In capital cases (say, murder or adultery), ignorance of the law is a valid defense. A Jewish court requires two witnesses to give evidence that the defendant was taught ahead of time that his action carries the death penalty. Without that warning, he cannot be convicted.

Are there any other cases in which ignorance of the law is a valid excuse? Sources?

  • 2
    What do you mean by "valid defense"? – Double AA Nov 22 '19 at 0:56
  • 1
    The beis din cannot impose any punishment for violating any halakha unless the person was verbally warned immediately before the violation that the thing he was about to do is forbidden and the punishment is XYZ and the person acknowledges the warning and does it anyway. – Daniel Nov 22 '19 at 2:05
  • source please... – Maurice Mizrahi Nov 22 '19 at 2:13
  • 1
    A murderer who wasn't warned is still executed via indirect means. See, e.g., Maimonides Laws of Murder 4:8: הַהוֹרֵג נְפָשׁוֹת וְלֹא הָיוּ עֵדִים רוֹאִין אוֹתוֹ כְּאַחַת אֶלָּא רָאָהוּ הָאֶחָד אַחַר הָאֶחָד אוֹ שֶׁהָרַג בִּפְנֵי שְׁנֵי עֵדִים בְּלֹא הַתְרָאָה אוֹ שֶׁהֻכְחֲשׁוּ הָעֵדִים בִּבְדִיקוֹת וְלֹא הֻכְחֲשׁוּ בַּחֲקִירוֹת. כָּל אֵלּוּ הָרַצְחָנִים כּוֹנְסִין אוֹתָן לְכִפָּה וּמַאֲכִילִין אוֹתָן לֶחֶם צַר וּמַיִם לַחַץ עַד שֶׁיָּצֵרוּ מֵעֵיהֶן וְאַחַר כָּךְ מַאֲכִילִין אוֹתָן שְׂעוֹרִים עַד שֶׁתִּבָּקַע כְּרֵסָם מִכֹּבֶד הַחלִי: – Loewian Nov 22 '19 at 4:25
  • @Loewian -- What is the Rambam's source for "Rambam, Laws of Murder 4;8: Someone who commits murder without two eyewitnesses who can testify together, or committed the murder in front of two witnesses but without formal warning, or that the witnesses contradicted each other in ancillary parts of their testimony, all such murderers are incarcerated in a kippah [a small enclosure, with little room to move around], and they feed him low rations of bread and water, until their intestines are in pain, and then they feed them barley until their stomach explodes from the weight of the illness." ? – Maurice Mizrahi Nov 22 '19 at 4:41

Anytime someone does something due to lack of knowledge that it is forbidden he is a Shoggeg. That is not a defense but it makes his action less severe.

The lack of warning by capital crimes is not a defense either. Receiving a warning first is a prerequisite to receiving the death penalty. But the lack of one is not a defense in the sense of being exonerated.

| improve this answer | |

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .