The Prohibition of Blasphemy against G-d

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The Prohibiition of Blasphemy

Respecting the Creator

The Meaning

At the most basic level, this means that one must not curse the Creator as He is known by His holy Names. Humans are graced with a unique faculty of speech, which is drawn down from the reflection of Divinity that is uniquely bestowed upon a human being. What greater misuse of this gift could there be than to acknowledge the existence of the Creator, while in the same breath expressing a base and vengeful desire that He should be harmed. It would show that the person does not merely lack faith and trust in the intrinsic good of Divine Providence (which may be hidden for a period of time), but he openly rebels against it.

The following is adapted from the Introduction by Rabbi J. Immanuel Schochet to the Prohibition of Blasphemy, in “The Divine Code,” Part III:

The unique quality and responsibility of human beings

At the center of this world are humans, Divinely endowed with intellect. This allows us analytical thought and examination of ourselves and the world. Without Divinely-endowed criteria for truth and moral values, however, our critical thinking is abstract and theoretical at best, and obviously susceptible to error.

Thus G-d revealed to mankind knowledge of His inscrutable Will through of His prophets and Torah, to know what is right and what is wrong, what is good and what is evil. The Divine Revelation of the Torah at Mount Sinai, and the Divine designation of Moses as the foremost prophet for all time, established the ultimate test for the truth of future prophets, i.e., compatibility with Torah and its eternal commandments. Even so, this legal and moral code is meaningful only when applying the other gift endowed upon humans: freedom of choice to follow or reject proper conduct.

Open-minded and consistent reasoning leads to a realization that there must be a Supreme Cause for our complex yet intricately precise world. Thus we arrive at recognition and acknowledgment of G-d as Creator, Sovereign and Sustainer of the universe. This is not only an intellectual conclusion, but of itself has practical implications. Noting that life, health and all human needs and blessings emanate unceasingly from the Creator, we must acknowledge this in thought, speech and action. We ought to express gratitude for the Divine benevolence on which we are continuously dependent, and make ourselves into worthy recipients. This concept of worshiping G-d applies equally to all people.

The diametric opposite to this ideal of reverence for G-d is the crass and sinful conduct of deprecating G-d or His Sovereignty. This is referred to as “blasphemy”. In common usage, the word is generally defined as any form of uttered impiety, irreverence, or sacrilege against G-d.

The meaning of “blasphemy” as defined in the Torah

These acts of blasphemy are acts of defiance seeking to impair the appropriate respect and reverence for G-d.

In the Torah the sin of “blasphemy” is circumscribed in terms of “cursing G-d.” In this religious context, blasphemy is regarded as so unimaginable a rebellion and offensiveness that the traditional Hebrew terminology for it is the euphemism “birkat HaShem.” Literally this means “blessing The Name” (i.e., G-d), thus the very opposite of what it is used to signify.

More specifically, the prohibition of blasphemy against the blessed Name of the Creator, and the obligation to respect and revere Him, derive from His absolute supremacy and sovereignty. It then follows that:

  • Everyone is subject to the precept of awe and reverence before G-d, commonly referred to as the “fear of G-d”.
  • One may not to use G-d’s Name in vain. To use G-d’s Name in vain is closely connected with the principle of blasphemy, and it is clearly a form of disrespect. Included in this is a prohibition against swearing to a lie in G-d’s Name. Thus we find that from the earliest times, the concept of an oath was regarded as a sacred obligation. (See Genesis 21:22 and following, and Genesis 26:28 and following.)

Scriptural Sources

Leviticus 24:10-17 relates the incident of a Jew who violated the injunction of Exodus 22:27 and blasphemed in anger, and the Divine edict proclaiming this to be a capital offense. Moreover, it states in Leviticus 24:15, “ish ish (any man) who curses his G-d shall bear his sin.” Why the double expression of “ish ish” (literally: a man, a man)? To include all mankind.

Some Details and Related Principles

  • The obligation to respect G-d’s Name.
  • The obligation to fear G-d.
  • The prohibition of cursing G-d (Heaven forbid).
  • It is forbidden to swear in vain (as in taking a vain oath, or swearing to a false promise or statement).
  • Which vows may be annulled, and the justifications and methods for doing so.

NEXT >> The Prohibition of Murder and Injury

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