Bamidbar 15:24 – If because of the eyes of the congregation it [the sin] was committed inadvertently, the entire congregation shall prepare a young bull as a burnt offering for a pleasing fragrance for the Lord, with its prescribed meal offering and libation, and one young he goat for a sin offering.
Gemora Horayot 4b – [If such a case happened and] the Sanhedrin taught an erroneous halacha but it was found that one of the members of the Sanhedrin was a convert, or a bastard or a “Natin” or an elderly person who cannot bear children, then this law does not apply. This is proven by the word “congregation” in our verse. In our verse the word “congregation” is used and it is also used in Numbers 35:24. Just as in that verse it means a congregation (court) where all members are appropriate to be judges so too in our verse it must mean a congregation (court) where all members are appropriate to be judges.
Torah Temimah Colloquial Translation on Note #64:
See also what [I have written] at length on this topic in Vayikra 4:13 (note 69) regarding a Great Court that makes an error in judgement that causes the Jewish People to sin unintentionally.
Note also that the phrase in our verse “the eyes of the congregation” is an expression alluding to the Great Court (Sanhedrin) because, in effect, the Court acts as the eyes of the Congregation. Additionally, the Court enlightens the eyes of the Congregation through their teaching and their judgements. Reference those notes in Vayikra to understand the Sages’ necessity for their explanation and their statement that every single member of the Court must be found to be fitting to be on the Court.
In regard to the specific phrase: “an elderly person who cannot bear children”, Rashi states “it is unclear to me why such a person is unfit to be a judge”. These words of Rashi are astounding. It states explicitly in Gemora Sanhedrin 36b that one should not appoint as a judge an old person, a eunuch or one who does not have children. The reasons for these disqualifications are that such people are not [generally] merciful.
Additionally, an elderly person, even though he had children when he was younger, nevertheless, he has forgotten the trials and tribulations of raising children and he will not be merciful. See also the commentators on the Mishna.
It is virtually certain that there is a textural error in his words or perhaps he had a different text. Certainly, the text that we have in front of us is problematic in that it combines two separate issues into one with the phrase “an elderly person who can’t bear children”. These are actually two separate, distinct issues. 1) An old person 2) One who cannot bear children (even if he is a young person.)
Note that, in fact, the Rambam in Chapter 13 Halacha 1 of Unintentional Sins writes the words “either an elderly person or one who does not have children”. Certainly, this is the correct and accurate text.
Editor’s Note: The idea that being elderly would disqualify someone from being a judge was a new concept for me. Being married and having children is a requirement. It seems, based on this Gemora, that a certain requirement for retirement beyond a certain age is also appropriate.