[from Heb., ka·rathʹ].
In Israel, when used regarding a punishment for violation of the Law, it meant a cutting off in death. Some Rabbinical authorities believe that it merely constituted expulsion from the congregation of Israel, though they differ widely in opinion. The Pentateuch and Haftorahs, edited by J. H. Hertz (Soncino Press) says, on page 493: “In most of the offences mentioned, the penalty prescribed is death. With the remainder, the culprits were expelled from the Community and presumably from the country, since their presence contaminated the land.” The Soncino Chumash, by Dr. A. Cohen, comments on Leviticus 23:29, 30, which says: “Every soul that will not be afflicted on this very day must be cut off from his people. As for any soul that will do any sort of work on this very day, I must destroy that soul from among his people.” It gives the opinion of Rabbi Abraham Ibn Ezra: “There is a difference between this [latter] punishment and ‘cutting off,’ but I am unable to explain it.” Rabbi Rashi’s opinion is also given: “It implies that by ‘cutting off’ is meant ‘being lost’ (but recoverable).”
By examining the Scripture texts naming the offenses for which this punishment is prescribed it can be determined that it has reference to the death penalty, executed either by the authorities in Israel or by God himself. The crimes for which cutting off are prescribed are those of a most serious nature. They include disrespect of Jehovah (Israel’s God and King), idolatry, child sacrifice, spiritism, desecration of sacred things and disgusting practices, among them incest, bestiality and sodomy. In some instances the death penalty is specifically mentioned in connection with the offense for which ‘cutting off’ is decreed as the sanction.—Ex. 31:14; Lev 7:27; 18:6, 22, 23, 29; 20:3-6; 22:3, 4, 9; 23:28-30; Num. 4:15, 18, 20; 15:30, 31; see also Exodus 30:31-33, 38.
The writer of the letter to the Hebrews evidently had in mind the statement at Numbers 15:30: “The soul that does something deliberately . . . that soul must be cut off from among his people,” when he said: “Any man that has disregarded the law of Moses dies without compassion, upon the testimony of two or three.” (Heb. 10:28) Jesus used the expression in setting out the punishment for the symbolic “goats”: “These will depart into everlasting cutting off [Gr., koʹla·sin], but the righteous ones into everlasting life.” (Matt. 25:46) Here the contrast is between life and death. If Matthew wrote his Gospel first in Hebrew, as is believed, then he probably used a form of the Hebrew word ka·rathʹ in this passage.