IDOLATRY-1/The IDOATRY Commandment of Sinai

Noahide Seven Commandments Torah classes

© 2017 by Rabbi Dr. Zvi Aviner

Torah Class IDOLATRY-1/The IDOLATRY Commandment of Sinai

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

So let’s start studying IDOLATRY, the first on the list of Noah’s Laws. But what is it, exactly? What is an idol, exactly? Where does the Commandment of IDOLATY first appear in the Torah’s text? And most importantly, Is it still applicable to our modern life?

Several years ago, I sent my first manuscript on IDOLATRY to a publisher for review. The young editor rejected it without even reading it. Twisting her cute nose, she said: “why do you write about IDOLATRY? Who in the world would read this?”
Indeed, she was right. IDOLATRY as worshipping statues of stone and wood is obsolete. Astrology too is recognized today as a mere idol worshipping. In that sense, the editor was right. But unfortunately, we have our modern idols, such as drugs, alcohol, an inflated ego and pursuing wealth and power. We tend to subject our lives to political parties, sometimes for the price of morality. No, IDOLATRY is still here and a live.

Hence there are transient idols that come from our ignorance. These idols are destined to disappear as our knowledge of the world progresses.
But there are ‘eternal idols’ that stem from our innermost desires and fascinations.
How amazing it is that Moses, in the Ten Commandments, covers ALL POSSIBLE IDOLS in the world, as we are about to learn.

2: ‘IDOLATRY’ in the Ten Commandments

The fight against IDOLATRY permeates the entire Book of Genesis. Noah fought it, the Patriarchs struggled against it, but nowhere in the book does it appear as a Commandment.

It is only the Book of Exodus that Moses presents IDOLATRY as a Commandment, one of the Ten of Sinai. As it says:

”I Am the Lord (written YHVHWhat is this Name?)
”Your G-d (written ELoHiM. What is this Name?)
”Who took you out of Egypt land.”

”Thou shall not have another G-d, over my face,
“Thou shall not make yourself any carved idol (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…”

The First Commandment presents the Speaker, G-d, whom we should worship
The Second Commandment presents the idols to their kinds, whom we should worship not.
Hence it is not enough to refrain from worshipping idols.
It is no less important to ‘know’ whom to worship.

Note that technically speaking, only the Second Commandment presents the idols. This is why it is often referred to as the IDOLATRY Commandment. The First Commandment is therefore perceived as an obligation to KNOW G-d (Maimonides).

But in fact, the First and the Second Commandments as two sides of the same coin: a positive Commandment presenting G-d, and a negative Commandment presenting the idols. Any study of IDOLATRY should combine both.

A road map to study IDOLATRY
We should therefore use the Ten Commandments as a road map to study IDOLATRY. First the positive side, getting to know God, and the negative one getting to know the idols.

Looking at the First of the Ten Commandment, we see the Speaker Names (G-d names) presented as ELoHiM and YHVH. What exactly are these Names? Moses assumes of course that the reader is already familiar with them from his first Book, Genesis. There the two Names are introduced in the story of CREATION, in Chapter One. As you’ll see, the concept of IDOLATRY does also appear in that chapter along with the story of Adam creation. Adam is born to withstand the IDOLATRY trial.

3: Should Noahide learn from the Ten Commandments?

Since the Ten Commandments of Sinai were given to the Children of Israel, should the Nations (Children of Noah) learn from them? Aren’t the Ten Commandments a “love letter” from G-d to Israel,” that no one else should open? (question raised by the late Rev. Vendyl Jones, one of the founder of Noahides in the USA.)

The answer is given by the Talmud in the following rule:

(1) “Any commandment given to Noah and REPAEATED by Moses to Israel, applies to both Noahides and Israel.
(2) Any commandment given only to Israel, applies only to Israel
(3) Any commandment given first to Noah, yet was NOT repeated later to Israel, applies only to Israel.” (Tract. Sanhedrin)

For instance: all the Seven Commandments, IDOLATRY, ADULTERY, BLOODSHED, THEFT, INJUSTICE, BLASPHEMY, EATING BLOOD AND A LIMB TORN FROM A LIVING ANIMAL, were given first to Noah, then repeated by Moses to Israel on Sinai. They are therefore applicable to both Noahides and Israel, to all Mankind.

But the Sabbath laws were given by Moses to Israel on Sinai, yet were nor told to Noah. They apply therefore to Israel only. (Noahides observe the spirit of the Sabbath, but they are no obligated in its stringent laws.)

Another example: Abraham’s Circumcision was given to Abraham who was a ‘Child of Noah,’ but it was NOT repeated by Moses to Israel. By our rule, it applies now to Israel only.

The logic for the last rule is this:
Moses, the modest of all people, did not come to abolish or replace Noah. As a true prophet, he supported other true prophets, like Noah.
Moses therefore tells Noah’s Children to abide ONLY with whatever Noah ALSO had said.
Since Circumcision was given to Abraham after Noah, Moses made it applicable only to Abraham’s seed, Israel, but not to Noah’s Children.
All Mankind listens to Moses; but Moses tell THE Nations to obey only with their forefather Noah.

Since IDOLATRY was given to Noahides and Israel, it applies to both.
Noahides can therefore use the Ten Commandment as a platform to study the principles of the IDOALTRY Commandment.
Having said that, we need to realize that there are some differences in the laws of IDOLATRY as applied to Noahides and Israel. Generally, Israel is called upon to observe it more carefully and stringently. As a Holy Nation and a Kingdom of Priests (where Mankind is the congregation) Israel has to be more careful about the tenants of our belief.

Note that IDOLATRY is a Commandments applied to everyone, men and women, young and old. The Knowledge of G-d and His Names as they appear in the Ten Commandment should not be left for the experts, the rabbis, the priests or the theologians.
Everyone should know ELKM and YHVH.

4: IDOLATRY as a Battle of Attractions

Looking at the two parts of IDOLATRY in the Ten Commandments, we may draw the following diagram:

“I am
“Your Lord (YHVH) G-d (ELoKiM)
“Who took you out of Egypt Land
“Thou shall not have other gods over my face…
“Thou shall not make…
“Thou shall not serve…..

Here Man is depicted as ‘torn apart’ between two opposing attractions:
H eis either attracted to G-d above,
or to the Idols bellow.
No neutral option of being attracted to no one!
Moses assumes that every person is bound to be attracted to something and adore it. Let this something be our CREATOR.
Hence there is a battle of attractions waged in our souls: the DOLATRY BATTLE.
It is a battle between two opposing ATTRACTIONS and FASCINATIONS.
If we fail to be attracted to our CREATOR, we would fall a prey to the attraction of the idols to their kinds. No escape.

The ‘other side’ of G-d
The diagram depicts the idols as sitting in the ’other side,’ (Sitra Achra in Aramaic) of the true G-d. The Sitra Achra has become a nickname for our bad inclinations and our idols. It is NOT an independent anti-god entity, but our innermost drive.

Thus to understand IDOLATRY, we need to go to Genesis Chapter One.


Select the best answer

(1) IDOLATRY is (a) now obsolete (b) pertains only to wood and stone statues (c) an ancient foolishness only (d) is still relevant to modern man
(2)IDOLATRY is (a) not an attractive subject (b) it deals with our attractions (c) is the most fascinating subject in the world (d) b and c

(3) IDOLATRY is (a) explicitly sown in the Book of Genesis(b) explicitly shown in the Ten Commandments (c) Moses invented it (d)is self- understood

(4) IDOLATRY is (a) Man attracted to G-d above (b) Man not attracted to the “other side” (c) Man attracted to no one (d) Man worshipping powerful attractions

(5) ADULTERY was given to Adam and Noah and to Israel, therefore (a) it applies only to Noahides (b) it applies only to Israel (c) it applies to both Noahides and Israel (d) it applies neither to Noahides nor to Israel

(6) Keeping the Sabbath was given only to Israel in the Ten Commandments, therefore it applies (a) to Noahides and Israel (b) to Noahides only (c) To neither Noahides nor Israel (d) to Israel only

(7) BLOODSHED was given to Noah then to Israel, therefore it applies (a) to Noahides only (b) to both Noahides and Israel (c) To neither Noahides nor Israel ( d) Only to Israel

(8) THEFT was given to Adam and Noah, then to Israel on Sinai. Therefore (a) it applies to both (b) it applies only to Noahides (c)it applies only to Israel (d) it applies neither to Noahides nor to Israel

(9) Modern Idols are (a) wood and stone statues (b) the Sun and the Moon (c) entities to whom we surrender our lives instead to the true G-d (d) not to be found anymore

(10) IDOLATRY comes first since (a ) it is the base for all other Commandments (b) It is the trial and battle of fascinations that controls our lives (c) it is the most fascinating Commandment (d) all the above


Read also: “Genesis Vs. Science, Can They Match?” By Zvi Aviner, at