Horayot, Chapter One, Mishnah One
Our mishnah discusses a person who follows a ruling that a court made in error, and thereby accidentally transgresses a commandment.
1) If the court ruled that one of the commandments mentioned in the Torah may be transgressed, and an individual proceeded and acted through error in accordance with their ruling, whether they acted and he acted with them or they acted and he acted after them or even if they did not act and he acted, he is exempt, because he relied on the court.
2) If the court ruled [in error], and one of them knew that they had erred, or a disciple who was himself fit to rule on matters of law, and [one of these] proceeded and acted in accordance with their ruling, whether they acted and he acted with them or they acted and he acted after them or even if they did not act and he acted, he is liable, since he did not rely upon the court.
3) This is the general rule: he who is [in a position] to rely upon himself is liable, and he who relies upon the court is exempt.
Section one: If a person follows a court ruling that was made in error, and thereby transgresses a negative commandment which carries with it the liability to bring a sin-offering [when done unintentionally], he is not liable, since this was not his error but their error. This rule is true whether he acted together with them, after them or even if he transgressed and the court itself did not even perform the transgression. In other words, even if he relied on their words and not their concrete example, he is exempt. This is not considered to be an unintentional sin that he has committed and therefore he need not bring a sin-offering.
Section two: However, if the person who committed the transgression was a member of the court who knew that his fellow judges were in error, or was a student who was fit to be a member of the court and he knew that the court was in error, he is liable if he acts according to the wrong ruling. Note that this person is still considered to be an unintentional sinner and not an intentional one. His mistake was that he thought that he should listen to the court, even if he knew they were wrong. Since he did not need to rely on the court, but was fit to rely on his own ruling, he is liable, at least as an unintentional sinner, for his own transgression. He therefore needs to bring a sin-offering.
Questions for Further Thought:
· If a person knew that the court ruled wrongly, but was not fit to be a judge, and then followed what he knew was a wrong ruling, would he be liable?