Mishnat Hashavua’: Horayot 1:2

How up-to-date must you keep for compliance?

If a court issued a ruling, then realized its error and retracted [the ruling]—whether they had already brought their expiation offering or they had not brought their expiation offering—and then a man went and acted based on their [first] ruling: Rabbi Shimon exempts [him from liability], and Rabbi Eliezer says it’s in doubt. What is the doubt? If [he followed the mistaken ruling] while at home then he is liable, but if while traveling abroad, he is exempt. Rabbi Akiva says, I agree regarding the one who is nearby [local] that he should be exempt from liability. Ben Azzai said to him, what is the distinction between this one [who is at home] and thus liable? [Rabbi Akiva replied], the one at home could have heard [the corrected ruling], but the other one [who was local, but preparing to travel] did not have the chance to hear [the corrected ruling].

Comments

Tractate Horayot, the final volume of Seder Nezikin, deals with court proceedings and errors by appointed officials, including the priesthood. In our mishnah, the court has retracted a ruling, but not before their erroneous instruction had been issued to the public. To what extent does the public remain responsible to keep updated on subsequent rulings of the court? Rabbi Eliezer compares the liability to doubt, a legal category that would require the transgressor to bring a special sacrifice called asham talui (potential error offering). Rabbi Akiva is even more lenient, exempting not only the traveler but even one preparing to travel from the obligation to keep current with court rulings.

Questions

  1. Travelers (and even those about to travel) are exempt from the expectation of remaining current on rulings of the court. Would this be different in an era of broadcast journalism?
  2. Few citizens today are aware of all current legislation and judicial interpretation. To what extent should ignorance be an excuse for violating a law?