ט״ו בניסן ה׳תשע״ב (April 7, 2012)

Keritot 19a-b – Sinning without knowing what you did

We have been discussing the case of asham taluy – a conditional guilt-offering – that is brought when it is unclear to a person whether or not he performed a forbidden act. The Mishnah on today’s daf (=page) presents a different kind of question. In the Mishnah’s cases it is clear that a forbidden act had been performed, but it is unclear what that forbidden act may have been. Three examples appear in the Mishnah:
1. Someone ate one of two forbidden foods that were before him – helev (forbidden fats) and notar (sacrificial meat after the time that it was supposed to have been eaten)
2. A man engaged in sexual relations with a woman in his house and he knows that it was either his wife who was a niddah (menstruating) or it was his sister
3. Yom Kippur either preceded or followed Shabbat and a forbidden act of work was performed, but it is unclear on which day the work was done.
In cases like these Rabbi Eliezer requires that an ordinary sin-offering (a korban hatat) be brought, since it is clear that a sin was performed. Rabbi Yehoshua disagrees, since a korban hatat requires that the person know what he did (see Vayikra 4:23).
While it is clear to Rabbi Yehoshua that no korban hatat is required, might he be obligated to bring an asham taluy? An asham taluy is usually brought in situations where a sin-offering cannot be brought for reasons of doubt, and these cases seem to match that requirement.
The answer to this question depends on how to understand the passage in Sefer Vayikra (5:17) that describes the requirements for an asham taluy. The Torah commands “And if any one sin, and do any of the things which the LORD hath commanded not to be done, though he know it not, yet is he guilty, and shall bear his iniquity.”

Rabbi Yehudah teaches that based on this passage Rabbi Yehoshua frees the sinner even from an asham taluy, since he only brings one “though he know it not,” and in these cases he knows for certain that he sinned. Rabbi Shimon argues that in these cases we also consider him someone who falls into the category of “though he know it not,” since he does not know what he did.