B.A., Ph.D., D. Lit.



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[page v] Horayoth1 — 'rulings' — is one of the smallest Tractates of the Talmud, appearing in different centuries and editions, as the seventh, eighth, or tenth and last in the sequence of the Tractates of the Order of Nezikin. It is concerned mainly with a discussion, exposition and elucidation of the laws relating to erroneous decisions or rulings which, issued by Beth din, the recognised religious court, and acted upon by the people in reliance on the court's authority, involve either the court or the people, or both, in various penalties. The nature of the transgressions and corresponding penalties are defined and, in relation to these, distinctions are drawn between the rights and obligations of the court, the people, the private individual, the ruler or king, and the High Priest. Incidentally, other topics resembling the main theme in one aspect or another are introduced, and an order of precedence in social, economic and religious matters is formulated. Some Aggadic material, didactic and quaint, is embedded in the Halachic portions of the last of the three chapters into which the Tractate is divided.


Leviticus IV and Numbers XV constitute the main Biblical basis for the laws enumerated in the major portion of the Tractate. The sin offering which the anointed High Priest must bring in the case of any of the transgressions referred to anon has its origin in Lev. IV, 3ff. Similarly the sin offerings which the 'Congregation', as a body, bring in such circumstances are deduced from Lev. IV, 13ff and from Num. XV, 24. The foundation for the laws governing the sin offering of the ruler or king is Lev. IV, 22ff, while the basis of the sin offering of the private individual is Lev. IV, 27ff, 32ff, and Num. XV, 27. [page vi]


All the sacrifices mentioned, it is shown in the course of the discussions, are incurred only by the unwitting transgression of precepts, the wilful transgression of which would have subjected the offender to the divine penalty of kareth, i.e., premature or sudden death. The total number of such prohibitions is thirty-one; but while the penalty of kareth is applicable to all of them, that of the sin-offering mentioned in Leviticus IV applies to thirty of them only. In the case of one, viz., that of idolatry, a special sin offering, on the basis of an exposition of Num. XV, 24ff, 27ff, is prescribed.


If the Beth din gave an erroneous ruling concerning any of the thirty prohibitions all of which relate to religious or ritual matters, and the public acted on the strength of such a ruling, the 'Congregation', when the error is discovered, come under the obligation of bringing a sin-offering of a bullock. There is no difference in this respect whether the Beth din have themselves acted in accordance with their ruling and the public acted together with them or after them, or whether the Beth din only issued the ruling and the public alone acted accordingly, the principle being that ruling depends on the Beth din and acting on the public. If the erroneous ruling in similar circumstances related to a question of idolatry, the Congregational offering must consist of two animals, a bullock for a burnt-offering and a he-goat for a sin offering.


A member of the public who, without the authority of the Beth din, transgressed unwittingly one of the thirty prohibitions mentioned, is under the obligation of bringing a sin-offering, having, however, the choice of selecting a ewe or a she-goat. In the case of idolatry he has no choice. His sin-offering must be that of a she-goat. [page vii]


The Congregational offering brought where the action was based on the authority of a ruling of the Beth din is Subject to a number of limitations. The Mufla (v. p. 25) as well as the full number of seventy-one members must be present at the time when the erroneous decision is arrived at. Every member must be a fully qualified person worthy of his position. The decision must not be challenged by any of the members, and must not involve the complete unawareness on the part of the court of the Biblical principle of the law under consideration, the error being limited to details of the law only. The public must act in the honest belief that the ruling was in accordance with the accepted law and, furthermore, the number of those so acting must constitute a majority of a 'Congregation', defined differently by different authorities. Should any of these conditions be absent, the 'Congregation', as a body, is exempt, while every individual who transgressed, be he layman or member of the Beth din, must bring his own sin-offering as if no ruling of the Beth din had ever been issued.


The obligations and exemptions of the High Priest are in some respects identical with those of the Beth din. All possible cases are discussed as, e.g., when the High Priest issued an erroneous ruling unwittingly and acted unwittingly accordingly; when his ruling was unwitting but his action wilful, or when the ruling was wilful and the action unwitting. The position of the ruler and the High Priest, whose offences were committed prior to their accession to office, or who were deposed after the commission of an offence prior to their discharge of obligation, is duly dealt with, and distinctions are drawn or comparisons made between High Priests anointed with the holy oil and those who were not so anointed having been inducted in office by the investment of the extra four garments which distinguished the High Priest from the ordinary priest. The position of the Priest anointed for War, and the manner and conditions of the anointing of kings and priests, are duly discussed. [page viii]


A code of rules is laid down as to when precedence is to be given to a man over a woman and vice versa, the relative degrees of respect and consideration due to father and teacher, the order of priority in the case of a Priest, Levite, Israelite, proselyte, emancipated slave and others, the various grades of honour to be shown to a ruler or patriarch and the other officers of the academy or religious court, the general principle being promulgated that learning takes precedence over all other claims to distinction, so much so that a scholar of illegitimate birth is to be given priority over an ignorant High Priest.

A discussion on the relative merits of the well read scholar, master of traditional lore, and the keen witted dialectician forms the conclusion of the Tractate.


Moral lessons and didactic expositions constitute a considerable part of the Aggadic substance of the Tractate, and the relative deserts of the righteous and the wicked in this world and the hereafter are discussed. The ultimate fate of the anointing oil, the jar of manna, the Holy Ark and Aaron's rod is indicated, and Biblical characters such as, for example, Lot, his daughters, Ammon and Moab, are touched upon. Incidents in some of the lives of the last kings of Judah and Israel are mentioned, and the enforcement of Patriarchal authority is illustrated by a remarkable incident that occurred in the days of R. Simeon b. Gamaliel II, in the first half of the second century, C.E. Some curious instances of fortune-telling are recorded, and reference is made to certain foods and practices which assist or retard powers of memory and heighten or lessen the capacity for study.



  1. [H] from root [H], in Hiph., 'to guide', 'to teach'.

The Indices of this Tractate have been compiled by Judah J. Slotki, M. A.


The Editor desires to state that the translation of the several Tractates, and the notes thereon, are the work of the individual contributors and that he has not attempted to secure general uniformity in style or mode of rendering. He has, nevertheless, revised and supplemented, at his own discretion, their interpretation and elucidation of the original text, and has himself added the notes in square brackets containing alternative explanations and matter of historical and geographical interest.


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