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Parashat B’chukotai (Leviticus 26:3-27:34)

These are the commandments that God gave Moses for the Israelite people on Mount Sinai (Leviticus 27:33)

Parashat B’chukotai closes out the book of Leviticus with a list of blessings for following God’s commandments and a list of curses–three times as long!–for not following.  The final chapter (which many scholars consider a later addition to the text) serves as a “bookend” to the opening of Leviticus by discussing gifts to support the sanctuary.

B’chukotai introduces a new term, cherem, which means something proscribed or set aside, and states, “…Anything that has been set aside for God may not be sold or redeemed;  every cherem is totally consecrated to God (Leviticus 27:28).  Once something is set aside for a sacred purpose, it, too, becomes sanctified. Later in the Tanakh (the Jewish Bible), though, cherem takes on another meaning: confiscation of property and exclusion from the community.  By the time of the Talmud (200-500 C.E.), cherem refers only to exclusion from the community.  As a practical matter, the Enlightment marked the end of cherem as a practice.

Cherem was imposed for public behavior that undermined communal values: insulting a learned man, refusing to appear before a Jewish court, preventing the community from observing a religious act, selling non-kosher meat as kosher, etc.   Generally, cherem was not imposed for heretical views, although the two most famous instances of cherem are Baruch Spinoza and Leon Trotsky.

Cherem does not affect your status as a Jew; it affects your status as a member of the community: you may pray and study, but not with the community, and nobody can come near you.  In this regard, cherem is a statement of values: in Jewish thought, a person without a community is lost.  But JCCs already know that.

Shabbat Shalom,

David

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