Showing posts with label idols. Show all posts
Showing posts with label idols. Show all posts



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


Here is another idea I had in  tractate Sanhedrin which I apparently forgot to put in that little booklet
that I put on my blog a few days ago.

א)סנהדרין סא. תוספות ד''ה "איכה יעבדו". החברותא שלי, דוד, הציעה סיבה אפשרית למה שהמאור הגדול לא פירש כמו תוספות.תוספות מבינים את שאלת הגמרא להיות אם יש לנו השתחווייה למה צריכים את איכה יעבדו? היינו בשלב הזה הגמרא לא יכולה למצוא דבר שאיכה יעבדו אוסרת שהשתחווייה כבר אסרה. וזה בגלל שלפי תוספות השתחווייה אוסרת את הכול [היינו כדרכה, שלא כדרכה, דרך כבוד, דרך בזיון]. וזה טוב. אבל הגמרא ממשיכה, אולי איכה יעבדו בא למעט (היינו לפטור) פוער לזובחים(דרך בזיון לאלילים שעובדים אותם דרך כבוד). אבל השתווייה כבר מיעטה את זה. (והגמרא נותנת סיבה לכך: כמו שהשתחווייה היא דרך כבוד אף כול דרך כבוד).אלא צריך לומר שאיכה יעבדו בא למעט פוער למרקוליס. אבל נסתכל למה שהגמרא אמרה. היא צימצמה איכה יעבדו לדרך כבוד. והתוצאה מכך צריכה להיות שיש לנו עכשיו דבר שאיכה יעבדו יכולה לאסור, היינו כדרכה דרך בזיון. תוספות יודעים שיש הקושיה הזאת, והם מתרצים שעדיין השתחייווה הייתה אוסרת כדרכה דרך בזיון. והם מביאים ראיה (הוכחה) לזה, שזה מובנת ממה שהגמרא אמרה אחר כך שהשתחווייה הייתה אוסרת פוער למרקוליס אם לא הייתה איכה יעבדו. השאלה של החברותא פה היא שאין לנו סיבה לחלק בשלב הזה בין כדרכה ושלא כדרכה.אם מצמצמים את השתחווייה לדרך כבוד אז המשמעות היא שזה כדרכה ושלא כדרכה. ולכן יש לנו צורך באיכה יעבדו לאסור את כדרכה דרך בזיון. זו שאלה טובה. והיא יכולה להיות הסיבה שבעל המאור דרך דרך אחרת. והשאלה שלי הייתה שאפילו שתניח שתוספות צודקים שהיינו אוסרים כדרכה בזיון למרקוליס, זה לא אומר שהיינו אוסרים כדרכה דרך בזיון לזובחים. והחברותא ענה שאין כזה דבר. דרך בזיון לזובחים על ידי פירוש המילים אינה כדרכה.



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?


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"


Two day ago I wrote on my blog here a question on the Talmud in tractate Sanhedrin page 61a.

At the time I had not looked up the Maharam from Lublin. [which is printed together with the Maharsha].
While I was waiting for my learning partner today I glanced at the Maharam and saw he asks exactly my question. Sorry about that.

On one hand as far as the Internet goes it is nice I can show that my thinking is accurate. But if this was a chidush [idea] in my notebooks, this would be an embarrassment that I did not even look up the Marharam.

Of course it is interesting also that no one else noticed this. It seems that such a simple fact that my question had already been asked by the Maharam might have been noticed by someone. This probably shows that people that there are not very many people that learn Talmud that looks at my blog. Maybe they are too busy learning. Good for them.


One thing you do see with idolatry --that it depends on intention. It says in the Mishna [Sanhedrin 60b], "These people are liable for idolatry: one who sacrifices or serves it according to its usual way, or one who accepts it as his god and says to it 'You are my god.' This is simple if intention is not involved. (I mean to say that case one is different from case two.) But to answer a contradiction with a later Mishna, Rav Hamenuna says [on the next page--Sanhedrin 61a] it means even the first cases a have intention-but the intention is not until they are served.
Logistically this makes sense but it certainly is not the simple way of looking at the Mishna. that means this principle of intention is so important that the Gemara is willing to interpret the mishna in an very un-obvious way to make it work out right.--also because of the later Mishna.
This is like in Shabat where we require thought work ["melechet machshevet"] to be liable.

But at this point we have to ask, What kind of intention makes one liable? Clearly it can't be to consider the idol to be a creator. No ancient gods were creators. They all found some preexisting substance to form the world from. Rather they had spiritual powers. And this seems to be the most simple basic intention one needs to be liable for idolatry. To bring some kind of sacrifice, or to burn incense or to pour a libation or to bow or to serve according to his way to a person that one thinks has spiritual powers in order to gain some benefit or in order to get closer to God [as per the Rambam on Perek Chelek].
I would venture a guess that the Geon from Villna might have thought that the chasidm of his time had crossed the line from monotheism towards polytheism.

 So  however I can see many people  that get involved in Breslov seems to make a tzadik the center of their attention and this troubles me because of the idolatry problem

On the issue of idolatry I have a great idea. It it concerns the Talmud [or as I prefer Gemara] in Sanhedrin 61a.Just for background let me say that you cant do idolatry either according to the usual way of worship of the idol or by one of four other ways: sacrifice, burning, pouring, bowing. Rav Acha juxtaposes a statement of Rava  and Rabbi Elazar in order to ask a question. And I would like to suggest a question on his answer that I think it is an amazingly obvious question that I think that someone else must have asked it before me.

The idea of Rava is to learn worship not according to the way of that idol from "he will bow" instead of "he will sacrifice" and that would tell us all kinds of service of honor would be forbidden--even not service according to the way of that idol.

Then Rav Acha asks on Rava from the statement of Rabbi Elazer who says: How do we know one can't sacrifice to Mercury? From the verse, "So that they shall no longer bring their sacrifices to the goats."

The question of Rav Acha is this: If we already know from "bowing" all kinds of service of honor, then why do we also need this other way of Rabbi Elezar to tell us less than what we already know?

The Gemara answers: The statement of Rabbi Elezar refers to when one sacrifices in order to make G-d mad, not to serve idols. Now I think we can all agree that this answer sounds strained. If we look at the verse we can see that the idea is God says "I am making this law that they bring their sacrifices to the tabernacle  in order that they should no longer bring their sacrifices to the goats (idols)." Surely they were not bring their sacrifices to the goats (idols) in order to make God mad, but rather to worship idolatry. And since God is making this parallelism, it would have to mean: They should no longer bring their sacrifices to goats (idols)  in order to make me mad and rather bring their sacrifices to me to make me mad. [Of course, you could say it really is anti parallel--and God means rather: They should bring their sacrifices to me to make the goats (idols) mad.] It does not matter anyway because all I am doing is showing how the answer of the Gemara is anything but obvious in order to build up my question that they Gemara could have proposed an alternative answer.

So my question is this. Why did not the Gemara say simply that Rabbi Elazar refers to Mercury and other idol that are worshiped in ways of dishonor, and Rava was referring to idols that are worshiped in a way of honor?

That is the same way the Gemara divides worship not according to it way into four parts -worship of dishonor and idols of dishonor and worship of honor and idols of honor so do the same here.

One answer here is you need only Markulis [Mercury] and you know idolatry of honor by a  a fortiori. But that can't work because we don't make prohibitions based on a fortiori.


Idolatry is   highly relevant issue nowadays especially in the world of Hasidut. It is a surprise for me that this issue is not studied more in depth. 

In the Nefesh Hachaim of Reb Chaim from Voloshin we find the idea of attaching oneself to the divine spirit inside of another human being is idolatry. This is also a helpful idea and might give us an idea of some problems we find in Chasidim today. But again it is not the kind of definition I am looking for.

I have gotten into the habit of looking at original sources to decide any issue. And I think this is helpful here also. So I went to the Talmud in Sanhedrin page 60b to learn what the ancient Jewish sages thought about idolatry.
There we find in the mishna a difference between serving an idol according to it way and not according to its way. The Mishna says serving an idol or even not according to its way is idolatry if it is one of four kinds of serve--sacrifice or a service that was in the temple in Jerusalem and also bowing.

My point today in this essay is that when the Talmud comes along to discover the reason for this mishna it brings a braita [outside teaching] that is hard to understand.

So now I come to my point.
The Braita gets sacrifice from "he sacrificed." It gets other kinds of service that were done in the temple in Jerusalem from "only to God alone." Then it gets bowing from "and he will bow".

So far everything looks good.

But then it wants to take out kissing or hugging or anything that is not one of these four types. It does this by invoking the rule anything that was in a category and has been mention specifically, has been mentioned to tell us not about itself alone but the whole category.
Sacrifice has gone out to tell us when it is not according to it way he is only liable if it is avodat panim[inner service --serve that was done in the temple]

Now the way this looks [at least from rashi ] is that it is referring to the verse he went and served which means all kinds of service [according to its way or not]. But this can't be so.
The verse,"He will sacrifice," tells us nothing about service according to the way of idolatry.

The Braita has to mean that he will sacrifice has come been singled out for mention out of the category of "only for God alone".
Just to give the reader a little context I should mention that there are plenty of issues in the rashi here as you can see in the Maharam from Lublin. And the Gemara on the next page also goes deeply into problems that this Braita poses. One could easily spend a good year on these two pages of Gemara. But I wanted to focus here on this problem that apparently no one else has mentioned.


I have been gaining some clarity about idolatry

I do not claim to have understood the subject but just by doing a tiny drop of the Gemara [Talmud] in Sanhedrin [60b] the whole subject is getting a lot clearer for me.

(This is I think a good idea for people in general whenever they are confused about any issue. Read the part of Talmud that relates to that issue.)
I see now that there are two completely separate issue concerning idolatry. One is what is service to an idol and the other is what brings something into the category of being an idol.

The first subject is highly based on verses of the Torah. The basic approach is this [from the Talmud 60b]: "He will go an serve false gods" [Deuteronomy in Parshat shoftim] applies to all service [i.e. whether that is the way of that idol or not]. Then we find another verse "he will serve and he will sacrifice." "He will sacrifice" was already in the category of "he will serve" so it comes out of that category to that which is not the particular service of that idol  to  teach about the whole category that serve that is not unique to that idol has to be like one of three inner services that were done in the holy temple in Jerusalem. Then there is a third verse "he will serve and bow down." “Bow down” can’t be adding anything because we already limited everything by means of the word sacrifice. so ''he will bow down'' cant be telling us anything except that it is in the category of service even when it is not the way of that idol. [note 1]

Sorry if this is not clear but I am anyway in the middle of this subject and I admit that it is not very clear to me. There is a lot to talk about here. You can see this for yourself if you look at the Tosphot on the page and then the Maharsha.

But even though all this is not very clear to me still it does come out of this discussion an important point. That if something is not an idol it is not forbidden to bow down to it.  What is fascinating here is the fact that the instant something comes into the category of an idol, a whole new set of laws begins to apply to it.

So my question here is what brings something into the category of being an idol? [This seems to be the subject of Tractate Idolatry on the question of statues that are put up in honor of kings.]
And here also I am just staring to look at this. But one thing is clear. An idol or god is not a world creator.

For example we do not find that Zeus created the world. He had certain powers over certain aspects of the world. But that fact does not make him any less a god. Worshiping Zeus is still idolatry even if one does not consider him to have created the world.. Either sacrificing to him or even saying you are my god or doing a service to him that is the particular service of Zeus is still forbidden. Or if one serves Zeus in order that Zeus should bring him closer to God that is still forbidden.

I should perhaps mention that I am aware of the major types of idolatry that exist. I studies Greek mythology and the Iliad and Odyssey Euripides Sophocles and etc for years. I also learned Latin for about three years.
The Large and small Edas. Buddhism and Hinduism. And much more. So i have some idea of what idolatry is about. Though I know that each one of these areas of interest is vast. But still from the small amount of knowledge I have about them I can say that most gods are not world creators. Most of the time they find preexistent substances to make the world from.
Even Brahama is created and is emanated from Brahman. Brahman is not a world creator but his is the universe.

Clearly one does not have to be world creator to be a god.

So what makes one a god? This is relevant because the instant something becomes a god it is forbidden to have almost anything to do with it.

I mean to say that for example bowing down to people we find all the time in the Torah. During the middle ages the common way for men greeting each other was by a slight bow. Women would curtsy. This is not forbidden. But doing such a thing to a god would be forbidden. So what makes something a god?

Now this question should be considered different from what the Talmud is dealing with in Tractate Avodah Zara about how to tell which statues are idols and which are not. In that Gemara we find that rabbi Meir considers all statues to be forbidden to use because he is has a general opinion that we forbid a majority because of a minority.
 But all that part of the Gemara deals with either the sigh that something already an idol or that if one does worship it that it becomes and idol. But still something can be an idol before one worships it.

Now we can see the answer to our problem in Maimonides. The way to see the answer is to notice what Maimonides says about a mediator. He says to worship a mediator in order that he should bring one closer to God or to receive some kind of blessing from God is considered idolatry. So now we see what is going on. . To worship an entity with any of the types of service that were done in the Temple of with any kind of serve that is specifically for that entity in order to receive some blessing or to bring one closer to God is idolatry.

This all came up yesterday when I was talking with some Breslov Hasidim in Uman.

  The in the actual discussion after I mentioned the idea that a god does not have to be world creator to be an idol we got into the related subject of pantheism.  Now we know that the belief system of the Torah is Monotheism and that of Advaita Vedanta is pantheism. So in theory there should not be any ambiguity that when a person wants to be following the Torah that he is accepting a monotheistic kind of belief system. But for some reason the basic philosophy of Advaita Vedanta has become the dominant theology of a most Hasidim along with belief in the importance of Jewish rituals. But that is not the same as belief in the Torah. note 2]

[note 1] Like if you say have the set of all colors and also blue. why did you mention blue?the way we understand the Torah when there is a situation like this is to say the Torah mentioned blue to tell us something unique about the set of all colors. 
so when the Torah says he will serve and he will sacrifice it tells us something new.that service that is not the particular way of the idol has to be like a serve done in the Temple. Later the gemara will ask on this conclusion and ask that we could say just the opposite. But that I leave for another time.



There is some support for the Rambam that idolatry means worship of a mediator. This is because ancient idolatry never involved a divine creator.

Idolatry was simply the idea that certain beings had control over certain aspects of the world. On the other hand these agents were not mediators.

So today when you find that people worship a corpse they can claim that they are not doing idolatry because they are not claiming that the corpse created the world. On the other hand it does seem that they are claiming that the corpse  is a mediator between them and God. That at least comes under the definition of idolatry to the Rambam.

But worse than this it seems they might be considering the corpse to have control over certain aspects of their lives. This would seem to be idolatry according to all opinions.

My feeling is to check from where the Rambam gets his idea of the mediator and that would seem to be Saadia Geon.

From the Talmud itself we have no source material on this subject. At best from the Talmud we have Shituf. That is like when people, would worship G-d  along with the Baal. They thought God had control over heaven and the Baal over the earth. So they worshiped both together.  That is Shituf. ="Joining." That is not the same as a mediator


Tying oneself spiritually to a tzadik [i.e. saint]

Tying oneself spiritually to a tzadik [i.e. saint]. It occurs to me that I might have written about this in the past in light of the idea of Reb Chaim from Voloshin [the disciple of the Gra] that this type of thing is idolatry.

What bothers me is that the way this is understood by some people is to change the focus of Torah from being around God to being around a person. 

But I see this at least as a flaw in the system that should be openly corrected --that is it should be stated publicly that  the purpose of serve towards God is to do God's will and not to be tied to a tzadik.



Idolatry is the attempt to draw down into a physical object the spirit of some spirit or being besides God.
In the Torah we find spirits besides God --serafim, ofanim, refaim, seirim etc. To believe that these forces exit is not idolatry. To pray to them is. Pantheism is not the faith of the Torah. The faith of the Torah is Monotheism. And considering God separate from the world is not idolatry. Monotheism does not deal with the question of God's physical location.