We know what happens to a misbehaving Jew after life: either it’s the World to Come—or it’s Gehenna, the other place.
But punitive measures for misbehaving Jews on Earth? The Talmud offers three forms of Jewish-flavored excommunication for your liking: nezifah, niddui, and the dreaded herem.
Though it’s up to a rabbinic court to dole out censures, the Talmud helpfully lists a number of transgressions that might elicit one: insulting a learned man; calling a fellow Jew a ‘slave’; keeping an object or animal that could harm others, like a broken ladder or a rabid dog; taking God’s name in vain; or bringing yourself to, um, a happy place.
Doing any of the above could land you a nezifah, a one-day ban from the community. You retire to your house, speak little, and feel remorse.
A niddui, a step stricter, is a week-long censure in which no one but your family may associate with you, or even sit within four cubits (six feet) of you.
And finally, for the worst, you’ll land a herem: indefinite punishment in which no one is permitted to work with you, or basically go near you.
Herems are signs of the time. Baruch Spinoza received one—for “abominable heresies”—and even Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, the father of Reconstructionism, got one in 1945 for writing a Reconstructionist haggadah and then siddur, which, by using Hebrew, felt more threatening to the Orthodox than the largely English Reform prayerbooks. If the aim of the excommunication was to stem the tide of Jewish religious innovation, though, it didn’t exactly work.
January 2, 2018