The first Mishnah
in Massekhet Keritot
lists the 36 Biblical sins that confer the penalty of karet
. Almost half of them involve incestuous and adulterous sins, with the rest being connected with issues of desecration of God’s Name, violation of the major Jewish holidays and festivals, sins related to the Temple
and the Temple service, and certain prohibitions regarding forbidden foods. In truth, there are other transgressions that also will bring about the penalty of karet
, for example, the Gemara
in Massekhet Shevu’ot
(daf, or page 13
) mentions someone who throws off the yoke of mitzvot
, someone who rejects the traditional interpretation of the Torah
and someone who violates the rite of circumcision. These are not mentioned in our Mishnah, since the individual who transgresses those commandments accidentally will not bring a sin-offering (since they are passive and do not involve an activity, and are not mentioned specifically in the Torah) and the focus of our Mishnah – and, indeed the entire tractate – is the atonement offered by means of the sacrifice to those who perform one of these sins unintentionally.
What is the penalty of karet?
According to the baraita
in Massekhet Mo’ed Katan
), both karet
and mitah be-yedei Shamayim
– a Heavenly death penalty – refer to a punishment in which the transgressor dies before his time. Someone liable to receive karet
dies before he turns 50; someone liable to receive mitah be-yedei Shamayim
dies before he turns 60. Other possibilities that appear there suggest that someone who receives karet
will die suddenly or pass away without children. The Rambam
argues that in the case of mitah be-yedei Shamayim
the punishment ends with the person’s death, while the soul of someone who receives karet
will suffer in the next world after death, as well.
Rashi points out that the punishment of karet applies only if the sin was done purposely without witnesses and proper warning. If there were witnesses who warned the individual that the action was forbidden, then the Jewish courts would try and punish the perpetrator according to the punishments that are appropriate for the act. Under some circumstances the sinner would receive lashes and would no longer be liable to receive the punishment of karet.