Chapter Three. Knowledge of Gоd (Laws of Idol Worship)
I am the Lord your Gоd (Exodus 20:2)
The Lord is our Gоd, the Lord is one. (Deuteronomy 6:4)
See now that I, I am He, and no other god matches Me. (Deuteronomy 32:39
You shall have no other gods besides Me. (Exodus 20:3)
1. Belief in the existence and oneness of Gоd is an inheritance of the nation of Israel. The power of this belief has obligated all members of the nation of Israel to announce to the whole world not to worship other gods.39
2. The purpose of life is to know Gоd.40 Included in this knowledge are fear of Gоd41 and love of Gоd.42 Love of Gоd includes, among other things, any activity or guidance that brings faith into people’s hearts.43
3. Whoever loves Gоd does so through knowledge of Him and so the greater the understanding, the greater the love. It is therefore fitting for a person to acquire as much wisdom as possible.44
4. The individual is meant to serve only the Creator of the world, and no other entity.45
5. herefore the Torah commanded every person not to engage in ritual worship except in worship of Gоd. Any other form of worship is forbidden and is known as idol worship or idolatry.46
6. It is forbidden to worship another entity while also worshipping the Creator. This prohibition is called “shituf” (i.e. dividing Gоd’s sovereignty) and includes the Christian belief that encourages worshipping a man (i.e. Jesus) in addition to Gоd.47
7. Forbidden ritual practices not for the Creator’s sake include prostration, animal slaughter, burning a sacrifice or incense, and pouring of a libation, among others. Similarly, any ritualized recitation that recognizes lordship of another entity – such as with the words “you are my god” – is also forbidden. All of these practices are prohibited, and they all incur punishment even when they are not practiced by other members of the associated religion.48
8. So, too, it is forbidden to pray49 to any entity other than Gоd or to perform any ritualistic act – such as ritualized dance, wearing special clothes, or other such customs – as is performed by idol worshippers. Such forbidden acts also incur punishment.50
9. Although additional ritualized forms of worship are also forbidden, they do not incur punishment unless specifically associated with idol worship. However, regarding animal sacrifice, burning of incense, prostration, and pouring of a libation punishment is incurred even when not associated with idol worship.51
10. Any form of idol worship that incurs punishment in a Beit Din (rabbinical court of law) incurs punishment in a Noahide court of law as well.52
11. The prohibition of idol worship includes worship of any power, whether spiritual or physical, whether it exists in reality or is a product of the imagination alone.53
12. Included in this prohibition is worship of a human being or other force, in any of the manners described above, even if the worshiper believes that this human being or other force is not created, but is a creator itself.54
13. An individual or nation believing it is being led by some power, whether physical or spiritual – which exists on a lower level than the all-encompassing Creator – is not prohibited as long as no worship is associated with said belief.55
14. Whoever believes there is any god ruling over the entire world other than the One Creator of All is called a heretic (literally “denier of the main truth”).56
15. Being present at or passively participating in idol worship ceremonies is not forbidden to Noahides.57
16. A Noahide who is forced to engage in idol worship or is likely to be endangered for refusing to do so is permitted to participate58 and is not obligated to give up his life to avoid said idol worship.59
17. It is forbidden to incite others to engage in idol worship.60
18. Whoever prophecies in the name of idol worship and commands people accordingly is in violation of Noahide law.61
19. It is forbidden to erect a monument, plant a tree, or construct a building designated for idol worship, even if the one building or planting does not engage in said idol worship.62
Many matters associated with idol worship are forbidden to Jews in order to distance themselves from it. Such matters were not explicitly forbidden to Noahides. Yet, these guidelines, as described below, are fitting for one to follow to the greatest possible extent.
20. Refrain from reading books of idol worship.63 However, it is appropriate for Noahide sages, who give instructions in these matters, to read such books.64
21. It is fitting to refrain from praising idol worship65 and, even more so, from decorating a display of it or lighting candles to honor it or engaging in any such related activity.66 All this concerns activities not explicitly constituting idol worship. However, activities explicitly constituting idol worship are entirely forbidden by Noahide law.67
22. It is best to refrain from cutting one’s hair and beard in the manner of idol worshipers,68 and from tattooing69 or disfiguring the body, in any way, as they do.70 The same applies to making a bald spot on the head or gashes on the body as a sign of mourning for the dead.71 If coins fall from someone’s pockets next to an idol used for idol worship, one should not bend down to pick them up. Rather, one should sit down and then collect the coins.72
23. It is best to refrain from eating and drinking food and drink that was used in idol worship73 and, likewise, to avoid eating fruit from a tree planted by idol worshipers with the intent of worshipping said tree.74 The same applies to deriving benefit from gold or silver used to coat anything used in idol worship,75 and even to the ashes remaining after objects used in idol worship were incinerated.76
24. One may not make an idol for oneself or for others to worship.77 No object used in idol worship should remain in one’s possession.78
25. Jews are forbidden from making a sculpture in the form of a complete human being even if only for decoration.79 However, there is no prohibition to be in a place where an ornamental sculpture is on display,80 and it is even permissible to appreciate such a sculpture as a work of art.81
26. Jews are forbidden to predict the future by means of magic, to bring about a change in nature through casting spells, to raise the spirits of the dead and communicate with them (spiritism), or to practice witchcraft in any of its forms.82 The Torah called these and all similar activities an abomination to the Lord.83 As it was stated: “Go in perfect trust with the Lord your Gоd.”84 It is also improper for Noahides to occupy themselves with these activities even though they are not forbidden according to Noahide law.85
27. Jews were commanded not to turn towards or investigate idol worship, not to even consider that there was anything real about it, and not even to look at it.86
28. No one should swear (take an oath) in the name of an idol.87 Similarly, no one should make someone else swear in the name of an idol.88 And someone who needs to swear in court should do so in the name of Gоd89 or in a simple manner that does not mention in whose name the oath is being made.90
38 A protocol for celebration of this festival is suggested in the “Brit Olam” prayer book.
39 See Vayikra Rabbah, parashat Vayikra, Chapter 6 (end) ד”ה והוא עד.
40 Rambam, Shemonah Perakim (Eight Chapters), Chapter 5.
41 Deuteronomy 10:20.
42 Deuteronomy 6:5; see Mishneh Torah, Yesodei HaTorah 2:2.
43 Sifrei Devarim, parashat Ve’etchanan, Paragraph 32 (beginning).
44 Mishneh Torah, Teshuva 10:6; Tractate (Mishnah) Avot 2:5.
45 Mishneh Torah, Avodah Zarah, Chapter 1.
46 Exodus 20:4-5; Bavli Sanhedrin 56b; Mishneh Torah, Avodah Zarah 2:1; Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Melachim 9:1-2.
47 Bavli Sanhedrin 63a; Semag (Sefer Mitzvot Gadol), Negative Commandment 1; cf. Tosafot Bechorot 2b ד”ה שמא ,which is the source of a certain leniency towards Christianity according to some of the rabbis, Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim, Siman 156, comment of Rama (Rabbi Moshe Isserles).
48 Mishneh Torah, Avodah Zarah 3:3; Hilchot Melachim 9:2.
49 See Meiri, Sanhedrin 61b, ד”ה העובד; see Nefesh HaChaim, Gate 3, Chapter 9 (end).
50 Mishneh Torah, Avodah Zarah 3:2; Hilchot Melachim 9:2.
51 Ibid.; cf. Hasagat Hara’avad, Avodah Zarah 3:2; Tashbetz, Responsa, Part 3, 215; Rashi, Avodah Zara 50b ד”ה שבר מקל; Tosafot ibid. 51aד”ה חייב Avodah Zarah 3:4, regarding form of worship.
52 Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Melachim 9:2.
53 Mishneh Torah, Avodah Zarah 2:1.
55 See Rabbeinu Bachya, commentary on Deuteronomy 31:16.
56 See commentary on Mishneh Torah, Yesodei HaTorah 1:6, המעלה . ד”ה וכל
57 The reasons for prohibiting Jews from such participation are not relevant. See Bavli Sanhedrin 74b; see Rav Ovadiah Yosef, Yabia Omer 2:10, Siman 11.
58 When in doubt regarding the obligation of saving a life (pikuach nefesh), save the life. This rule also applies when any part of the body is endangered. (Radbaz, Responsa, Part 3, Siman Alef, 52 (627); among Achronim (later rabbinical authorities) there are those who, in their precise reading of Rambam in Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Melachim 10:2, hold that even where financial loss is threatened, leniency is advised (Be’er Miriam and Torat HaMelech, loc. cit.), and there are those who disagree (Minchat Chinuch, Mitzvah 296).
59 Yerushalmi Shevi’it 4:2; Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Melachim 10:2; see this topic in Sanhedrin 74b, and ibid. commentary of the Ran (Rabbeinu Nissim); however, Ramban, in Sefer Milchamot HaShem, ibid. (end of the chapter), holds that a Noahide is obligated to give up his life rather than worship an idol or perform a sexually illicit act in public (that is, in the presence of ten Jews).
60 Deuteronomy 13:7-12; Mishneh Torah, Avodah Zara 5:1, Hilchot Melachim 9:2; see Rabbi Chaim Shaul Dweck HaCohen, Pe’at HaSadeh, Volume 2, Section 3, Siman 6, Paragraph 26.
61 Mishneh Torah, Avodah Zarah 5:6-7, Hilchot Melachim 9:2.
62 Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Melachim 9:2, Avodah Zarah 6:6-9.
63 Leviticus 19:4; Mishneh Torah, Avodah Zarah 2:2.
64 Bavli Shabbat 75:1.
65 Mishneh Torah, Avodah Zarah 10:4.
66 Sulchan Aruch, Yoreh De’ah, Siman 139.
67 See Paragraph 9 above.
68 Leviticus 19:27; Mishneh Torah, Avodah Zarah 12:1,7.
69 Leviticus 19:28; Mishneh Torah, ibid. 11.
70 Deuteronomy 14:1; Mishneh Torah, ibid. 12-13.
71 Deuteronomy ibid., Mishneh Torah, ibid. 15.
72 Mishneh Torah, Avodah Zarah 3:7.
73 Bavli Avodah Zarah 51b; Mishneh Torah, Avodah Zarah 7:2; Sefer HaChinuch Mitzvah 111. And there are those who hold that, regarding Noahides, all prohibitions to derive benefit from idol worship are prohibited according to the letter of the law and not only as a matter of proper conduct. (Ramban on Avodah Zara 59b, ד”ה לא כל הימנך and Ran (Rabbeinu Nissim) ibid. ד”ה אמר רב אשי .
74 Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Melachim 9:2, Avodah Zarah 8:3.
75 Deuteronomy 7:25.
76 Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De’ah. Siman 142:1.
77 Leviticus 19:4; Sifra, Kedoshim, Parasha Alef ד”ה ואלוהי מסכה ; Mishneh Torah, Avodah Zarah 3:9.
78 Mishneh Torah, Avodah Zarah 7:2.
79 Exodus 20:4; Sefer Hachinuch, Mitzvah 39; according to Rambam in Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Melachim 9:2, this prohibition, by law, applies to Noahides, too; however, cf. Chatam Sofer, Responsa, Yoreh De’ah, Siman 128, permits this activity for Noahides; Shemot Rabbah 15:23; Hemdat Yisrael, Ner Mitzvah, Kuntres on Seven Noahide Laws, Hei (end); Kiryat Melech on Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Melachim 9:2.
80 Mishneh Torah, Avodah Zarah 7:18.
81 Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De’ah 142, Shach, Paragraph 33.
82 Deuteronomy 18:10-11.
83 Ibid. 12.
84 Ibid. 13.
85 Bavli Sahedrin 56b, Rabbi Shimon and Rabbi Yossi held that Noahides were commanded not to engage in sorcery, but Rambam did not rule like them in Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Melachim 9:1, and neither did Ramban in Torat HaShem Temimah, ד”ה ויחד הקב”ה לחלקו but cf. Samag (Sefer Mitzvot Hagadol) Negative Commandment 51.
86 Leviticus 19:4; Sefer HaChinuch Mitzvah 213.
87 Exodus 23:13; see Minchat Chinuch, Mitzvah 86, where its prohibition does not clearly apply to Noahides and I therefore included it here under “behavioral guidelines”; see Sdei Chemed, Pe’at HaSadeh, section Gimmel, Siman 6, Paragraph 30, where he writes that the prohibition does apply to Noahides.
88 Exodus ibid.; Mishneh Torah, Avodah Zarah 5:10; Bavli Sanhedrin 63b, Tosafot ד”ה אסור לאדם, Meiri commentary ד”ה אסור להזכיר
89 Deuteronomy 10:20.