On the one hand we know that if a Sanhedrin issued an erroneous decision (which was acted upon) they must bring a sacrifice (Vayikra 4:13).

On the other, we have the concept of "lo bashamayim hi" (see also: Bava Metzia 59b) namely that the meaning of Torah is decided not in Heaven, but by Rabbinical interpretation here on Earth. And Sanhedrin seems like the ultimate interpreting body.

So how then can the Sanhedrin ever err? I'm not talking about errors in matters of metzius (such as, husband went away on journey, they thought he was dead, but he came back alive). Rather, I mean errors in interpreting the Torah - what should be permissible and what should be forbidden. It seems that whatever the Sanhedrin decides, is correct or becomes correct, by definition (due to "lo bashamayim hi").

If we say they can err, that implies the existence of an independent standard of truth, against which errors can be made. Which would go against "lo bashamayim hi".

  • 1
    Who says vayikra 4:13 is talking about rabbinical items – Dr. Shmuel Apr 1 at 19:41
  • Heavily related: judaism.stackexchange.com/q/69800. See my answer there, where I propose that your deduction is actually correct: whatever the Sanhedrin rule indeed becomes the Halacha l’Maaseh. – DonielF Apr 2 at 1:17
  • Why was the existing answer (and comments on it) deleted? – Meir Apr 2 at 15:02
  • I would also like to know... – user9806 Apr 2 at 17:18
  • The existing answer was perfectly valid and relevant, and had instructive comments. Why was it deleted, and how come there is no history or explanation of the deletion? – user9806 Apr 2 at 17:28

Congrats! You've just found the dual nature of Judaism - it can be true and false at the same time!

Seriously, what you confuse is relative and absolute Halachah. When it is relative - Rabbis have the privilege to set the Halacha de-jure but when they refer to the "absolute" Halacha (like a Mishnah or the like), the Rabbis can be wrong.

THe Gemmorah in Sanhedrin (33) says "טועה בדבר משנה" for example as a criterion for invalidating a Psak. So when the Sanhedrin "invents" new Halochos they can not be possibly wrong, but when they "develop" existing ones they can start with a wrong assumption that contradicts a Mishna they forgot and that will knock the whole Psak down.

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