I had a Zchus of serving a great Rabbi Z"l here in Jerusalem who wrote lots of books on Torah as well as on Halacha and Shu"t. I helped him publishing his books for a decade and for his last years I was driving him to various medical procedures out of town and we had a lot of time to talk.

He revealed to me that he was afraid of Yom Hadin, that some of his interpretations or Shu"tim might be wrong (in the eyes of Hashem I suppose). He also added that this fear was constantly guarding him in his writings.

We know that many passages in Horayos or Makos deal with wrong [court or Halachic] judgments. So I would really like to focus on Torah interpretations or non-Halachic statements. For example, interpreting Maase Bereishit, Torah characters intentions, anatomical or scientific facts, etc.

Does such a concept exist - that G-d punishes Rabbis for wrong interpretations or claims?

  • When it comes to tanaim and amoraim, there are no "wrong" interpretations, they never made any mistakes ever at all – bluejayke Aug 8 at 5:43
  • @bluejayke Don’t you run into a hoax: Rabbis A and B are always right, but Rabbi A says Rabbi B is wrong? – Al Berko Aug 8 at 9:37
  • dude no rabbi ever says the other is "wrong" there are infinite paths to the TOrah, and a Tanaim and Amaroaim and rishonim are all right no matter what that is absolute fact – bluejayke Aug 8 at 10:06

Kiddushin 57a

כדתניא שמעון העמסוני ואמרי לה נחמיה העמסוני היה דורש כל אתין שבתורה כיון שהגיע לאת ה' אלהיך תירא פירש אמרו לו תלמידיו רבי כל אתין שדרשת מה תהא עליהם אמר להם כשם שקבלתי שכר על הדרישה כך קבלתי על הפרישה עד שבא רבי עקיבא ולימד את ה' אלהיך תירא לרבות תלמידי חכמים

As it was taught: Simeon the Imsonite — others state, Nehemiah the Imsonite, — interpreted every eth in the Torah, but as soon as he came to, thou shalt fear [eth] the Lord thy God, he refrained. Said his disciples to him, ‘Master, what is to happen with all the ethin which you have interpreted?’ ‘Just as I received reward for interpreting [them],’ he replied: ‘so do I receive reward for retracting.’ Subsequently R. Akiba came and taught: Thou shalt fear [eth] the Lord thy God, that is to include scholars.

(Soncino translation)

Here the tanna acknowledges that he had made thousands of incorrect interpretations. Yet not only does he not think he's going to get punished for them, he thinks he gets rewarded for them!

On the other hand, we might also derive from this case that there are some exceptions. Rashi explains why the tanna refrained from expounding the "eth" in the verse about fearing the Lord:

שירא לרבות שום דבר להשוותו למורא המקום

For he was afraid to include anything to equate it with fear of the Omnipresent.

It sounds like the tanna was afraid of giving an incorrect interpretation, but not because it was incorrect per se; rather because it would be incorrect in a way which dishonors God. Thus, there may be a distinction between incorrect interpretations that have negative ramifications, and incorrect interpretations that are merely incorrect.

This might also be supported by another Talmudic passage:

Shabbat 96b

ת"ר מקושש זה צלפחד וכן הוא אומר ויהיו בני ישראל במדבר וימצאו איש וגו' ולהלן הוא אומר אבינו מת במדבר מה להלן צלפחד אף כאן צלפחד דברי ר' עקיבא אמר לו ר' יהודה בן בתירא עקיבא בין כך ובין כך אתה עתיד ליתן את הדין אם כדבריך התורה כיסתו ואתה מגלה אותו ואם לאו אתה מוציא לעז על אותו צדיק

Our Rabbis taught: The gatherer was Zelophehad. And thus it is said, and while the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man [gathering sticks, etc.]; whilst elsewhere it is said, our father died in the wilderness; just as there Zelophehad [is meant], so here too Zelophehad [is meant]: this is R. Akiba's view. Said R. Judah b. Bathyra to him, 'Akiba! in either case you will have to give an account [for your statement]: if you are right, the Torah shielded him, while you reveal him; and if not, you cast a stigma upon a righteous man.'

(Soncino translation)

Here it sounds like the objection to R. Akiva's interpretation is not merely that it is incorrect, but that it is incorrect in a way which slanders a righteous individual. This might indicate that if an interpretation is incorrect in an innocuous way then the interpreting rabbi will not face any repercussions for the rogue interpretation.

When it comes to mistakes in actual halacha, it would seem that there might be more to worry about. For instance, the Talmud strongly cautions people against being involved in matters of marriage and divorce:

Kiddushin 13a

דאמר רב יהודה אמר שמואל כל שאינו יודע בטיב גיטין וקדושין לא יהא לו עסק עמהן אמר ר' אסי אמר רבי יוחנן וקשין לעולם יותר מדור המבול

Again they sat and related: In reference to Rab Judah's statement in Rab's name, [that] one who does not know the peculiar nature of divorce and betrothal should have no business with them, R. Assi said in R. Johanan's name: And they are more harmful to the world than the generation of the flood,

(Soncino translation)

In a Mishnah in Berachot (28b) we are told how R. Nechunia would pray that he would not make a mistake in his halachic rulings:

ר' נחוניא בן הקנה היה מתפלל בכניסתו לבית המדרש וביציאתו תפלה קצרה אמרו לו מה מקום לתפלה זו אמר להם בכניסתי אני מתפלל שלא יארע דבר תקלה על ידי וביציאתי אני נותן הודאה על חלקי


(Soncino translation, capitals in original)

The Talmud there cites a Beraita elaborating about what this prayer actually is:

ת"ר בכניסתו מהו אומר יהי רצון מלפניך ה' אלהי שלא יארע דבר תקלה על ידי ולא אכשל בדבר הלכה וישמחו בי חברי ולא אומר על טמא טהור ולא על טהור טמא ולא יכשלו חברי בדבר הלכה ואשמח בהם

Our Rabbis taught: On entering what does a man say? 'May it be Thy will, O Lord my God, that no offence may occur through me, and that I may not err in a matter of halachah and that my colleagues may rejoice in me and that I may not call unclean clean or clean unclean, and that my colleagues may not err in a matter of halachah and that I may rejoice in them'.

(Soncino translation)

Elsewhere in the Talmud, judges are warned to imagine the danger they are in by possibly ruling incorrectly:

Sanhedrin 7a

ואמר רבי שמואל בר נחמני אמר רבי יונתן לעולם יראה דיין עצמו כאילו חרב מונחת לו בין ירכותיו וגיהנם פתוחה לו מתחתיו שנאמר שנאמר הנה מטתו שלשלמה ששים גבורים סביב לה מגבורי ישראל כולם אחוזי חרב מלומדי מלחמה איש חרבו על יריכו מפחד בלילות מפחדה של גיהנם שדומה ללילה

R. Samuel b. Nahmani further said, reporting R. Jonathan: A judge should always think of himself as if he had a sword hanging over his head and Gehenna gaping under him, for it is written, Behold, it is the litter of Solomon [symbolically the Shechinah], and round about it three score of the mighty men of Israel [symbolising the scholars]; they all handle the sword and are expert in war [in debates] and every man has his sword upon his flank because of the dread in the night. [the dread of Gehenna, which is likened unto night].

(Soncino translation)

The implication here seems to be that if the judge rules incorrectly, he will be subjected to "the sword" and "Gehenna".

  • WoW! Very creative thinking! +5. I'd like to discuss the points one by one. 1. "tanna acknowledges that he had made thousands of incorrect interpretations" How do you infer it from the text which merely says he refrained b/c he was afraid of fiddling with G-d's name. He seemingly claimed he will be rewarded both for the interpretations and his retreat. – Al Berko Jul 25 at 5:01
  • 2. Shabbos 96b seemingly nailed it! a. RYB"B said he couldn't validate R"A's claims at all. b. Clearly, R"A's inference was his own speculation/limud, not a tradition. c. RYB"B claimed R"A might/will be liable for a wrong interpretation! d. I didn't see R"A replying or accepting the accusation. – Al Berko Jul 25 at 7:16
  • Can you please do a big favor: 1, Leave the first two in one answer and all others about Halacha in a different one. 2. Switch places Shabbos first and Kiddushin second as Shabbos seems to be the most appropriate answer. – Al Berko Jul 25 at 8:19
  • @AlBerko When he couldn’t darshen את ה׳ אלהיך תירא he decided that the methodolgy of darshening every את must have been incorrect. Therefore, each one of those interpretations (thousands of את in the Torah) was incorrect. – Alex Jul 25 at 11:30
  • 1
    Let us continue this discussion in chat. – Al Berko Jul 25 at 12:36

Avot 4:13

רַבִּי יְהוּדָה אוֹמֵר, הֱוֵי זָהִיר בַּתַּלְמוּד, שֶׁשִּׁגְגַת תַּלְמוּד עוֹלָה זָדוֹן.‏

Rabbi Judah said: be careful in study, for an error in study counts as deliberate sin.

Bartenura ad loc:

אִם תִּטְעֶה בְּהוֹרָאָה מִתּוֹךְ שֶׁלֹּא דִּקְדַּקְתָּ בְּתַלְמוּדְךָ וְתָבֹא לְהַתִּיר אֶת הָאָסוּר, הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא מַעֲלֶה עַל יָדְךָ כְּאִלּוּ עָשִׂיתָ מֵזִיד:‏

If you err in a legal decision from your not being exact in your study, and you come to permit the forbidden; the Holy One, blessed be He, considers it for you as if you had done it intentionally.

  • I'm not sure if every wrong Halacha fall under this category – kouty Jul 24 at 21:18
  • The Mishnah is speaking toward negligibility when drawing a conclusion in a Torah matter. The question, presumably, is when a rabbi did his “due diligence” before reaching his [halachic] conclusion. – Oliver Jul 25 at 2:48
  • I clarified the question, I'd love to hear your opinion. – Al Berko Jul 25 at 4:47
  • this doesn'tnecessarily mean he's punished in "heaven", in fact the law of a zakan mamre is that his execution is actualy an atonement for his mis-ruling – bluejayke Aug 8 at 5:40
  • @kouty and theres no such thing as a "wrong halacha" its either a halacha, or its not, non of the tanaim, amaraim, or rishonim ever made any mistake ever – bluejayke Aug 8 at 5:42

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