The Excommunication of Bernard L. Madoff

In a letter that he has published on his blog, Rabbi Joshua Hammerman makes a strong case for the excommunication of Bernard L. Madoff from the Jewish community.

I say, Amen. As far as I am concerned Madoff is herewith excommunicated from the Jewish people.

Hammerman says that means, "He is not welcome in any synagogue, JCC or Federation event anywhere. No rabbi will marry him or bury him. No organization will make excuses for him. He is ... cut off. Period."

Actually full excommunication means more than that.
The more severe form of Jewish excommunication is called herem. That term, related to the Arabic-derived word “harem,” signifies a “devoted thing,” something that is forbidden for common use. In the Hebrew Bible, the herem—generally translated as “utter destruction” in the King James translation—is the ultimate curse pronounced by the Lord upon the intransigently wicked, resulting in both physical and spiritual destruction. In rabbinic times, a decree of herem is announced by a rabbi standing in front of the open Torah ark, the most sacred place in the synagogue, perhaps even holding the Torah scroll in his hand. The shofar, or ram’s horn, is sounded, candles are snuffed out, biblical curses are recited against the excommunicant, and warnings are issued against associating with him. The excommunicated person is required to study alone and is permitted to receive only the barest necessities of life from other Jews. Dramatically, his coffin is stoned at burial. In the medieval period, not only was the excommunicant himself treated as a non-Jew, but his spouse and children were often also ostracized.
Kindly join our decree of excommunication. Please add your endorsement in the comments to this post with your own chosen appropriate words of vilification.


EpsilonAurigae said...

Certainly Madoff deserves ostracism and disgrace.

However, herem is not practiced any more and there is no central authority recognized today that can decree it.

Besides, why would herem be invoked against Madoff when it is not invoked against Jewish murderers?

It is understandable to want to make some kind of official condemnation of Madoff on behalf of the Jewish community. But if Madoff is "excommunicated" while killers are not, what message does that convey?

Rabbi Ariel Sokolovsky said...

It is ironic that call to place Madoff in herem comes from a Joshua Hammerman - a Reform rabbi considering that Moshe Mendelsohn (who is seen as an inspiration of the Reform movement) argued against the use of cherems in general and lobbied the state to outlaw their use:
see here for more on this
It is hard to understand why would Tzvee so enthusiastically support such a measure which has no halachik sanction in such a case and would help no-one.

This whole circus of Jews competing who can come up with the most cruel un-Jewish punishment ( see : www.sichosinenglish.org/essays/43.htm for a fellow Jew is strange to say the least.

I think this whole line of thinking makes no sense.
Give the man a lifetime punishment of community service to make him to raise money to replenish (at least in some measure) the charities that he ripped off. To put talented man like him in prison to make license plates at 10c per hour is a waste of his talents and taxpayers money.