A ban imposed on an individual to separate him from the other members of the community. In the Middle Ages, among the offences for which the herem was invoked were: disobedience to court orders; refusal to pay damages; insulting an official of the court; reviling scholars; and preventing the community from discharging its duties. The herem was thus an effective method of maintaining communal cohesion and authority. There are rare instances of a herem imposed on an individual for his heretical views, of which the best-known instance is the ban on Spinoza by the court in Amsterdam. The ban on polygamy attributed to Rabbenu Gershomof Mayyence became known as the herem of Rabbenu Gershom, although there is no evidence that this enactment took the form of a herem.
In modern times the whole institution of the herem has largely fallen into desuetude. On the threshold of the modern period, Moses Mendelssohn, on grounds of religious tolerance, expressed his opposition to the right of the Rabbis to impose the herem. In many European communities, the governments declared the imposition of the herem to be illegal and Jews obeyed the laws of the countries in which they resided. Excessive resort to the herem was in any event, self-defeating. When herem met with counter-herem, it often happened that so many people were under the ban that it became totally unenforceable, nothing more than an expression of strong disapproval. The sporadic attempts, nowadays, to impose a herem are treated as something of a joke.
Subjects: Judaism and Jewish Studies.