Horayot, Chapter Two, Mishnah Four
Mishnah four discusses errant rulings with regard to Temple-related laws and compares them with errant rulings made in connection to a menstruating woman (a menstruant).
The mishnah also discusses a sacrifice known as the asham talui or the hanging guilt offering. The asham talui is brought by a person who may or may not have accidentally transgressed a prohibition, the punishment for which is kareth, if transgressed intentionally, and a sin offering if transgressed unwittingly. For instance if a person has two pieces of animal fat in front of him, one is permitted fat and the other is forbidden fat (helev) and he eats one but he doesnt know which he ate, he brings an asham talui.
I) [The court] is not obligated [to bring a sacrifice] for the transgression of a positive or a negative commandment relating to the Temple;
A) Nor [does anyone] bring an asham talui for the transgression of a positive or a negative commandment relating to the Temple.
II) But they are liable for the transgression of a positive or a negative commandment relating to the menstruant;
A) And [individuals] bring an asham talui for the transgression of a positive or negative commandment relating to the menstruant.
1) Which is the positive commandment relating to the menstruant? Separate yourself from the menstruant.
2) And the negative commandment? Do not have sexual relations with the menstruant.
Section one: An impure person is not allowed to enter the Temple precincts and if he becomes impure while in the Temple, he must leave immediately. If the court issued an errant ruling with regard to this law, and an impure person followed their ruling, the court is not liable to bring a sin offering. This is true both for positive and negative commandments. A positive commandment is that if a person should become impure while in the Temple he must leave in the quickest, most direct manner possible. If the court ruled that he can take a longer route, and he does so, the court is not obligated to bring a sin offering. A negative commandment is that an impure person in not allowed to enter the Temple. If the court ruled that he may, they are not liable to bring a sin offering. This is because the impurity laws of the Temple are atoned for by sliding scale sacrifices and not by sin offerings (see Shevuot 2:3). As we learned above, the court is obligated for errant rulings only if the sin was atoned for by a sin offering.
This exact same rule applies to the laws regarding an asham talui. A person brings an asham talui (explained above in the intro) only if the sin was usually atoned for by a sin offering, and not, as in this case, by a sliding scale sacrifice.
Section two: In contrast to the previous section, where the court was not held liable for their errant ruling, if they make an errant ruling with regard to a menstruant the court is liable, since transgressions of the prohibition of sexual relations with a menstruant are punishable by kareth (if done intentionally) and a sin offering (if done unwittingly). Similarly, one brings an asham talui for the transgression of positive and negative commandments involving a menstruant (such as a case where he does not know if he had relations with his wife while she was menstruating).
The positive commandment with regard to a menstruant is that if a man is having sexual intercourse with his wife and she, in the middle of intercourse, tells him that she has become impure (she has begun to menstruate), he must not separate from her immediately, since his withdrawal is pleasurable (for further details see Shevuot 2:4). Rather he must stop and wait until he loses an erection and only then withdraw. This waiting period is seen as a positive commandment. The negative commandment is the prohibition of having sexual relations with a menstruant.
Questions for Further Thought:
· Why does the mishnah compare the laws of Temple related impurity with those of having relations with a menstruant? Why doesnt the mishnah use other prohibitions punishable by kareth and a sin offering as points of reference?