Herem (Hebrew: חֵרֶם ḥērem) 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 and is similar to vitandus "excommunication" in the Catholic Church. Cognate terms in other Semitic languages include the Arabic terms ḥarām "forbidden, taboo, off-limits, or immoral" and haram "set apart, sanctuary", and the Ge'ez word ʿirm "accursed".

Herem placed on the Hasidim by the Vilna Gaon in 1781



Although developed from the biblical ban, excommunication, as employed by the rabbis during Talmudic times and during the Middle Ages, became a rabbinic institution, the object of which was to preserve Jewish solidarity.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed]

Etymology and cognate terms


The three terms herem, "censure, excommunication", "devotion of enemies by annihilation" in the Tanakh, and "devotion of property to a kohen", are all English transliterations of the same Hebrew noun. This noun comes from the semitic root Ḥ-R-M. There is also a homonym herem "fisherman's net", which appears nine times in the Masoretic Text of the Tanakh, that has no etymological connection to herem.[1]

The Talmudic usage of herem for excommunication can be distinguished from the usage of herem described in the Tanakh in the time of Joshua and the early Hebrew monarchy, which was the practice of consecration by total annihilation[2] at the command of God carried out against peoples such as the Midianites, the Amalekites, and the entire population of Jericho. The neglect of Saul to carry out such a command as delivered by Samuel resulted in the selection of David as his replacement.



The Talmud speaks of twenty-four offenses that, in theory, were punishable by a form of niddui or temporary excommunication. Maimonides (as well as later authorities) enumerates the twenty-four as follows:[3]

  1. insulting a learned man, even after his death;
  2. insulting a messenger of the court;
  3. calling a fellow Jew 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 shochet (butcher)[4] who refuses to give the foreleg, cheeks and maw 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);
  18. preventing the community from performing some religious act;
  19. selling forbidden ("terefah") meat as permitted meat ("kosher");
  20. failure by a shochet to show his knife to the rabbi for examination;
  21. purposely bringing oneself to erection;
  22. engaging in business with one's divorced wife that will lead them to come into contact with each other;
  23. being made the subject of scandal (in the case of a rabbi);
  24. declaring an unjustified excommunication.



The niddui (Hebrew: נידוי) 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 minyan. If he died, a stone was placed on his hearse, and the relatives were not obliged to observe traditional Jewish mourning ceremonies.

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 (recorded in the name of Sefer Agudah), the possibility that the offender might leave the Jewish community due to the severity of the excommunication did not prevent the court from adding rigor to its punishments so as to maintain its dignity and authority.[5] This opinion is vehemently contested by the Taz[5] who cites earlier authorities of the same opinion (Maharshal; Maharam; Mahari Mintz) 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.



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 "herem," 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.[citation needed]



A milder form than either niddui or herem was the nezifah ban. (In modern Hebrew, nezifah generally means "a dressing-down" or "reading (someone) the riot act", i.e., a stern verbal rebuke.) 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:

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 7:21). 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.[6]



Arguably the most famous case of a herem is that of Baruch Spinoza, the seventeenth-century philosopher.[7][8]

Another renowned case is the herem the Vilna Gaon ruled against the early Hassidic groups in 1777 and then again in 1781, under the charge of believing in panentheism.[9][10]

Except in rare cases in the Haredi and Hasidic communities, herem stopped existing after the Haskalah, when local Jewish communities lost their political autonomy, and Jews were integrated into the gentile nations in which they lived.[11]

See also



  1. ^ Brown Driver Briggs Hebrew Lexicon, entries herem 1, herem 2
  2. ^ Jenkins, Philip; Wars', author of 'Jesus. "Is The Bible More Violent Than The Quran?". {{cite web}}: |first2= has generic name (help)
  3. ^ "Talmud Torah - Chapter Six".
  4. ^ Raaviah to Chullin chap. 1225, Meir of Rothenburg responsa 7 (mossad horav kook vol. 2 p. 11
  5. ^ a b Shulkhan Arukh, Yoreh De'ah 334:1, Rama's gloss
  6. ^ Mishneh Torah, Talmud Torah, 7:13
  7. ^ Karesh, Sara E.; Hurvitz, Mitchell M. (2005). Encyclopedia of Judaism. p. 205. ISBN 9780816069828.
  8. ^ Agus, Jacob Bernard (March 1997). The Essential Agus: The Writings of Jacob B. Agus. p. 252. ISBN 9780814746929.
  9. ^ Ari Yashar (2 January 2014). "Rare Anti-Hassidic Excommunication Edict Revealed". Archived from the original on 7 July 2017.
  10. ^ "Is Chabad Heresy?". 2 January 2013. Archived from the original on 8 August 2013.
  11. ^ Gal Beckerman (November 12, 2018). "American Jews Face a Choice: Create Meaning or Fade Away". The New York Times.
  12. ^ Zinoviev cynically referred to this in his eulogy of Uritsky (the chief of the Petrograd Cheka, assassinated on August 30, 1918):

    When we read that in Odessa, under Skoropadsky, the rabbis assembled in special council, and there these representatives of the rich Jews, officially, before the entire world, excommunicated from the Jewish community such Jews as Trotsky and me, your obedient servant, and others - no single hair of any of us has turned gray because of grief"

    — Zinoviev, Sochineniia, 16:224, quoted in Bezbozhnik [The godless], no. 20 (12 September 1938).
  13. ^ "Letter: A time to excommunicate". The Jewish Journal. April 4, 2019. in 1918 the Odessa rabbis excommunicated Leon Trotsky
  14. ^ "Prof. Mordecai M. Kaplan "excommunicated" by Orthodox Rabbis, His Prayer Book Burned". June 14, 1945.
  15. ^ Estelle Ellis. "Judge upholds Jewish excommunication right". Archived from the original on 15 January 2006.
  16. ^ "South African Court Upholds Beis Din Cheirem". Archived from the original on 26 February 2006.
  17. ^ Cohen, Dudi (2006-12-13). "Rabbi Metzger: Boycott Neturei Karta participants of Iran conference". Ynetnews.
  18. ^ Sela, Neta (2006-12-15). "Satmar court slams Neturei Karta". Ynetnews.