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What is idol worship?

by Rabbi Mendy Hecht


Library » Mitzvot » Prohibitions | Subscribe | What is RSS?


A. Idol worship is a vast sweeping category of badness that human beings must not engage in.

B. Idol worship is sometimes referred to as “star worshiping,” because the original concept of idol worship began thousands of years ago when people began worshiping stars in the sky instead of G-d Himself. They figured, “Well, if G-d created them to demonstrate His power, they must be quite powerful themselves!” And they would stand outdoors at night and worship the stars as mighty knights of G-d. From outdoor ceremonies it went to indoor ceremonies, and from indoor ceremonies it went to indoor ceremonies using stone or wooden symbols of the stars and their “powers,” which were worshiped as “representatives” of the stars. Over the years, the stars were gradually forgotten, and the symbols themselves began to be viewed as self-contained powers in their own right, creating the concept of idols and idol worship. Ceremonies ever increasing in complexity were built up around the idols and their indoor housings, and they soon spawned whole cultures, which regularly worshiped these man-made physical objects as gods.

Everything is created by G-d, and to designate any piece of physical matter as “G-d” or a “Higher Power” is idol worship
C. What does idol worship mean today? Idol worship begins in the mind—it starts with an incorrect perception of G-d. It says you can turn an abstract (G-d) into a concrete (or wood or plastic), which of course, is impossible. Idol worship doesn’t just mean singing and dancing and bowing in front of funny-looking little statues—it means believing in any force, object or item outside of the infinite G-d Himself: an angel, a constellation, a force of nature, a living creature—or a funny-looking little statue. Everything is created by G-d, and to designate any piece of physical matter as “G-d” or a “Higher Power” is idol worship.

How do I not worship idols?

1. Idol worship 101

Not worshiping idols takes on several forms: besides praying to an idol, or bowing or otherwise showing obeisance to an idol, a Jew is prohibited from sculpting, building, shaping or otherwise creating the image, form or likeness of a human being, heavenly body (such as the sun or moon) or angelic creature (animals are generally fine), whether for his personal use or not. Although around 90% of these objects (such as lawn ornaments or gargoyles) are created for fun, decoration or architecture, not religion or spirituality, Commandment #2 and its entourage of laws specifically forbids one from creating a three-dimensional likeness of any of the abovementioned objects. Furthermore, it is even forbidden to own such an object. Before you get nervous about your lawn ornaments, don’t worry—although made of stone, many lawn ornaments are of animals or things, not people angels or heavenly bodies, which is OK. One may neither buy nor sell idols, and is even forbidden from performing maintenance work on one. Also, reading idol worship manuals, instructional booklets or such publications of a religious nature is out.


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All idols are not made of stone

Posted by: Gabri-el on Aug 11, 2005

Idolatry can take many shapes, in my opinion. It's not only bowing to a representation of a deity, it's giving up your faith to anything else than G-d. One can also worship a car, a job, a woman, etc. It doesn't have to be a deity per se. You commit this sin if you ever come to consider something in your life more important than G-d.

Idol Worship and TV American Idol

Posted by: Jordan, Reston, Va on Jun 07, 2007

Is there any parallel to what is happening on TV shows like American Idol and what is considered forbidden. TV sadly can mold the mind.

Editor's Comment

While many people watch American Idol "religiously", it is not really a religious form of worship. i.e. they don't really think the "idol" is a G-d. (Sorry guys). However, although this type of activity is not a form of "biblically prohibited" idolatry, on a more refined level anytime we "worship" something other than G-d, i.e. anytime something, or someone, takes precedence over the will of G-d, we are worshiping an idol to a certain extent. That "idol" can be anything, and anyone, including ourselves. If we know G-d wants us to do something or to refrain from doing something, yet our yearning for a particular object, our enjoyment from a particular show, or our own self arrogance, becomes more important than G-d's will, that is an "idol".


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G-d » What is G-d?

Moses son of Maimon, born in Spain in 1135, died in Egypt in 1204. Noted philosopher and authority on Jewish law. Also was an accomplished physician and was the personal doctor for members of the Egyptian royalty. Interred in Tiberius, Israel.
Literally means "fit." Commonly used to describe foods which are permitted by Jewish dietary laws, but is also used to describe religious articles (such as a Torah scroll or Sukkah) which meet the requirements of Jewish law.
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.