Idolatry In Judaism

Idolatry in Judaism is prohibited. Judaism holds that idolatry is not limited to the worship of an idol itself, but also worship involving any artistic representations of God. In addition it is forbidden to derive benefit (hana’ah) from anything dedicated to idolatry. However, aniconism in Judaism has not prevented traditions of Jewish art at various periods.

Judaism’s view of idolatry

Judaism had historically stood out from other faiths in the ancient world because of its strict monotheism. To Judaism idolatry is the ultimate betrayal of God’s relationship with humanity. It is also the ultimate metaphysical error. Idolatry was also reckoned as avodah zarah (″foreign worship″). Jewish identity in the ancient Greek and Roman civilisations was shaped by the rejection of idolatry. The strict avoidance of idolatry affected Jewish daily life in terms of cuisine, coinage, socialisations and participation in games. Jewish law’s strict prohibition of idolatry meant that Jewish movements through areas containing images were inhibited. By the first century CE Jews had responded to the idolatry of non-Jews through satire and polemics. Jewish writers used the works of their own scriptures as well as the works of Greek philosophers to denounce idolatry. While Judaism has never sought to impose the faith on non-Jews, it does require the elimination of idolatry from the world. According to MaimonidesMoses was ordered to compel all the world to accept the Noahide laws and end idolatry. The question of idolatry was a sensitive one, because idolatrous actions had brought destruction in the wilderness, according to the scriptures.

Moses and burning bush

Moses and burning bush

While Jews in general abhorred idolatry, some members of the Diaspora did engage in idolatrous actions. Such Jews often objectified God, visited and worshiped in pagan temples and abandoned their Jewish heritage. Some Jews differed with others on what defined an idolatrous practice. According to Atapanus and Pseudo-Aristeas some Jews were idolatrous on the cognitive level. Evidence from papyri and inscriptions also indicate that some Jews did not object to idolatry even while they clung on to their Jewish heritage.

The Mishnah and Talmud have defined idolatry. It includes worshiping an idol in the manner of its worshipers. This is called ″customary worship″. Another criterion is worshiping the idol with acts which are for worshiping God in the Temple. These include animal sacrifice, incense burning and sprinkling blood. Performing one of these acts means the performer is dubbed an idolater. The third criterion of idolatry is prostration. This includes bowing down with at least the head or knees on the ground. Acts such as kissing, embracing and honoring are forbidden but are not considered to come under idolatry. The performer of such an act does not receive capital punishment unlike the idolater in Jewish law. Tractate Avodah Zarah of the Talmud governs Jewish interactions with idolaters. It places certain restrictions on business dealings with idolaters for the days in proximity to idolatrous festivals. It was forbidden to provide or take any benefit from idolatrous actions. These regulations had a strong impact on Jewish business dealings with Christians during the Middle Ages. Because Jews regarded Christians as idolaters because of Christian doctrines such as the trinity, Jews would not do business dealings with Christians on Sundays. Business dealings with Muslims were not affected because Jews regarded the Muslims as pure monotheists like themselves.

Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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