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Article: Idolatry and the Customs of the Nations

December 3, 2014

worship-JesusI am posting the following overview of what is idolatry from the point of view of Torah and Jewish law in order to demonstrate that the worship of any created being or object (i.e. Jesus, deified kings, animals, sun, moon, stars, any man-made idol or imaginary god, etc.) is a grievous sin against G-d and a gross violation of Torah prohibitions against idolatry. Even if the person who is worshipping a creature believes that he is glorifying G-d in this fashion (as Christians / Messianic Jews clearly believe about man Jesus, who was born, went through puberty, lived, ate and went to the bathroom, and died and is still considered and worshiped as “god” by them), “he is still regarded as an idolater”.

Halacha Overview, based on Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah

(Article originally appeared on

a) Idolatry

It is forbidden to worship any created thing. Even if the worshipper knows that Ha-Shem is G-d, and he is worshipping this created thing because he believes that G-d wants it to be honored, he is still regarded as an idolator. This is what the Torah warned against: “And lest you lift up your eyes to the heavens and see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven that Ha-Shem your G-d apportioned to all the nations, and you are drawn away and bow down to them and worship them”1 — that is, lest you think that these are the leaders which G-d gave to the world and it is therefore proper to bow down to them and worship them. And on the same subject He commanded “Take care lest your hearts be deceived [and you turn away and worship other gods and bow down to them]”2 — that is, lest you err in your hearts and worship these as intermediaries between yourselves and the Creator.a The commandment against idolatry is as important as all the other commandments combined. A person who accepts idolatry denies all of the Torah and the prophets. A Jew who becomes an idolator is like a non-Jew in all respects.b

It is forbidden to worship an idol in the way it is customarily worshipped, as it says “And you shall not worship them”.3 It is also forbidden to sacrifice to it or to bow down to it even if it is not customarily worshipped in these ways, as it says “One who sacrifices to a god, except to Ha-Shem only, shall be destroyed”4; and it says “You shall not bow down to them”3 and “You shall not bow down to another god”.5,c It is forbidden to make an idol, as it says “You shall not make yourselves metal gods”,6 or to have one made for oneself, as it says “You shall not make yourself an idol or any image”.7,d It is also forbidden to make raised figures of men or of heavenly bodies even for decoration, as it says “You shall not make [gods of silver or gods of gold] with Me”.8,e

It is forbidden even to look at idols or to study how they are worshipped, as it says “Do not turn toward idols”,6 and it says “And lest you inquire after their gods, saying `How do these nations worship their gods'”9; for this can lead you to do as they do, as it says “that I too may do so”.9,f It is forbidden to turn toward idolatry even in one’s mind; we are warned against all thoughts that might lead to the uprooting of any of the basic principles of the Torah, as it says “And you shall not wander after your hearts or after your eyes which you are used to straying after”.10,g

A person who accepts idolatry as true, even if he has not worshipped, blasphemes against Ha-Shem, as it says “And the person who acts high-handedly… is blaspheming against Ha-Shem“.11,h Blasphemy itself is also forbidden, as it says “You shall not curse G-d”,12 and it says “One who blasphemes the name of Ha-Shem shall be put to death”.13,i It is forbidden to mention the name of idolatry or to swear by it, as it says “And you shall not mention the name of another god”.14,j

We are commanded to destroy idols and everything used in their worship, as it says “You shall destroy all the places where the nations… worshipped their gods… and you shall break down their altars and smash their pillars and burn their sacred trees and chop down their idols and destroy their name out of that place”.15 “Thus shall you do to them: break down their altars, smash their pillars, chop down their sacred trees, and burn their idols”.16,k It is forbidden to derive benefit from any of these things, as it says “And you shall not bring an abomination into your house”,17 and it says “You shall burn the idols of their gods in fire; you shall not covet the silver and gold on them and take it for yourself”.18,l

b) Incitement to Idolatry

A Jew who incites others to idolatry must be mercilessly punished, as it says “[If your brother… entice you, saying `Let us go and worship other gods’…] you shall not consent and you shall not listen to him and you shall not pity him and you shall not have mercy on him or conceal him; your hand shall be the first to put him to death… and all Israel shall hear and see and cease to do such a thing among you”.19,m If the majority of the inhabitants of a Jewish city are incited to idolatry the city must be destroyed, as it says “If you hear… that evil men have incited the inhabitants of their city, saying `Let us go and worship other gods’… you shall smite the inhabitants of that city with the sword, destroy it and all that is in it… and you shall burn the city and all its booty… it shall not be built again and none of the [booty] shall remain in your hands…”.20,n

It is forbidden to prophesy in the name of idolatry or to prophesy falsely even in G-d’s name, and it is forbidden to listen to such a prophet, as it says “But the prophet who presumes to say something in My name that I did not command him to say or who speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die… you shall not fear him”,21 and it says “If a prophet arises among you…saying `Let us go after other gods’… you shall not listen to the words of that prophet”.22,o

Contact with idolators should be avoided if it is likely to support them in idolatry p and certainly if there is any danger of them leading us astray, as it says “You shall not make a treaty with them or show mercy to them”,23 and it says “[You shall make no treaty with them or with their gods;] they shall not dwell in your land lest they cause you to sin against Me, for you will worship their gods”,24 and it says “Lest you make a treaty with the dweller[s] in the land and they stray after their gods and sacrifice to their gods and he calls you and you eat from his sacrifice…”.25,q

c) Idolatrous and Magical Practices

It is forbidden to imitate the style of worship used by idolators even in worshipping Ha-Shem. In particular, the Torah forbids erecting pillars for worship, as it says “And you shall not set up a pillar 26; or setting down stones to bow down on except in the Temple, as it says “[You shall not make yourselves false gods nor set up idols or pillars] and you shall not put carved stones in your land to bow down on”27; or planting trees in the Temple, as it says “You shall not plant any sacred tree next to the altar of Ha-Shem your G-d”.28,r

Divination and sorcery are forbidden; the Torah enumerates many specific types: “Do not turn to ghosts or familiar spirits”29,s; “[You shall not learn to imitate the abominations of those nations;] there shall not be found among you one who passes his son or daughter through fire (this refers to Moloch worship: “You shall not give of your seed to pass to Moloch”30,t), a diviner, a soothsayer, an enchanter, a sorcerer, a charmer, one who consults a ghost or familiar spirit, or a necromancer”31; “You shall not practice divination or soothsaying”.32,u

d) The Customs of the Nations

A Jew should not follow the customs of the nations by imitating them in styles of dress or hair or the like, as it says “And you shall not follow the customs of the nations”,33 and it says “And you shall not follow their customs”,34 and it says “Take care lest you are entrapped into following them”.35 A Jew should be distinguished from them in his clothing and actions as he is in his thoughts, as it says “And I separated you from the nations to be Mine”.36,v In particular it is forbidden to shave the “corners” of the head or the beard, as it says “You shall not round off the border of your head… or destroy the border of your beard”.37,w A woman should not wear man’s clothes or ornaments nor a man women’s [as it says “A man’s trappings shall not be on a woman nor shall a man wear a woman’s garment”].38,x Tattooing is forbidden, as it says “And you shall not put marks on yourselves”.39,y Cutting oneself or tearing one’s hair over the dead is also forbidden, as it says “You shall not make cuts in your flesh for a spirit”,39 and it says “You shall not cut yourselves or make baldness between your eyes for the dead”.40,z


1. Deut. 4:19 a. 2:1
2. Deut. 11:16 b. 2:4-5
3. Ex. 20:5 c. 3:2-3
4. Ex. 22:19 d. 3:9
5. Ex. 34:14 e. 3:10-11
6. Lev. 19:4 f. 2:2
7. Ex. 20:4 g. 2:3
8. Ex. 20:20 h. 2:6
9. Deut. 12:30 i. 2:7-8
10. Num. 15:39 j. 5:10-11
11. Num. 15:30 k. 7:1
12. Ex. 22:27 l. 7:2; 8:7
13. Lev. 24:16 m. 5:4
14. Ex. 23:13 n. 4:6-7
15. Deut. 12:2-3 o. 5:6-7,9
16. Deut. 7:5 p. 9:8
17. Deut. 7:26 q. 10:1,6; 9:15
18. Deut. 7:25 r. 6:6-9
19. Deut. 13:7-12 s. 6:1-2
20. Deut. 13:13-18 t. 6:3
21. Deut. 18:20,22 u. 11:4,6-10,13-15
22. Deut. 13:2-4 v. 11:1
23. Deut. 7:2 w. 12:1,7
24. Ex. 23:32-33 x. 12:10
25. Ex. 34:15 y. 12:11
26. Deut. 16:22 z. 12:12-13,15
27. Lev. 26:1
28. Deut. 16:21
29. Lev. 19:31
30. Lev. 18:21
31. Deut. 18:9-10
32. Lev. 19:26
33. Lev. 20:23
34. Lev. 18:3
35. Deut. 12:30
36. Lev. 20:26
37. Lev. 19:27
38. Deut. 22:5
39. Lev. 19:28
40. Deut. 14:1
12 Comments leave one →
  1. December 3, 2014 1:48 pm

    A Christian missionary “liked” this post. Which is quite odd – I guess he wanted to drive traffic to his own blog. I left the following comment on his blog:


    Mr. Christian missionary, you ended your latest blog post with:

    “we give thanks, and give Jesus all the glory!”

    Since you “liked” a post on my blog (probably just to drive traffic to your own), I figured I will leave a comment on yours. Since Jesus was a created being, a man who was born and who died, he is in no way the G-d of Israel. Then again, the G-d of Israel already warned us about this, that he’s neither a man or even a “son of man” (Jesus’ favorite self-designation):

    G-d is not a man, that He should lie, or a son of man, that He should change his mind.” (Numbers 23:19)

    The G-d of Israel is not about to share his glory with any other god, including Jesus:

    “I am the LORD; that is my name! I will not yield my glory to another or my praise to idols.” (Isaiah 42:8)

    Jesus is not standing by G-d’s side and cannot save. The G-d of Israel warned:

    “I, even I, am the LORD; and beside me there is no savior.” (Isaiah 43:11)

    Jesus, the “prince of peace” and the “son of man” cannot help and it’s foolish to put our trust in a creature. As G-d warned us in His Word:

    “Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help.”(Psalm 146:3)

  2. Concerned Reader permalink
    December 7, 2014 3:31 pm

    It would be beneficial to speak of G-d as emphatically one being, or BE ER (the source of all) who nonetheless subsists in perceptible character from the human revelatory perspective. G-d has the inviolable character of being alone, unseen, immaterial, dwelling in unapproachable light, and beyond all human conception, image, or thought.

    At the same time, it is just as true that the Lord dwells in Zion, and “appeared at Sinai, so that the people “saw the words” and the radiance of his glory, to such a degree that the words which were spoken from the man Moses or by other angelic and human emissaries bore the full eternal authority of a divine command direct from G-d. It is a scriptural principle, (to maintain monotheism) that Eternal authority can only stem from that one Alone which is itself eternal.

    Thirdly, and finally, G-d subsists in the character of one who acts and maintains the whole of creation with providential care perceptible by humans. His presence, or spirit always goes with the righteous and is never absent from them, such that any one under heaven may always cry abba father and have knowledge of him.

    Truly, At various times, through various phenomenon, and in Various ways G-d has spoken by, to, and through the prophets and fathers, directly, and through emissaries like Gabriel, and the various manifestations in the temple, tabernacle, bush, captain of Hashem’s host, etc. nonetheless his word is perceived as the still small voice.

    while G-d has truly spoken through these agent phenomenon and was known by humans through these apparently perceptible entities, he is not to be limited by them, constrained by them, or consigned to operation through them. If a human should say man must come to Hashem through Moses, the temple, or any other agent phenomenon, he is wrong and perceives the will of G-d wrongly.

  3. December 7, 2014 4:42 pm

    CR, you can provide all sorts of creative explanations in defense of Christianity’s god who came in man’s form, but it will not change the facts from the biblical, that is Jewish point of view. At the end of the day, your god came down as a man and it is he and not the G-d of Israel, who is the primary focus of your faith. No matter your denials! Christianity has placed another god before G-d’s face, persecuted and murdered those who wouldn’t bow their knee to him, and furnished myriads of fanciful theologies to justify it. You do not approve of the violence, but you do approve of the theology that led to it. I wish you could see the rotten root!

  4. Concerned Reader permalink
    December 7, 2014 5:53 pm

    Exodus 3:14, Deuteronomy 6:4 (G-d the one BeEr as source of all.) Has perceptible character from the human revelatory perspective. (Amos 3:7, Isaiah 6:1, Exodus 24:10-11)
    appeared at Sinai, so that the people “saw the words” (Exodus 20:18)

    the words which were spoken from the man Moses or by other angelic and human emissaries bore the full eternal authority of a divine command direct from G-d. (Exodus 19:19, and the book of Deuteronomy (Post national revelation personal recounting of the event by Moses, is regarded as possessing the same authority as the Torah.)

    2 kings 5 8 When Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his robes, he sent him this message: “Why have you torn your robes? Have the man come to me and he will know that there is a prophet in Israel.” 9 So Naaman went with his horses and chariots and stopped at the door of Elisha’s house. 10 Elisha sent a messenger to say to him, “Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed.”

    11 But Naaman went away angry and said, “I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. 12 Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?” So he turned and went off in a rage.

    Naaman didn’t have enough faith to know that G-d’s words can come to pass with full power whether through the prophet, through a messenger, or directly.

    Truly, At various times, through various phenomenon, and in Various ways G-d has spoken by, to, and through the prophets and fathers, directly, and through emissaries like Gabriel, and the various manifestations in the temple, tabernacle, bush, captain of Hashem’s host, etc. nonetheless his word is perceived as the still small voice. (1 Kings 19:12)

    Where have I quoted anything unbiblical? Tell me!

  5. Concerned Reader permalink
    December 8, 2014 1:23 am

    Daniel 7:13. I saw in the visions of the night, and behold with the clouds of the heaven, ONE LIKE a man was coming, and he came up to the Ancient of Days and was brought before Him. יג. חָזֵה הֲוֵית בְּחֶזְוֵי לֵילְיָא וַאֲרוּ עִם עֲנָנֵי שְׁמַיָּא כְּבַר אֱנָשׁ אָתֵה הֲוָא וְעַד עַתִּיק יוֹמַיָּא מְטָה וּקְדָמוֹהִי הַקְרְבוּהִי:

    one LIKE A MAN was coming: That is the King Messiah.

    Daniel 7:14 And He gave him dominion: And to that man He gave dominion over the nations, for the heathens he likens to beasts, and Israel he likens to a man because they are humble and innocent.

    which will not be removed: [as translated,] will not be removed.

    sovereignty; control.
    “man’s attempt to establish dominion over nature”
    synonyms: supremacy, ascendancy, dominance, domination, superiority, predominance, preeminence, hegemony, authority, mastery, control, command, power, sway, rule, government, jurisdiction, sovereignty,

    15. My spirit-I, Daniel-became troubled within its sheath, and the visions of my mind terrified me.

  6. December 8, 2014 7:18 am

    What is your point, CR and what does this have to do with the Christian demigod ?

  7. Concerned Reader permalink
    December 8, 2014 8:28 am

    The point Gene, is that everything I’ve written above (taken from Tanach) Is believed fully by Orthodox trinitarian Christians and backed by their scripture with or without, and regardless of Jesus. There are mounds of books written regarding how to, versus how not to understand Jesus and how he relates to Hashem for a reason. I’m sure you heard of Marcion? I’m sure you have heard of Arius? The Christians are not making Jesus the only path to G-d, because they know that G-d works with or without him. Even if you were a Christian in name, (as Simon The magician in Acts was) it wouldn’t mean anything unless you followed Jesus’ example.

  8. December 8, 2014 9:22 am

    The Nicene Creed on Jesus:

    “And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, begotten of his Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father; by whom all things were made; who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made man;”

    The above is such a blasphemous hodgepodge one hardly knows where to begin. Don’t tell me that this makes “perfect sense” to Christians, when we all know that untold people were tortured and murdered to force others, including other Christians, to believe this nonsense.

  9. Concerned Reader permalink
    December 8, 2014 9:38 am

    Gene, are modern Christians living in ancient or Medieval Theicracies? Many violent things have been done or sanctioned by the religions of the world. The Torah itself says that Children can be killed if they belong to the wrong group, ie Amalek. This is not an attempt to excuse evil, but to note that any religion can be contorted to abandon its ideals.

    Did you ever consider that if Jesus is really true light of light, that by believing in Hashem you follow G-d already?

  10. December 8, 2014 9:47 am

    “The Torah itself says that Children can be killed if they belong to the wrong group, ie Amalek. This is not an attempt to excuse evil, but to note that any religion can be contorted to abandon its ideals.”

    CR, it sure sounds like you are saying that Torah falsely attributed to G-d the command to completely destroy Amalek (something that Jews actually failed to do and later suffered greatly for it) and that this was instead a corruption of Judaism by Jews. Do explain.

  11. Concerned Reader permalink
    December 8, 2014 10:23 am

    I know the Torah commands blotting out Amalek (but various authorities say Amalek doesn’t exist anymore.) this hasn’t prevented a few people today from pointing at various groups of peopleand saying, these are Amalek. The point is, we can look at any faith system and say it’s done bad things, but we can’t vilify an entire group. It was wrong when the Church did it, it’s wrong now.

  12. December 8, 2014 10:43 am

    I still don’t understand your Amelek explanation as pertaining to what the Torah says and Jews did vs modern history. It’s also NOT known for a fact whether Amalek was indeed completely exterminated, and there’s a chance that their descendents are still around (per 1 Chr. 4:42–43). These descendants may have indeed done harm to Jews, under various guises, but post-exilic Jews have NEVER attempted to locate them and destroy any group as if they were Amalek. Pointing out that someone is today acting in the spirit of Amalek (that is trying to harm or destroy Jews when they are weak and have not done them any evil), and even may be an Amalek, is NOT a corruption of Torah. In no way can this be compared to what the Church did to those who disagreed with its teachings.

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