The Prohibition of Idolatry
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Directing our Spirituality to the Creator
The prohibition of idolatry, and its positive aspect of belief in G-d, are the foundation of the Noahide Code. It is the concept that every person is responsible to the One True G-d, regardless of the society’s norms and one’s own preferences. It is the knowledge that all people are under the One G-d as the Supreme Authority and the ultimate Source of all blessings, and that any other entity (real or imagined) which a person serves and worships as an independent power has become that person’s idol.
From the Introduction by Rabbi J. Immanuel Schochet to the section on the Prohibition of Idolatry, in “The Divine Code,” Part II:
The prohibition of idolatry includes any assumptions of there being self-contained beings or forces that are not totally dependent on G-d and His Providence. This will be understood with the following example: when driving in a nail with a hammer, the immediate agent of activity seems to be the hammer. In truth, however, it is not the hammer itself, but the hand that holds it and the energy used by the hand. So, too, everything in the physical universe and the spiritual realms is forever altogether subject to G-d and His will.
It is forbidden to put one’s faith into a belief that planets or constellations determine human events or a person’s fate. Likewise, soothsaying is a custom that comes from ancient idolatry, and it is forbidden to pick natural occurrences or random lots as signs for how one should choose to act (for example, if a bird tapped on the window, or based on rolling dice, or dealing from a deck of cards). It is forbidden to engage in any form of sorcery (thinking that thereby one can manipulate future events), or consulting “spirits” (as people do in séances). Necromancy and other forms of divination are in the same category. All these practices imply a belief that there are various powers in existence which work on their own, independent of the continuous unified Divine Providence governing the totality of creation.
Human frailty is centered on self-interest, self-indulgence, and gratification: the egocentric as opposed to the theocentric. The powerful desire to control, direct and manipulate the unknown future, to circumvent the Divine “system”, is extremely seductive. In effect, however, it betrays a lack of trust in G-d and undermines true belief in G-d, Who alone is the Creator and Sustainer of all beings, and Who alone is in exclusive charge of all that happens to them. Idolatry is thus denial of pure monotheism, and it presupposes a polytheistic – or at least a dualistic – reality. Even if a person chooses to believe in only one idol, the person has set up for himself two deities – his idol, and himself as the appointer of the idol.
The Noahide Code was given by G-d at Mount Sinai, and it serves as the antidote to avoid idolatry’s pitfalls, to guide a person in the path of authentic truth, and to help us live up to the fact that every person is created in the “image of G-d”.
Genesis 2:16 states: “And the L-rd G-d (E-lokim) commanded the man, saying …” The singular Hebrew word E-lokim is one of the Divine Names for the One G-d. But the same word is used in the non-holy plural sense to refer to physical or conceptual idolatries (other “gods”), as in the verse “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Exodus 20:3). Thus the statement in Genesis 2:16 implies that only the L-rd G-d – the One Who commands mankind – should be served and worshiped, but not an idol.
The Hebrew Bible is filled with statements from G-d to His prophets about His abhorrence of all types of idolatry, and His desire that all people shall repent from idolatry and accept Him as their G-d.
Some Details and Related Principles
- The obligation to recognize and believe in the One G-d.
- The obligation for a person to obey what he is commanded by G-d.
- The obligation for a person to pray to G-d. (At the very least, this applies in times of need.)
- The prohibition of serving idols, either instead of or in combination with G-d.
- The prohibition of making, owning, or selling an idol.
- One may not swear in a name of an idol
- The prohibition of following the idolatrous customs of those who serve idols. Soothsaying, divination, sorcery and necromancy are included in this prohibition.
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