Keritot 22 - Offering Of Uncertainty For Misappropriation

If one inadvertently commits misappropriation of Temple property ("Me'ilah"), he has to make a restitution, add one-fifth surcharge to the amount, and in addition bring a ram as a guilt offering.

What happens if one is uncertain if he committed misappropriation? For example, there were two pieces of meat in front of him, one sacrificial and one ordinary, and he ate one of the pieces, but does not know which one? Rabbi Akiva requires him to bring an offering of uncertainty. Even though this is not a standard case of more serious uncertainty, where one could be cut off from the spiritual source and needs temporary suspension of his judgment, Rabbi Akiva has his reasons.

The Sages, among them Rabbi Tarfon, disagree, and say that one need not bring this offering. Rabbi Tarfon explained, "What's the point of him bringing a guilt offering now, if he will bring another guilt offering for misappropriation later on? Rather, he should pay the money, bring a guilt offering and make a condition: if he committed misappropriation, here is the offering, and he did not, let it be an offering of uncertainty." Rabbi Akiva answered him, "What if we are talking about misappropriation of a large amount? Is it not better to bring an offering of uncertainty, and pay the full amount only if he is indeed liable" - since doubtful payment becomes a donation to the Temple and is not returnable? For small amounts Rabbi Akiva later agreed with Rabbi Tarfon.

Art: John Faed - Guilty, Or Not Guilty