comp. "Unto the damsel thou shalt do nothing; there is in the damsel no sin worthy of death" (Deut. xxii. 26). If a person sins in ignorance, he is blamable: for if he had been more considerate and careful, he would not have erred. Although he is not punished, his sin must be atoned for, and for this reason he brings a sin-offering. The Law distinguishes in this respect between a private person and a king, a high-priest or Teacher of Halakah. Hence we conclude that a person who acts wrongly, or who teaches wrongly, guided by his own reasoning--except in the case of the great Synhedrion or the high-priest--is treated as mezid (as one who sins knowingly), and does not belong to the category of shogegim (of those who sin by error). A rebellious elder is therefore put to death, although he acted and taught according to his view. But the great Synhedrion must teach according to its opinion, and if the opinion is wrong, the sin is considered as due to error. In reference to such a case the Law says, "And if the whole congregation of Israel err," etc. (Lev. iv. 13). It is on this principle that our Sages say, "The error in learning amounts to intentional sin" (Abot iv. 13); he who has studied insufficiently, and teaches and acts according to his defective knowledge, is to be considered as if he sinned knowingly. For if a person eats of the fat of the kidneys in the belief that it is the fat of the rump, his error is not so grave as the error of him who, eating of the fat of the kidneys, knows that it is that fat, but is ignorant of the fact that it is prohibited. The latter brings a sin-offering although he is almost an intentional transgressor. But this is only the case as far as he acts according to his knowledge: but if he decides a religious question [wrongly], he is undoubtedly an intentional sinner. The Law admits the plea of error in a religious decision only in the case of the great Synhedrion.
He who has sinned knowingly must pay the penalty prescribed in the Law; he is put to death or receives stripes, or--for transgression of prohibitions not punishable by stripes--other corporal punishment, or pays a fine. There are some sins for which the punishment is the same, whether they have been committed knowingly or unknowingly; because they are frequent, and are easily done, consisting only in the utterance of words, and involving no action besides; e.g., false swearing by witnesses, or by trustees. Intercourse with a betrothed handmaid is likewise easy and frequent; she is exposed unprotected, being in reality neither handmaid nor a free person, nor a married woman, according to the traditional interpretation of this precept.
If a person sins presumptuously, so that in sinning he shows impudence and seeks publicity, if he does not sin only to satisfy his appetite, if he does what is prohibited by the Law, not only because of his evil inclinations, but in order to oppose and resist the Law, he "reproacheth the Lord" (Num. xv. 30), and must undoubtedly be put to death. None will act in such a manner but such as have conceived the idea to act contrary to the Law. According to the traditional interpretation, therefore, the above passage speaks of an idolater who opposes the fundamental principles of the Law; for no one worships a star unless he believes [--contrary to the teachings of Scripture--] that the star is eternal, as we have frequently stated in our work. I think that the same punishment [viz., sentence of death] applies to every sin which involves the rejection of the Law, or opposition to it. Even if an Israelite eats meat [boiled] in milk, or wears garments of wool and linen, or rounds