Thursday, June 18, 2009


Let's examine an interesting practice in Tanach -- the law of Cherem. It's a cruel law, stating that an enemy city is given as a gift to G-d. How is this done? By killing all men, women and children in the city. The gold and all the goods go to G-d (meaning to the Priests). See references here:

Bamidbar 18:14, Bamidbar 21:2-3, Devarim 13:16, Shmuel 1:15, Joshua 6:17-24, Joshua 7:1-26

G-d is so dedicated to this practice, that when Achan stole some of the gold that was supposed to go to the Priests, G-d let the Israelites' attack fail, and eventually Achan and his entire family were killed for it. so G-d REALLY LIKES his Cherem.

How could G-d possibly support this horribly immoral practice? Are you getting your kvetching hats on? Ready to pull out some kind of rationalization?

Lets try a few. Maybe G-d defines morality, so it's really not wrong?
Or maybe G-d is really elevating these barbaric people (who would otherwise just be killed since it's a Milchemet Mitzvah) and their goods? This way, their Neshama gets a boost?
Or maybe we'll go for a practical angle, that you have to fight barbaric people with severe methods. Still, that won't explain why G-d wants this practice of Cherem so badly.

Well, let's check out the Mesha Stele, as king Mesha talks about his victories against Israel:
(line 14) And Kemosh said to me, "Go! Sieze Nebo against Israel." so I
proceeded by night and fought with it from the crack of dawn to midday, and I took it and I slew all of them: seven thousand men and boys, and women and gi- and maidens because I had dedicated it to Ashtar Kemosh I took [the ves-]-sels of YHWH, and I dragged them before Kemosh.

Guess what word it uses to describe this practice of killing everyone, men women, children and animals. Look in the Hebrew (Phoenician really) at what it says:

כי. לעשתר. כמש. החרמתה
"I made it a Cherem to Ashtar Chemosh."

Looks like Chemosh, the Moabite god, liked his Cherem just as much as our G-d. So Cherem to your god was common practice in the area!

How could G-d possibly borrow such a horrible practice (that's meant for idol worshipping gods)? How could He then be so concerned about it, making sure the Priests get their share, and killing anyone who didn't keep up its full terms? Tzarich Iyun.


First for a bit of clarification: Ir Nidachat and Amalek are both specific cases of Cherem. There appear to be 2 levels of Cherem: one in which you kill everyone, men women, children and sucklings, and keep the booty, giving it to G-d, and one in which you kill the men, women, children and sucklings, and burn the booty 'for G-d'.

Now for a source I missed: Vayikra 27:21,28-29 refers to another Cherem. It appears that not only can you 'dedicate' the enemy's souls and booty to G-d, you can also dedicate your own stuff as Cherem: your field, animal or humans. Yep, you can dedicate a human to G-d. Presumably this is talking about a slave, though perhaps in-laws are also accepted. Pasuk 29 tells us what is to be done with the dedicated human: there's no way out -- he can't be redeemed monetarily. He's simply to be killed. Yes, I said killed. Tzarich Iyun Gadol.