Kenneth Cohen


One of the punishments given in the Torah for serious offenses, is known as “Karet,” or being cut off from the Jewish people.

There are sins connected with incest that are punishable with Karet, as well as not fasting on Yom Kippur and eating Chametz on Pesach. We are not exactly sure how this punishment is given, because it is given in Heaven.

The Ramban mentions that there are three levels to Karet, depending on how they are written in the Torah. In one instance it says, ונכרתה האיש, “and that man shall be cut off.” It also says, ונכרתה הנפש, “and that soul shall be cut off.”

The first two cases might reflect a weakness in self control. But the most severe type of Karet has the words, הכרת תכרת, “that soul shall surely be cut off. This refers to sins in connection with blasphemy and denying the truth of the Torah.

The Talmud in Sanhedrin describes such a denier as an Apikores, or heretic. This refers to one who denies that the Torah is from Heaven. It includes even a denier that even one verse is not from Hashem. Such beliefs turn people away from the Torah, and they begin doubting its validity.

There is some comfort here as one needs to have a strong knowledge of Torah before he can be considered an Apikores. There may not actually be anyone that qualifies for this title. Nevertheless, one must be aware of the pitfalls of giving credibility to heretical ideas. We must stay firm in our beliefs in Hashem and the Torah. And we certainly must be aware of the severity of violating the commandments of the Torah, and especially those connected with Karet.

About the Author
Rabbi Cohen has been a Torah instructor at Machon Meir, Jerusalem, for over twenty years while also teaching a Talmud class in the Shtieblach of Old Katamon. Before coming to Israel, he was the founding rabbi of Young Israel of Century City, Los Angeles. He recently published a series of Hebrew language-learning apps, which are available at