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Showing posts with label Sanhedrin 61. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Sanhedrin 61. Show all posts

4.11.14

idolatry

Introduction: There is a chapter in Sanhedrin which deals with the question one what types of  crime deserve  execution.

Part of that chapter deals with idolatry.

And to start out the subject the Mishna gives a list of six things that are liable.
"One who serves an idol, one who sacrifices to it, one who burns a sacrifice to it, one who pours a libation in front of it, one who bows before it and one who accepts it as his god and says, 'you are my god.'"

That is the six are : the four regular types, plus service according its way and then words with intention.


Later on the Gemara (Babylonian Talmud) brings an argument between two sages Abyee and Rava (two amoraim (people that lived in the time of the Talmud)) if idolatry needs intension.

My comments here deal with the question of how do they learn (understand) our Mishna?







 Talmud Sanhedrin page 61 side B. The way I used to think about idolatry was that its essence was to accept another being as one's god -a being that is not God.  In this context God would be considered as the First Cause. But that is clearly wrong. We have an argument in Sanhedrin 61b. One who serves an idol from love or fear Abyee says he is liable and Rava says he is not liable. So certainly to Abyee, the essence of idolatry is not accepting it as one god. And there is no reason to think Rava disagrees with this. It is just that Rava adds an extra condition. So idolatry is serving another being that is not God,  and Rava adds a condition that one accepts this other beings as ones god. [I am not saying any of this is clear. I am just saying what it looks like the the Talmud is holding this as the definition of idolatry. I so far am not claiming I have any idea what this means. I assume it has something to do with numinousity that comes from some being that is not God. But that is just my guess.]
But  now let us look at the Mishna 60b. It lists several ways to be liable (sacrifice, burning, pouring, bowing) and then lists another way: "One who accepts it as his god and says, 'you are my god.'" This on one hand seems to be like Abyee. That is because the condition accepting it as ones god is not necessary to be liable in the previous cases. On the other hand this looks to be not like Abyee. After all if saying "You are my god" to an idol is liable, then to Abyee there should be no reason to add an extra condition "accepting it as ones god."


The next thing I wanted to say today was in reference to a Rambam that explains "from love or fear" to mean
"love" of the beauty of the idol and "fear" is fear that the idol should not hurt him. Why would the Rambam say this? I did not mention this before because I was learning like Rashi and that made the most sense. [I forget why.] Rashi says love and fear means love and fear of a person.
At any rate, the reason I think the Rambam says his explanation is this: Abyee agrees that walking into a house of an idol and bowing down thinking it is a synagogue is not liable because his heart is towards Heaven. With Rashi there seems to be little difference between love and fear and this last case. In both cases he is not serving the idol with any kind of intension. With the Rambam it all makes sense why he would be liable to Abyee for love and fear and not liable when his heart is towards Heaven.

This is these ideas stated in Hebrew for anyone that might be reading this that speaks Hebrew better than English:
)סנהדרין סא: הקדמה. המשנה מונה שישה דברים שחייבים בשביל עבודה זרה. העובד עבודה זרה, זביחה, הקטרה, עירוי, השתחווייה, והמקבלו כאלוה ואומר לו אלי אתה. הגמרא מביאה מחלוקת בין אביי ורבא אם עבודה זרה צריכה כוונה. אני הייתי רגיל לחשוב שעיקר עבודה זרה הוא לקבל אותה כאלוה. עכשיו ברור שזה אינו נכון. לאביי אפשר להיות חייב גם אם אינו מקבלו כאלוה. ואין סיבה לחשוה שרבא חולק על עיקר פירושו של עבודה זרה. אלא שהוא מוסיף תנאי.) סנהדרין סא: המשנה מונה ששה דברים שחייבים בשביל עבודה זרה. האחרון הוא המקלו עליו כאלוה ואומר לו אלי אתה. מצד אחד זה נראה כמו אביי בגלל שבשביל העבודות הראשונות כנראה לא צריכות לקבל כאלוה. מצד שני זה מראה לא כאביי שאם האמירה אלי אתה מחייבת אותו למה צריכים גם לקבל עליו כאלוה?)סנהדרין סא: מחלוקת אביי ורבא. אתמר העובד עבודה זרה מאהבה ומיראה, אביי אמר חייב. רבא אמר פטור. הרמב''ם מפרש מאהבה מאהבת היופי שלה, ומיראה מיראה שמא תריע לו. רש''י מפרש מאהבת אדם ומיראתו. הסיבה שהרמב''ם מפרש כשיטתו היא שאביי מודה שמשתחווה לבית עבודה זרה וחושב שהוא בית הכנסת לא כלום הוא שליבו לשמים. להרמב''ם מובן שיש חילוק גדול בין מאהבה ומיראה שחייבים וליבו לשמים שלא כלום הוא




The critique on Musar is when I told my learning partner that it is first order morality. I said it is about things you have to do, not justification for why you have to do them. I said, "That might be why you never found it interesting." He said: "That would explain why it seems to be not effective in correcting people's character as it is supposed to."

I am not saying I agree with his assessment. But you should know that he has never been enthusiastic about Musar. Almost to the degree of seeing it as a waste of time. I hold the exact opposite. My impression of Musar is that it is important to understand the Torah's point of view.  Without Musar people tend to come up with a lot of crazy ideas of what they think the Torah ought to be saying. Not that there is anything wrong with being independent but it ought to be after sufficient research. Has a person finished Shas and Poskim and all writings of  the Ari and the Gra and the Rambam and Saadai Geon? Then he can have his own opinion about what the Torah says. Everyone has  a right to his own informed opinion. No one has the right to an uninformed opinion. Ah but he does not have time for all that study? Then he has no right to an opinion.
Cancel your cable TV, and start to learn Torah






29.10.14

Talmud Sanhedrin 61a.

תוספות first words "How do they serve?"(איכה יעבדו)(Deuteronomy 12) my learning partner suggested today a possible reason why the Meor Hagadol [on the Ri'f] did not choose to go on the path of Tosphot.
The thing you need to do to see this is to take the idea of Tosphot that is how he wants to read the Gemara and just go with it. Tosphot is understanding the Gemara's (Talmud) original question to be if we have "bowing"(Deuteronomy 17) then what do you need "How do they serve?" (Deuteronomy 12) That is Tosphot understands that the Gemara can't find anything that "How do they serve?" forbids that "bowing"(Deuteronomy 17) does not already forbid--because to Tosphot "bowing"(השתחוויה) forbids everything, [the way of the idol and not the way of the idol and in a way of honor and not in a way of honor]. Okay. So far so good.
But then the Gemara continues: Well. Perhaps "How do they serve?"(איכה יעבדו) tells us to allow service in a way of dishonor towards idols one usually honors. It answers: "That can't be because that is already allowed because of 'bowing.'" And it gives a reason for this. Just like bowing is in a way of honor, so also any service you want to forbid has to be in a way of honor.

So at this point the Gemara has confined "bowing" to a way of honor. Then it suggests that "How do they serve?" comes to allow a way of dishonor towards idols one usually serves in a way of dishonor  but that not being their usual way.
But let us take a look at what the Gemara has said. It has now confined "bowing" to a way of honor. That means we now have an easy use for "How do they serve?"--all of quadrant IV which is the intersection of "its way"[כדרכה] and the way of dishonor (דרך בזיון). So then why does the Gemara after that have to find something else that "How do they serve?"(איכה יעבדו) comes to permit. Did not we say originally that we are looking for any use of "How do they serve?" Now we have a use for it,- service in its way that is dishonorable. Quadrant IV.
Now Tosphot does deal with this question. He says that the Gemara still wants to use "bowing" to forbid a way of dishonor towards idols one usually serves in a different way of dishonor. After all that is exactly what it says we would forbid  if not for "How do they serve?" So all the more so would we forbid its way in a way of dishonor. That is: We do assume bowing forbids part of quadrant III {intersection of dishonor and not its way} that deals with Markulis. [Markulis is an idol one serves by throwing stones at it] so all the more so quadrant IV. But in fact that would only forbid quadrant IV.
In other words, I am not sure that the answer of Tosphot works well here. Because all you see in the Gemara is dishonor to Markulis is permitted by "How do they serve?" And that would have been forbidden by "bowing." But what does that tell us about "bowing" in quadrant IV--only things relevant to Markulis. Also what have we said about "bowing?" That is forbids only things that are honorable. So, at this point we have limited greatly what "bowing" can forbid.

So what comes out is that the  Hameor HaGadol may have had a good reason not to walk in this path. We see Tosphot is right that he has support from the Gemara itself. If you forbid dishonor to Markulis, it seems a fortiori you would forbid all kinds of service in its way. But how would you get this distinction from the verse? That you forbid everything by bowing and only allow dishonor to idols one usually honors and use "How do they serve?" to permit dishonor to idols one usually serves with dishonor. Does not this seem like a stretch? We can see why the  Hameor HaGadol went a different path here.

Appendix: My question on Tosphot and my learning partner's question are two different things. And now that I think of it, it seems to me my question needs a little more thinking. Because even though it seems like a good point, but what would you gain from my question? You would have to move the boundaries a little and that is all. "Bowing" would still forbid certain most things, and "How do they serve?" still permits things that bowing would have forbidden. But so what? That does not seem right now to me to be  a big deal. Rather, my learning partner's question seems much more powerful.

26.10.14

Idolatry

In the Gemara [Talmud Bavli] Sanhedrin 61a Rav Acha asked if we would go with the idea of rava bar rav chanan to learn servce to an idol not like its way from "bowing" (i.e. they will go and serve and bow down Deuteronomy 17) then what would we do with, "How do they serve?" (Deuteronomy 12)? My question on this is why start with bowing or even with sacrifice as the outside teaching (Braita) does? Why not start with "How do they serve?" and go from there? That is why do we not start out saying that "how do they serve?" tells us that service not like its way is not liable, and then ask so what can "bowing" or "sacrifice" be coming to tell us? And then we would be forced to answer that bowing or sacrifice must be telling us that only bowing or sacrifice according to it way is liable. That means the Gemara would be taking the two verses as an intersection instead of as a union. i.e. an "And" gate and not an "Or" gate. I mentioned this to my learning partner and he said my question is not really on Rav Acha at all but rather on the original Braita. For the original Braita starts out assuming all service according to its was is liable and then tells us that sacrifice not like its way is also liable.


That above paragraph is my idea for today in Torah. But just for people that are new to this blog let me try to give a little background. The Braita says we learn service not like the way of the idol from sacrifice. (Exodus 22. "He who sacrifices to false gods will be destroyed.") Rava asked why not learn from bowing? Rav Acha asks if we would learn from bowing then what would you do with How do they serve?

21.10.14

Sanhedrin 61a in Tosphot. I have asked on Tosphot that in his approach he is expanding the area of prohibition of bowing (Deuteronomy 17) to include the way of the idol not in a way of honor[quadrant IV]. And yet we see in the Gemara itself that it does a similar thing. It says we would know from "bowing" to absolve a way of dishonor to idols that one usually sacrifices to[quadrant III]. But we would not know to absolve service in a way of dishonor towards idols one worships in a different way of dishonor. So we need "How do they serve.?"to absolve that.
So we clearly are expanding some kind of prohibition into quadrant III.What could it be? It is not going the be "how do they serve?" because that is what we are about to use to tell us not to expand the the prohibition there.




That is to say we might think such and such a thing so we have a verse to exclude it. But I am wondering on the Gemara itself why would we think to expand it? Well the Gemara itself gives a reason. What is it with exposing oneself to Peor is liable, so also all types of service that are not honorable are liable. But how does that reasoning help to expand bowing to serve that is dishonorable that is its way that Tosphot requires in order to answer his question?



Actually I dont think this last answer is right, and rather the real reason we would have expanded the prohibition into quadrant III is just because idolatry is forbidden. i.e from the verse "least he will go and serve"

2.10.14

Idolatry seems to have two different parts.One is accepting a different god other that the God of Israel as ones god. The other is actual service towards anything under God. That is the set of everything or anything under God. [That is how the Rambam out it in his commentary to the Mishna.]

Why I say this is because   that accepting any other god as ones god besides the God of Israel is idolatry.But Abyee in Tractate Sanhedrin page 61b that serving an idol from love or fear is also liable--So we see at least to Abyee that one does not need to accept this other god as ones god in order to be liable. Service alone is enough.

[For general information I should mention that "serve" in this context means that you have an idol or a statue of some physical object someplace and one either serves it according to its generally accepted way (like throwing stones at it --if that is its service) --or sacrificing an animal, or pouring  wine, or offering incense, or bowing.] These last four are learned from verses in the Book of Deuteronomy e.g. "Least he will go and sacrifice"]


Abyee brings a proof from a braita- -(a teaching from the period of the Tenaim but was not part of the Mishna).
In short, we see from the Braita is that there is such thing as serving idols accidentally. I can't go into the details right now and they don't matter for what Abyee needs the braita for.
Abyee goes through the different possibilities what this "accidentally serving idols" might mean. After he has gone through all the logical possibilities and nothing works, he decides that it must means from love or fear.

What I wanted to get to in this essay is this one simple point--apparently idolatry needs some level of knowledge that you don't usually need in normal prohibitions-- even to Abyee.The reason I say this is lets looks at what Abyee actually says.

He asks, if he bows down to a house of idols but thinks it is a synagogue, then he has not done anything wrong--his heart is towards Heaven . If he knows it is a house of idols, then he is liable. If it is the statue of  king then if he accepts it as his god, he is liable, and if not then he has not done anything wrong.

What I wanted to point out, is that why can't Abyee take the usual case of "accident"--one has two pieces of fat in front of him. One is forbidden fat, and the other allowed fat; and he eats one and finds out later it was forbidden. So why can't we say "accidentally" there is a synagogue and a  Buddhist temple and he walks in and prays the afternoon prayer and he found out it was a Buddhist temple.

Clearly we see that this would not be liable to either Abyee or Rava. Why Not? Because clearly idolatry needs a higher degree of knowledge that normal prohibitions just like Shabat.

Appendix:
I just wanted to mention here why this is important. Most people do not have an idea of what idolatry is. So they take hybrids are being prime examples. This does not serve in the cause of intellectual clarity. For example take Hinduism. If you take the Bahavagad Gita it looks like worship of  a god who seems much like the First Cause, the God of Israel. But if you take a look at normal worship in India it seems to be clearly idolatry. It is not good to take a hybrid and use it as a prime example because that just confuses things. This is why we need to go to the Gemara directly to understand in it essence what exactly does the prohibition of idolatry include and what does it exclude.










28.9.14

On the issue of idolatry in the Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin, on page 60




To explain what I mean, let me give a little introduction.
In the Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin, on page 60, we find a teaching [called a "braita"] which tells us how do we know one is liable if he serves idolatry not according to its usual way. It says: We learn it from "He who sacrifices to the gods will be destroyed ." [Exodus 22] (i.e. If sacrifice is the usual way, then why mention it? It is already included in "How do they serve?" So it must be coming to tell us also not in its usual way is liable.)
Rava asks, why can't we learn instead from "least  he will bow?"((Deuteronomy 17))
Rav Acha asks on Rava if we would learn from bowing then what would "How do the nations serve their gods"(Deuteronomy 22)  come to tell us?

Why does Rav Acha not ask this same question on the original braita? That is the question both topshot and the Baal HaMeor ask.

Before I go further let me offer a little explanation. The point of the Gemara here is that we have two verses telling us the same thing. They intersect the same set.
The answer of the Meor HaGadol is yes they do intersect the same set but you might have thought they don't. You might have learning from "least he sacrifice" to make forbidden also things that are not the way of that idol, and yet still in the way of honor like kissing an idol that one usually hugs.

That is the verse "How do they serve" come in fact come to exclude something you might have thought even though in fact "sacrifice" does not forbid things of honor that are not the way of that idol.

Tosphot develops a different line of logic. He starts out showing that "How do they serve" comes to tell us at least things that are forbidden. His point is that even though the Gemara does finds something to it comes to permit still it is implicit that it forbids some things. So since the fact of the matter is that "He who sacrfices to the gods will be destroyed" (Exodus 22)  and "How do they serve?" (Deuteronomy 22) in fact intersect the exact same set of permitted things,  we have to understand the original question of the Gemara as being all inclusive what at all does "How do they serve?" come to tell us--that is even forbidden things. Because Tosphot is saying that we would learn everything from "bowing" even service according to its way-- even not in the way of honor.


Appendix

But I might add a little background information for people that have only a little bit of experience with learning Gemara.

[1] Service to an idol is forbidden in two ways. One way is service that is usually done to that idol, like throwing stones at an idol that that is its way of worship. That is even though throwing stones at something is usually considered as disrespect, still if it is the way of that idol  then one is liable.


Another way something can be forbidden is if it is one of four types of serve pouring wine, burning incense, sacrificing an animal or bowing.

[2] People can be objects of idolatry. This fact is not relevant to the above essay but still important to keep in mind.
But the Talmud itself does not go into much detail about what can be an object of idolatry. It was written in Babylon where the distinction between Jews going to their Temple and praying was clearly different from worshipers of idols going to their places of worship. Only much later did people like Saadia Geon and Maimonides have to deal with the issue of what can be an object of idolatry. But the fact that this is not talked about much in the Talmud means the issue remains blurry.












I want to show here a little of the depths of Tosphot. There is one line in Topshot that says something that seems to not fit the rest of what he is saying. I have already pointed this out that this kind of thing is found in almost every Tosphot in Shas. At first glance it seems like a mistake. Then after you think about it you start to see the point. And much later you realize that he was saying something essential to his argument. Before Tosphot states his answer he says "and without 'How do they serve?' we would not know service according to its way not in a way of honor would be forbidden." True, but it seems to be the opposite of what he is trying to say. What could his point be? And it can't be part of his answer which says just the opposite. I want here to say that Topshot is reinforcing his question-in this way: We know that, "How do they serve?" has no intersection with bowing or with sacrifice, so what could the question of Rav Acha be? Of course we need "How do they serve?" We would not forbid throwing stones at Markulis (an idol that one serves by throwing stones) without "How do they serve?" So we have to say there is some intersection with bowing that we would not have with sacrifice. Tosphot is trying to get to his point that bowing would forbid quadrant IV (Its way and not a way of honor). But here his point is that without saying that "bowing" forbids something in quadrant IV, we would not ask "What does 'how do they serve' permit?" We would not ask such a question unless it did not forbid something. So Tosphot is asking two questions. Why does Rav Acha not ask on "sacrifice" also? If you learn from "sacrifice" then what does "How do they serve" permit? So the Gemara has to mean that it has gone through the options of what "How do they serve?" might forbid and found nothing. How is that possible? It must be because "bowing" forbids everything that "how do they serve" forbids. And if "bowing" would not forbid something in quadrant IV then the question would not even start because we would need "How do they serve?" for that quadrant. A simpler way of putting this is this: Tosphot considers the question of the Gemara in two ways. He asks himself: "What does it mean to ask what do we need 'how do they serve?'? Does it mean, what does it forbid? But that can't be because we know it forbids something that neither "bowing" nor "sacrifice" forbid --i.e. all of quadrant IV. Then maybe it means, what does it permit? But that also can't be because then why ask it only on "bowing" and not on sacrifice also? (Because both "sacrifice" and "bowing" and "How do they serve?" all allow quadrant III.) Tosphot concludes that therefore we have to say that "bowing" and "How do they serve?" that both forbid quadrant IV and that is the reason the Gemara asks only on "bowing." The Meor Hagadol asks the same question but as I mentioned he answers it differently. He says we use "How to they serve?" (Deuteronomy 22) to tell us things in quadrant II are permitted that we might have thought are forbidden e.g. kissing an idol that one usually hugs. That is a good usage. But we can't do the same thing with "bowing" because "bowing" in fact forbids that very thing. Appendix 1) I wanted to add one small detail that I hope was clear. It is that if we learn from "bowing" then all quadrant II would be forbidden--i.e. service not like the normal way and yet in the way of honor. But in fact we do not learn from "bowing" anything except to tell us that it is a forbidden kind of worship towards any idol. The verse that we do learn from is "least he go and sacrifice" and that tells us all types of service that were done in the Temple are forbidden-not just any kind of honor.] 2) I also wanted to add a point that I skipped in the above essay because I thought it would detract from the continuity. It is the reason why Topshot is considering the question of the Gemara in two opposite ways. I.e. what does, "How do they serve come to exclude?" clearly the Gemara clearly tries to find what does, "How do they serve?" come to permit. So why does Topshot treat it as, "What does it come to forbid?" The reason is contained in the very cryptic phrases of Tosphot. He exclude the possibilities of coming to permit because what ever bowing permits sacrifice will permit more. So Tosphot is showing why he has to go to the opposite direction. 3)Tosphot thinks that there is no way that "sacrifice" can possibly be expanded to all of quadrant II (not the way of that idol but honorable service). And therefore there is no reason we would need how to they serve to eliminate it. That is the essential reason he disagrees with the Meor Hagadol. And in that he seems to have a good point. And Tosphot does not need a extra verse to tell us that all kinds of serve done with honor are forbidden because the gemara understands that that is the essential meaning of bowing.[Actually this last point I am a little fuzzy on. Why would Tosphot not need a verse to expand bowing to all the things he wants to expand it to?!!!] 4) One thing I did not mention is that according to way of thinking of the Meor HaGadol when there might have been a prohibition for all of quadrant IV and "how do they serve?" tells us that there is in fact no liability there then how to we know which direction is determinate? But why? Maybe we should go with the idea that that area is forbidden and use "how do they serve" for something else?!  

22.9.14




Talmud Sanhedrin page 61a.



We have a outside teaching--(a braita) that says we know you can't serve idols in a way that is not usual from the verse "He who sacrifices to the gods will be destroyed."[Exodus 22] Rava asks: "Why not learn this from "He will  bow?"[Deuteronomy 17]
Rav Acha asks on this question of Rava thus: If we would learn from "bowing" then what would "How do they serve?" ([Deuteronomy 12) come to tell us?
Tosphot asks on this question of Rav Acha why did he not ask it on the the original Braita where we learn from "sacrifice?"

allow HaMeor





The Gemara in Sanhedrin page 61a and the second Topshot that starts, "How do they serve?"


________________________________________________________________

Appendix:
Idolatry should not be worshiped in one of two ways. One is its normal service and the other is not its normal service. The not normal service in order to be liable needs to be either sacrifice, burning, pouring, or bowing. If one just hugs it, then he is not liable (if that is not the usual way of worship).

But the idea of the normal way of worship is a bit frightening. What if someone says, "Give me charity, and I promise you a good year?" Is that idolatry if someone gives him money? It certainly seems so. After all it seems the basic implication is that the person involved is claiming Divine powers. And that seems to be all one needs in order to be considered an idol.















2.9.14


In terms of the Talmud in Sanhedrin page 61a I want here to state what I think is a major question.

It is the question of Rav Acha from Diphti on Rava. His question is if Rava would be right then what does how do they serve come to tell us. Now at first it looked to me like he could even skip this part of his argument and go right to his question--the contradiction between Rabbi Elazar and Rava. But this I realized afterwards was wrong. He needed to lead up to his question because he wanted to make sure that bowing would be placed in the area of service not according to the way of that idol. And then he could ask the question from the statement of Rabbi Elazar.

But then my learning partner asked, "Why does he not ask straight from Rabbi Elazar onto the original Braita?" 
Now at first I thought that that was the question of Tosphot but it turned out that that is not true. Tosphot asks something that superficially looks like the question of my learning partner but is not in fact the same. Topshot ask if the question from "How do they serve?" (Deuteronomy 12) is valid for "bowing" (Deuteronomy 17) why is it not also a question on "sacrifice" (Exodus 22)? And that is relevant only to that stage of the argument. The question from my learning partner is totally different. It is not Rabbi Elazar starting with a completely different set of assumptions from the Braita? So why not ask straight out from the beginning: "Do we learn serve not according to the normal way from "he who sacrifices to false gods will be destroyed"(Exodus 22) or do we learn from "So they shall no longer sacrifice to the goats."(Leviticus)

Just for reference for those who do not have the Talmud Sanhedrin in front of them here is the basic idea:

Braita: serve to an idols according to the non-normal way of that idol is forbidden because of  "he who sacrifices to idols will be destroyed"

Rava: why not learn from "he will go and bow"?
Rav Acaha: If Rava would be right that we could ask from bowing then what would we do with he how do they serve? It has to be for dishonorable service. But then what would we do with Rabbi Elazar who says, "We know one can't sacrifice to Mercury because of the verse 'so they shall no longer sacrifice to goats.'" 


10.8.14


Idolatry is by all accounts the central issue in the Torah. I think it is perhaps because some people have never finished reading the Old Testament [Tenach] in Hebrew that they are not aware of this fact.

But as you go through the Old Testament you notice that this is the most essential theme. I admit that keeping all the mitzvot comes in a close second but this is clearly what all the prophets considered the most essential aspect of the Torah. For this reason you would think that people would spend more time in clarifying exactly what is idolatry. After being involved in Breslov for a good number of years it started occurring to me to attempt to bring some clarity to this issue.


I want to first of all suggestion that (1) Idolatry has a close connection with spirituality.
(2) Also I want to suggest that it is easy to become an object of idolatry. Anyone can do so with one word. ("Serve me," Rabbi Mei says is liable for idolatry. Sanhedrin 61a)
(3) Also I want to defend the  thesis of the Rambam [Maimonides] that worship of a mediator is also in the category of idolatry by means of an idea of Reb Chaim from Voloshin [in his book the Nefesh Hachaim]

First the ways of doing idolatry are five. Four are not according to its way: pouring, burning, sacrifice, bowing, and one according to its way. [Sanhedrin 60b].
Second of all, no god needs to be considered to be a world creator..No god ever was. [  For example Zeus was the god of lightning.] [Brahama the creator is himself created  by Brahman. And Brahman is not a creator but a former of the world from his own substance.]Even those that were world formers had always found preexisting substance.. The gods were not immortal. The Norse gods could die.
To be considered a god all one needed was power over some aspect of the world like healing or giving birth to children etc.

So it seems possible to say that coming to a navi [prophet] for a blessing could be in this category. All one needs to do is to think that he has some kind of spiritual power over some aspect of the world like giving blessings for children or healing. And then doing the service that is special for him as perhaps in giving to him charity.

Yet we do find in the Torah people coming to a  navi (prophet) for blessings. Avimelech was commanded by God to go to Avraham and ask him for a prayer.
 It looks that the Torah is thinking that a mediator is OK. If one thinks the being has powers in himself that is idolatry but if he is only a pipeline to God that is OK.

This presents a problem to the Rambam who says a mediator is also idolatry.

The answer to this is in the Nefesh HaChaim by the disciple of the Geon from Villna. He considers that when a person attaches himself to the divine spirit in a tzadik that is idolatry. This is how the Rambam would answer our objection that when the Torah says to go to a Navi or prophet for blessing it does not mean that one attaches himself to the spirit of that prophet. That is that the idea of idolatry is a kind of spiritual connection with some being besides God.

The other people besides the Rambam that do not seem to think that a mediator is a problem are thinking of idolatry more along the lines of the Talmud itself that is means accepting some being as ones god.

Based on the above analysis I think we can see the reason that some people have considered Chasidut as problematic and others have thought it  very important. This seems to be dependent whether you go with the Rambam or other opinions.

I think there is no chance that older Hasidim will change their world view. I think they will continue in older  theology in which the tzadik is the central figure. But every day new people get involved in Chasidut and my hope is they they will understand that a tzadik is not the central aspect of Torah, but rather God.