Last week, we discussed the controversy between the Rabbis
and Rabbi Eliezer. The Rabbis ignored the miraculous
phenomena that seemed to justify Rabbi Eliezer's point of
view. Laws of the Torah cannot be augmented, reduced, or
in any way determined by prophetic means.
The fact that someone disputes the court's decision, does
not affect the outcome, even if he demonstrates
supernatural powers. What happens if, in fact, leaders are
shown to be in error?
Leaders' Mistakes: Kohein, Beis Din, Nasi
In the fourth chapter of Vayikra, atonement procedures are
given for various leaders: The Kohein, the Sanhedrin, and
the King, who mistakenly lead their subordinates in an
erroneous path. The great Jewish Leaders are regarded as
pure and holy human beings; as humans, they, too, make
mistakes, and can make amends.
However, this is regards leaders who err in following the
Torah. We can imagine a situation in which the judges
follow the Torah precisely, and still make an apparent
error -- because their information is incomplete.
Beis Din that Follows Torah but Case is Reversed
According to the Torah, court cases normally require two
witnesses. The likelihood that two witnesses, who are
interrogated independently, are lying, is minimal. The
existence of two concurring witnesses establishes a
"chazakah" -- an assumption -- of truth. Of course, it is
possible that the witnesses are indeed dishonest, but the
indication is that they are truthful.
Conflicting testimony destroys an assumption of validity;
all conflicting testimony is rejected. There is, however,
one exception. A second group of witnesses, who remove the
original group from the scene of the crime altogether, are
believed to negate the first group. The invalidated
witnesses are called "Eidim Zommemim" -- "plotting
If a defendant is convicted on the basis of witnesses, but
the case is reversed according to the proper formula -- the
original witnesses receive the punishment intended for the
defendant. For example: if a defendant is convicted of the
death penalty, but the case is reversed, the original,
plotting witnesses, receive the death penalty instead.
Here comes the difficulty -- the reversal of the punishment
only takes place before any punishment is carried out. For
example, if the defendant was already convicted and
executed before the witnesses were shown to be false, the
witnesses cannot be punished...
The Talmud points out the irony of these rulings: Without
having caused a wrongful death, witnesses can be executed;
yet, if they indeed caused a wrongful death -- they cannot
Next issue: Explanations of The Riddle and The Non-Jewish