KERITOT (Heb. כְּרִיתוֹת), tractate of the order Kodashim in the Mishnah, Tosefta, and Babylonian Talmud, which derives its name from the 36 sins for which the Torah gives the punishment of *karet. The Mishnah consists of six chapters dealing with the conditions that necessitate the bringing of the sin-offering (ḥattat) or a guilt offering (asham, or asham talui) to be brought only in case of the inadvertent or doubtful commission of sins which if committed intentionally would entail karet. After enumerating these sins in its first Mishnah, the rest of the first chapter deals with the unusual "sin offering" required of women after childbirth (Lev. 12:6). The second chapter lays down the rules stating exactly who is obliged to bring the respective offerings, and specifies if one or more offerings must be brought when there has been manifold transgression. The third chapter gives the rules applicable to the inadvertent commission of a sin requiring a sin offering. The fourth chapter deals in detail with cases of doubtful commission of a sin requiring a guilt offering. The fifth chapter first defines and classifies the types of forbidden blood which if consumed require a sin offering, and then discusses the doubtful commission of sacrilege. The sixth chapter deals with the question of what is to happen to the animal designated as a sacrifice if, before or after it has been slaughtered, it becomes clear that no sin was committed. The tractate ends with a discussion as to who has priority of honor, father or mother, and concludes that the honor due to one's teacher has priority over that to one's father.
The statement that Keritot is according to the opinion of R. Akiva (Ker. 3b: but see Sanh. 65a) does not apply to the entire tractate (Albeck, Mavo la-Mishnah (1959) 87), as various strata can be discerned there, but refers to the fact that it contains the rulings of R. Akiva, as recorded by his disciple Meir (Epstein, Tanna'im, 82). Thus Albeck claims that Mishnah 2:6 is a gloss to Mishnah 2:4 taken from other tannaitic sources and placed at the end of the chapter. Mishnah 6:2, 3 was taken from the mishnayot of Judah b. Ilai. The order of the paragraphs in the Tosefta does not correspond fully to that in the Mishnah. Chapter 3 contains a group of laws each of which begins with the word ḥatikhah ("a piece"). An interesting passage debates the role of the asham talui (a sacrifice for uncertain sins) which some rabbis call asham ḥasidim ("guilt offering of the pious"), holding that its purpose is to atone for every unknown sin. As an extreme example the Tosefta cites the case of Bava b. Buta who offered this sacrifice every day. Other rabbis, however, limit it to a certain category of grave sins. The Tosefta concludes with an aggadic saying to the effect that the patriarchs were equal to one another, as was Aaron to Moses and Joshua to Caleb.
The language of Keritot in terminology, style, and grammar resembles that of *Nedarim, *Nazir, *Temurah, and *Me'ilah, their language representing a dialect different from the rest of the Talmud and close to the language of the Targum (J.N. Epstein, Dikduk Aramit Bavlit (1960), 14–16). Keritot did not pass through the stages of development of the other tractates since it was not (like the other above-mentioned tractates) taught in the academies of the geonim (see Halakhot Pesukot Mss. Adler no. 2639; A. Marmorstein, in: mgwj, 67 (1923), 134f.). Despite this, it resembles other tractates in content, in names of its amoraim, and in its internal construction (see A. Weiss, Hithavvut ha-Talmud bi-Shelemuto (1943), 57f.). The Babylonian Gemara gives the ingredients of the incense in the Temple (6a; see Pittum ha-Ketoret). Among aggadic passages of interest in Keritot are a number which deal with education. The Mishnah and Talmud were translated into English in the Soncino edition by I. Porush (1948).
Ḥ. Albeck, Shishah Sidrei Mishnah, Seder Kodashim (1959), 243–5.
[Arnost Zvi Ehrman]