number of hops beyond which tumah is not conveyed.
The second is that tumah can be changed. One way preserves the utility of whatever is tameh: a waiting period followed by a positive act. The other requires damaging the tameh object until it is no longer useful for its normal purpose. If the damage is ever repaired, so that you can use the item for its normal purpose, it returns to its condition of tumah.
The third great principle is illustrated by the laws of leprosy in a house.
If you think your house has leprosy, Torah tells you to go to the priest and have him come check it out.
This is the ultimate example that paskening for yourself is a bad idea.
Torah specifies that you tell the priest “it seems to me that there might be something like leprosy in my house.” You DON’T tell the priest “my house has leprosy.” If you do, you immediately sacrifice access to everything in the house at that time because a leprous house conveys uncleanness to whatever is in it.
If you don’t unconditionally tell the priest that there is leprosy in the house, then nobody has paskened yet.
What you do next is run home, get everything and everybody out of the house, then wait outside for the priest to show up and make his ruling.
The same thing applies to a sin offering, with a twist.
If you pasken for yourself that you have sinned, then you might owe a sin offering or you might be subject to kares, watching all your descendants die before you die.
BUT if you seek advice about whether you sinned, an interesting thing falls out. First, whoever you consult will ask if you have witnesses. Your normal answer will be “no”, because if you had witnesses they should have stopped you and told you what you were doing was wrong. If they didn’t, they can’t testify against you.
Second, the person you’re talking to should be somebody experienced in the law. That person will immediately call in two other people. Why? Because telling somebody they owe a sin offering is a case of property, requiring a court of three to judge. Nobody should have to bring a sin offering without a court of three.
Third, this court has to prove you owe a sin offering. A few weeks ago I said that whoever wants to take something from somebody else has the burden of proof that the property should change hands. Same thing with a sin offering. At this point Leviticus 5:1 comes into effect; a summons goes out for witnesses. If they refuse to show up, the property remains with its current owner. No sin offering. I don’t have a basis in Talmud for this, but it seems logical to me based on the sum total of the general principles of Jewish law.
This also speaks to why confessions are inadmissible evidence in a death penalty case. The accused who confesses paskens for himself that he is guilty. But he bears no burden of proof. The court and the witnesses do. They cannot deprive the accused of his life unless they meet the burden of proof.
And now the fourth great principle on the subject of tumah.
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