Herem

Herem

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Herem or cherem as used in 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...

, means ‘devote’ or ‘destroy’. It is also referred to as the ban. The term has been explained in different ways by scholars. It has been defined as "a mode of secluding, and rendering harmless, anything imperilling the religious life of the nation," or "the total destruction of the enemy and his goods at the conclusion of a campaign," or "uncompromising consecration of property and dedication of the property to God without possibility of recall or redemption. J. A. Thompson suggests that herem meant that in the hour of victory all that would normally be regarded as booty, including the inhabitants of the land, was to be devoted to God. Thus would every harmful thing be burned out and the land purified.

Etymology


The word comes from a common semitic root H-R-M. 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...

 the verb form occurs 51 times, while the noun occurs 28 times. Although the word itself simply means devotion to God (and is used this way in Leviticus 27:28), it most often refers to "a ban for utter destruction". There is also a homonym
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...

, herem, meaning fisherman's net, which occurs 9 times in the Masoretic Text and is traditionally regarded as etymologically unrelated, according to Gesenius and Brown Driver Briggs
Brown Driver Briggs
The Brown–Driver–Briggs Hebrew Lexicon is a standard reference for Biblical Hebrew. It is organized by alphabetical order of three letter roots. It is based on the Hebrew-German lexicon of Wilhelm Gesenius, translated by Edward Robinson...

 Lexicons and older sources.

In the Talmud the cognate verb and noun occur in the Aramaic forms, often transliterated as cherem
Cherem
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, and is similar to excommunication in the Catholic Church...

in the singular, with the main meaning of excommunication, and in the plural hromim with the idea of devotion of items to a kohen.

English Translation


This idea first appears in Numbers
Book of Numbers
The Book of Numbers is the fourth book of the Hebrew Bible, and the fourth of five books of the Jewish Torah/Pentateuch....

 21:2, and is translated in a variety of ways in English translations:

In the Hebrew Bible


The word is often used in the Book of Joshua
Book of Joshua
The Book of Joshua is the sixth book in the Hebrew Bible and of the Old Testament. Its 24 chapters tell of the entry of the Israelites into Canaan, their conquest and division of the land under the leadership of Joshua, and of serving God in the land....

, where cities such as Jericho
Battle of Jericho
The Battle of Jericho is an incident in Bible's Book of Joshua, the first battle of the Israelites during their conquest of Canaan. According to the narrative, the walls of Jericho fell after Joshua's Israelite army marched around the city blowing their trumpets.- Spying on Jericho:Before crossing...

 and Ai
Ai (Bible)
Ai refers to one or two places in ancient Israel:*A city mentioned along with Heshbon by Jeremiah 49:3, whose location is currently unknown, and which may or may not be the same as:...

 came under cherem. This meant they had to be completely destroyed, except for "the silver and gold and the articles of bronze and iron" which were to go into "YHWH's treasury" (Joshua 6:19). The following chapter describes how Achan kept back some items for himself, and was executed by stoning. Indeed, Achan is himself described as something "devoted to destruction" (Joshua 7:12).

Deuteronomy 20 also names six people groups who were to be under the ban: the Hittites
Biblical Hittites
The Hittites and children of Heth are a people or peoples mentioned in the Hebrew Bible. They are listed in Book of Genesis as second of the twelve Canaanite nations, descended from one Heth...

, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites
Perizzites
Perizzites - villagers; dwellers in the open country, the Girgashite Canaanite nation inhabiting the fertile regions south and south-west of Carmel."They were the graziers, farmers, and peasants of the time."...

, Hivites
Hivites
The Hivites were one group of descendants of Canaan, son of Ham, according to the Table of Nations in .- History : does not list the Hivites as being in the land that was promised to the descendants of Abraham...

 and Jebusites. This has led to the conquest of Canaan being referred to as genocide
Genocide
Genocide is defined as "the deliberate and systematic destruction, in whole or in part, of an ethnic, racial, religious, or national group", though what constitutes enough of a "part" to qualify as genocide has been subject to much debate by legal scholars...

. For example, Ra'anan Boustan calls this "a thoroughly violent commandment" which "in modern terms would be characterized as genocide."

The concept of herem also appears in 1 Samuel 15, where Saul
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...

 "totally destroyed" (verse 8, NIV) the Amalekites with the sword, but spared their king, Agag
Agag
Agag was the name of two kings of the Amalekites mentioned in the Hebrew Bible. It has been conjectured that the name was a standing title of the kings of the Amalekites...

, and kept "the best of the sheep and cattle, the fat calves and lambs—everything that was good." For this, Saul is rebuked by Samuel
Samuel
Samuel is a leader of ancient Israel in the Books of Samuel in the Hebrew Bible. He is also known as a prophet and is mentioned in the Qur'an....

, who reminds him that God had commanded him to "completely destroy" the Amalekites (verse 15). Samuel "hacked Agag to pieces" himself (verse 33, ESV
English Standard Version
The English Standard Version is an English translation of the Christian Bible. It is a revision of the 1971 edition of the Revised Standard Version...

).

Most scholars conclude that the biblical accounts of extermination are exaggerated, fictional, or metaphorical. In the archaeological community, the Battle of Jericho
Battle of Jericho
The Battle of Jericho is an incident in Bible's Book of Joshua, the first battle of the Israelites during their conquest of Canaan. According to the narrative, the walls of Jericho fell after Joshua's Israelite army marched around the city blowing their trumpets.- Spying on Jericho:Before crossing...

 is very thoroughly studied, and the consensus of modern scholars is that the story of battle and the associated extermination are a pious fiction
Pious fiction
A pious fiction is a narrative that is presented as true by the author, but is considered by others to be fictional albeit produced with an altruistic motivation. The term is sometimes used pejoratively to suggest that the author of the narrative was deliberately misleading readers for selfish or...

 and did not happen as described in the Book of Joshua. For example, the Book of Joshua
Book of Joshua
The Book of Joshua is the sixth book in the Hebrew Bible and of the Old Testament. Its 24 chapters tell of the entry of the Israelites into Canaan, their conquest and division of the land under the leadership of Joshua, and of serving God in the land....

 describes the extermination of the Canaanite tribes, yet at a later time, suggests that the extermination was not complete.

Meaning and significance


William Dumbrell suggests that "the ban appears to have been conceived as an acknowledgement of Yahweh's help." He also notes that "everything likely to contaminate Israel religiously" was destroyed, and thus the institution of the ban was "designed not to counter a military threat but to counter a religious threat." Similarly, Balchin argues that "drastic action was required to keep Israel in holy existence." Lilley argues that "Israel, like other contemporary societies, did not recognise any distinction between sacred and secular war," and that "holy war" is not a biblical term, "but one invented or at least appropriated by commentators." Lilley goes on to suggest that essence of the idea of herem is an "irrevocable renunciation of any interest" in the object 'devoted', and thus "so far as persons are concerned, the options of enslavement and treaty are not available." He contests the idea that it always involved things imperilling the religious life of the nation, arguing that these things "were to be destroyed out of hand, not given to the sanctuary."

Longman
Tremper Longman
Tremper Longman, III is an Old Testament theologian, professor and author of several books, including 2009 ECPA Christian Book Award winner Dictionary of the Old Testament: Wisdom, Poetry & Writings. He serves as Robert H. Gundry Professor of Biblical Studies at Westmont College in Santa Barbara,...

 and Reid suggest that we should see herem as a "sacrifice
Sacrifice
Sacrifice is the offering of food, objects or the lives of animals or people to God or the gods as an act of propitiation or worship.While sacrifice often implies ritual killing, the term offering can be used for bloodless sacrifices of cereal food or artifacts...

 of the occupants of Canaan
Canaan
Canaan is a historical region roughly corresponding to modern-day Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, and the western parts of Jordan...

 in the interest of securing the purity of the land
Land of Israel
The Land of Israel is the Biblical name for the territory roughly corresponding to the area encompassed by the Southern Levant, also known as Canaan and Palestine, Promised Land and Holy Land. The belief that the area is a God-given homeland of the Jewish people is based on the narrative of the...

."

The concept of herem was not unique to Israel. The Mesha Stele
Mesha Stele
The Mesha Stele is a black basalt stone bearing an inscription by the 9th century BC ruler Mesha of Moab in Jordan....

 contains a statement by King Mesha
Mesha
King Mesha of Moab was a king of Moabites around the 9th century BC, known most famous for writing the Mesha stela.The books of Samuel record that Moab was conquered by David and retained in the territories of his son Solomon . Later, King Omri of Israel reconquered Moab after Moab was lost...

 of Moab
Moab
Moab is the historical name for a mountainous strip of land in Jordan. The land lies alongside much of the eastern shore of the Dead Sea. The existence of the Kingdom of Moab is attested to by numerous archeological findings, most notably the Mesha Stele, which describes the Moabite victory over...

 that he captured the town of Nebo
Nabau
Nabau is a town mentioned in several passages of the Old Testament: Numbers 32:3; Jeremias 48:1, 22; I Chronicles 5:8; Isaias 15:2, etc....

 and killed all seven thousand people there, "for I had devoted them to destruction for (the god) Ashtar-Chemosh
Ashtar-Chemosh
Ashtar-Chemosh is goddess worshipped by the ancient Moabites. She is mentioned on the Mesha Stele as a female counterpart to Chemosh. She may be identical with Astarte....

."

Ethical issues


Theologians and other scholars have commented on the apparent ethical and moral dilemmas posed by the wars of extermination, particularly the killing of women and children.

Maimonides
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...

 applies the rules from Deuteronomy 20:10 (the rules governing discretionary wars) to the war on the Canaanite nation, and suggests that the commandment to exterminate the Canaanites was not absolute. He writes that Joshua gave the Canaanites three options: to flee, to remain and make peace with the Israelites, or to fight.

Rabbi Gunther Plaut
Gunther Plaut
Wolf Gunther Plaut, CC, O.Ont is a Reform rabbi and author. Plaut was the rabbi of Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto for several decades and since 1978 is its Senior Scholar....

 asserted that the Torah
Torah
Torah- A scroll containing the first five books of the BibleThe Torah , is name given by Jews to the first five books of the bible—Genesis , Exodus , Leviticus , Numbers and Deuteronomy Torah- A scroll containing the first five books of the BibleThe Torah , is name given by Jews to the first five...

, itself, never addresses the morality of the wars of extermination.
Biblical scholar Sidney Hoenig discussed the "brutality" in the book of Joshua, but concluded that the "battle is only in honor of God".
The Mennonite
Mennonite
The Mennonites are a group of Christian Anabaptist denominations named after the Frisian Menno Simons , who, through his writings, articulated and thereby formalized the teachings of earlier Swiss founders...

 scholar John Howard Yoder
John Howard Yoder
John Howard Yoder was a Christian theologian, ethicist, and Biblical scholar best known for his radical Christian pacifism, his mentoring of future theologians such as Stanley Hauerwas, his loyalty to his Mennonite faith, and his 1972 magnum opus, The Politics of Jesus.-Life:Yoder earned his...

 suggests that the concept of herem was unique in relation to the morality of the time not in its violence, but in ensuring that "war does not become a source of immediate enrichment through plunder", and hence was the beginning of a trajectory that would lead ultimately to the teaching of nonviolence
Nonviolence
Nonviolence has two meanings. It can refer, first, to a general philosophy of abstention from violence because of moral or religious principle It can refer to the behaviour of people using nonviolent action Nonviolence has two (closely related) meanings. (1) It can refer, first, to a general...

.
Scholars Ian Lustick
Ian Lustick
Ian Steven Lustick is an American political scientist and specialist on the modern history and politics of the Middle East.Lustick completed his Ph.D...

 and Leonard B. Glick quote Shlomo Aviner
Shlomo Aviner
Rabbi Shlomo Chaim Ha-Cohain Aviner is the rosh yeshiva of the Ateret Yerushalayim yeshiva in Jerusalem and the rabbi of Bet El. He is considered one of the spiritual leaders of the Religious Zionist movement.-Background:Ha-Rav Shlomo Chaim Ha-Cohain Aviner was born in 5703 in German-occupied...

 as saying "from the point of view of mankind's humanistic morality we were in the wrong in [taking the land] from the Canaanites. There is only one catch. The command of God ordered us to be the people of the Land of Israel". Scholar Carl Ehrlich states that Jewish commentators have tended to be silent regarding the morality of the violence in the Book of Joshua. Prominent atheist Richard Dawkins
Richard Dawkins
Clinton Richard Dawkins, FRS, FRSL , known as Richard Dawkins, is a British ethologist, evolutionary biologist and author...

 asserts that the commandments to exterminate are immoral.

Scholars point out that collective punishment
Collective punishment
Collective punishment is the punishment of a group of people as a result of the behavior of one or more other individuals or groups. The punished group may often have no direct association with the other individuals or groups, or direct control over their actions...

, particularly punishment of descendants for transgressions committed by ancestors, is common in the Jewish Bible.

As genocide



Several scholars and commentators have characterized the wars of extermination as genocide
Genocide
Genocide is defined as "the deliberate and systematic destruction, in whole or in part, of an ethnic, racial, religious, or national group", though what constitutes enough of a "part" to qualify as genocide has been subject to much debate by legal scholars...

.

Scholar Pekka Pitkanen asserts that Deuteronomy involves "demonization of the opponent" which is typical of genocide, and he asserts that the genocide of the Canaanites was due to unique circumstances, and that "the biblical material should not be read as giving license for repeating it."

Scholar Philip Jenkins
Philip Jenkins
Philip Jenkins is as of 2010 the Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of Humanities at Pennsylvania State University . He was Professor and a Distinguished Professor of History and Religious studies at the same institution; and also assistant, associate and then full professor of Criminal Justice and...

 characterizes the warfare of the Bible as genocidal, and considers the laws of warfare in the Qu'ran to be more humane than the Biblical rules.

Justifications and rationalizations



Several justifications and explanations for the extreme violence associated with the wars of extermination have been offered, some found in the Jewish Bible, others provided by Rabbinic commentators, and others hypothesized by scholars.

In God tells the Israelites to exterminate the Canaanite nations, "otherwise, they will teach you to follow all the detestable things they do in worshiping their gods, and you will sin against the lord your God". Another reason, justifying the war against the Midianites, was revenge for Midian's role in Israel's apostate behavior during the Heresy of Peor
Heresy of Peor
The heresy of Peor is an event related in the Torah at Numbers 25:1-15. Back references to the event occur in Numbers 25:18 and 31:16, Deuteronomy 4:3, Joshua 22:17, Hosea 9:10; Psalm 106:28...

  .

Another justification is that the Canaanites were sinful, depraved people, and their deaths were punishments . Another justification for the exterminations is to make room for the returning Israelites, who are entitled to exclusive occupation of the land of Canaan: the Canaanite nations were living in the land of Israel, but when the Israelites returned, the Canaanites were expected to leave the land.

In Talmudic commentary, the Canaanite nations were given the opportunity to leave, and their refusal to leave "lay the onus of blame for the conquest and Joshua's extirpation of the Canaanites at the feet of the victims." Another explanation of the exterminations is that God gave the land to the Canaanites only temporarily, until the Israelites would arrive, and the Canaanites extermination was punishment for their refusal to obey God's desire that they leave. Another Talmudic explanation - for the wars in the Book of Joshua
Book of Joshua
The Book of Joshua is the sixth book in the Hebrew Bible and of the Old Testament. Its 24 chapters tell of the entry of the Israelites into Canaan, their conquest and division of the land under the leadership of Joshua, and of serving God in the land....

 - was that God initiated the wars as a diversionary tactic so Israelites would not kill Joshua after discovering that Joshua had forgotten certain laws.

Some scholars trace the extermination of the Midianites to revenge for the fact that Midianites were responsible for selling Joseph into slavery in Egypt .

Association with violent attitudes in the modern era


Some analysts have associated the biblical commandments of extermination with violent attitudes in modern era.

According to Ian Lustick
Ian Lustick
Ian Steven Lustick is an American political scientist and specialist on the modern history and politics of the Middle East.Lustick completed his Ph.D...

, leaders of the Jewish fundamentalist movement Gush Emunim
Gush Emunim
Gush Emunim was an Israeli messianic and political movement committed to establishing Jewish settlements in the West Bank. While not formally established as an organization until 1974 in the wake of the Yom Kippur War, Gush Emunim sprang out of the conquests of the Six-Day War in 1967, encouraging...

, such as Hanan Porat
Hanan Porat
-External links:...

, consider the Palestinians to be like Canaanites or Amalekites, and suggest that infers a duty to make merciless war against Arabs who reject Jewish sovereignty. Atheist commentator Christopher Hitchens
Christopher Hitchens
Christopher Eric Hitchens is an Anglo-American author and journalist whose books, essays, and journalistic career span more than four decades. He has been a columnist and literary critic at The Atlantic, Vanity Fair, Slate, World Affairs, The Nation, Free Inquiry, and became a media fellow at the...

 discusses the association of the "obliterated" tribes with modern troubles in Palestine.

Biblical scholar Niels Peter Lemche
Niels Peter Lemche
Niels Peter Lemche is a biblical scholar at the University of Copenhagen.-Biblical minimalism:Lemche is closely identified with the movement known as biblical minimalism, and "has assumed the role of philosophical and methodological spokesperson" for the movement.In common with the general trend...

 asserts that European colonialism in the nineteenth century was ideologically based on the biblical narratives of conquest and extermination. He also states that European Jews who migrated to Palestine relied on the biblical ideology of conquest and extermination, and considered the Arabs to be Canaanites. Scholar Arthur Grenke claims that the view or war expressed in Deuteronomy contributed to the destruction of Native Americans and to the destruction of European Jewry.

Scholar Nur Masalha writes that the "genocide" of the extermination commandments has been "kept before subsequent generations" and served as inspirational examples of divine support for slaughtering enemies. Scholar Ra'anan S. Boustan asserts that militant Zionists have identified modern Palestinians with Canaanites, and hence as targets of violence mandated in Deut 20:15-18. Scholar Leonard B. Glick states that Jewish fundamentalists in Israel, such as Shlomo Aviner
Shlomo Aviner
Rabbi Shlomo Chaim Ha-Cohain Aviner is the rosh yeshiva of the Ateret Yerushalayim yeshiva in Jerusalem and the rabbi of Bet El. He is considered one of the spiritual leaders of the Religious Zionist movement.-Background:Ha-Rav Shlomo Chaim Ha-Cohain Aviner was born in 5703 in German-occupied...

, consider the Palestinians to be like biblical Canaanites, and that some fundamentalist leaders suggest that they "must be prepared to destroy" the Palestinians if the Palestinians do not leave the land. Scholar Keith Whitelam asserts that the Zionist movement has drawn inspiration from the biblical conquest tradition, and Whitelam draws parallels between the "genocidal Israelites" of Joshua and modern Zionists.

Contrary views


Wars of extermination are of historical interest only, and do not serve as a model within Judaism. A formal declaration that the “seven nations” are no longer identifiable was made by Joshua ben Hananiah
Joshua ben Hananiah
Joshua ben Hananiah was a leading tanna of the first half-century following the destruction of the Temple. He was of Levitical descent , and served in the sanctuary as a member of the class of singers . His mother intended him for a life of study, and, as an older contemporary, Dosa b. Harkinas,...

, around the year 100 CE.

Scholar Moshe Greenberg
Moshe Greenberg
Moshe Greenberg was an American Jewish rabbi, Bible scholar, and professor emeritus of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.-Biography:...

asserts that the laws of extermination applied only to the extinct tribes, and only to their contemporary generations of Israelites. Scholar Carl Ehrlich states the biblical rules of extermination provide guidance to modern Israelis not for genocidal purposes, but rather simply as models for reclaiming the land of Israel.