October 30th, 2010

torah

We meant what we said....

Today, the Daf Yomi started Horayot, the tractate that covers what happens when a court makes a mistake. The gist of it is that one who follows the court's ruling is patur, exempt from consequences, because they acted in good faith. But the Talmud makes it clear that that exemption only applies to the exact ruling of the court.

The first example that they gave was intriguing: If a woman's husband has disappeared, and two witnesses testify before the court that they saw him die, the court issues a decree that the woman is free to remarry. If she does so, and then her husband turns up alive, then although her second marriage is voided, she is not guilty of adultery or bigamy.

However, if instead of remarrying, she merely has sex with another man, then if her husband turns up alive she is guilty of adultery, because while the court issued a decree that she was free to remarry, they did not issue a decree that she was as free as an unmarried woman or an ordinary widow.

The end of the Mishna really troubled me, though. It says that if a member of the court, or any other individual who is a scholar, is certain that the court is erring, and he relies on their ruling anyway, he is not exempt from punishment. I am looking forward to reaching the Gemara's exploration of this section of the Mishna. Is it only in cases where the court ruled that a forbidden thing is permitted, and so an individual can (and should) continue to refrain from it? What implications does this have for the authority of a court to rule for its district? How does it relate to the famous story of Rabban Gamliel and R' Yehoshua b' Chanania, and their disagreement regarding the date of Yom Kippur, or the incident regarding the Oven of Akhnai?