Cherem is the highest ecclesiastical censure in the Jewish community. It is the total exclusion of a person from the Jewish community. It is a form of shunning
Shunning can be the act of social rejection, or mental rejection. Social rejection is when a person or group deliberately avoids association with, and habitually keeps away from an individual or group. This can be a formal decision by a group, or a less formal group action which will spread to all...

, and is similar to excommunication
Excommunication is a religious censure used to deprive, suspend or limit membership in a religious community. The word means putting [someone] out of communion. In some religions, excommunication includes spiritual condemnation of the member or group...

 in the Catholic Church. Cognate terms in other Semitic languages include the Arabic
Arabic language
Arabic is a name applied to the descendants of the Classical Arabic language of the 6th century AD, used most prominently in the Quran, the Islamic Holy Book...

 term (forbidden, taboo, off-limits, sacred or immoral), and the Ethiopic `irm (meaning accursed).

The most famous case of a cherem is that of Spinoza
Baruch Spinoza
Baruch de Spinoza and later Benedict de Spinoza was a Dutch Jewish philosopher. Revealing considerable scientific aptitude, the breadth and importance of Spinoza's work was not fully realized until years after his death...

, the seventeenth century philosopher. Also Leon Trotsky
Leon Trotsky
Leon Trotsky , born Lev Davidovich Bronshtein, was a Russian Marxist revolutionary and theorist, Soviet politician, and the founder and first leader of the Red Army....

 became subject of cherem in 1918.


Although developed from the Biblical
The Bible refers to any one of the collections of the primary religious texts of Judaism and Christianity. There is no common version of the Bible, as the individual books , their contents and their order vary among denominations...

 ban, excommunication, as employed by the Rabbis during Talmudic times
The Talmud is a central text of mainstream Judaism. It takes the form of a record of rabbinic discussions pertaining to Jewish law, ethics, philosophy, customs and history....

 and during the Middle Ages, it became a rabbinic institution, the object of which was to preserve Jewish solidarity. A system of laws was gradually developed by Rabbis, by means of which this power was limited, so that it became one of the modes of legal punishment by rabbinic courts. While it did not entirely lose its arbitrary character, since individuals were allowed to pronounce the ban of excommunication on particular occasions, it became chiefly a legal measure resorted to by a judicial court for certain prescribed offenses.

Etymology and cognate terms

The three terms cherem, excommunication, herem
Herem or cherem , as used in the Hebrew Bible, means ‘devote’ or ‘destroy’. It is also referred to as the ban. The term has been explained in different ways by scholars...

the devotion of enemies by annihilation in the Tanakh, and horim (plural), the devotion of property to a kohen, are all three variant English transliteration
Transliteration is a subset of the science of hermeneutics. It is a form of translation, and is the practice of converting a text from one script into another...

s of the same Hebrew noun. This noun comes from the semitic root Ḥ-R-M.

There is also an identically spelled (homonym
In linguistics, a homonym is, in the strict sense, one of a group of words that often but not necessarily share the same spelling and the same pronunciation but have different meanings...

) Hebrew noun herem, fisherman's net, which appears 9 times in the Masoretic Text
Masoretic Text
The Masoretic Text is the authoritative Hebrew text of the Jewish Bible and is regarded as Judaism's official version of the Tanakh. While the Masoretic Text defines the books of the Jewish canon, it also defines the precise letter-text of these biblical books, with their vocalization and...

 of the Hebrew Bible
Hebrew Bible
The Hebrew Bible is a term used by biblical scholars outside of Judaism to refer to the Tanakh , a canonical collection of Jewish texts, and the common textual antecedent of the several canonical editions of the Christian Old Testament...

 but has no etymological connection to herem/cherem/horim, as devoted objects.

The Talmudic usage of cherem, for excommunication, can be distinguished from the usage of herem described in the Tanakh
The Tanakh is a name used in Judaism for the canon of the Hebrew Bible. The Tanakh is also known as the Masoretic Text or the Miqra. The name is an acronym formed from the initial Hebrew letters of the Masoretic Text's three traditional subdivisions: The Torah , Nevi'im and Ketuvim —hence...

 in the time of Joshua
Joshua , is a minor figure in the Torah, being one of the spies for Israel and in few passages as Moses's assistant. He turns to be the central character in the Hebrew Bible's Book of Joshua...

 and the early Hebrew monarchy, which was the practice of consecration by total annihilation at the command of Yahweh carried out against peoples such as the Midian
Midian , Madyan , or Madiam is a geographical place and a people mentioned in the Bible and in the Qur'an. It is believed to be in northwest Saudi Arabia on the east shore of the Gulf of Aqaba and the northern Red Sea...

ites, the Amalekites, and the entire population of Jericho
Jericho ; is a city located near the Jordan River in the West Bank of the Palestinian territories. It is the capital of the Jericho Governorate and has a population of more than 20,000. Situated well below sea level on an east-west route north of the Dead Sea, Jericho is the lowest permanently...

. The neglect of Saul
-People:Saul is a given/first name in English, the Anglicized form of the Hebrew name Shaul from the Hebrew Bible:* Saul , including people with this given namein the Bible:* Saul , a king of Edom...

 to carry out such a command as delivered by Samuel resulted in the selection of David as his replacement.

In the Talmud, Twenty Four Offenses

The Talmud speaks of twenty-four offenses that, in theory, were punishable by a form of niddui or temporary excommunication. Maimonides
Moses ben-Maimon, called Maimonides and also known as Mūsā ibn Maymūn in Arabic, or Rambam , was a preeminent medieval Jewish philosopher and one of the greatest Torah scholars and physicians of the Middle Ages...

 (as well as later authorities) enumerates the twenty-four as follows:
  1. insulting a learned man, even after his death;
  2. insulting a messenger of the court;
  3. calling an Israelite a "slave";
  4. refusing to appear before the court at the appointed time;
  5. dealing lightly with any of the rabbinic or Mosaic precepts;
  6. refusing to abide by a decision of the court;
  7. keeping in one's possession an animal or an object that may prove injurious to others, such as a savage dog or a broken ladder;
  8. selling one's real estate to a non-Jew without assuming the responsibility for any injury that the non-Jew may cause his neighbors;
  9. testifying against one's Jewish neighbor in a non-Jewish court, and thereby causing that neighbor to lose money which he would not have lost had the case been decided in a Jewish court;
  10. a Kohen
    A Kohen is the Hebrew word for priest. Jewish Kohens are traditionally believed and halachically required to be of direct patrilineal descent from the Biblical Aaron....

     shochet (butcher) (all the more so an israelite) who refuses to give the foreleg, cheeks and abomasum
    Giving of the foreleg, cheeks and abomasum
    The gift of the shoulder, cheeks and maw of an animal sacrifice to the priesthood in Ancient Israel was commanded in the Hebrew Bible.After the destruction of the Second Temple at the Siege of Jerusalem animal sacrifices ceased. However in rabbinical interpretation a continuing application of the...

     of kosher-slaughtered livestock to another Kohen;
  11. violating the second day of a holiday, even though its observance is only a custom;
  12. performing work on the afternoon of the day preceding Passover;
  13. taking the name of God in vain;
  14. causing others to profane the name of God;
  15. causing others to eat holy meat outside of Jerusalem;
  16. making calculations for the calendar, and establishing festivals accordingly, outside of Israel;
  17. putting a stumbling-block in the way of the blind, that is to say, tempting another to sin (Lifnei iver
    Lifnei iver
    The Hebrew phrase "before the blind" is a way of referring to the concept of a stumbling block in rabbinical texts. The origin comes from the Hebrew Bible where Leviticus instructs "Thou shalt not curse the deaf, nor put a stumblingblock before the blind , but shalt fear thy God: I am the ...

  18. preventing the community from performing some religious act;
  19. selling forbidden ("terefah
    Terefah refers to any animal whose death is due to mortal injuries or physical defects.The prohibition of eating terefah stems from the biblical verse, וְאַנְשֵׁי קֹדֶשׁ תִּהְיוּן לִי וּבָשָׂר בַּשָּׂדֶה טְרֵפָה לֹא תֹאכֵלוּ לַכֶּלֶב תַּשְׁלִכוּן אֹתוֹ Terefah (Hebrew: טרפה, lit. "Torn" by beast...

    ") meat as permitted meat ("kosher");
  20. failure by a "shochet" (ritual slaughterer) to show his knife to the rabbi for examination;
  21. masturbation
    Masturbation refers to sexual stimulation of a person's own genitals, usually to the point of orgasm. The stimulation can be performed manually, by use of objects or tools, or by some combination of these methods. Masturbation is a common form of autoeroticism...

  22. engaging in business intercourse with one's divorced wife;
  23. being made the subject of scandal (in the case of a rabbi);
  24. declaring an unjustified excommunication.

For all practical purposes, most of these conditions no longer were considered as grounds for a ban since the end of the Talmudic era, around 600 CE.

The niddui

The "niddui" ban was usually imposed for a period of seven days (in Israel thirty days). If inflicted on account of money matters, the offender was first publicly warned ("hatra'ah") three times, on Monday, Thursday, and Monday successively, at the regular service in the synagogue. During the period of niddui, no one except the members of his immediate household was permitted to associate with the offender, or to sit within four cubits of him, or to eat in his company. He was expected to go into mourning and to refrain from bathing, cutting his hair, and wearing shoes, and he had to observe all the laws that pertained to a mourner. He could not be counted in the number necessary for the performance of a public religious function. If he died, a stone was placed on his hearse, and the relatives were not obliged to observe the ceremonies customary at the death of a kinsman, such as the tearing of garments, etc.
Bereavement in Judaism
Bereavement in Judaism is a combination of minhag and mitzvah derived from Judaism's classical Torah and rabbinic texts...


It was in the power of the court to lessen or increase the severity of the niddui. The court might even reduce or increase the number of days, forbid all intercourse with the offender, and exclude his children from the schools and his wife from the synagogue, until he became humbled and willing to repent and obey the court's mandates. According to one opinion, the apprehension that the offender might leave the Jewish fold on account of the severity of the excommunication did not prevent the court from adding rigor to its punishments so as to maintain its dignity and authority (Shulkhan Arukh, Yoreh De'ah
Yoreh De'ah
Yoreh De'ah is a section of Rabbi Jacob ben Asher's compilation of halakha , Arba'ah Turim around 1300. This section treats all aspects of Jewish law not pertinent to the Hebrew calendar, finance, torts, marriage, divorce, or sexual conduct....

, 334, 1, Rama's
Moses Isserles
Moses Isserles, also spelled Moshe Isserlis, , was an eminent Ashkenazic rabbi, talmudist, and posek, renowned for his fundamental work of Halakha , entitled ha-Mapah , an inline commentary on the Shulkhan Aruch...

 gloss, citing Sefer Agudah). This opinion is vehemently contested by the Taz
David HaLevi Segal
David ha-Levi Segal , also known as the Turei Zahav after the title of his significant halakhic commentary on the Shulchan Aruch, was one of the greatest Polish rabbinical authorities....

 (ibid.), who cites earlier authorities of the same opinion (Maharshal
Solomon Luria
Solomon Luria was one of the great Ashkenazic poskim and teachers of his time. He is known for his work of Halakha, Yam Shel Shlomo, and his Talmudic commentary Chochmat Shlomo...

; Maharam
Meir of Rothenburg
Meir of Rothenburg was a German Rabbi and poet, a major author of the tosafot on Rashi's commentary on the Talmud...

; Mahari Mintz
Judah ben Eliezer ha-Levi Minz
Judah ben Eliezer ha-Levi Minz , also known as Mahari Minz, was the most prominent Italian rabbi of his time. He officiated as rabbi of Padua for forty-seven years, during which time he had a great number of pupils, among whom were his son Abraham Minz, and the latter's son-in-law Meir...

) and presents proof of his position from the Talmud. Additionally, the Taz notes that his edition of the Sefer Agudah does not contain the cited position.

The cherem

If the offense was in reference to monetary matters, or if the punishment was inflicted by an individual, the laws were more lenient, the chief punishment being that men might not associate with the offender. At the expiration of the period the ban was raised by the court. If, however, the excommunicate showed no sign of penitence or remorse, the niddui might be renewed once and again, and finally the "cherem," the most rigorous form of excommunication, might be pronounced. This extended for an indefinite period, and no one was permitted to teach the offender or work for him, or benefit him in any way, except when he was in need of the bare necessities of life.

The nezifah

A milder form than either niddui or cherem was the "nezifah" ban. This ban generally only lasted one day. During this time the offender dared not appear before him whom he had displeased. He had to retire to his house, speak little, refrain from business and pleasure, and manifest his regret and remorse. He was not required, however, to separate himself from society, nor was he obliged to apologize to the man whom he had insulted; for his conduct on the day of nezifah was sufficient apology. But when a scholar or prominent man actually pronounced the formal niddui on one who had slighted him, all the laws of niddui applied. This procedure was, however, much discouraged by the sages, so that it was a matter of proper pride for a rabbi to be able to say that he had never pronounced the ban of excommunication. Maimonides concludes with these words the chapter on the laws of excommunication:(Mishneh Torah
Mishneh Torah
The Mishneh Torah subtitled Sefer Yad ha-Hazaka is a code of Jewish religious law authored by Maimonides , one of history's foremost rabbis...

, Talmud Torah, vii. 13).
"Although the power is given to the scholar to excommunicate a man who has slighted him, it is not praiseworthy for him to employ this means too frequently. He should rather shut his ears to the words of the ignorant and pay no attention to them, as Solomon, in his wisdom, said, 'Also take no heed unto all words that are spoken' (Eccl. vii. 21). This was the custom of the early pious men, who would not answer when they heard themselves insulted, but would forgive the insolent. . . . But this humility should be practised only when the insult occurs in private; when the scholar is publicly 'insulted, he dares not forgive; and if he forgive he should be punished, for then it is an insult to the Torah that he must revenge until the offender humbly apologizes"

Since the Enlightenment

Except in rare cases in the Haredi and Chassidic communities, cherem stopped existing after The Enlightenment
Haskalah , the Jewish Enlightenment, was a movement among European Jews in the 18th–19th centuries that advocated adopting enlightenment values, pressing for better integration into European society, and increasing education in secular studies, Hebrew language, and Jewish history...

, when local Jewish communities lost their political autonomy, and Jews were integrated into the gentile nations in which they lived. In 1918, the Rabbinical Council of Odessa
Odessa or Odesa is the administrative center of the Odessa Oblast located in southern Ukraine. The city is a major seaport located on the northwest shore of the Black Sea and the fourth largest city in Ukraine with a population of 1,029,000 .The predecessor of Odessa, a small Tatar settlement,...

, Russia
Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...

 (now in Ukraine
Ukraine is a country in Eastern Europe. It has an area of 603,628 km², making it the second largest contiguous country on the European continent, after Russia...

), declared cherem on Leon Trotsky
Leon Trotsky
Leon Trotsky , born Lev Davidovich Bronshtein, was a Russian Marxist revolutionary and theorist, Soviet politician, and the founder and first leader of the Red Army....

 and several other Jewish members of the Bolshevik
The Bolsheviks, originally also Bolshevists , derived from bol'shinstvo, "majority") were a faction of the Marxist Russian Social Democratic Labour Party which split apart from the Menshevik faction at the Second Party Congress in 1903....


In 2004, however, the High Court of South Africa
High Court of South Africa
The High Courts are superior courts of law in South Africa. The courts were created in 1996 on the adoption of the Constitution of South Africa, and inherited the jurisdiction of the provincial and local divisions of the former Supreme Court of South Africa...

 upheld a cherem against a Johannesburg
Johannesburg also known as Jozi, Jo'burg or Egoli, is the largest city in South Africa, by population. Johannesburg is the provincial capital of Gauteng, the wealthiest province in South Africa, having the largest economy of any metropolitan region in Sub-Saharan Africa...

 businessman because he refused to pay his former wife alimony
Alimony is a U.S. term denoting a legal obligation to provide financial support to one's spouse from the other spouse after marital separation or from the ex-spouse upon divorce...

 as ordered by a beth din
Beth din
A beth din, bet din, beit din or beis din is a rabbinical court of Judaism. In ancient times, it was the building block of the legal system in the Biblical Land of Israel...


As distinct from Catholic Church excommunication

The Cherem may best be compared to the now-defunct excommunication vitandus
A vitandus excommunicate was someone affected by a rare and grave form of excommunication, in which the Church ordered, as a remedial measure, that the faithful were not to associate with him "except in the case of husband and wife, parents, children, servants, subjects", and in general unless...

It is important to avoid confusing it with the Catholic excommunication as it is normally practiced to-day based on the word "excommunication", as the current Catholic practice favors maintaining some relationship with the excommunicant whereas the Cherem is more akin to "shunning" as practiced by Anabaptists and some of their descendant communities. It is likewise important to note, however, the extreme rarity of the cherem in modern Jewish life. Today it is almost exclusively imposed in cases where a spouse refuses to give a divorce, which prevents remarriage and which is sufficiently grievous that Maimonides
Moses ben-Maimon, called Maimonides and also known as Mūsā ibn Maymūn in Arabic, or Rambam , was a preeminent medieval Jewish philosopher and one of the greatest Torah scholars and physicians of the Middle Ages...

 suggested beating a divorce-refusing husband into granting one). With respect to the list of offenses theoretically resulting in excommunication Weber emphasizes the importance of focusing on the actual results of religious belief rather than official claims. That such-and-such offense is listed in the Code of Canon Law or the Shulchan Aruch
Shulchan Aruch
The Shulchan Aruch also known as the Code of Jewish Law, is the most authoritative legal code of Judaism. It was authored in Safed, Israel, by Yosef Karo in 1563 and published in Venice two years later...

 as punishable by excommunication is of some historical and perhaps theological interest but in terms of understanding actual religious life such laws are interesting only insofar as they were actually enforced.

See also

  • Heresy
    Heresy is a controversial or novel change to a system of beliefs, especially a religion, that conflicts with established dogma. It is distinct from apostasy, which is the formal denunciation of one's religion, principles or cause, and blasphemy, which is irreverence toward religion...

  • Heresy in Judaism
    Heresy in Judaism
    Jewish heretics who are Jewish individuals whose works have, in part or in whole, been condemned as heretical by significant persons or groups in the larger Jewish community based on the classical teachings of Judaism and derived from Halakha -Minim:Hilchot Teshuva Chapter 3 Halacha 7 Five peoples...

  • Pulsa diNura
    Pulsa diNura
    Pulsa diNura or Pulsa Denoura. is a purportedly kabbalistic ceremony in which the angels of destruction are invoked to block heavenly forgiveness of the subject’s sins, causing all the curses named in the Bible to befall him resulting in his death. However, the Torah prohibits to pray that...

  • Banishment in the Bible
    Banishment in the Bible
    Banishment or exile can be a form of punishment. It means to be away from one's home while either being explicitly refused permission to return and/or being threatened by prison or death upon return. As it is a common theme within the Bible with one of its earliest references, Adam & Eve,...

  • Excommunication
    Excommunication is a religious censure used to deprive, suspend or limit membership in a religious community. The word means putting [someone] out of communion. In some religions, excommunication includes spiritual condemnation of the member or group...

  • Exile
    Exile means to be away from one's home , while either being explicitly refused permission to return and/or being threatened with imprisonment or death upon return...

  • Ostracism
  • Shunning
    Shunning can be the act of social rejection, or mental rejection. Social rejection is when a person or group deliberately avoids association with, and habitually keeps away from an individual or group. This can be a formal decision by a group, or a less formal group action which will spread to all...

  • Taboo
    A taboo is a strong social prohibition relating to any area of human activity or social custom that is sacred and or forbidden based on moral judgment, religious beliefs and or scientific consensus. Breaking the taboo is usually considered objectionable or abhorrent by society...

External links

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