I understand that a later ruling can't contradict an earlier one, but does that mean that Chazal are infallible, the way Catholics believe the Pope is infallible? And if so, where's the line? Who was the last infallible member of Chazal before the curtain came down?

This question is not a dupe of this one, for the following reasons:

  1. It is more historically specific (chazal as opposed to "gedolei yisroel")

  2. It is more doctrinally specific


6 Answers 6


There are various approaches to understand statements from Chazal where they contrast with well-established facts, e.g., in medicine or science. See this compilation of sources on these topics, aligned against the categories above.

  1. Scientific assertions found in the Talmud may be incorrect, even if they are uncontested in the Talmud

  2. Not every scientific belief of every Talmudic sage was necessarily correct

  3. Chazal relied on the scientific knowledge, research and scientists of their times

  4. Chazal were not all-knowing in matters of science

So for instance when the Gemara in Chulin 126b speaks of a mouse which is half-dirt, half-mouse, do we have to believe that such a mouse exists? Not necessarily according to the Rationalist approach, following e.g., R Samson Raphael Hirsch, who writes that if someone brings an imaginary case to a Rav, he will be able to say how the halacha applies to this case even if the situation never existed. See here and here for more.

  • Here is the "half mouse, half dirt". Edit your answer and get a different example. Commented Jul 30, 2019 at 18:41

According to Rabbi Avraham Kook src: "G-d limits revelations, even from the most brilliant and holiest prophets, according to the ability of that generation to absorb the information. For every idea and concept, there is significance to the hour of its disclosure"

hence, even if chazal are not correct, they are doing their best based on the knowledge of the times and this is what God wants and has accounted for when He determined the system of halacha that we are told to follow.

  • the question is whether they are correct; not whether "they are doing their best".
    – mevaqesh
    Commented Jul 31, 2016 at 9:34
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    @mevaqesh Ray's answer effectively permits HaZa"L to err in certain situations while broadening the OP's perspective such that such an error would not devalue HaZa"L in the OP's eyes. I think this answers the question albeit somewhat indirectly.
    – Lee
    Commented Feb 6, 2017 at 14:34

Chazal are human, no human is perfect but the torah commands in devarim that what they say left is left even if its right .

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    Are you saying Chazal are never wrong or just that we follow them even when they are?
    – Double AA
    Commented Apr 5, 2016 at 17:26

I think it is important to distinguish between two different things:

  1. Were they infallible as human beings? Did they never sin or make a mistake? The answer is no. They also sinned.
  2. Is everything written in the Mishna and Gemorra correct? Yes. If something appears "incorrect" to us, the problem lies with us or times have changed. This is because the Mishna and Gemorra are the Torah shebe'al peh (Oral Law) given at Sinai. However, there are parts of the gemorra that are allegories to be understood on a deeper level, not the literal one.

That's a tricky question. Here are some sources of Chazal doing "mistakes".

משנה ראש השנה פרק ב ח-ט

...מעשה שבאו שנים ואמרו, ראינוהו שחרית במזרח וערבית במערב. אמר רבי יוחנן בן נורי: עדי שקר הם.כשבאו ליבנה קיבלן רבן גמליאל. ועוד באו שנים ואמרו: ראינוהו בזמנו, ובליל עיבורו לא נראה; וקיבלן רבן גמליאל. אמר רבי דוסא בן הרכינס: עדי שקר הן! ...אמר לו רבי יהושע: רואה אני את דבריך. שלח לו רבן גמליאל: גוזרני עליך שתבוא אצלי במקלך ובמעותיך ביום הכיפורים שחל להיות בחשבונך.....בא לו אצל רבי דוסא בן הרכינס, אמר לו: אם באין אנו לדון אחר בית דינו של רבן גמליאל, צריכין אנו לדון אחר כל בית דין ובית דין שעמד מימות משה ועד עכשיו,...נטל מקלו ומעותיו בידו... עמד רבן גמליאל ונשקו על ראשו, אמר לו: בוא בשלום, רבי ותלמידי, רבי בחכמה, ותלמידי שקיבלת את דברי.

Mishna Rosh Hashana p2 8-9

… A deed of two witnesses that came and testified "we saw the moon in the east at dawn and in the west at dusk" [which is impossible] R' Yochan Ben Nuri said "liars!" Raban ben Gamliel accepted the testimony. Other two said "we saw the moon at the end of the month", and day after it was not seen [by anyone else]. Raban ben Gamliel accepted the testimony. R' Dosa ben Harkinas said "liars!"… R' Yehosua said "I think that you're right". Raban ben Gamliel sent him – I order you to come to me at Yom Kipur according to you calculations, with your staff and money! ... He came to R' Dosa ben Harkinas , He said "If we doubt Raban ben Gamliel beit din, we must doubt all beis din from Moshe. He took his staff and money and went. Raban ben Gamliel Stood and kissed him on his head and said "welcome my teacher and student" - my teacher in wisdom, and my student for accepting my commands.

מדרש איכה רבה ב ד

רבי עקיבא כד הוה חמי ליה להדין בר כוזיבא הוה אמר היינו מלכא משיחא אמר ליה רבי יוחנן בן תורתא עקיבא יעלו עשבים בלחייך ועדיין אינו בא

Midrash Eicha p2 4

Every time that R' Akiva saw Bar Kuziva (Bar Khochva) he said "this is the messiah-king!" R' Yochana ben Torta told him "Akiva! Weeds will grow on your cheeks [you will be long dead] and still the messiah will not appear"

[R' Yochana was right. R' Akiva paid with his life for this mistake, among many other Jews]

בבלי בבא קמא צט ב

ההיא איתתא דאחזיא דינרא לרבי חייא אמר לה מעליא הוא למחר אתאי לקמיה ואמרה ליה אחזיתיה ואמרו לי בישא הוא ולא קא נפיק לי אמר ליה לרב זיל חלפיה ניהלה וכתוב אפנקסי דין עסק ביש

Baba kama 99b

A women showed a coin to R' Chiya (he was a money changer). He told her "it's good" [you can accept it]. She came the other day and told him "I showed it, and I've been told it's bad and not accepted" He told Rav – give her other one, And write in my notepad – "Bad deal".

Different Rabbies (and people) will treat those sources differently, according to their perception and religious point of view – All the way from "These are not mistakes!! We think with our narrow mind that it's a mistake, but we will never understand" to "Yep, big mistake" (and there is a lot in between those two view points).


there may be times that it appears that the Chazal may have been incorrect on certain things but we must assume that the way thing are now that don't fit with what Chazal are because things have changed have changed and there for what they have stated may no longer apply to today's times or that we don't know how to properly apply the method that Chazal prescribe for instance the gemarra in mesechtas gittin in the seventh perek has many different cures to different ailments most of them if we would try them will not work that does not mean that it didn't work in those times what it means is that ether we don't know how to properly apply them or that things have changed and there for they no longer work (there are a few treatments that are in that gemara that i have heard from a Rebbi of mine that they do work) if someone is to try any of those treatments they must have a reliable source on how to do it before one tries them because if one were to try it and it doesn't work he may come to doubt the words of Chazal all over when in reality what they have said applies today. that said that does not mean that they were perfect and infallible to the contrary there are only four people that Chazal say never sinned and they are Binyomin, Amram, Yishai and Kalaiv but we do know that even though they may have sinned they immediately repented as soon as they be came aware that they have sinned. however the pope on the other hand is held to be infallible to the point where he cannot sin and that is the difference between Chazal had the possibility to sin and lihavdil the pope ym"s

  • 5
    I suggest that, when writing English, you use punctuation. If you intend for anyone to read what you write, that is.
    – msh210
    Commented Apr 4, 2016 at 18:54
  • 1
    Also applies to Hebrew. Commented Jul 30, 2019 at 18:43

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