Keritot 15 - 21
The Mystery of Unintentional Sin
If a Jew unintentionally commits a sin such as eating cheilev (forbidden animal fats), he is obligated to offer a chatat sacrifice as atonement. Should he be uncertain as to whether he committed such a sin, he must offer an asham talui sacrifice to protect him from Heavenly punishment until he is able to ascertain whether he indeed committed the sin in question and then offer a chatat sacrifice.
The Sage Rav rules that there is a difference between one case and another in regard to the need for an asham talui. Case One is where there are two pieces of fat before a man, one of them which is permissible for consumption and the other cheilev, and he mistakenly assumed that both are of the permissible sort and consumed one of them. He subsequently discovers that one of them was cheilev but is not sure whether that is the one he ate. In such a case he must offer an asham talui. Case Two is where there is only one piece of fat which he assumed to be of the permissible sort only to subsequently learn that there is a doubt about its status and that it may have been cheilev. In this case there is no obligation to offer an asham talui.
Two explanations are offered by disciples of Rav for this distinction. The Sage Rava cites the passage (Vayikra 1:17) which discusses the asham talui and uses the plural term mitzvot to indicate that there must be more than one item involved. Rabbi Zeira, on the other hand, claims that Ravs position is that an asham talui is required only in a case where there is a remaining piece of fat of which an expert may be capable of ascertaining its nature and thus determining whether a sin of eating cheilev was indeed committed.
The difference between these two explanations of Ravs position arises in a case in which there were two pieces of fat, one of them containing the kazyit quantity, which is the minimal amount for which atonement is required, and the other only half of that amount. The kazayit was consumed and it is not clear as to whether it was cheilev or not. According to Rabbi Zeiras explanation there is still the possibility of clarifying this mystery through an expert examination of the remaining item. There is, therefore, an obligation for an asham talui. But according to Rava there is no need for such a sacrifice because there were no two items of the quantity which can fit the description of mitzvot.
- Keritot 17b
One who involuntarily commits a sin for which there is a penalty of karet (extirpation) if done voluntarily is obligated to atone for it by offering a chatat sacrifice. The exception to this rule is the case of someone committing this sin while he is mitaseik - doing something with an object which he mistakenly thinks is something else. An example is slaughtering an animal consecrated for sacrifice outside of the Beit Hamikdash because he assumed that the animal was not designated for sacrifice. This exception is derived from the passage (Vayikra 4:23) which stresses that atonement is due only for his sin in which he sinned. The implication is that he must be aware of the nature of the object with which he is sinning but is ignorant or forgetful of the law attached to it.
This exception also has an exception. Rabbi Nachman cites the ruling of the Sage Shmuel that if one eats cheilev (forbidden animal fat) he must offer a chatat sacrifice even if he was mitaseik and thought that it was permissible fat. This is so because his body derived some pleasure from this consumption.
In the same ruling we find that if one is mitaseik on Shabbat - he cuts a plant which is growing on the assumption that it was already detached from the earth - he is exempt from offering a chatat sacrifice because in regard to guilt for violation of the Shabbat laws the Torah insisted on the act being malechet machshevet - an act with a certain degree of direction.
To fully understand the distinction between the concepts of mitaseik and malechet machshevet the serious scholar is directed to Mesechta Shabbat 72b where Tosefot elaborates on the subject. There is also a fascinating discussion in the Responsa of Rabbi Akiva Eiger (Vol. 1, Res. 8) as to whether someone who is mitaseik is committing a sin even though he is not required to offer a sacrifice and must therefore be prevented from doing so.
- Keritot 19b