IDOLATRY-1/The List of all possible idols

© 2020 by Rabbi Dr. Zvi Aviner


Torah Class IDOLATRY-1/

 The List Of All Possible Idols

Know your CREATOR, know yourself, and k now the difference


Having discussed the Seven Laws of Noah as a group, let’s study them one by one.

The first Commandment on the list is IDOLATRY.  Adam received it in Eden, Noah supported it in his Rainbow Covenant (and added the Seventh) and Moses repeated it to Israel at Mount Sinai.

But what is IDOLATRY, exactly? What constitutes an idol in the context of the Commandment? Is it still relevant to our advanced, modern society?

The first and only site in the Torah where the IDOLATRY Commandment is fully presented is   the Ten Commandment of Sinai.   The  two top Commandments on the Tablets say


2: The ‘IDOLATRY’ text in the Ten Commandments


The First of the Ten Commandments
”I Am Lordy your G-d
Who took you out of Egypt land.”
The Second of the Ten Commandments)
”Thou shall not have another G-d, over my face,
“Thou shall not make yourself any carved statue or any image
of anything in the Heavens above and in the Earth underneath,
and in the waters that are under the Earth.
Thou shall not bow to them and shall not serve them…”

As you see, the First Commandment on the Tablet  presents the Speaker-  “I Am Lord your GOD” – whom we should know and worship
The Second Commandment lists the idols, whom we should worship not.

This is a good example for Commandment that has two sides of the same coin .  The first, Positive side tells us what is expected from us TO DO – to know and worship the True God, while the second, Negative side tells us what NOT to do.

As we’ve learned, this is also true for the rest of the Seven Laws of Noah.  They all have two sides – positive and negative.  And while the Negative side incurs severe retributions by a human court or by Heavens, the Positive side is indirectly derived – telling what is ‘expected’ from us to do without spelling out any retribution.

This difference explains why the Seven Laws are usually presented by their Negative aspect – what NOT to do in order to avoid retributions.

Most authors of Noahide Code would present them as “Thou shall NOT commit IDOATRY” and “Thou shall NOT commit ADULTERY” nor BLOODHSED nor THEFT, INJUSTICE and not BLASPHEMY.  The positive aspect of the Commandments is hardly ever mentioned.

The same goes for our topic- IDOLATRY. Most authors of Noahide Code (such as Maimonides) consider only the Negative side – the PROHIBITION to worship idols.  They would also elaborate on the various retributions and punishments for violating the Negative side.  Yet  those  authors usually skip the Positive side – the First Commandment on the Tablet- calling us to know God and worship only Him.

Let’s be more specific here. For Israel, the Positive side is also counted as an OBLIGATION that carries harsh penalties.  For Israel, knowing God, His Names and His Kingship is a must, a Commandment that sometimes is counted separately on it is own value.  For Israel, avoiding Idols is not enough. Israel must know and cling to GOD. Violating the Positive Commandment incurs retributions. For Israel is a Nation of Priests among the Congregation of the Noahide Nations.

But for Noahides, the Positive side – knowing God and His Names and His Ways –  is DISCRETIONARY, rather than obligatory.  Noahide get rewarded for it, yet they do not incur retributions for NOT abiding by it.

This consideration dictates the path that our class would take. We’ll focus first on the mandatory part- the Negative side of the Prohibition, and only then would turn to the discretionary, Positive   side.

As it turns out- the discretionary Positive aspect – the first Commandment on the Tablets- is the most important to Mankind in our times.   Why? For the ancient kind of IDOLATRY has been almost eradicated from our world.  The Monotheistic faiths – Christianity and Islam- have done a good work in that aspect.  Most Torah scholars today hold that whoever still offers incense to statues in shrines –such as done in the far East- is only honoring his parent’s  tradition rather than believing in the  power of those  idols.

Hence no one in a clear mind should consider nowadays to act violently against ancient temples, their statues or their followers.  Instead of focusing on the Negative side, let’s all focus on the discretional Positive part and bring humanity the only part of IDOLATRY that is still pertinent to our time- the Positive part which should be TAUGHT rather than enforced.


3: The list of all possible idols


.        (Moses’ Second of the Ten Commandments)
1. “Thou shall not have for yourself
2. “Other Gods
3. “Over my face
4. “Thou shall not make for yourself any image or statues
5. “Of anything in the Heavens above and in the earth below….
6. “Thou shall not bow to them
7. “Nor serve them…”

As it turns out, here is a list of all possible idols .  Let’s discuss them one by one.

1: “You shall not have for yourself…”
The classical teaching here is (Rashi) Do not adapt an existing idol for yourself. It is quite easy  to join someone’s faith and adapt his idol

2: “Other Gods…
Do not worship entities seen powerful “Side by Side” with the True God, or “underneath God” like” God’s Family.”

3: “Over My Face…” 
Do not “Shame me” by your idolatry.  For instance- when Israel followed idols, we shamed our Savior.  Another aspect: Do not enrage me” (“Face” is Rage.)  Anther aspect: “While I exists” – meaning “forever.”   Another important aspect: “Do not worship entities even as My Front,” like worshipping the Sun and the Moon as God’s Councilors

4: “Thou shall not make for yourself any image or statues…”

Do not make for yourself statues or images – even without worshipping them (debate in the Talmud).  Of course- Do not make them for the purpose of worshipping them
5: “Of anything in the Heavens above and in the Earth underneath…”

Do not worship Celestial Bodies for their own power- such as Astrology.  Do not make statues in their images for worshipping.

6: “You shall not bow…”
Do not bow your head, kneel,  prostrate on the ground in worshipping any  idol – an object or a PERSON

7: “Nor serve them…”
Do not serve any idol according to its own customs.  Nor should you serve an idol the way you worship the true God of Israel.  (This prohibition is punishable by death when done by an Israelite)

Remember- each line is a large headline, requiring much elaboration and analysis.

4: IDOLATRY’S path in History

Maimonides sees in the way that IDOLATRY is presented in the Ten Commandments an evidence of humanity downfall in history. Thus-

  1. At first, Mankind (Adam and Eve and their generations) believe in the True God. Then – the Torah says (Genesis 4: 26) – Adam’s grandson Enosh taught humanity to address God through all items in Nature – like the Sun and the Moon and tree and leaves. “God resides inside everything” – he taught his followers.  “Let’s pray to the King’s Councilor…s”
  2. As the result, Enosh’s disciples forgot God and prayed directly to the Celestial Bodies and the Trees and Leaves believing in their own power
  3. Next step in the downfall happened when peoples started making statues and images of Celestial Bodies and Natural Powers – including Fish, Animals and Birds- in order to worship them
  4. In their downfall, humanity worshiped Angles, Demons, Spirits and all sorts of imaginary forces, evil or good
  5. Then humanity worshiped the Sea, the Desert, the Winds and so on
  6. Then they worshiped entities like Wisdom, War, Art, Beauty, Procreation
  7. Then they mixed idolatry with the genuine true Faith


Oh, we’ll learn more about Adam’s grandson Enosh and his fiery teachings. For now, let’s proceed with the Positive , the top on the Tablets.  What is it? Commandment