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Home :: Seven Laws :: Third Law is No Idolatry

Third Law is No Idolatry

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Worshipping idols is called Avoda Zara in Biblical language (alien service - Biblical language translation). Sometimes Tora uses other terms - Avodat Elilim (serving to powers - Biblical language translation) and Avodat Kokhavim (worshipping stars - Biblical language translation). In the most general outline it all can be defined as serving and worshipping anything except G-d. In other words - the recognition there are some different powers, except for Hashem, that can somehow influence our fate. With this it means some definite rituals used in a given religion like kneeling, lighting the candle, crossing, bowing etc. Any form of such actions, with that or other intensity, causes a destruction in human soul.

But who is considered to be an idolater, according to Biblical law? The answer can be found at RAMBAM who writes ("Mishne Tora" Religious Code, Laws of Kings and Their Wars 9:2):

"Noah Descendant who infringed upon No Idolatry Law - he is to be sentenced to the death penalty. But this is in the case he committed a worship the way typical for this idol. And each worship Beit-Din (court - Biblical language translation) of Israel mortifies for - Noah Descendant is to be sentenced to the death penalty for that. And each worship Beit Din of Israel doesn't mortify for - Noah Descendant is not to be sentenced to the death penalty for that. However, despite he's not put to death for that - it's all prohibited. And it's allowed neither to set up Matzeva (the building for holding idolatry rites), nor to plant Ashera (special kind of tree planted by idolaters next to their temples), nor to make statuettes and the like for beauty."

One should understand that all in details. Well, we already spoke No Idolatry includes any actions meaning to worship anything except G-d. However not every worship is punished with death. And here is how the general rule is going to look like.

Four ways of worship are punished with death despite what specifically was worshipped. They are prostrating oneself face downwards, bringing sacrifices, bringing incense up in smoke and libation. Each one of those four ways of worship may be done only in the honour of G-d and only in Jerusalem Temple. Anyone who does it in honour of idol - definitely brings death sentence upon himself.

All other ways of worship are punished with death only in case they correspond to the way of worship specifically typical for the given idol. That is, for example, functioning of physical needs in front of Peor, or throwing stone into Merculis - those actions were the way of service typical for the given idols in ancient times. And despite they are not practised nowadays - the principle remained the same, only idols and ways of worship to them changed.

If human believes in whatever or whoever except G-d and tells it: "You are my god" or any different phrase of such kind - he immediately brings death sentence upon himself.

And, finally, there is a list of actions strictly prohibited but not punished with death - to embrace idol, to kiss idol, to sweep in front of him, to wash floor in front of him, to wash idol, to pave idol, to dress idol, to put shoes on idol and any other way of expressing one's esteem to idol, as it's explained in Talmud (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin 60b). However, if any of those actions is the way of worship typical for the given idol and was done exactly with the purpose of service - the criminal is to be sentenced to the death penalty.

What does it all mean in practice? Christians are idolaters as far as their cult includes the worship to the regular human, who was executed by the sentence of the Sages' court, but whom Christians consider to recognize and openly call their god. The way of worship typical for this idol is "to cross".

And RAMBAM writes both about this cult and about Islam ("Mishne Tora" Religious Code, Laws of Kings and Their Wars 11:4):

"And about Jesus from Nazareth who got a false idea to consider himself Mashiach (Messiah - Biblical language translation) and was executed by the sentence of court - prophet Daniel prophesied about him as it's written (Daniel 11:14): And parvenus from your people will exalt themselves to bring about the vision but they will fail - and can there be a failure bigger than that? Coz all prophets spoke of Mashiach who rescues Jewish people, and saves them, and brings back to their land those scattered from them, and strengthens them in observing the commandments. But that one became a cause of death of Jews from sword, and of exile of those remained at their land yet, and of their humiliation. He substituted Tora and misled the majority of humanity the way they started worshipping him instead of Creator. But we're not able to comprehend the intents of Creator, coz our ways are not His ways and our thoughts are not His thoughts. And this whole story with Jesus from Nazareth and with that Ishmaelite (Muhammad - Author's note) who came after him - it all happened only for the sake of clearing the way for real Mashiach and to prepare the entire world for serving G-d all together as it's written (Tzefaniah 3:9): For then I will convert the peoples to a pure language that all of them call in the name of the L-rd, to worship Him of one accord. How exactly? The whole world is already filled with knowledge about the final redemption, the words of Tora and commandments spreaded and this knowledge reached the distant islands and became known to lots of peoples rude by heart. And they discuss those things and reason about Tora's Laws: some suppose those Laws were really given from the Heavens but they are not valid nowadays coz they were given not for all times; some suppose there is a hidden sense in them and one shouldn't understand them literally and that "Messiah" already came and explained how they should be understood. But when real Mashiach comes, and succeeds, and rises above, and exalts, they all will immediately repent and understand they inherited false from their fathers, and their prophets and ancestors misled them."

Buddhists are idolaters as far as their cult includes the frank worship to the statuette in form of human. Whether this is meditation that can be recognized as the way of service typical for the given idol or this is bringing incense up in smoke - in any case the one who does it is to be sentenced to the death penalty.

What does the prohibition to set up Matzeva mean? Matzeva is a building made so that people brought together next to it, even to serve G-d. In practice - they are Mosques, Churches, Buddhist temples etc. The one who makes those and alike buildings infringes upon No Idolatry and, according to one of the opinions, is punished with the death penalty for that.

What does the prohibition to plant Ashera mean? Ashera is the special kind of tree planted by idolaters next to the idol's altar so that people brought together there. The rite can be met almost nowhere nowadays.

What does the prohibition to make the statuettes and the like for beauty mean? Prohibited for making are any statuettes in form of human, and any convex images of human, even if they serve for adornment only. That's why it's allowed to make convex images of human neither at tree, nor at stone, nor at plaster, not to mention sculpture in form of human. But if the image of human is concave or it's only the contour - it is allowed. It's also prohibited to cast things like Sun, Moon, stars, constellations and angels, even if their images are plane. But images of animals and other living creatures, except for human, and images of trees, vegetation and the like are allowed to make, even if they are convex.

Besides, the Sages warn we shoud commit no actions causing the impression of idolatry. That's why he who dropped a coin or wishes to extract a splinter from his foot in front of idol's image must not bow but must sit down to show he does no honour to the idol.

How the Items of Idolatry Are Destroyed and Cancelled

When righteous Mashiach comes and unveils himself (may it happen soon, in our days), the peoples of the world in their masses will start refusing from idolatry and false cults they inherited from their forefathers. Then the laws of destruction and cancellation of items meant for idolatry are going to become actual. RAMBAM describes them in details ("Mishne Tora" Religious Code, Laws of Idolatry 8:6):

"How the idol and everything prohibited regarding idolatry, that is items used for worship and offerred as sacrifice, is destroyed? They are either pounded into powder and dispersed by wind, or burnt, or sunk in the sea."

This is for the case when the item of idolatry can not be cancelled and the question is about Jewish idols, that is those idols owned and bowed by Jews. But worship to the idols of the peoples of the world can be cancelled and the law is less severe to them and it allows to use them afterwards, that is to derive profit from them, for example.

RAMBAM writes ("Mishne Tora" Religious Code, Laws of Idolatry 8:10):

"How the worship is cancelled? The idolater must break off either edge of idol's ear, or tip of nose, or finger, or flatten out idol's face even if nothing fell off, or sell the idol to a Jew-jeweller (for smelting) - the worship is considered to be cancelled in all those cases."

And further ("Mishne Tora" Religious Code, Laws of Idolatry 8:9):

"After the worship to idol is cancelled, the prohibition to use the items meant for this cult is automatically cancelled as well. But if the cancellation was done only for such items, they are allowed to use, but the idol itself remained prohibited, as it was, until the cancellation for it is done. But everything that was meant into sacrifice to this idol is prohibited forever, and cancellation of worship does not help here."

The cancellation of worship can be done only by adult, and only he who is himself the idolater of the given cult. Even if he made it due to compulsion and even if the idol itself does not belong to him - the worship is considered to be cancelled if two above-mentioned conditions were observed.

Besides, RAMBAM notes ("Mishne Tora" Religious Code, Laws of Idolatry 8:12):

"The idol's altar which is spoiled remains to be prohibited for any use until it's destroyed with hands of its idolaters more than by half. But Bimus which is spoiled can be used. What's the difference between Bimus and altar? Bimus is one stone, and altar consists from many stones. [...] How worship to Ashera is cancelled? If idolater either bit off its leaf, or transplanted its shoot, or broke out the stick or cane from its branches, or chopped it off without the purpose for the tree - worship to it is cancelled. Chopped it off with the purpose for the tree - the tree remains prohibited, but chopped branches can be used."

Sorcery - Part of No Idolatry

It's not occasionally that Talmud considers sorcery as component part of idolatry. Coz he who is engaged in sorcery as if rejects G-d, Whose recognition is meant by No Idolatry Law. Black magic and all the like is called Shem Tuma in Biblical language - that is filth. Everyone who practises it not only refuses to recognize Creator of the world but gives birth to great powers of spiritual sewage and dirt. And he is to pay for that afterwards. But what is sorcery? What can it be (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin 56b)?

"Rabbi Yose says - Noah descendants are prohibited with everything what is said about sorcery in the corresponding part of Tora (Dvarim 18:10-12): There shall not be found among you anyone who passes his son or daughter through fire, a soothsayer, a diviner of times, and one who interpretes omens, and a sorcerer, and a charmer, and a pithom sorcerer, and a yido's sorcerer, and a necromancer. For whoever does those things is an abomination to the L-rd, and it's coz of those abominations that the L-rd, Your G-d is driving them out from before you. - And He would never punish them unless it was prohibited to them."

There follows nine kinds of filth from said above. They are considered to be sorcery. Let's stop and have a detailed look at each of them.

He who passes his son or daughter through fire - this is one of the most ancient cults of worship to the idol named Molech. The way of worship typical for it was following: the father took part of his posterity and devoted it to this idol by passing through fire.

How was it done? The procedure consisted from two parts. First, a bonfire was kindled. Then father took part of his children and handed them to the priests-fireworshippers. The priests returned them back to their father, by this they gave him the right to pass children through fire. This part of rite was called hand-over to Molech. Then father passed his son or daughter through fire - this part was called pass-through the fire. What way? The row from storax tree was put the way the fire was burning two sides from it. The row was two recumbent trunks high and the child was passed by it. The father held the child who pushed off the ground with his legs and jumped through the fire, from one side to the other, inside the flame. Only he who did both parts of the procedure the customary way was to be sentenced to the death penalty. That's why if he did hand-over but no pass-through, or did pass-through but no hand-over, or did hand-over and pass-through the non-customary way - he's free of punishment. Also only he who handed part of his posterity was sentenced to the death penalty, since it's written (Vayikra 20:3): "Because he gave of his posterity to Molech" - part of his posterity but not all posterity. The posterity means both kids from allowed sexual affairs and kids from banned sexual affairs, both one's own children and grandchildren etc (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin 64b).

A soothsayer - that is questioning of stick and taking some other actions to predict future. How was it done? Human did some action to fall into a trance and get free of thoughts and outside impressions. Thus he awoke keen pretersensual perception in himself. After that, he was able to foretell future events apprehending them before they happened. He started talking what would and what would not occur, what was worth doing and what was not, and those predictions came true mostly. A soothsaying can be done different ways: some look over sand or tiny stones; some throw themselves onto the ground and shout in frenzy; some look into metallic mirror or at the lamp's flame until hallucinations appear in front of their eyes and then they start interpreting them; some hold stick in their hand or lean on it or bit the ground with it until they fall into a trance and start talking; some throw tiny stones into leather strip which serves as target, they do it during a long time, staring their flight and then predict; and some throw long leathern belt onto the ground, then stare at it and foretell. And astrological forecasts are also within this kind of sorcery, coz astrological look-outs and calculations serve to awake pretersensual perception in a foreteller. This is exactly why the forecasts of two astrologers will be different despite they both possess and interprete astrology laws the same way.

A diviner of times - it's he who's engaged in astrological forecast, saying: so-and-so day is favourable and propitious, but so-and-so day is not; so-and-so day is lucky for so-and-so business, and so-and-so year or so-and-so month is unsuccessful for so-and-so business. And this is rabbi Akiva's opinion. But besides, the Meonen word, which corresponds to this notion, can be also translated as magician or conjurer (fakir who causes optical illusion). That's why Talmud contains some different opinions. Rabbi Meir supposed that Scripture means some special kind of sorcery, when outpouring of sperm from seven men is taken and the obtained liquid is laid on eyes, after that the sorcery is got down to. But the Sages said it's he who closes other people's eyes and shows as if he made some wonder while he made nothing indeed. That means illusionary perception caused by numerous ruses and tricks combined with great adroitness of fakir's hands. Thus, we can often see fakir who takes a rope, then wraps it up into flaps of his coat in front of people's eyes and then takes out snake from there; or he throws ring up in the air and then takes it out of on-looker's mouth. All the like actions known very well among the peoples of the world are prohibited. And harm caused by fakir's activities is very much significant coz he "steals mind" that is he misleads on-lookers - they think occurrences happen the way they just can't happen in reality and they get used to take seeming for real.

One who interpretes omens - that is someone who believes in omens, saying: "A piece of bread fell out of my mouth - I should fear of damage today; a stick dropped out of my hands - I won't go to so-and-so place today, coz if I go, it anyway will bring me nothing; a son calls me from back; a raven cries towards my side; a deer crossed my road from north to south when I was going from east to west; a snake crept to the right of me or a fox came to the left of me - that is bad sign, I won't leave home today, coz if I leave I'm going to become deceiver's victim." (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin 65b) The same are all those listening to weasel's cry, bird's chirp, fish and saying: there's going to be so and so; and all those making signes for themselves and saying: if it goes so and so, then I will do some deed, but it doesn't go - I will not. But if someone says: "An apartment I built became a lucky sign for me; a woman I married is blessed - I became rich since I did it" - it's not prohibited. Coz such person doesn't change his actions and doesn't avoid deed, he just makes it as a sign for him about something that already happened - this is allowed.

A sorcerer - it's he who's occupied with any kind of magic. When Omnipotent endowed the righteous with the ability to do wonders, He simultaneously endowed humanity with the ability to do sorcery with help of filth's powers. With all that, people had freedom in choosing between light and darkness. Doing sorcery is considered to be rebellion and rejection of Heavens' authority. However only he who does a sorcery indeed is considered to be a sorcerer. But he who pretends he does a sorcery but he does nothing indeed - it's not considered to be sorcery.

A charmer - that's the one who says various magic words, holding some definite item in his hand and doing some action, even if he simply points with his finger. It's up to actions they suppose that if some phrase is said over a snake or a scorpion - they won't bring harm, or if cast a spell on human - neither a snake nor a scorpion can harm him. Here also is included saying of various exorcisms and incantations meant either to help or to harm.

A pithom sorcerer - it's he who brings some definite aromatic substance up in smoke, standing and holding myrtle wand in his hand swinging it and saying definite incantations until he starts hearing as if someone speaks to him with very low voice. The voice seemed to be not heared by ears but apprehended somewhere in thoughts, it answered the question as if from underground. Or it's he who takes human's skull, brings incense up in smoke to it and does some passes until he can hear something similar to very quiet voice coming from skull and answering the question.

A yido's sorcerer - it's he who takes some definite bird's bone into his mouth, brings incense up in smoke and does some other actions until he falls down in frenzy and starts saying things to happen.

A necromancer - that is someone who starves himself, then goes to cemetery and spends the night there to meet the corpse in his dream and take an answer to his question from him. Or this is he who puts some definite clothes on, pronounces some incantations, brings incense up in smoke and goes to bed alone to meet so-and-so corpse and speak to him.

He who devoted from his posterity to Molech and passed them through fire, a sorcerer and a pithom and a yido's sorcerer brings death sentence of Heavens upon himself. All those doing other things from above-mentioned kinds of sorcery and all those approaching them - infringe upon No Idolatry, but they are not executed.

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