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Monday, 19 Tishrei 5778 / October 9, 2017

Rambam - 3 Chapters a Day

Rambam - 3 Chapters a Day

Avodat Kochavim - Chapter One, Avodat Kochavim - Chapter Two, Avodat Kochavim - Chapter Three

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Avodat Kochavim - Chapter One

Introduction to Hilchos Avodat Kochavim

They contain 51 mitzvot: two positive commandments and 49 negative commandments. They are:

1. Not to show interest in the worship of false gods

2. Not to stray after the thoughts of one's heart or the sights one's eyes behold

3. Not to curse [God]

4. Not to worship [false gods] with the types of service with which they are customarily served

5. Not to bow down to [false gods]

6. Not to make an idol for oneself

7. Not to make an idol even for others

8. Not to make images even for decoration

9. Not to persuade others to [worship false gods]

10. To burn an apostate city

11. Never to rebuild it

12. Not to derive benefit from any of its property

13. Not to persuade a single individual to worship [false gods]

14. Not to love a mesit

15. Not to reduce one's hatred for him

16. Not to save his life

17. Not to advance any arguments on his behalf

18. Not to withhold information that will lead to his conviction

19. Not to prophesy in the name of [false gods]

20. Not to listen to anyone who prophesies in the name of [false gods]

21. Not to give false prophecy even in the name of God

22. Not to fear executing a false prophet

23. Not to swear in the name of a false god

24. Not to perform the deeds associated with an ov

25. Not to perform the deeds associated with a yid'oni

26. Not to offer to Molech

27. Not to erect a pillar [for purposes of worship]

28. Not to prostrate oneself on hewn stones

29. Not to plant an asherah

30. To destroy false gods and all their objects of worship

31. Not to benefit from false gods and all their objects of worship

32. Not to benefit from ornaments that have adorned false gods

33. Not to establish a covenant with nations who worship false gods

34. Not to show them favor

35. Not to allow them to settle in our land

36. Not to follow their customs or manner of dress

37. Not to act as a soothsayer

38. Not to practice black magic

39. Not to practice divination

40. Not to cast spells

41. Not to seek information from the dead

42. Not to consult an ov

43. Not to consult a yid'oni

44. Not to practice sorcery;

45. Not to shave the temples of our heads

46. Not to shave off the corners of our beards

47. For a man not to wear a woman's apparel

48. For a woman not to wear armament or a man's apparel

49. Not to tattoo [one's body]

50. Not to make cuts in one's flesh

51. Not to tear out hair [in mourning] for the dead

The explanation of these mitzvot is found in the following chapters.

רמב"ם הלכות עבודת כוכבים - הקדמה

הלכות עבודת כוכבים וחקותיהם. יש בכללן נ"א מצות, שתי מצות עשה, ומ"ט מצות לא תעשה. וזהו פרטן:

(א) שלא לפנות אחר עבודת כוכבים.

(ב) שלא לתור אחר הרהור הלב וראית העינים.

(ג) שלא לגדף.

(ד) שלא יעבוד אותה כדרך עבודתה.

(ה) שלא ישתחוה לה.

(ו) שלא לעשות פסל לעצמו.

(ז) שלא לעשות פסל אפילו לאחרים.

(ה) שלא לעשות צורות אפילו לנוי.

(ט) שלא להדיח אחרים אחריה.

(י) לשרוף עיר הנדחת.

(יא) שלא לבנותה.

(יב) שלא ליהנות מכל ממונה.

(יג) שלא להסית יחיד לעבודת כוכבים לעובדה.

(יד) שלא לאהוב המסית.

(טו) שלא לעזוב שנאתו.

(טז) שלא להצילו.

(יז) שלא ללמד עליו זכות.

(יח) שלא ימנע מללמד עליו חובה.

(יט) שלא להתנבא בשמה.

(כ) שלא לשמוע מן המתנבא בשמה.

(כא) שלא להתנבא בשקר ואפילו בשם השם.

(כב) שלא לגור מהריגת נביא שקר.

(כג) שלא לישבע בשם עבודת כוכבים.

(כד) שלא לעשות אוב.

(כה) שלא לעשות ידעוני.

(כו) שלא להעביר למולך.

(כז) שלא להקים מצבה.

(כח) שלא להשתחוות על אבן משכית.

(כט) שלא ליטע אשרה.

(ל) לאבד עבודת כוכבים וכל הנעשה בשבילה.

(לא) שלא ליהנות בעבודת כוכבים ובכל משמשיה.

(לב) שלא ליהנות בציפוי נעבד.

(לג) שלא לכרות ברית לעובדי כוכבים.

(לד) שלא לחון עליהן.

(לה) שלא ישבו בארצנו.

(לו) שלא להדמות במנהגותם ובמלבושם.

(לז) שלא לנחש.

(לח) שלא לקסום.

(לט) שלא לעונן.

(מ) שלא לחבור חבר.

(מא) שלא לדרוש אל המתים.

(מב) שלא לשאול באוב.

(מג) שלא לשאול בידעוני.

(מד) שלא לכשף.

(מה) שלא להקיף פאת ראש.

(מו) שלא להשחית פאת זקן.

(מז) שלא יעדה איש עדי אשה.

(מח) שלא תעדה אשה כלי זיין ועדי איש.

(מט) שלא לכתוב קעקע.

(נ) שלא להתגודד.

(נא) שלא לעשות קרחה על מת.

וביאור כל המצות האלו בפרקים אלו.

1

During the times of Enosh, mankind made a great mistake, and the wise men of that generation gave thoughtless counsel. Enosh himself was one of those who erred.

Their mistake was as follows: They said God created stars and spheres with which to control the world. He placed them on high and treated them with honor, making them servants who minister before Him. Accordingly, it is fitting to praise and glorify them and to treat them with honor. [They perceived] this to be the will of God, blessed be He, that they magnify and honor those whom He magnified and honored, just as a king desires that the servants who stand before him be honored. Indeed, doing so is an expression of honor to the king.

After conceiving of this notion, they began to construct temples to the stars and offer sacrifices to them. They would praise and glorify them with words, and prostrate themselves before them, because by doing so, they would - according to their false conception - be fulfilling the will of God.

This was the essence of the worship of false gods, and this was the rationale of those who worshiped them. They would not say that there is no other god except for this star.

This message was conveyed by Jeremiah, who declared (10:7-8): "Who will not fear You, King of the nations, for to You it is fitting. Among all the wise men of the nations and in all their kingdoms, there is none like You. They have one foolish and senseless [notion. They conceive of their] empty teachings as wood;" i.e., all know that You alone are God. Their foolish error consists of conceiving of this emptiness as Your will.

א

בימי אנוש טעו בני האדם טעות גדול ונבערה עצת חכמי אותו הדור ואנוש עצמו מן הטועים היה וזו היתה טעותם אמרו הואיל והאלהים ברא כוכבים אלו וגלגלים להנהיג את העולם ונתנם במרום וחלק להם כבוד והם שמשים המשמשים לפניו ראויין הם לשבחם ולפארם ולחלוק להם כבוד וזהו רצון האל ברוך הוא לגדל ולכבד מי שגדלו וכבדו כמו שהמלך רוצה לכבד העומדים לפניו וזהו כבודו של מלך כיון שעלה דבר זה על לבם התחילו לבנות לכוכבים היכלות ולהקריב להן קרבנות ולשבחם ולפארם בדברים ולהשתחוות למולם כדי להשיג רצון הבורא בדעתם הרעה וזה היה עיקר עבודת כוכבים וכך היו אומרים עובדיה היודעים עיקרה לא שהן אומרים שאין שם אלוה אלא כוכב זה הוא שירמיהו אומר מי לא ייראך מלך הגוים כי לך יאתה כי בכל חכמי הגוים ובכל מלכותם מאין כמוך ובאחת יבערו ויכסלו מוסר הבלים עץ הוא כלומר הכל יודעים שאתה הוא לבדך אבל טעותם וכסילותם שמדמים שזה ההבל רצונך הוא:

During the times of Enosh - the grandson of Adam. See Genesis 4:26, 5:6-11. Enosh lived from the year 235 after creation to the year 1140 (3525 to 2620 B.C.E.).

mankind made a great mistake and the wise men of that generation gave thoughtless counsel. - Interestingly, the Rambam does not attribute the rise of paganism to simple commoners, but to the "wise" of the generation.

Enosh, himself, was one of those who erred. - Our text of Shabbat 118b mentions that "the generation of Enosh" were idol worshipers. However, certain versions of that text omit the words "generation of." (See She'iltot D'Rabbi Achai Gaon, Bereshit.)

Their mistake was as follows: They said God created stars and spheres - See Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah, Chapter 3, for a description of the stars and the spheres, and their place within the Rambam's conception of the cosmos.

with which to control the world. He placed them on high and treated them with honor, making them servants who minister before Him. - i.e., mediums of Divine influence

Accordingly, it is fitting to praise and glorify them and to treat them with honor. - Rashi finds an allusion to the worship of false gods in Enosh's times in Genesis 4:26: which he renders, "It was then that they called profanely upon the name of God."

[They perceived] this to be the will of God, blessed be He, that they magnify and honor those whom He magnified and honored, just as a king desires that the servants who stand before him be honored. Indeed, doing so is an expression of honor to the king. - In Hilchot Yesodei Torah, ibid., and in several places in the Guide for the Perplexed, the Rambam explains that the stars and the spheres are on a higher plane than the creations of our world. Though they influence our world, they are also God's creations and have no free will of their own. Thus, they are no more than an axe in the hands of a wood-chopper, and should not worshiped or served.

After conceiving of this notion, they began to construct temples to the stars - Note the Rambam's comments on astrology in his Commentary on the Mishnah (Avodah Zarah 4:7), which are quoted in the commentary on Chapter 11, Halachah 16.

and offer sacrifices to them. They would praise and glorify them with words, and prostrate themselves before them, because by doing so, they would - according to their false conception - It is questionable if such worship is forbidden to gentiles or not. Based on Deuteronomy 4:19, certain authorities maintain that the gentiles may worship other gods, provided they have the awareness that God is the ultimate power (שיתוף).

The Rambam, however, does not mention this perspective in these halachot, nor in Hilchot Melachim, Chapter 9, where he discusses the prohibition against the worship of false gods as it affects gentiles. [In Sefer HaMitzvot (positive commandment 2), however, he states "Israel is commanded regarding the unification of God"; from which it could be inferred that gentiles need not believe in this concept and can combine their worship of God with other powers.] All authorities agree that such worship is forbidden for Jews.

be fulfilling the will of God. - It is unclear from the Rambam's statements here whether, originally, they would worship the stars without any self-interest - merely with the intent of honoring those whom God honors - or whether their service was self-oriented - i.e., they worshiped the stars because they considered them as mediums of Divine influence and hoped to derive benefit from of their service. In the following halachah and in his Commentary on the Mishnah (Avodah Zarah 4:7), the Rambam mentions the second view. It is, however, unclear if this was the original intent of the star-worshipers or whether this was a later development.

This was the essence of the worship of false gods - See Chapter 2, Halachah 1.

and this was the rationale of those who worshiped them - at the outset.

They would never say that there is no other god except for this star - as the pagans mentioned in Halachah 2 later did. The first generations of star worshipers were aware of God's existence and conceived of the stars as no more than intermediaries between ourselves and Him.

This message was conveyed by Jeremiah, who declared (10:7-8): - See also the Guide for the Perplexed (Vol. I, Chapter 36) where the Rambam explains a similar idea using the same Biblical proof-text.

"Who will not fear You, King of the nations, for to You it is fitting. Among all the wise men of the nations and in all their kingdoms, there is none like You. They have one foolish and senseless [notion. They conceive of their] empty teachings as wood;" - i.e., as an entity of substance

i.e., all know that You alone are God. Their foolish error consists of conceiving of this emptiness - the worship of the stars

as Your will. - This and the following two halachot are somewhat problematic. The Rambam conceived of the Mishneh Torah as a book of law. He included philosophical and historical points only when they are halachot, directives for our behavior. In this light, this entire chapter seems unnecessary.

This difficulty can be resolved based on Chapter 2, Halachah 3, which states that it is forbidden to entertain thoughts of idol worship. Hence, in order to know which thoughts are forbidden, the Rambam feels it necessary to describe the entire thought process which led people to worship idols (Likkutei Sichot, Vol. 20).

The phenomenon described by the Rambam does not belong entirely to the past. Although, at present, bowing down to the "stars and spheres" is not very common - although it has been renewed by some cultists - the theoretical premise that motivated the ancients to serve the stars is still followed by many. Is it all that uncommon to find people who compromise their service of God in expectation of receiving benefits by following what they perceive as the natural order?

2

After many years passed, there arose people - false prophets - who told [their nations] that God had commanded them to say: Serve this star - or all the stars - sacrifice to it, offer libations to it, build a temple for it and make an image of it so that all people - including the women, the children, and the common people - could bow to it.

He would inform them of a form that he had conceived, and tell them that this is the image of the particular star, claiming that this was revealed to him in a prophetic vision. In this manner, the people began to make images in temples, under trees, and on the tops of mountains and hills.

People would gather together and bow down to them and the [false prophets] would say: This image is the source of benefit or harm. It is appropriate to serve it and fear it. Their priests would tell them: This service will enable you to multiply and be successful. Do this and this, or do not do this or this.

Subsequently, other deceivers arose and declared that a specific star, sphere, or angel had spoken to them and commanded them: Serve me in this manner. He would then relate a mode of service [telling them:] Do this, do not do this.

Thus, these practices spread throughout the world. People would serve images with strange practices - one more distorted than the other - offer sacrifices to them, and bow down to them. As the years passed, [God's] glorious and awesome name was forgotten by the entire population. [It was no longer part of] their speech or thought, and they no longer knew Him. Thus, all the common people, the women, and the children would know only the image of wood or stone and the temples of stone to which they were trained from their childhood to bow down and serve, and in whose name they swore.

The wise men among them would think that there is no God other than the stars and spheres for whose sake, and in resemblance of which, they had made these images. The Eternal Rock was not recognized or known by anyone in the world, with the exception of a [few] individuals: for example, Chanoch, Metushelach, Noach, Shem, and Ever. The world continued in this fashion until the pillar of the world - the Patriarch Abraham - was born.

ב

ואחר שארכו הימים עמדו בבני האדם נביאי שקר ואמרו שהאל צוה ואמר להם עבדו כוכב פלוני או כל הכוכבים והקריבו לו ונסכו לו כך וכך ובנו לו היכל ועשו צורתו כדי להשתחוות לו כל העם הנשים והקטנים ושאר עמי הארץ ומודיע להם צורה שבדה מלבו ואומר זו היא צורת הכוכב פלוני שהודיעוהו בנבואתו והתחילו על דרך זו לעשות צורות בהיכלות ותחת האילנות ובראשי ההרים ועל הגבעות ומתקבצין ומשתחוים להם ואומרים לכל העם שזו הצורה מטיבה ומריעה וראוי לעובדה וליראה ממנה וכהניהם אומרים להם שבעבודה זו תרבו ותצליחו ועשו כך כך ואל תעשו כך וכך והתחילו כוזבים אחרים לעמוד ולומר שהכוכב עצמו או הגלגל או המלאך דבר עמהם ואמר להם עבדוני בכך וכך והודיע להם דרך עבודתו ועשו כך ואל תעשו כך ופשט דבר זה בכל העולם לעבוד את הצורות בעבודות משונות זו מזו ולהקריב להם ולהשתחוות וכיון שארכו הימים נשתכח השם הנכבד והנורא מפי כל היקום ומדעתם ולא הכירוהו ונמצאו כל עם הארץ הנשים והקטנים אינם יודעים אלא הצורה של עץ ושל אבן וההיכל של אבנים שנתחנכו מקטנותם להשתחוות לה ולעבדה ולהשבע בשמה והחכמים שהיו בהם כגון כהניהם וכיוצא בהן מדמין שאין שם אלוה אלא הכוכבים והגלגלים שנעשו הצורות האלו בגללם ולדמותן אבל צור העולמים לא היה שום אדם שהיה מכירו ולא יודעו אלא יחידים בעולם כגון חנוך ומתושלח נח שם ועבר ועל דרך זה היה העולם הולך ומתגלגל עד שנולד עמודו של עולם והוא אברהם אבינו:

After many years passed, there arose people - false prophets - Note Hilchot Yesodei Torah 9:5, which states that anyone who states that God told him in a prophetic vision to worship idols should automatically be considered a false prophet.

See also the Guide for the Perplexed (Vol. II, Chapter 36) where the Rambam describes how people can be overcome by their powers of imagination to the extent that they - as do others who see them in such a trance - think of themselves as prophets, although, in fact, they received no Divine influence.

who told [the people] that God had commanded them to say: - Thus, this represents a second stage in the spread of idol worship. At first - as explained in Halachah 1 - star worship was not institutionalized, but was practiced by individuals because of their mistaken conceptions.

The second phase involved the development of religious institutions and set modes of worship. The leaders, however, still recognized God and attributed the instructions to worship the stars to Him. In the third stage - as the latter portion of this halachah states - people would worship the stars and idols without any awareness of God.

Serve this star - or all the stars - sacrifice to it, offer libations to it, build a temple for it and make an image of it so that all people - including the women, the children, and the common people - could bow to it. - See the Rambam's Commentary on the Mishnah (Avodah Zarah 4:7) and his statements in Chapter 11, Halachah 16, where he explains that idol worship was instituted by the leaders of the nations to unite the people of a particular land, give them a sense of national identity, and establish a hierarchy of leaders.

He would inform them of a form that he had conceived, and tell them that this is the image of the particular star, claiming that this was revealed to him in a prophetic vision. - With these statements, the Rambam explains how people began to worship statues and idols. Since the star was far away and could not be perceived as more than a twinkling dot in the sky, the people wanted a more tangible image which they could relate to. The "prophets" obliged and devised forms for statues to serve as talismans to bring down influence from these stars.

In this manner, the people began to make images in temples, under trees, and on the tops of mountains and hills. - Note Deuteronomy 12:2, which commands the Jews to destroy "all the places where the nations... would worship their gods, on the high mountains, on the hills, or under any luxuriant tree." Note the Guide for the Perplexed, Vol. III, Chapter 45, where the Rambam mentions the gentile practice of building temples on hills and mountaintops.

People would gather together and bow down to them - the images

and the [false prophets] would say: This image is the source of benefit or harm. It is appropriate to serve it and fear it. Their priests would tell them: This service will enable you to multiply and be successful. Do this and this, or do not do this or this. - At this stage, their service was clearly self-oriented. They wanted to derive benefit or prevent harm to themselves through this service.

Subsequently, other deceivers arose and declared that a specific star, sphere, or angel - See Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah, Chapter 2, for a description of the angels.

had spoken to them and commanded them: Serve me in this manner. He would then relate a mode of service [telling them:] Do this, do not do this. - This represented a further descent. Rather than prophesy in the name of God, these imposters would speak in the names of the idols themselves. (See also Chapter 5, Halachot 6-7.)

Thus, these practices spread throughout the world. People would serve images with strange practices - one more distorted than the other - Note Chapter 3, Halachah 2, which describes the service of Ba'al Pe'or. The people would defecate before the idol as an act of worship.

offer sacrifices to them, and bow down to them. As the years passed, [God's] glorious and awesome name was forgotten by the entire population. [It was no longer part of] their speech or thought, and they no longer knew Him. - It is not clear at which point in the history of the world this change took place. The period between Enosh's birth and Abraham's lasted slightly more than one thousand years, with the flood taking place approximately 750 years after Enosh's birth.

Thus, all the common people, the women, and the children would know - Note the Rambam's Commentary on the Mishnah (Chulin 1:1), where he also differentiates between the people who believe in the spiritual service intended to draw down spiritual energy from these celestial bodies and practice it, and the common people who worship the idols blindly, on faith.

only the image of wood or stone and the temples of stone to which they were trained from their childhood to bow down and serve, and in whose name they swore - i.e., they conceived of the images as gods. Such worship represented more than a mere conceptual error. Six of the seven mitzvot commanded to Noach and his descendants were also given to Adam, the first man. Among them was the prohibition against serving other gods (Hilchot Melachim 9:1). Thus, by worshiping these images, they were breaking an explicit Divine commandment.

The wise men among them would - not worship the images as gods in their own right, but they would

think that there is no God other than the stars and spheres for whose sake, and in resemblance of which, they had made these images. The Eternal Rock - the true God

was not recognized or known by anyone in the world, with the exception of a [few] individuals - Our Sages speak critically of these individuals, who were themselves righteous, but did nothing to influence the people around them.

for example - See also the Guide for the Perplexed, Vol. II, Chapter 39, where the Rambam cites these individuals as prophets.

Chanoch - Note Genesis 5:22: "And Chanoch walked with God."

Metushelach - Though his righteousness is not mentioned explicitly in the Torah, it is mentioned by our Sages in a number of places - e.g., Yalkut Shimeoni, Bereshit 42, which states: "Metushelach was a completely righteous man."

Noach - See Genesis 6:9: "And Noach was a righteous man, perfect in his generation."

Shem - Noach's second son.

and Ever. - Shem and Ever are frequently mentioned by our Rabbis as righteous sages. See Bereishit Rabbah 63:6, which explains that when Rivkah went "to seek out God" (Genesis 25:22), she went to the house of study of Shem and Ever.

The world continued in this fashion until the pillar of the world - the Patriarch Abraham - was born. - Abraham was born in the year 1948 (1812 B.C.E.).

3

After this mighty man was weaned, he began to explore and think. Though he was a child, he began to think [incessantly] throughout the day and night, wondering: How is it possible for the sphere to continue to revolve without having anyone controlling it? Who is causing it to revolve? Surely, it does not cause itself to revolve.

He had no teacher, nor was there anyone to inform him. Rather, he was mired in Ur Kasdim among the foolish idolaters. His father, mother, and all the people [around him] were idol worshipers, and he would worship with them. [However,] his heart was exploring and [gaining] understanding.

Ultimately, he appreciated the way of truth and understood the path of righteousness through his accurate comprehension. He realized that there was one God who controlled the sphere, that He created everything, and that there is no other God among all the other entities. He knew that the entire world was making a mistake. What caused them to err was their service of the stars and images, which made them lose awareness of the truth.

Abraham was forty years old when he became aware of his Creator. When he recognized and knew Him, he began to formulate replies to the inhabitants of Ur Kasdim and debate with them, telling them that they were not following a proper path.

He broke their idols and began to teach the people that it is fitting to serve only the God of the world. To Him [alone] is it fitting to bow down, sacrifice, and offer libations, so that the people of future [generations] would recognize Him. [Conversely,] it is fitting to destroy and break all the images, lest all the people err concerning them, like those people who thought that there are no other gods besides these [images].

When he overcame them through the strength of his arguments, the king desired to kill him. He was [saved through] a miracle and left for Charan. [There,] he began to call in a loud voice to all people and inform them that there is one God in the entire world and it is proper to serve Him. He would go out and call to the people, gathering them in city after city and country after country, until he came to the land of Canaan - proclaiming [God's existence the entire time] - as [Genesis 21:33] states: "And He called there in the name of the Lord, the eternal God."

When the people would gather around him and ask him about his statements, he would explain [them] to each one of them according to their understanding, until they turned to the path of truth. Ultimately, thousands and myriads gathered around him. These are the men of the house of Abraham.

He planted in their hearts this great fundamental principle, composed texts about it, and taught it to Isaac, his son. Isaac also taught others and turned [their hearts to God]. He also taught Jacob and appointed him as a teacher.

[Jacob] taught others and turned [the hearts] of all those who gathered around him [to God]. He also taught all of his children. He selected Levi and appointed him as the leader. He established him [as the head of] the academy to teach them the way of God and observe the mitzvot of Abraham.

[Jacob] commanded his sons that the leadership should not depart from the descendants of Levi, so that the teachings would not be forgotten. This concept proceeded and gathered strength among the descendants of Jacob and those who collected around them, until there became a nation within the world which knew God.

When the Jews extended their stay in Egypt, however, they learned from the [Egyptians'] deeds and began worshiping the stars as they did, with the exception of the tribe of Levi, who clung to the mitzvot of the patriarchs - the tribe of Levi never served false gods.

Within a short time, the fundamental principle that Abraham had planted would have been uprooted, and the descendants of Jacob would have returned to the errors of the world and their crookedness. Because of God's love for us, and to uphold the oath He made to Abraham, our patriarch, He brought forth Moses, our teacher, the master of all prophets, and sent him [to redeem the Jews]. After Moses, our teacher, prophesied, and God chose Israel as His inheritance, He crowned them with mitzvot and informed them of the path to serve Him, [teaching them] the judgement prescribed for idol worshiper and all those who stray after it.

ג

כיון שנגמל איתן זה התחיל לשוטט בדעתו והוא קטן והתחיל לחשוב ביום ובלילה והיה תמיה היאך אפשר שיהיה הגלגל הזה נוהג תמיד ולא יהיה לו מנהיג ומי יסבב אותו כי אי אפשר שיסבב את עצמו ולא היה לו מלמד ולא מודיע דבר אלא מושקע באור כשדים בין עובדי כוכבים הטפשים ואביו ואמו וכל העם עובדי כוכבים והוא עובד עמהם ולבו משוטט ומבין עד שהשיג דרך האמת והבין קו הצדק מתבונתו הנכונה וידע שיש שם אלוה אחד והוא מנהיג הגלגל והוא ברא הכל ואין בכל הנמצא אלוה חוץ ממנו וידע שכל העולם טועים ודבר שגרם להם לטעות זה שעובדים את הכוכבים ואת הצורות עד שאבד האמת מדעתם ובן ארבעים שנה הכיר אברהם את בוראו כיון שהכיר וידע התחיל להשיב תשובות על בני אור כשדים ולערוך דין עמהם ולומר שאין זו דרך האמת שאתם הולכים בה ושיבר הצלמים והתחיל להודיע לעם שאין ראוי לעבוד אלא לאלוה העולם ולו ראוי להשתחוות ולהקריב ולנסך כדי שיכירוהו כל הברואים הבאים וראוי לאבד ולשבר כל הצורות כדי שלא יטעו בהן כל העם כמו אלו שהם מדמים שאין שם אלוה אלא אלו:

כיון שגבר עליהם בראיותיו בקש המלך להורגו ונעשה לו נס ויצא לחרן והתחיל לעמוד ולקרוא בקול גדול לכל העולם ולהודיעם שיש שם אלוה אחד לכל העולם ולו ראוי לעבוד והיה מהלך וקורא ומקבץ העם מעיר לעיר ומממלכה לממלכה עד שהגיע לארץ כנען והוא קורא שנאמר ויקרא שם בשם ה' אל עולם וכיון שהיו העם מתקבצין אליו ושואלין לו על דבריו היה מודיע לכל אחד ואחד כפי דעתו עד שיחזירהו לדרך האמת עד שנתקבצו אליו אלפים ורבבות והם אנשי בית אברהם ושתל בלבם העיקר הגדול הזה וחבר בו ספרים והודיעו ליצחק בנו וישב יצחק מלמד ומזהיר ויצחק הודיע ליעקב ומינהו ללמד וישב מלמד ומחזיק כל הנלוים אליו ויעקב אבינו למד בניו כולם והבדיל לוי ומינהו ראש והושיבו בישבה ללמד דרך השם ולשמור מצות אברהם וצוה את בניו שלא יפסיקו מבני לוי ממונה אחר ממונה כדי שלא תשכח הלמוד והיה הדבר הולך ומתגבר בבני יעקב ובנלוים עליהם ונעשית בעולם אומה שהיא יודעת את ה' עד שארכו הימים לישראל במצרים וחזרו ללמוד מעשיהן ולעבוד כוכבים כמותן חוץ משבט לוי שעמד במצות אבות ומעולם לא עבד שבט לוי עבודת כוכבים וכמעט קט היה העיקר ששתל אברהם נעקר וחוזרין בני יעקב לטעות העולם ותעיותן ומאהבת ה' אותנו ומשמרו את השבועה לאברהם אבינו עשה משה רבינו רבן של כל הנביאים ושלחו כיון שנתנבא משה רבינו ובחר ה' ישראל לנחלה הכתירן במצות והודיעם דרך עבודתו ומה יהיה משפט עבודת כוכבים וכל הטועים אחריה:

After this mighty man - In several places - e.g., Bava Batra 15a and Rosh HaShanah 11a - our Sages referred to Abraham with this expression.

was weaned - Nedarim 32a states: "Abraham was three when he recognized his Creator." Although the Rambam states that it was not until Abraham was forty that he gained true awareness of God, his process of search began at age three.

he began to explore and think. Though he was a child, he began to think [incessantly] throughout the day and night, wondering: How is it possible for the sphere to continue to revolve without having anyone controlling it? - Note the Midrash HaGadol (Parashat Lech Lecha), which explains that Abraham questioned: Why should we bow down to idols, gods that we ourselves make? We should bow to the earth, for it produces crops that sustain us.

Therefore, he began to worship the earth. Then he saw that the earth needs rain, and began to worship the sky. Later, he saw that the most brilliant creation in the sky was the sun, and began to worship it. Afterwards, when the sun set and the moon rose, he began to worship the moon. When the sun rose the next morning, he did not know what to do. He did not see which was stronger: the sun or the moon. So Abraham continued in a quandary, questioning who was the true God.

Who is causing it to revolve? Surely, it does not cause itself to revolve. - Interestingly, in Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah 1:5, the Rambam uses the same concept as a proof for the existence of God.

He had no teacher, nor was there anyone to inform him. -Bereshit Rabbah 61:1 elaborates on the lack of instruction that was available to Abraham.

Note the Ra'avad and the Kessef Mishneh, who question why Noach, Shem, and Ever (all of whom were alive at this time) did not try to nullify the worship of idols and why they did not instruct Abraham. They offer two explanations. The first is that they were afraid and hid from the idolaters. (See Midrash Tehillim 118. Note, however, teachings which state that these righteous men also protested the worship of false gods, Tanna Devei Eliyahu Rabba, Chapters 20 and 25.)

Alternatively, Shem and Ever lived in the land of Canaan, while Abraham lived in Babylon. The question remains, however, why did Abraham not seek out these righteous men (Kinat Eliyahu).

Rather, he was mired in Ur Kasdim among the foolish idolaters. His father, mother, and all the people [around him] were idol worshipers - Indeed, our Sages relate that his father had a shop where idols were sold.

and he would worship with them. - See Bereshit Rabbah 39:8, which states that Abraham was always worried that God would not absolve him from his sin of worshiping idols.

[However,] his heart was exploring and [gaining] understanding. Ultimately, he appreciated the way of truth - an awareness of God

and understood the path of righteousness - an ethical approach to behavior, which reflected his spiritual awareness

through his accurate comprehension. He realized that there was one God who controlled the sphere, that He created everything, and that there is no other God among all the other entities. - These are the fundamental principles of the Jewish faith, as explained in Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah 1:1-6.

He knew that the entire world was making a mistake. What caused them to err was their service of the stars and images, which made them lose awareness of the truth. - Their worship of idols dulled their sensitivity to spirituality to the point where they lost all awareness of God.

Abraham was forty years old when he became aware of his Creator. - Note Bereshit Rabbah 64:4, which mentions two opinions regarding when Abraham became aware of God: one when he was three and one when he was forty eight. It is possible that the Rambam's text of the Midrash read "forty" instead of "forty eight."

As explained above, the opinions are not necessarily contradictory. Abraham's process of inquiry could have begun at age three, while at forty he gained greater understanding, and at forty eight, he achieved an even higher level of awareness.

Avot 5:21 states: "At forty, one achieves understanding." By associating Abraham's apreciation of the Creator with this age, the Rambam implies that this awareness can come as a product of our own thought and meditation.

When he recognized and knew Him - Bereshit Rabbah 39:1 explains Abraham's process of thought with a parable. A person saw a brightly lit palace. He wondered: Could this palace exist without an owner? Immediately, the owner revealed himself to him. Similarly, Abraham wondered: Is it possible for the world to exist without one who controls? Immediately, God revealed himself to him.

he began to formulate replies to the inhabitants of Ur Kasdim and debate with them, telling them that they were not following a proper path - by serving the stars and idols.

He broke their idols and began to teach the people that it is fitting to serve only the God of the world. - Our Sages relate that after breaking his father's idols, he put a stick in the hands of the largest idol. When his father asked him why he destroyed the idols, he replied that he didn't do it; the idol holding the stick did.

His father curtly dismissed his reply: "That idol is only metal. It cannot do anything," he roared at his son.

"If so, why do you worship it?" Abraham replied.

To Him [alone] is it fitting to bow down, sacrifice, and offer libations, so that the people of future [generations] would recognize Him. - The Rambam's words imply that the value of offering sacrifices at this time (before the Torah commanded that they be offered) was not as the acts of service of God, but in the educational effect they had on the people and the awareness of God they inspired.

[Conversely,] it is fitting to destroy and break all the images, lest all the people err concerning them, like those people who thought that there are no other gods besides these [images]. When he overcame them through the strength of his arguments, the king - Nimrod (Pesachim 118a)

desired to kill him - by tossing him into a burning furnace.

He was [saved through] a miracle - Interestingly, when the Rambam lists the ten trials that Abraham endured in his Commentary on the Mishnah, Avot 5:3, he does not mention this episode at all.

and left for Charan. - See Genesis 11:31. In his Commentary on the Mishnah (ibid.), the Rambam mentions Abraham's exile from his native land as the first of his ten trials.

[There,] - he did not encounter any of the formal opposition he had faced in Babylonia and

he began to call in a loud voice to all people and inform them that there is one God in the entire world. He would go out and call to the people, gathering them in city after city and country after country - On the phrase, Genesis 12:5, "the people they had gathered in Charan," Bereshit Rabbah 39:21 comments, "These are the converts they made. Abraham would convert the men and Sarah would convert the women."

until he came to the land of Canaan - See Genesis, Chapter 12, which describes Abraham's journeys within the land of Canaan.

proclaiming [God's existence the entire time] - as [Genesis 21:33] states: "And He called there in the name of the Lord, the eternal God." - Sotah 10a states: "Do not read 'And he called.' Read 'And he had others call' - i.e., Abraham motivated others to become aware of God and call out to Him.

When the people would gather around him and ask him about his statements, he would explain [them] to each one of them according to their understanding, until they turned to the path of truth. Ultimately, thousands and myriads gathered around him. These are the men of the house of Abraham. - The Rabbis question the fate of all these people. We do not find any mention of the perpetuation of their faith in God. Perhaps the cultural influences of the surrounding environment were too powerful. If the children of Israel themselves turned to idol worship after two generations in Egypt, could any more be expected from these individuals?

He planted in their hearts this great fundamental principle, composed texts about it - Most commentaries point to Avodah Zarah 14b, which relates that Abraham composed a four-hundred-chapter text against the worship of false gods. Kinat Eliyahu notes that here, the Rambam is not referring to the negation of idol worship, but to the propagation of the faith in one God. Therefore, he suggests that the reference is to the Kabbalistic tradition (Zohar, Vol. II, 275b) that Sefer Yetzirah was composed by Abraham. (See also Kiryat Melech.)

and taught it to Isaac, his son. - Note Genesis 18:19: "I have known him that he will command his children and household after him, and they will keep the way of God...."

Isaac also taught others and turned [their hearts to God]. He also taught Jacob - Jacob also studied under Shem and Ever (See Rashi, Genesis 25:27, Bereishit Rabbah 25:16).

and appointed him as a teacher - i.e., he and not Esau would convey the spiritual heritage of Abraham.

[Jacob] taught others and turned [the hearts] of all those who gathered around him [to God]. He also taught all of his children. - In contrast to Abraham and Isaac, all of Jacob's children were righteous. (See Hilchot Kri'at Shema 1:4.)

He selected Levi and appointed him as the leader. - The Torah itself does not mention Jacob's selection of Levi as a leader. A number of sources in the oral tradition (Pirkei D'Rabbi Eliezer, Chapter 39; Shemot Rabbah 15:27), however, reveal this concept.

He established him [as the head of] the academy - The Midrash Tanchuma (Vayigash) interprets Genesis 46:28: "And Jacob sent Judah before him," to mean that he charged him with founding a yeshiva. Similarly, Yoma 28b states that this Talmudic academy continued throughout the Egyptian exile.

to teach them the way of God - Note Hilchot De'ot 1:7, which explains that the expression, "the way of God," refers to ethics, emulating the qualities of spirit which God has revealed.

and observe the mitzvot of Abraham. - In this context, note the Rambam's statements in Hilchot Melachim 9:1. After relating the seven universal laws given to Noach and his descendants, the Rambam states:

In addition to these, Abraham was commanded regarding circumcision. He instituted the morning prayer. Isaac separated tithes and added another prayer service towards evening. Jacob added the prohibition against eating the gid hanasheh, the "displaced nerve," and instituted the evening prayers.

[Jacob] commanded his sons that the leadership should not depart from the descendants of Levi - Thus, the mantle of leadership passed to Kehat and then to Amram, Moses' father.

so that the teachings would not be forgotten. This concept proceeded and gathered strength among the descendants of Jacob and those who collected around them, until there became a nation within the world which knew God. - This describes the initial period of the Jews' stay in Egypt, when they prospered both spiritually and materially.

When the Jews extended their stay in Egypt - The entire period of the Egyptian exile lasted 210 years. As long as Jacob's sons were living, the Jews preserved the heritage of their fathers and were treated with honor by the Egyptians.

The last of Jacob's sons to die was Levi. After his death, the spiritual level of the Jews descended. Levi lived 127 years. He was 44 when he entered Egypt. Thus, this spiritual descent occurred 83 years after the Jews entered Egypt.

however, they learned from the [Egyptians'] deeds and began worshiping the stars as they did - When the Jews adopted Egyptian values - as a reflection of their spiritual state - they were enslaved by the Egyptians.

with the exception of the tribe of Levi, who clung to the mitzvot of the patriarchs - the tribe of Levi never served false gods. - The tribe of Levi was also the only tribe which perpetuated the mitzvah of circumcision (Sifre, Berachah). As a result of their spiritual fortitude, the tribe of Levi was never enslaved.

Within a short time, the fundamental principle that Abraham had planted would have been uprooted and the descendants of Jacob would have returned to the errors of the world and their crookedness. - Our Sages relate that, in the Egyptian exile, the Jews had descended to the forty-ninth degree of impurity. Had they descended another level, it would have been impossible for us ever to be redeemed.

Because of God's love for us, and to uphold the oath He made to Abraham, our patriarch - This is a reference to Deuteronomy 7:7-8: "It is not because of your greatness over all the other nations that God desired you and chose you..., but it was because of God's love for you and because He kept the oath He swore to your fathers."

He brought forth Moses, our teacher - Rav David Arameah notes that the word עשה, rendered as "brought forth," literally means "made." He explains that from Moses' birth, God granted him the potential to develop unique spiritual awareness. Although the Rambam also accepts this concept (see the Guide for the Perplexed, Vol. II, Chapter 32), it is more likely that he chose this expression as a reference to I Samuel 12:6 (Rav Kapach).

the master of all prophets - See Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah 7:6, where the Rambam elaborates on the advantages Moses had over all the other prophets. Indeed, in his Commentary on the Mishnah (Introduction to Chapter 10 of Sanhedrin), he includes belief in the supremacy of Moses' prophecy as the seventh of his Thirteen Principles of Faith.

and sent him [to redeem the Jews] - after 117 years of idol worship and slavery.

After Moses, our teacher, prophesied, and God chose Israel as His inheritance, He crowned them with mitzvot and informed them of the path to serve Him - by

[teaching them] - the Torah which reveals

the judgement prescribed for idol-worship and all those who stray after it - as will be explained in the subsequent chapters. The Rambam's elaboration on the negative experience of our people in Egypt and the giving of the Torah has the following implication. Although man can appreciate the futile nature of idol worship and the greatness of God with his own intellect, because man is fallable, it is necessary to have these principles institutionalized in an objective, unchanging religious code (Likkutei Sichot, Vol. 20).

Avodat Kochavim - Chapter Two

1

The essence of the commandment [forbidding] the worship of false gods is not to serve any of the creations, not an angel, a sphere, or a star, none of the four fundamental elements, nor any entity created from them. Even if the person worshiping knows that ‘ה is the [true] God and serves the creation in the manner in which Enosh and the people of his generation worshiped [the stars] originally, he is considered to be an idol worshiper.

The Torah warns us about this, saying [Deuteronomy 4:19]: "Lest you lift your eyes heavenward and see the sun, the moon, and the stars... [and bow down and worship them], the entities which God apportioned to all the nations." This implies that you might inquire with "the eye of the heart" and it might appear to you that these entities control the world, having been apportioned by God to all the nations to be alive, to exist, and not to cease existence, as is the pattern of [the other creations with] the world. Therefore, you might say that it is worthy to bow down to them and worship them.

For this reason, [Deuteronomy 11:16] commands: "Be very careful that your heart not be tempted [to go astray and worship other gods]." This implies that the thoughts of your heart should not lead you astray to worship these and make them an intermediary between you and the Creator.

א

עיקר הצווי בעבודת כוכבים שלא לעבוד אחד מכל הברואים לא מלאך ולא גלגל ולא כוכב ולא אחד מארבעה היסודות ולא אחד מכל הנבראים מהן ואע"פ שהעובד יודע שה' הוא האלהים והוא עובד הנברא הזה על דרך שעבד אנוש ואנשי דורו תחלה הרי זה עובד כוכבים וענין זה הוא שהזהירה תורה עליו ואמרה ופן תשא עיניך השמימה וראית את השמש וגו' אשר חלק ה' אלהיך אותם לכל העמים כלומר שמא תשוט בעין לבך תראה שאלו הן המנהיגים את העולם והם שחלק ה' אותם לכל העולם להיות חיים והווים ואינם נפסדים כמנהגו של עולם ותאמר שראוי להשתחוות להם ולעובדן ובענין הזה צוה ואמר השמרו לכם פן יפתה לבבכם כלומר שלא תטעו בהרהור הלב לעבוד אלו להיות סרסור ביניכם ובין הבורא:

The essence of the commandment [forbidding] the worship of false gods is not to serve any of the creations - The Rambam counts the prohibition against worshiping false gods as the first of the 365 negative commandments. In these halachot, he does not mention this prohibition in the manner in which he usually introduces one of the 613 mitzvot in this text, because he introduced this prohibition previously in the Mishneh Torah, mentioning it in Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah 1:6. The inclusion of this mitzvah in those halachot is appropriate, because it is one of the foundations of our faith.

not an angel, a sphere, or a star - See Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah, Chapters 2 and 3, for a description of these creations.

none of the four fundamental elements - fire, wind, water, and earth. The Rambam describes the existence and function of these four fundamental elements in Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah, Chapters 3 and 4.

nor any entity created from them. - All the creations of our physical world are created from a combination of these four elements.

Even if the person worshiping knows that ‘ה is the [true] God and serves the creation in the manner in which Enosh and the people of his generation worshiped [the stars] originally - as the Rambam mentioned in Chapter 1, Halachah 1.

he is considered to be an idol worshiper - and is subject to the punishments mentioned in Chapter 3, Halachah 1.

The Torah warns us about this, saying [Deuteronomy 4:19]: "Lest you lift your eyes heavenward and see the sun, the moon, and the stars... [and bow down and worship them], the entities which God apportioned to all the nations." - As mentioned in the previous chapter, there are some authorities who, using this verse as a proof-text, do not prohibit gentiles from worshiping false gods with this intent. However, all authorities agree that Jews may not worship in this manner.

This - should not be interpreted simply as forbidding us to gaze at the celestial beings (Sefer HaMitzvot, Negative Commandment 10), but rather

implies that you might inquire with "the eye of the heart" and it might appear to you that these entities control the world - because they do perform essential functions within the natural order

having been apportioned by God to all the nations to be alive - See Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah 3:9, which states that the stars and the spheres are alive and are conscious of God's existence.

to exist, and not to cease existence as is the pattern of [the other creations with] the world. - In the first chapters of the Guide for the Perplexed, Vol. II, and briefly in Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah 4:3, the Rambam explains that all the creations of this world are combinations of different elements and will therefore ultimately return to their initial elemental state. In contrast, the existence of the stars and the spheres remains constant.

Therefore, you might say that it is worthy to bow down to them and worship them - to "honor those who God honors," as mentioned in Chapter 1, Halachah 1, or to derive benefit from serving them, as mentioned in Halachah 2 of that chapter.

For this reason, [Deuteronomy 11:16] commands: "Be very careful - The words "Be very careful" imply a prohibition stemming from the Torah. In Halachah 3, the Rambam describes the prohibition involved in harboring such thoughts.

that your heart not be tempted [to go astray and worship other gods]." This implies that the thoughts of your heart should not lead you astray to worship these and make them an intermediary between you and the Creator. - Note the fifth of the Rambam's Thirteen Principles of Faith (Commentary on the Mishnah, Sanhedrin, Chapter 10):

The fifth fundamental principle is that it is fit to serve God alone... and not the entities who are below Him: the angels, the stars, the spheres, or the fundamental elements.
This is because they all perform their functions because of their inherent nature. They have no control or choice, but merely [fulfill] God's will.
We should not make them intermediaries to reach Him through them, but rather direct all our thoughts to Him, paying no attention to anything else. This is the... prohibition against worshiping false gods.

2

The worshipers of false gods have composed many texts concerning their service, [describing] what is the essence of their service, what practices are involved, and what are its statutes. The Holy One, blessed be He, has commanded us not to read those books at all, nor to think about them or any matters involved with them.

It is even forbidden to look at the image of an idol, as [Leviticus 19:4] states: "Do not turn to the idols." In this regard, [Deuteronomy 12:30] states: "[Be careful]... lest you seek to find out about their gods, saying, 'How did they serve them.' This prohibits inquiring about the nature of their service even if you, yourself, do not serve them. This matter will ultimately cause you to turn to [the false god] and worship it as they do, as [the above verse continues]: "so that I will do the same."

ב

ספרים רבים חברו עובדי כוכבים בעבודתה היאך עיקר עבודתה ומה מעשיה ומשפטיה צונו הקדוש ברוך הוא שלא לקרות באותן הספרים כלל ולא נהרהר בה ולא בדבר מדבריה ואפילו להסתכל בדמות הצורה אסור שנאמר אל תפנו אל האלילים ובענין הזה נאמר ופן תדרוש לאלהיהם לאמר איכה יעבדו שלא תשאל על דרך עבודתה היאך היא אף על פי שאין אתה עובדה שדבר זה גורם להפנות אחריה ולעשות כמה שהן עושין שנאמר ואעשה כן גם אני:

This halachah continues the description of the prohibition begun in the previous halachah and completed in the following halachah.

The worshipers of false gods have composed many texts concerning their service, [describing] what is the essence of their service, what practices are involved, and what are its statutes. - The commentaries have also included studying other books by pagans and nonbelievers in this prohibition.

The Holy One, blessed be He, has commanded us not to read those books at all - See the Rambam's Commentary on the Mishnah (Avot 2:17), which states that one may study "the ideas of the gentiles in order to reply to them." Indeed, from the Guide for the Perplexed, Vol. III, Chapters 29 and 30, it appears that the Rambam himself undertook such study. (The Rabbis have, nevertheless, suggested that such study be limited only to certain individuals who have received permission from a rabbinic authority to concern themselves with these issues.)

Note also Chapter 3, Halachah 2, and Hilchot Sanhedrin 2:1, which state that judges must be somewhat familiar with the rites of the pagans in order to judge cases dealing with such questions. There is no source, however, where the Rambam explicitly mentions that one may study about idol worship for this reason. (See Shabbat 75a and Siftei Cohen, Yoreh De'ah 179:29.)

nor to think about them or any matters involved with them. - The Zohar, Vol. I, 100a, mentions this prohibition together with its rationale, "lest your heart be tempted to this service."

It is even forbidden to look at the image of an idol - Note Sefer HaMitzvot (Negative Commandment 10) and Tosafot (Shabbat 149a), which explain that this prohibition applies only to statues worshiped as idols, in contrast to Rashi (Shabbat, ibid.), who explains that it refers even to statues erected for decorative purposes.

as [Leviticus 19:4] states: "Do not turn to the idols." - Note the comments of the Sifra on this verse, "If you turn to them, you will make them gods."

In this regard, [Deuteronomy 12:30] states - speaking to the Jews as they prepare to enter Eretz Yisrael:

"[Be careful]... lest you seek to find out about their gods, saying, 'How did they serve them.' - See Sefer HaMitzvot (Negative Commandment 10), which defines this prohibition as "analytical thought and study concerning the fantasies and empty thoughts of the founders [of idol worship] - i.e., that spiritual nurture can be drawn down from this star in this manner, it is proper to burn incense to this star in this manner...."

This prohibits inquiring about the nature of their service even if you, yourself, do not - have an intent to

serve them. - These enquiries are prohibited because

This matter will ultimately cause you to turn to [the false god] and worship it as they do, as [the above verse continues]: "so that I will do the same." - Here, abstract intellectual curiosity is forbidden. The Rambam operates under the premise that there is nothing positive that can be learned from idol worshipers, and there is a danger that one will be attracted to their lifestyle. Therefore, since there is "nothing to gain and everything to lose," inquiry about such subjects is forbidden.

3

All these prohibitions have one common thrust: that one should not pay attention to idol worship. Whoever performs a deed that reflects his concern with [idol worship] receives lashes [as punishment].

The worship of false gods is not the only subject to which we are forbidden to pay attention; rather, we are warned not to consider any thought which will cause us to uproot one of the fundamentals of the Torah. We should not turn our minds to these matters, think about them, or be drawn after the thoughts of our hearts.

In general, people have limited powers of understanding, and not all minds are capable of appreciating the truth in its fullness. [Accordingly,] were a person to follow the thoughts of his heart, it is possible that he would destroy the world because of his limited understanding.

What is implied? There are times when a person will stray after star worship, and times when he will wonder about God's oneness: Perhaps He is one, perhaps He is not? [He might also wonder:] What exists above, [in the heavenly realms]? What exists below [them]? What was before time? What will be after time? Similarly, [one might wonder about] prophecy: Perhaps it is true, perhaps it is not? And [one may also wonder] about the Torah: Perhaps it emanates from God, perhaps it does not?

Since he may not know the guidelines with which to evaluate [ideas that will lead him] to the truth in its fullness, he may come to heresy. The Torah has warned about this matter, saying [Numbers 15:39]: "Do not stray after your hearts and eyes, which have led you to immorality" - i.e., each one of you should not follow his limited powers of understanding and think that he has comprehended the truth.

Our Sages [interpreted this warning]: "After your hearts," this refers to heresy; "after your eyes," this refers to immorality. This prohibition - though [severe,] causing a person to be prevented [from attaining a portion] in the world to come - is not punishable by lashes.

ג

וכל הלאוין האלו בענין אחד הן והוא שלא יפנה אחר עבודת כוכבים וכל הנפנה אחריה בדרך שהוא עושה בו מעשה הרי זה לוקה ולא עבודת כוכבים בלבד הוא שאסור להפנות אחריה במחשבה אלא כל מחשבה שהוא גורם לו לאדם לעקור עיקר מעיקרי התורה מוזהרין אנו שלא להעלותה על לבנו ולא נסיח דעתנו לכך ונחשוב ונמשך אחר הרהורי הלב מפני שדעתו של אדם קצרה ולא כל הדעות יכולין להשיג האמת על בוריו ואם ימשך כל אדם אחר מחשבות לבו נמצא מחריב את העולם לפי קוצר דעתו כיצד פעמים יתור אחר עבודת כוכבים ופעמים יחשוב ביחוד הבורא שמא הוא שמא אינו מה למעלה ומה למטה מה לפנים ומה לאחור ופעמים בנבואה שמא היא אמת שמא היא אינה ופעמים בתורה שמא היא מן השמים שמא אינה ואינו יודע המדות שידין בהן עד שידע האמת על בוריו ונמצא יוצא לידי מינות ועל ענין זה הזהירה תורה ונאמר בה ולא תתורו אחרי לבבכם ואחרי עיניכם אשר אתם זונים כלומר לא ימשך כל אחד מכם אחר דעתו הקצרה וידמה שמחשבתו משגת האמת כך אמרו חכמים אחרי לבבכם זו מינות ואחרי עיניכם זו זנות ולאו זה אע"פ שהוא גורם לאדם לטרדו מן העולם הבא אין בו מלקות:

All these prohibitions - mentioned in this and the above two halachot.

have one common thrust: that one should not pay attention to idol worship. - Sefer HaMitzvot (Negative Commandment 10) andSefer HaChinuch (Mitzvah 213) count this as one of the 613 mitzvot of the Torah.

Whoever performs a deed - e.g., in his curiosity, uncovers an image to see what it looks like (Maharshal) or performs a ceremonial act of idol worship merely as practice (Mishneh Kessef).

The Rambam's statements here are used as support to negate the opinion of the Sefer HaChinuch (Mitzvah 345), which states that lashes are never given for the violation of a prohibition that can be transgressed without performing a deed, even when one violates it by committing a deed.

that reflects his concern with [idol worship] receives lashes [as punishment]. - Punishment is administered only for the violation of prohibitions by actual deeds. In this instance, the prohibition can be violated by thought alone - in which case no punishment is administered. There are, however, also instances when deed - and thus punishment - is also involved.

Eruvin 17b notes that even though the proof-text for this prohibition mentions the word אל rather than לא, it is no different from other Torah prohibitions, and its violation is also punished by lashes.

The worship of false gods is not the only subject to which we are forbidden to pay attention - Note the Introduction to Sefer HaMitzvot (Shoresh 9), which states that there are mitzvot of thought, of feeling, of speech, and of deed.

rather, we are warned not to consider any thought which will cause us to uproot one of the fundamentals of the Torah. We should not turn our minds to these matters, think about them, or be drawn after the thoughts of our hearts. - Sefer HaMitzvot (Negative Commandment 47) defines this mitzvah as follows:

We are forbidden to be freethinking [to the extent that] we accept principles which run contrary to those of the Torah. Rather, we should structure our thoughts, setting for them guidelines, those being the mitzvot of the Torah.

The Rambam explains the reason for these prohibitions:

In general, people have limited powers of understanding, and not all minds are capable of appreciating the truth in its fullness. - See also Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah 2:12, 4:11,13, where the Rambam mentions the restrictions placed on the study of deeper spiritual concepts lest one err in his conception.

[Accordingly,] were a person to follow the thoughts of his heart, it is possible that he would destroy the world because of his limited understanding. - There are several ways to understand the expression used by the Rambam: "destroy the world." On the most obvious level, it is a figurative expression, not to be interpreted literally. On a deeper level, it can be seen as a reference to his statements in Hilchot Teshuvah 3:4 that a person should always "see himself and the entire world as equally balanced between merit and sin. If he commits one sin, he tips his balance and that of the entire world to guilt and brings on destruction."

Today, we can appreciate the Rambam's words in a very literal sense. Society as a whole is plagued by irrational acts of violence. and on a global level it is possible for utter destruction to be brought about if a few individuals act irresponsibly.

What is implied? There are times when a person will stray after star worship - and consider it beneficial

and - there are

times when he will wonder about God's oneness: Perhaps He is one, perhaps He is not? - In his Commentary on the Mishnah (Introduction to the Tenth Chapter of Sanhedrin), the Rambam lists the oneness of God as the second of his Thirteen Principles of Faith. See also Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah 1:7, 2:10.

[He may also wonder:] - Chaggigah 11b states: "It would have been better for someone who considers the [following] four matters never to have been created." The passage continues by mentioning the four questions quoted by the Rambam here.

What exists above the heavenly realms? What exists below them? What was before time? What will be after time? - Our translation is based on Rashi's interpretation of Chaggigah, ibid.

Similarly, [one may wonder about] prophecy: Perhaps it is true, perhaps it is not? - In Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah 7:1, the Rambam states: "It is [one] of the foundations of [our] faith that God communicates by prophecy with man." Similarly, the Rambam lists the concept of prophecy as the sixth of his Thirteen Principles of Faith.

And [one may also wonder] about the Torah: Perhaps it emanates from God, perhaps it does not? - As the eighth of his Thirteen Principles of Faith, the Rambam states: "The Torah which we have was given by Moses our teacher... and emanates - in its entirety - from the Almighty." He explains that this also applies to the oral law. He reiterates this concept in his introduction to the Mishneh Torah.

Since he might not know the guidelines with which to evaluate [ideas that will lead him] to the truth in its fullness, he might come to heresy. - The Rambam's statements should be interpreted, not as a restriction of one's thinking processes, but rather a call to structure our thoughts according to the guidelines provided for us by the Torah.

In this context, it is worthy to refer to Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah 4:13:

I maintain that it is not proper for a person to stroll in the Pardes (study Torah's mystic secrets) unless he has filled his belly with bread and meat. "Bread and meat" refer to the knowledge of what is permitted and what is forbidden, and similar matters concerning other mitzvot. Even though the Sages referred to these as "a small matter" - since our Sages said: "'A great matter,' this is Ma'aseh Merkavah. 'A small matter,' this is the debates of Abbaye and Ravva" - nevertheless, it is fitting for them to be given precedence, because they settle a person's mind.

Thus, the Rambam teaches that a person should not embark on the study of deep spiritual questions until he has gained the intellectual maturity which comes from Torah study. Even after a person gains such maturity, there is no need for him to concern himself with the study of idol worship because there is no value which he can derive from such study.

The Torah has warned about this matter, saying [Numbers 15:39]: "Do not stray after your hearts and eyes, which have led you to immorality" - Sefer HaMitzvot (Negative Commandment 47) and Sefer HaChinuch (Mitzvah 387) counts this as one of the 613 mitzvot of the Torah.

i.e., each one of you should not follow his limited powers of understanding and think that he has comprehended the truth. - Instead, he should follow a structured pattern for intellectual growth and development prescribed by a Torah master.

Our Sages - Sifre, Sh'lach. (See also Berachot 12b.)

[interpreted this warning]: "After your hearts," this refers to heresy - For a more precise definition of the term minut, see Halachah 5 and the commentary.

"after your eyes," this refers to immorality. - In Sefer HaMitzvot (ibid.), the Rambam explains:

Their intent in mentioning "immorality" was the pursuit of pleasure and physical desire, [to the extent that] one's mind is constantly preoccupied with such thoughts.

This prohibition - though [severe,] causing a person to be prevented [from attaining a portion] in the world to come - In Hilchot Teshuvah 3:8, the Rambam includes among the categories of those who have no portion in the world to come: "nonbelievers, heretics, those who deny the Torah,... those who cause the many to sin, and those who depart from the ways of the community." Following the whims of one's heart can lead to the transgression of these prohibitions.

is not punishable by lashes - because it does not involve a deed.

There is some difficulty with the Rambam's statements. The transgression of both of the prohibitions mentioned in this halachah involves thought and can also involve deed. Just as the commentaries suggested several deeds which violate the first prohibition, similar acts could be performed which violate the latter prohibition. The Rambam, however, appears to imply that there is no way that the latter prohibition could be transgressed in a manner warranting punishment.

4

The commandment [forbidding] the worship of false gods is equivalent to all the mitzvot, as [implied by Numbers 15:22]: "Lest you err and not perform all the mitzvot...." The oral tradition teaches that the verse refers to the worship of false gods. Thus, we learn that anyone who acknowledges a false god denies the entire Torah in its totality, all the works of the prophets, and everything that has been commanded to the prophets from Adam, [the first man,] until eternity, as [Numbers 15:23] continues: "...from the day God issued His commandments and afterwards, for your future generations."

[Conversely,] anyone who denies the worship of false gods acknowledges the entire Torah in its totality, all the works of the prophets, and everything that has been commanded to the prophets from Adam, [the first man,] until eternity. [This acknowledgement] is fundamental to all of the mitzvot.

ד

מצות עבודת כוכבים כנגד המצות כולן היא שנאמר וכי תשגו ולא תעשו את כל המצות וגו' ומפי השמועה למדו שבעבודת כוכבים הכתוב מדבר הא למדת שכל המודה בעבודת כוכבים כופר בכל התורה כולה ובכל הנביאים ובכל מה שנצטוו הנביאים מאדם ועד סוף העולם שנאמר מן היום אשר צוה ה' והלאה לדורותיכם וכל הכופר בעבודת כוכבים מודה בכל התורה כולה ובכל הנביאים ובכל מה שנצטוו הנביאים מאדם ועד סוף העולם והוא עיקר כל המצות כולן:

The commandment [forbidding] the worship of false gods is equivalent to all the mitzvot, as [implied by Numbers 15:22]: "Lest you err and not perform all the mitzvot...." - The passage implies that it is speaking about a single sin; nevertheless, the verse specifically mentions "all the mitzvot."

The oral tradition - Sifre, Sh'lach and Horayot 8a, resolves this seeming contradiction and

teaches that the verse refers to - a single prohibition which is equivalent to the violation of the entire Torah. Which prohibition is that?

the worship of false gods.

Thus, we learn that anyone who acknowledges a false god denies the entire Torah in its totality, all the works of the prophets, and everything that has been commanded to the prophets - Note the Rambam's statements in Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah 8:1-2, which explain that the essence of the prophetic tradition is linked to the revelation of God on Mount Sinai.

from Adam, [the first man,] - Note Hilchot Melachim 9:1, which states that God commanded Adam concerning the worship of false gods. This statement is based on Bereshit Rabbah 16:6.

until eternity, as [Numbers 15:23] continues - The verse states that performance of such an act is a denial of "all that God commanded you through Moses..."

"...from the day God issued His commandments and afterwards, for your future generations" - for the Torah is unchanging spiritual truth.

[Conversely,] anyone who denies the worship of false gods acknowledges the entire Torah in its totality, all the works of the prophets, and everything that has been commanded to the prophets from Adam, [the first man,] until eternity. - Just as the acceptance of false gods removes one from the entire sphere of Torah practice, denying their existence gives one a point of connection to the revelation of God's truth.

[This acknowledgement] is fundamental to all of the mitzvot - because the foundation for all the mitzvot is that they were commanded by the One God who desires that we serve Him alone.

Note the Tanya, Chapter 20, which explains that the two mitzvot, the acknowledgement of God and the negation of idol worship, are the foundation of all Torah practice. Therefore, the entire Jewish people heard God proclaim these two mitzvot on Mount Sinai. Every act a person performs can be seen as either the acknowledgement of God or the acknowledgement of a set of values aside from His, equivalent figuratively to the acceptance of another god.

5

A Jew who serves false gods is considered like a gentile in all regards and is not comparable to a Jew who violated another transgression punishable by being stoned to death. An apostate who worships false gods is considered to be an apostate with regard to the entire Torah.

Similarly, Jewish minnim are not considered to be Jews with regard to any matter. Their repentance should never be accepted, as [implied by Proverbs 2:19]: "None that go to her repent, nor will they regain the paths of life."

The minnim are those who stray after the thoughts of their hearts, concerning themselves with the foolish matters mentioned above, until they ultimately transgress against the body of Torah [law] arrogantly, with scorn, with the intent of provoking God's anger, and yet say that there is no sin involved.

It is forbidden to talk to them or to reply to them at all, as [Proverbs 5:8] states: "Do not come close to her door." [It can be assumed that] a min's thoughts are concerned with false gods.

ה

ישראל שעבד עבודת כוכבים הרי הוא כעובד כוכבים לכל דבריו ואינו כישראל שעובר עבירה שיש בה סקילה מומר לעבודת כוכבים הרי הוא מומר לכל התורה כולה וכן האפיקורסים מישראל אינן כישראל לדבר מן הדברים ואין מקבלים אותם בתשובה לעולם שנאמר כל באיה לא ישובון ולא ישיגו ארחות חיים והאפיקורסים הם התרים אחר מחשבות לבם בסכלות דברים שאמרנו עד שנמצאו עוברים על גופי תורה להכעיס בשאט בנפש ביד רמה ואומרים שאין בזה עון ואסור לספר עמהן ולהשיב עליהן תשובה כלל שנאמר ואל תקרב אל פתח ביתה ומחשבה של אפיקורוס לעבודת כוכבים:

6

Whoever accepts a false god as true, even when he does not actually worship it, disgraces and blasphemes [God's] glorious and awesome name. This applies both to one who worships false gods and to one who curses God's name [as is obvious from Numbers 15:30]: "If a person commits [an act of idolatry] highhandedly, whether he be a native born [Jew] or a convert, he is blaspheming God."

Therefore, a person who worships false gods is to be hanged, just as one who blasphemes against God is hanged. Both are executed by being stoned to death. Therefore, I have included the laws applying to a blasphemer in Hilchot Avodat Kochavim. Both deny the fundamental principle [of Jewish faith].

ו

כל המודה בעבודת כוכבים שהיא אמת אף על פי שלא עבדה הרי זה מחרף ומגדף את השם הנכבד והנורא ואחד העובד עבודת כוכבים ואחד המגדף את ה' שנאמר והנפש אשר תעשה ביד רמה מן האזרח ומן הגר את ה' הוא מגדף לפיכך תולין עובד עבודת כוכבים כמו שתולין את המגדף ושניהם נסקלין ומפני זה כללתי דין המגדף בהלכות עבודת כוכבים ששניהם כופרים בעיקר הם:

7

These are the laws which govern a blasphemer: A blasphemer is not liable to be stoned to death until he states God's unique name, which possesses four letters: א-ד-נ-י, and curses that name with one of the names of God which are forbidden to be erased, as [Leviticus 24:16] states: "One who blasphemes God's name...."

One is obligated to be stoned to death for blaspheming God's unique name. [Should he blaspheme] the other names for God, he [transgresses] a prohibition.

There are those who state that one is liable [for execution] only when one blasphemes the name י-ה-ו-ה. I, however, maintain that one should be stoned to death in both instances.

ז

ואלו הן דיני המגדף אין המגדף חייב סקילה עד שיפרש את השם המיוחד של ארבע אותיות שהוא אל"ף דל"ת נו"ן יו"ד ויברך אותו בשם מן השמות שאינם נמחקים שנאמר ונוקב שם ה' על השם המיוחד חייב סקילה ועל שאר הכינוים באזהרה ויש מי שמפרש שאינו חייב אלא על שם יו"ד ה"א וא"ו ה"א ואני אומר שעל שניהם הוא נסקל:

8

Which verse serves as the warning prohibiting blasphemy? [Exodus 22:27]: "Do not curse God."

[The procedure for the trial of a blasphemer is as follows:] Each day [when] the witnesses are questioned, [they use] other terms for God's name, [stating,] "May Yosse strike Yosse." At the conclusion of the judgment, all bystanders are removed [from the courtroom]. The judges question the witness of greatest stature and tell him, "Tell us what you heard explicitly." He relates [the curse]. The judges stand upright and rend their garments. They may not mend them [afterwards].

The second witness states: "I also heard as he did." If there are many witnesses, they must all say, "I heard the same."

ח

אזהרה של מגדף מנין שנאמר אלהים לא תקלל בכל יום ויום בודקין את העדים בכינוים יכה יוסי את יוסי נגמר הדין מוציאין את כל אדם לחוץ ושואלים את הגדול שבעדים ואומרים לו אמור מה ששמעת בפירוש והוא אומר והדיינים עומדים על רגליהם וקורעין ולא מאחין והעד השני אומר אף אני כמותו שמעתי ואם היו עדים רבים צריך כל אחד ואחד מהן לומר כזה שמעתי:

9

[The fact that] a blasphemer retracts his statements in the midst of speaking is of no consequence. Rather, once he utters blasphemy in the presence of witnesses, he is [liable for execution by] stoning.

Should a person curse God's name with the name of a false god, the zealous may strike him and slay him. If the zealous do not slay him and he is brought to court, he is not [condemned to] be stoned. [That punishment is administered] only when one curses God's name with another one of His unique names.

ט

מגדף שחזר בו בתוך כדי דיבור אינו כלום אלא כיון שגידף בעדים נסקל מי שגידף את השם בשם עבודת כוכבים קנאים פוגעים בו והורגים אותו ואם לא הרגוהו קנאים ובא לבית דין אינו נסקל עד שיברך בשם מן השמות המיוחדים:

10

Whoever hears the blasphemy of God's name is obligated to rend his garments. Even [when one hears] the blasphemy of other terms used to describe God, one is obligated to rend his garments.

The above applies when one hears [the blasphemy] from a fellow Jew. [In that instance,] both one who hears the actual blasphemy and one who hears it from the witnesses is obligated to rend his garments. In contrast, one who hears a gentile [blaspheme God's name] is not obligated to rend his garments. Elyakim and Shevna rent their garments [as described in Isaiah 36:22] only because Ravshakeh was an apostate Jew.

[Before his execution,] all the witnesses and the judges place their hands on the head of the blasphemer and tell him: "You are responsible for your death. You brought it upon yourself." Only a blasphemer - and none of the other offenders executed by the court - has [the judges and witnesses] place their hands upon his head, as [Leviticus 24:14] states: "And all those who hear shall place their hands on his head."

י

כל השומע ברכת השם חייב לקרוע ואפילו על ברכת הכינויין חייב לקרוע והוא שישמענה מישראל אחד השומע ואחד השומע מפי השומע חייב לקרוע אבל השומע מפי העובד כוכבים אינו חייב לקרוע ולא קרעו אליקים ושבנא אלא מפני שרבשקה היה ישראל מומר כל העדים והדיינים סומכים את ידיהם אחד אחד על ראש המגדף ואומר לו דמך בראשך שאתה גרמת לך ואין בכל הרוגי בית דין מי שסומכים עליו אלא מגדף בלבד שנאמר וסמכו כל השומעים את ידיהם:

Avodat Kochavim - Chapter Three

1

Whoever serves false gods willingly, as a conscious act of defiance, is liable for כרת. If witnesses who warned him were present, he is [punished by being] stoned to death. If he served [such gods] inadvertently, he must bring a fixed sin offering.

א

כל העובד כוכבים ברצונו בזדון חייב כרת ואם היו שם עדים והתראה נסקל ואם עבד בשגגה מביא קרבן חטאת קבועה:

Whoever serves false gods willingly - i.e., if he is forced to worship false gods by another person, he is not held responsible for his act. It is nevertheless forbidden to consent to such pressure. One is obligated to sacrifice one's life rather than consent to such worship (Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah 5:2,4).

as a conscious act of defiance - as opposed to someone who worships inadvertently.

[The Radbaz (Vol. V, Responsum 1510) notes that the Rambam uses the expression "willingly, as a conscious act of defiance" with regard to the violation of the prohibitions against idolatry, the Sabbath laws (Hilchot Shabbat 1:1), and the laws of Yom Kippur (Hilchot Sh'vitat Asor 1:1). With regard to all other transgressions punishable by כרת, he states merely: "as a conscious act of defiance."

The Radbaz explains that it is possible that the Rambam mentioned the concept of "willingly" with regard to these three transgressions because they are the first cases of כרת mentioned in the Mishneh Torah. Furthermre, they are transgressions which people at large would consider most severe. After mentioning the concept on these three occasions, the Rambam does not think further repetition is necessary.]

is liable for כרת. - Mo'ed Katan 28a relates that a person liable for כרת would die before reaching the age of fifty. The Rambam (Hilchot Teshuvah 8:1) emphasizes that being "cut off in this world" is not the sum total of Divine retribution for such a transgression. Rather, the person's soul is also cut off and prevented from reaching the world to come.

If witnesses who warned him - See Hilchot Sanhedrin 12:1-2.

were present - when he committed the offense and later testified in court,

he is [punished by being] stoned to death - as mentioned above, Chapter 2, Halachah 6.

If he served [such gods] inadvertently - He performed an act of idol worship without realizing that it was forbidden, or was not aware of the punishment involved (Hilchot Shegagot 2:2).

he must bring a fixed sin offering. - Though the sin offering brought to atone for idol worship differs from that brought to atone for other sins - see Numbers 15:27-31; Hilchot Shegagot 1:4 - the Rambam uses this term to differentiate it from a 18הלועáןברק דרויו - a guilt offering which differs depending on the financial status of the person bringing it.

2

The gentiles established various different services for each particular idol and image. These services do not [necessarily] resemble each other. For example, Pe'or is served by defecating before it. Marculis is served by throwing stones at it or clearing stones away from it. Similarly, other services were instituted for other idols.

One who defecates before Marculis or throws a stone at Pe'or is free of liability until he serves it according to the accepted modes of service, as [implied by Deuteronomy 12:30]: "[Lest one inquire about their gods, saying,] 'How did these nations serve their gods? I will do the same.'"

For this reason, a court must know the types of worship [practiced by gentiles], because an idolater is stoned to death only when we know that [he has worshiped a false god] in the mode in which it is traditionally worshiped.

ב

עבודות הרבה קבעו עובדי כוכבים לכל צלם וצלם ולכל צורה וצורה ועבודת זה אינה כעבודת זה כגון פעור שעבודתו שפוער אדם עצמו לו ומרקוליס שעבודתו שיזרוק לו אבנים או יסקל מלפניו אבנים והרבה עבודות כגון אלו תקנו לשאר צלמים לפיכך הפוער עצמו למרקוליס או שזרק אבן לפעור פטור עד שיעבוד אותו דרך עבודתו שנאמר איכה יעבדו הגוים האלה את אלהיהם ואעשה כן גם אני ומפני זה הענין צריכין בית דין לידע דרכי העבודות שאין סוקלין עובד כוכבים עד שידעו שזו היא דרך עבודתו:

The gentiles established various different services for each particular idol and image. These services do not [necessarily] resemble each other. For example, Pe'or - See Numbers, Chapter 25, which describes the Jews' worship of this image. See also Sanhedrin 61a.

is served by defecating before it. Marculis - The Aruch identifies the Hebrew Marculis with the Greek god, Mercury. He notes that the form used to represent the deity and its manner of service resemble that found in Roman and Greek sources. See Tosafot, Sanhedrin 64a for a different interpretation.

is served by throwing stones at it - Note Halachah 5.

or clearing stones away from it. - Clearing away these stones leaves more room for others to throw. Hence, such an act is also considered to be service of the deity (Sanhedrin 64a).

Similarly, other services were instituted for other idols. One who defecates before Marculis or throws a stone at Pe'or is free of liability - for he did not serve the god in the service required for it, or through one of the four services which were accepted as modes of worship for all gods, as explained in the following halachah. One might think that a person would be held liable for serving one of these gods in the manner used to serve the other, since they are both served in an unbecoming manner. Sanhedrin 61a teaches us that, nevertheless, one is not liable.

until he serves it according to the accepted mode of service, as [implied by Deuteronomy 12:30]: "[Lest one inquire about their gods, saying,] 'How did these nations serve their gods? I will do the same.' - The Torah's inclusion of such a question implies that this knowledge is significant. A person who does not worship an idol in the accepted mode of service is not liable (Sanhedrin, ibid.).

For this reason, a court must know the types of worship [practiced by gentiles] - Note Chapter 2, Halachah 2, which forbids the study of idolatrous practices. Apparently, license to do so is granted the sages to allow them to gain the knowledge mentioned in this halachah. (See Sanhedrin 68a.)

because an idolater is stoned to death only when we know that [he has worshiped a false god] in the mode in which it is traditionally worshiped. - Thus, were the court not cognizant of the different modes of idol worship, they could not administer the appropriate punishment.

3

The warning [forbidding] such worship and the like is the verse [Exodus 20:5] which states: "Do not serve them."

When does the above apply? with regard to services other than bowing, slaughtering [an animal], bringing a burnt offering, and offering a libation. A person who performs one of these four services to any one of the types of false gods is liable, even though this is not its accepted mode of service.

How is this exemplified? A person who offers a libation to Pe'or or slaughters [an animal] to Marculis is liable, as [implied by Exodus 22:19]: "Whoever slaughters [an animal] to any deity other than God alone must be condemned to death."

[Liability for performing the other services can be derived as follows:] Slaughter was included in the general category of services [forbidden to be performed to false gods]. Why was it mentioned explicitly? To teach [the following]: Slaughter is distinct as one of the services of God, and one who slaughters to false gods is liable to be executed by stoning. Similarly, with regard to any service which is distinct as one of the services of God, if a person performs it in worship of other gods, he is liable.

For [a similar reason, Exodus 34:14] states: "Do not bow down to another god," to teach that one is liable for bowing down [to another god] even when this is not its accepted mode of service. The same applies to one who brings a burnt offering or pours a libation. Sprinkling [blood] is considered the same as pouring a libation.

ג

ואזהרה של עבודות אלו וכיוצא בהן הוא מה שכתוב ולא תעבדם בד"א בשאר עבודות חוץ ממשתחוה וזובח ומקטיר ומנסך אבל העובד באחת מעבודות אלו לאחד מכל מיני עבודת כוכבים חייב ואע"פ שאין דרך עבודתו בכך כיצד הרי שניסך לפעור או שזבח למרקוליס חייב שנאמר זובח לאלהים יחרם בלתי לה' לבדו זביחה בכלל עבודה היתה ולמה יצאת לומר לך מה זביחה מיוחדת שעובדין בה לשם וחייב הזובח לאל אחר סקילה עליה בין היתה דרך עבודתו בזביחה או אינה בזביחה אף כל עבודה שהיא מיוחדת לשם אם עבד בה לאל אחר בין שהיתה דרך עבודתו בכך בין שאינה בכך חייב עליה לכך נאמר לא תשתחוה לאל אחר לחייב על ההשתחויה אפילו אין דרך עבודתו בכך והוא הדין למקטר ומנסך וזורק ומנסך אחד הוא:

The warning [forbidding] such worship and the like is the verse [Exodus 20:5] which states: "Do not serve them." - Sefer HaMitzvot (Negative Commandment 6) and Sefer HaChinuch (Mitzvah 29) consider this to be one of the 613 mitzvot of the Torah. It, to be distinguished from the prohibition against the belief in false gods (Sefer HaMitzvot, Negative Commandment 1), involves the performance of deeds of worship in service of false gods.

The Ramban (Hasagot L'Sefer HaMitzvot) considers the two prohibitions as one negative mitzvah. The Rambam's view, however, is justified by other authorities.

When does the above - that one is liable only when performing services with which a deity is worshiped

apply? with regard to services other than bowing - See Chapter 6, Halachah 8, which states that this means bowing one's face to the ground, whether bending, kneeling, or totally prostrate on the ground.

slaughtering [an animal], bringing a burnt offering, and offering a libation. - Since these four modes of worship are accepted services of the true God, using them to serve false gods is absolutely forbidden (Sefer HaMitzvot, Negative Commandment 6). Therefore,

A person who performs one of these four services to any one of the types of false gods is liable, even though this is not its accepted mode of service. - In Halachah 6, the Rambam discusses paying reverence or showing affection to false gods through services with which the true God is not worshiped.

How is this exemplified? A person who offers a libation to Pe'or or slaughters [an animal] to Marculis - despite the fact that they are served in other ways, as explained in the previous halachah

is liable, as [implied by Exodus 22:19]: "Whoever slaughters [an animal] to any deity - Note Rashi, Sanhedrin 60b, who explains that since the verse does not state, "Whoever worships a deity through sacrifice," we can conclude that the sacrifice of an animal is sufficient for one to be held liable, even when this is not the accepted mode of service.

other than God alone must be condemned to death." - He is stoned to death.

[Liability for performing the other services - pouring a libation and bringing a burnt offering, which are not explicitly forbidden by the Torah.

can be derived as follows:] Slaughter was included in the general category of services [forbidden to be performed to false gods]. Why was it mentioned explicitly? To teach [the following]: - This represents an example of the eighth of Rabbi Yishmael's thirteen principles of Biblical exegesis:

When a specific case is first included in a general category and then, singled out to instruct us regarding a new concept, we assume that it has been singled out not only to teach us concerning its own case, but rather for that new idea to be applied with regard to the totality of the general category.

Slaughter is distinct as one of the services of God - i.e., it is a particular case included in a general category

and one who slaughters to false gods is liable to be executed by stoning. - This is the new concept for which the Torah singled out this service to teach us. Following the above rule, we conclude

Similarly, with regard to any service which is distinct as one of the services of God, if a person performs it in worship of other gods, he is liable - for execution.

For [a similar reason, Exodus 34:14] states: "Do not bow down to another god" - Sefer HaMitzvot (Negative Commandment 5) and Sefer HaChinuch (Mitzvah 28) consider this to be one of the 613 mitzvot of the Torah. This prohibition also includes performing the other three services mentioned above.

In this instance as well, the Ramban (Hasagot L'Sefer HaMitzvot) considers this prohibition to be included within the first negative mitzvah, the prohibition against believing in false gods. The Rambam's view, however, is justified by other authorities.

to teach that one is liable for bowing down [to another god] even when this is not its accepted mode of service. - Bowing down is not considered to be one of the Temple services. Hence, it - as opposed to bringing a burnt offering or pouring a libation - cannot be derived from the prohibition against sacrificing, and requires a unique verse of its own.

The same applies to one who brings a burnt offering - be it an animal, incense, or any other substance

or pours a libation. Sprinkling [blood] - before an idol or on its altar

is considered the same as pouring a libation - and is forbidden even if this is not the accepted mode of service.Sanhedrin (ibid.) equates sprinkling blood with offering a libation, based on Psalms 16:4: "Do not pour their libations of blood."

4

[Even if] one pours feces before it or pours a libation of urine from a chamber pot before it, one is liable. If one slaughters a locust before it, one is not liable, unless this is the mode of service of that deity. Similarly, if one slaughters an animal lacking a limb for it, one is not liable, unless this is the manner of service of this deity.

[The following rules apply when] a false god is worshiped by [beating with] a staff [before it]: If one breaks a staff before it, one is liable [for the worship of false gods], and [the deity] is forbidden. If one threw a staff before it, one is held liable, but [the deity] is not forbidden, because throwing a staff is not considered equivalent to sprinkling blood. The staff remains as it was, while the blood spatters [in different directions].

A person who accepts any one of the various false gods as a deity is liable for [execution by] stoning. Even one who lifted up a brick and said, "You are my god," or the like, is liable. Even if he retracted his statements in the midst of speaking and said, "This is not my God," his retraction is not significant and he should be stoned [to death].

ד

ספת לה צואה או שניסך לה עביט של מי רגלים חייב שחט לה חגב פטור אלא א"כ היתה עבודתה בכך וכן אם שחט לה בהמה מחוסרת אבר פטור אלא אם כן היתה דרך עבודתה בכך עבודת כוכבים שעובדין אותה במקל שבר מקל בפניה חייב ונאסרת זרק מקל בפניה חייב ואינה נאסרת שאין זריקת המקל כעין זריקת הדם שהרי המקל כמו שהוא והדם מתפזר המקבל עליו אחד מכל מיני עבודת כוכבים באלוה חייב סקילה ואפילו הגביה לבנה ואמר לה אלי אתה וכן כל כיוצא בדבור זה חייב ואפילו חזר בו בתוך כדי דיבור ואמר אין זה אלי אין חזרתו כלום אלא נסקל:

[Even if] one pours feces before it or pours a libation of urine from a chamber pot before it, one is liable. - These are considered as libations (Avodah Zarah 50b), for which one is held liable even if this is not the mode in which the deity is worshiped.

If one slaughters a locust before it, one is not liable - for there is no concept of ritual slaughter with regard to locusts. TheOr Sameach holds one liable when one sacrifices a locust on an altar before a false deity.

unless this is the mode of service of that deity - in which instance one would be held liable, based on the principles stated in Halachah 2.

Similarly, if one slaughters an animal lacking a limb for it - Note Avodah Zarah 51a which states that this leniency only applies to the slaughter of any animal lacking a limb. In contrast, one is held liable for the slaughter of an animal with a disqualifying physical blemish.

one is not liable - because even the gentiles do not offer sacrifices of such animals

The Ra'avad holds one liable even for the slaughter of such an animal or of a locust, explaining that although the Rambam's decision reflects certain opinions mentioned in the Talmud, the final decision is that one is held liable. He explains that such forms of slaughter are much closer to the concept of the slaughter for sacrifice than the offering of feces or urine are to the service of libation.

unless this is the manner of service of this deity - as explained above.

[The following rules apply when] a false god is worshiped by [beating with] a staff - Note the Ra'avad, who emphasizes that the following rules apply although the service of this deity does not involve breaking or throwing a staff

[before it]: - This interpretation is also followed by theShulchan Aruch, Yoreh De'ah 139:3.

If one breaks a staff before it - since this activity resembles the slaughter of an animal

one is liable [for the worship of false gods] - To justify the seeming difficulty in the Rambam's decisions mentioned by the Ra'avad (see above), the Lechem Mishneh explains that since staffs figure in the worship of this deity, an act that resembles slaughter that is performed with a staff is significant. In contrast, animals lacking limbs and locusts are never used in the service of such deities; hence, their slaughter is of no consequence.

[Note, however, the Ramah, who explains that one is liable only when the deity is worshiped by breaking the stick.]

and [the deity] is forbidden. - to be used, as stated in Chapter 7, Halachah 4. This interpretation depends on the female construction of the word נאסרת. Other authorities quote the word in a masculine form and interpret it as a reference to the staff. Since it was used in the worship of a false god, it is forbidden, as stated in Chapter 7, Halachah 2.

If one threw a staff before it - since this activity resembles pouring a libation before an idol

one is held liable, but [the deity] - or the staff

is not forbidden - This decision makes the Rambam's line of reasoning difficult to follow. If throwing the staff is not comparable to sprinkling blood, why is one held liable for it? Accordingly, some commentaries have explained that this decision applies only when the deity is worshiped by throwing staffs. The Pri Chadash, however, differentiates between the liability of the worshiper (for which a sprinkling that spatters is not required) and the prohibition of the worship of the deity (for which it is).

because throwing a staff is not considered equivalent to sprinkling blood. The staff remains as it was - a single whole entity

while the blood spatters [in different directions]. - Since the reason that these services are considered significant even though the deity is not normally worshiped in this manner is that these services were performed in the Temple, the analogy must be complete. Thus, the entity poured or thrown before the deity must spatter, as blood spatters when sprinkled on the altar (Avodah Zarah, ibid.).

A person who accepts any one of the various false gods - which already exist

as a deity - even though he does not perform a deed of worship

is liable for [execution by] stoning. - The Rambam mentions that one is liable for stoning specifically. Generally, the term "liable" means "liable to bring a sacrifice." In this instance, however, a person who makes such a statement inadvertently is not obligated to bring a sacrifice. A sacrifice is only brought when one performs a deed in violation of the Torah's command (Hilchot Shegagot 1:2).

Even one who - creates a new false god for himself (Lechem Mishneh)

lifted up a brick - The Lechem Mishneh explains that this expression is merely a figure of speech. There is no need to perform a deed - lifting up the brick - for one to be held liable.

and said, "You are my god," or the like, is liable. - When two people do not witness this declaration, the death penalty may not be administered by the court. The person is, however, liable for karet (premature death at the hand of God) if he made his statements intentionally.

Even if he retracted his statements in the midst of speaking - As explained above (Chapter 2, Halachah 9), this term has a specific meaning, the amount of time it takes to say 18ךילעáםולש יבר.

and said, "This is not my God," his retraction is not significant - Although a retraction made in this amount of time is normally considered significant, different rules apply with regard to the acceptance of false gods. It is assumed that a person would never make such a statement unless he were fully aware of its ramifications.

and he should be stoned [to death].

5

Anyone who serves a false god through its accepted mode of service - even if he does so in a derisive manner - is liable. What is implied? When a person defecates before Pe'or to repudiate it, or throws a stone at Marculis to repudiate it - since this is the manner of serving them - the person is liable and must bring a sacrifice [to atone for] his inadvertent transgression.

ה

העובד עבודת כוכבים כדרכה ואפילו עשה דרך בזיון חייב כיצד הפוער עצמו לפעור כדי לבזותו או זרק אבן למרקוליס כדי לבזותו הואיל ועבודתו בכך חייב ומביא קרבן על ששגתו:

Anyone who serves a false god through its accepted mode of service - Regardless of the nature of that service

even if he does so in a derisive manner - i.e., both the act he performs and his intent in performing it is to abuse the false deity

is liable - for a sacrifice, as will be explained. This is an extension of the principle stated in Halachah 2.

What is implied? When a person defecates before Pe'or to repudiate it, or throws a stone at Marculis to repudiate it -Sanhedrin 64a relates that one of the Sages of the Talmud actually made such an error and threw a rock at a shrine of Marculis, with the intent of destroying it. When the matter was brought before his colleagues, they informed him of his mistake.

since this is the manner of serving them - the person is liable and must bring a sacrifice [to atone for] his inadvertent transgression. - Although he consciously performed an act which is considered to be worship of these gods, since his intent was not to serve them, he is not considered to be one who willfully serves idols. Hence, he is not punished by the court for his deed, nor is he obligated for karet by God. Since he, nevertheless, did perform an act of worship to these gods, he must bring a sacrifice for atonement.

The above represents the Kessef Mishneh's interpretation of this halachah. Many other authorities (see Tosafot, Sanhedrin 64a) disagree, and maintain that even in such circumstances, one could be held liable for capital punishment. For example, two witnesses who knew the law were present and warned the person against repudiating the idol in this fashion. He ignored their warning and performed the derisive act of worship. Although his intent was not to serve the deity, since he performed an act of worship despite the warning he was given, he is liable for execution.

Rav Kapach brings support for the Kessef Mishneh's view from the Rambam's Commentary on the Mishnah, Sanhedrin 7:6. There, the Rambam discusses a similar situation and states that a person who performs such service "is liable for a sin offering." In the original texts of that commentary, the Rambam stated that the person "is liable." The addition of the words "for a sin offering" appear to indicate that he is liable only for an offering, but not for punishment by the court. Note also Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah 5:4, where the Rambam states that a person who unknowingly worships a false god is not liable for his deeds.

6

[The following rules apply when] a person serves a false deity out of love - i.e., he desires an image because its service is very attractive - or when one serves it out of his fear of it - i.e., he fears that it will harm him - as the [idol] worshipers fear [their deities as sources of] benefit and harm: If he accepts it as a god, he is liable to be stoned to death. If he serves it out of love or fear through its accepted mode of service or through one of the four services [mentioned above], he is not held liable.

One who embraces a false deity, kisses it, sweeps before it, mops before it, washes it, anoints it, dresses it, places shoes upon it, or performs any similar act of deference violates a negative commandment, as [implied by Exodus 20:5]: "Do not serve them." Such acts are also "service." The offender is, nevertheless, not liable for lashes, because [these services] are not [mentioned] explicitly [by the Torah].

If one of the above services was the accepted mode of worship [of a particular deity] and a person performed this service as an act of worship, he is liable [for execution].

ו

העובד עבודת כוכבים מאהבה כגון שחשק בצורה זו מפני מלאכתה שהיתה נאה ביותר או שעבדה מיראתו לה שמא תריע לו כמו שהן מדמים עובדיה שהיא מטיבה ומריעה אם קבלה עליו באלוה חייב סקילה ואם עבדה דרך עבודתה או באחת מארבע עבודות מאהבה או מיראה פטור המגפף עבודת כוכבים והמנשק לה והמכבד והמרבץ לפניה והמרחיץ לה והסך והמלביש והמנעיל וכל כיוצא בדברי כבוד האלו עובר בלא תעשה שנאמר ולא תעבדם ודברים אלו בכלל עבודה הן ואע"פכן אינו לוקה על אחת מהן לפי שאינן בפירוש ואם היתה דרך עבודתה באחד מכל הדברים האלו ועשהו לעבדה חייב:

[The following rules apply when] a person serves a false deity out of love - i.e., he desires an image because its service is very attractive - The commentaries note that the Rambam interprets "out of love" differently from "out of fear." "Out of love" refers to a love for the image and its service, while "out of fear" means fear of what the deity can do to the person.

Rav Kapach explains the Rambam's position, justifying the need for such a difference in interpretation. Most idolaters do not worship their images out of a genuine conviction that they are the true god, but rather for the benefit they feel this service will bring them. Therefore, were a person to serve an idol with this intent in mind, the Rambam would hold him liable. In contrast, were he to serve out of fear, he is not considered to be acting on his own volition, and hence is not held responsible.

or when one serves it out of his fear of it - i.e., he fears that it will harm him - as the [idol] worshipers fear [their deities as sources of] benefit and harm: - See Chapter 1, Halachot 1-2.

If he accepts it as a god - and serves it as an act of worship

he is liable to be stoned to death - as stated in Halachah 1.

If he serves it out of love or fear - without accepting it as a god - even though he served it

through its accepted mode of service - as mentioned in Halachah 2

or through one of the four services [mentioned above] - in Halachah 3,

he is not held liable - since he did not accept the deity as a god.

Although the Rambam's opinion is questioned by many other authorities, it is based on an established tradition of Talmudic interpretation. This halachah is based on Sanhedrin 61b. That passage is also quoted in Shabbat 72b. Rabbenu Chanan'el, one of the foremost commentators in the generations between the Geonim and the Rambam, interprets the latter passage using the same concepts _ and almost the same phraseology _ as employed by the Rambam here.

The Ra'avad and others challenge the Rambam's interpretation and explain that "out of love" and "out of fear" mean: motivated by the love or fear of the person who tries to influence one to worship the false deity. The Rambam cannot accept this interpretation, because in Hilchot Yesodei Torah 5:4, he states that a person who is forced to serve false gods is not held liable for his deeds (Kessef Mishneh).

The fact that a person is not held liable for such service does not at all minimize the seriousness of the prohibition involved. In no way is one allowed to serve false gods for such reasons. Even with regard to the Ra'avad's interpretation "out of fear" - i.e., out of fear of a person - the Ramah (Yoreh De'ah 150:3) prohibits performing any act that might be interpreted as idol worship - e.g., bowing to a ruler who is wearing an image.

One who embraces a false deity, kisses it, sweeps before it, mops before it, washes it, anoints it, dresses it, places shoes upon it, or performs any similar act of deference violates a negative commandment, as [implied by Exodus 20:5]: "Do not serve them." - This commandment is described in Halachot 2 and 3.

Such acts are also "service." The offender is, nevertheless, not - executed, as is one who worships a false deity, nor is he

punished by lashes, because [these services] are not [mentioned] explicitly [by the Torah]. - The Kessef Mishneh explains that punishment is not given because this prohibition is a 18ואל תוללכבש - i.e., it includes many different forbidden acts. Lashes are not given for the violation of such a prohibition, as stated in Hilchot Sanhedrin 18:2-3.

To explain: The prohibition, "Do not serve them," is twofold in nature. It prohibits the worship of a false deity through its accepted modes of service, as stated in Halachah 2. This is a sin punishable by death. The same prohibition also forbids these expressions of affection or reverence. These deeds are not, however, punishable by death because they are not acts of worship.

Since violation of this prohibition incurs a penalty of execution, it is not associated with the punishment of lashes. Since, in essence, this prohibition is not associated with lashes, even the many transgressions of a lesser nature which are also included within this prohibition are also not punishable in this manner (Rav Kapach).

If one of the above services - kissing, and the like

was the accepted mode of worship [of a particular deity] and a person performed this service as an act of worship - and not merely as an expression of emotion. The Lechem Mishneh questions the addition of the words "as an act of worship," noting that in Halachah 5, the Rambam holds one liable for performing the service with which Pe'or or Marculis was worshiped, even though one's intent was to repudiate the idols. Thus, it appears that once a person performs a service which is the accepted mode of worship, his intent is no longer significant.

The Pri Chadash resolves this difficulty, explaining that the extent of liability is different. In the previous halachah, the offender was liable for a sin offering alone, while here,

he is liable [for execution] - as stated in Halachah 2.

7

If a splinter becomes stuck in a person's foot before an idol, he should not bend down to remove it, because it appears that he is bowing down to the idol.

If money belonging to a person becomes scattered before an idol, he should not bow down and pick it up, because it appears that he is bowing down to the idol. Instead, he should sit down, and then pick it up.

ז

ישב לו קוץ ברגלו לפני עבודת כוכבים לא ישוח ויטלנו מפני שנראה כמשתחוה לה נתפזרו לו מעות בפניה לא ישוח ויטלם מפני שנראה כמשתחוה לה אלא ישב ואחר כך יטול:

If a splinter becomes stuck in a person's foot before an idol, he should not bend down to remove it, because it appears that he is bowing down to the idol. - Avodah Zarah 12a states that if the person turns his back or side to the idol, his bowing would not be considered to be an act of deference, and no prohibition is involved.

Even if no other people are present, this and the following prohibitions apply. Any prohibition that was instituted because of the impression which might be created (18ןיעáתיארמ) is forbidden even in a person's most private chambers.

If money belonging to a person becomes scattered before an idol, he should not bow down and pick it up, because it appears that he is bowing down to the idol. - From the commentaries' discussion of this law, it appears that if the person does bow down, he is not held liable for his actions. Kin'at Eliyahu questions the difference between this decision and Halachah 5, which holds a person who throws a stone to Marculis with the intent to repudiate it liable for a sin offering. He resolves that difficulty, explaining that in Halachah 5, the person intended to throw the stone at the idol. Since that act constitutes worship of this deity, he is held liable. In contrast, in our halachah the person did not bow down to the idol at all. The only reason the bowing is prohibited is that a mistaken impression might be created.

Instead, he should sit down, and then pick it up. - Avodah Zarah (ibid.) mentions a third prohibition, that a person should not bow down to drink from a spring that flows in front of an idol. The Kessef Mishneh notes that Rav Yitzchak Alfasi also omits this law, and explains that it was not contained in their text of the Talmud. (This is somewhat unlikely, since it is found in Rabbenu Chanan'el's text of Avodah Zarah.)

The Radbaz (Vol. V, Responsum 1389) states that this law is included in the law mentioned in the following halachah. Hence, it is not mentioned explicitly by the Rambam.

8

A person should not place his mouth over the mouths of statues which serve as fountains that are located before false deities in order to drink, because it appears that he is kissing the false deity.

ח

פרצופות המקלחות מים בפני עבודת כוכבים לא יניח פיו על פיהם וישתה מפני שנראה כמנשק לעבודת כוכבים:

A person should not place his mouth over the mouths of statues which serve as fountains that are located before false deities in order to drink, because it appears - In the context of the discussion of this law, the Ramah (Yoreh De'ah 150:3) states an important general principle. Prohibitions which were instituted because of the impression which might be created (מראית עין) need not be upheld whenever there is a threat to human life.

that he is kissing the false deity. - This prohibition is also mentioned in Avodah Zarah (ibid.).

The commentaries have noted a slight difficulty in the Talmud's (and thus, the Rambam's) phraseology. The opening clause describes the statues as merely "located before false deities," while from the latter clause it appears that the statue itself is the false deity.

9

A person who has a false god made for himself - even though he, himself, did not actually fashion it, nor worship it - is [punished by] lashing, as [Exodus 20:5] states: "Do not make for yourself an idol or any representation."

Similarly, a person who actually fashions a false god for others, even for idolaters, is [punished by] lashing, as [Leviticus 19:4] states: "Do not make molten gods for yourselves." Accordingly, a person who actually fashions a false god1for himself receives two measures of lashes.

ט

העושה עבודת כוכבים לעצמו אף על פי שלא עשאה בידו ולא עבדה לוקה שנא' לא תעשה לך פסל וכל תמונה וכן העושה עבודת כוכבים בידו לאחרים אפילו עשאה לעובד כוכבים לוקה שנאמר ואלהי מסכה לא תעשו לכם לפיכך העושה עבודת כוכבים בידו לעצמו לוקה שתים:

A person who has a false god made for himself - even though he, himself, did not actually fashion it - i.e., he commissioned another person to make the idol for him.

nor worship it - i.e., although he commissioned the fashioning of the idol, he did not worship it or explicitly accept it as a god. Accordingly, he is not punished by execution as above. He is, nevertheless, considered to have violated a prohibition, and

is [liable for] lashes - The Lechem Mishneh questions this statement, noting that lashes are not given for a transgression which does not involve a deed, and that speech is not ordinarily considered to be a deed. He explains that since the craftsman fashions the idol on behalf of the person who commissioned him, he is considered to be the latter's agent. Therefore, the one who commissioned him is held responsible for his deed.

The commentaries question this explanation, noting that - with the exception of a few specific instances - the Torah never holds a person who commissions another individual to commit a sin liable, since the person who actually committed the sin is responsible for his actions. Also, the Rambam's phraseology here implies that one is held liable regardless whether the craftsman is a Jew or gentile, and a gentile is never given the halachic status of an agent.

The following are among the resolutions offered to this difficulty:
a) A hired worker's actions - whether positive or negative - are always attributed to his employer (Machaneh Efrayim, Hilchot Shutafim 8).
b) The verse prohibiting this act reveals that this is one of the few exceptions to the general rule mentioned above, and in this case, the person who commissioned the agent is held liable (Darchei HaMelech).
c) Commenting on Hilchot Sechirut 13:2, the Mishneh LaMelech explains that if it is possible to violate a particular prohibition by committing a deed, one is punished by lashes even when one violates it without committing a deed. The same concept can be applied here (S'deh Chemed).
d) The deed for which one is punished is not the command to make the idol, but rather its purchase or acquisition (Merchevat HaMishneh, Alfandari).

as [Exodus 20:5] states: "Do not make for yourself an idol or any representation." - The grammatical structure of this verse allows it to be interpreted, "Do not have an idol... made for you." Sefer HaMitzvot (Negative Commandment 2) and Sefer HaChinuch (Mitzvah 27) consider this to be one of the 613 mitzvot of the Torah.

Similarly, a person who actually fashions a false god for others, even for - gentile

idolaters - even when he merely acts as a craftsman and does not worship or believe in the idol himself.

is [liable for] lashes, as [Leviticus 19:4] states: "Do not make molten gods for yourselves." - Sefer HaMitzvot (Negative Commandment 3) and Sefer HaChinuch (Mitzvah 214) consider this to be one of the 613 mitzvot of the Torah.

Accordingly, a person who actually fashions a false god for himself - violates both of the above prohibitions. Therefore, he

receives two measures of lashes. - See Hilchot Sanhedrin 17:4 for a description of how punishment is administered when a person is liable for more than one measure of lashes.

10

It is prohibited to make images for decorative purposes, even though they do not represent false deities, as [implied by Exodus 20:23]: "Do not make with Me [gods of silver and gods of gold]." This refers even to images of gold and silver which are intended only for decorative purposes, lest others err and view them as deities.

It is forbidden to make decorative images of the human form alone. Therefore, it is forbidden to make human images with wood, cement, or stone. This [prohibition] applies when the image is protruding - for example, images and sculptures made in a hallway and the like. A person who makes such an image is [liable for] lashes.

In contrast, it is permitted to make human images that are engraved or painted - e.g., portraits, whether on wood or on stone - or that are part of a tapestry.

י

אסור לעשות צורות לנוי ואע"פ שאינה עבודת כוכבים שנאמר לא תעשון אתי כלומר צורות של כסף וזהב שאינם אלא לנוי כדי שלא יטעו בהן הטועים וידמו שהם לעבודת כוכבים ואין אסור לצור לנוי אלא צורת האדם בלבד לפיכך אין מציירים לא בעץ ולא בסיד ולא באבן צורת האדם והוא שתהיה הצורה בולטת כגון הציור והכיור שבטרקלין וכיוצא בהן ואם צר לוקה אבל אם היתה הצורה מושקעת או צורה של סמנין כגון הצורות שעל גבי הלוחות והטבליות או צורות שרוקמין באריג הרי אלו מותרות:

It is prohibited to make images for decorative purposes, even though they do not represent false deities - i.e., they were made as decorations and works of art, without any intent that they be worshiped.

as [implied by Exodus 20:23]: "Do not make with Me [gods of silver and gods of gold]." - Sefer HaMitzvot (Negative Commandment 4) and Sefer HaChinuch (Mitzvah 39) consider this to be one of the 613 mitzvot of the Torah.

This refers even to images of gold and silver which are intended only for decorative purposes, lest others err and view them as deities. - The Rambam's statement sheds light on an interesting Rabbinic debate. The Sages of the Talmud often established "fences around the Torah" - i.e., safeguards to prevent the violation of Torah law. (See Avot 1:1.) There is a question whether the Torah itself instituted prohibitions for such a purpose - i.e., are there mitzvot that are instituted without a self-contained goal of their own, but merely to prevent the violation of other prohibitions? (See Lekach Tov 8.)

From the Rambam's statements here (see also Hilchot De'ot 7:8), it appears that he accepts such a premise. It appears that there is nothing intrinsically wrong in making statues per se. Nevertheless, since if such statues are made, the possibility exists that they may be worshiped, the Torah forbids us to make them.

It is forbidden to make decorative images of the human form alone. - As explained in the following halachah, this prohibition also applies to the sun, the moon, and other celestial beings. It is permitted to make an image of all creations of our world aside from man.

Avodah Zarah 43b derives this from the above verse. The Hebrew words translated as "Do not make with Me..." can also be rendered, "Do not make Me..." - i.e., do not make images in the human form, the form in which God has revealed himself (Siftei Cohen, Yoreh De'ah 141:21).

Therefore, it is forbidden to make human images with wood, cement, or stone - or any other material. The Rambam mentioned these materials because they were commonly used in his time.

This [prohibition] applies when the image is protruding - for example, images and sculptures made in a hallway and the like. - The Tur (Yoreh De'ah 141) states that we are forbidden to make only a complete human statue. A bust of a head alone or a statue which is lacking any one of the body's limbs is not forbidden. Though the Shulchan Aruch (141:7) does not accept this view, it is shared by the Ramah.

A person who makes such an image is [liable for] lashes - but not by execution, since these statues were not worshiped as idols.

In contrast, it is permitted to make human images that are engraved or painted - e.g., portraits, whether on wood or on stone - or that are part of a tapestry. - Though the images on a tapestry protrude slightly, since they are not are a fully formed statue, there is no prohibition involved in making them. Note the contrast to the prohibition against making images of the celestial beings mentioned in the following halachah and commentary.

11

[The following rules apply regarding] a signet ring which bears a human image: If the image is protruding, it is forbidden to wear it, but it is permitted to use it as a seal. If the image is an impression, it is permitted to wear it, but it is forbidden to use it as a seal, because it will create an image which protrudes.

Similarly, it is forbidden to make an image of the sun, the moon, the stars, the constellations, or the angels, as [implied by Exodus, ibid.]: "Do not make with Me [gods of silver...]" - i.e., do not make images of My servants, those who serve before Me on high. This [prohibition] applies even [to pictures] on tablets.

The images of animals and other living beings - with the exception of men - and similarly, the images of trees, grasses, and the like may be fashioned. This applies even to images which protrude.

יא

טבעת שיש עליה חותם שהוא צורת אדם אם היתה הצורה בולטת אסור להניחה ומותר לחתום בה ואם היתה הצורה שוקעת מותר להניחה ואסור לחתום בה מפני שהנחתם תעשה בו הצורה בולטת וכן אסור לצור דמות חמה ולבנה כוכבים מזלות ומלאכים שנאמר לא תעשון אתי לא תעשון כדמות שמשיי המשמשין לפני במרום ואפילו על הלוח צורות הבהמות ושאר נפש חיה חוץ מן האדם וצורות האילנות ודשאים וכיוצא בהן מותר לצור אותם ואפילו היתה הצורה בולטת:

[The following rules apply regarding] a signet ring - In ancient times, it was customary for rulers to seal their documents with a signet ring. (See Esther 8:8.) Wax would be poured on the document and the ring pressed into the wax, producing an imprint which is a reverse image of that on the ring.

which bears a human image: If the image is protruding, it is forbidden to wear it - on one's finger, because a protruding image is forbidden, as stated in the previous halachah.

but it is permitted to use it as a seal - for the human image it produces is sunken into the wax.

If the image is an impression, it is permitted to wear it - because there is not prohibition against such a human image

but it is forbidden to use it as a seal, because it will create an image which protrudes - which is forbidden.

Similarly, it is forbidden to make an image of the sun, the moon, the stars, the constellations - Our understanding of the Rambam's statements here can be enhanced by referring to his Commentary on the Mishnah, Avodah Zarah 3:3:

This does not mean a sphere which represents the sun or a hemisphere which represents the moon, but rather the images which the astrologers [i.e., those following Greek mythology] attribute to the stars,... e.g., Saturn is represented as an old dark man of venerable age, Venus is represented as a a beautiful maiden adorned with gold, and the sun is represented as a king with a diadem sitting in a chariot.
[These are forbidden because] they are falsehoods and the nature of falsehood is that it will surely spread.

Rav Kapach supports this interpretation by quoting BeMidbar Rabbah 2:6, which describes the pennant of the tribe of Issachar as having a picture of the sun and the moon. Were these images forbidden, it would be unlikely that Moshe would have told the tribe to depict them. Even if the decree was instituted in the later generations, it is not probable that the Rabbis would forbid images that had previously been used for a Torah purpose.

The Ramah (Yoreh De'ah 141:3) quotes the Rambam's opinion. The Turei Zahav 141:13 and the Siftei Cohen 141:8, however, note that the Rambam's statements which were quoted above (and the Ramah's statements) refer to a question whether one is allowed to keep images of the sun or moon that he finds. Here, the question is whether one is allowed to make such images oneself. From the discussion of the question in Avodah Zarah 43b, where the Sages question how Rabban Gamliel possessed forms of the moon, it would appear that there is a prohibition against making images of the sun and the moon themselves.

This interpretation, however, is also somewhat problematic, because the Rambam writes that there is no prohibition against making images of animals, and some of the constellations of the Zodiac are represented and referred to as animals. For example, one of the Zodiac constellations is a fish and Gittin 36a describes Rav as making a drawing of a fish. Another is a lion, which is one of the most popular images found in Jewish art.

or the angels - As the Rambam writes in Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah 2:3-5, the angels have no body or form. Hence, here, he is obviously referring to a form which a man has conceived of as appropriate for a particular angel. Alternatively, it could refer to the metaphoric imagery used by the prophets.

as [implied by Exodus, ibid.]: "Do not make with Me [gods of silver...]" - The Rambam (quoting Avodah Zarah, ibid.) mentions the above Biblical proof-text in connection with this prohibition. It would appear, however, from the fact that making such images is not punishable by lashes, that the prohibition is only Rabbinic in nature. The reference to the verse must be understood as an asmachta (use of the Biblical verse as a support for a Rabbinic decree).

i.e., do not make images of - those who are "with Me" - i.e.,

My servants, those who serve before Me on high. _ This refers to the celestial beings and the angels. (See Chapter 1, Halachah 1, and Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah 2:3.)

This [prohibition] - is more severe than the prohibition against making human images, and

applies even [to pictures] on tablets. - According to the Rambam's statements in his Commentary on the Mishnah, the difference between the prohibition against making these images and those of humans can be explained as follows: The prohibition against making human statues is Biblical in origin and is defined by the Torah itself. In contrast, the prohibition of making images of the celestial beings was a safeguard instituted by the Rabbis against Greek and Roman culture. It, therefore, applies to all images, whether pictures or statues, because both could influence people to stray from the Torah's ways.

According to the simple interpretation of the terms "sun" and "moon," the difference can be explained as follows: The sun and the moon, as we perceive them, appear against the background of the sky. Therefore, for a representation of them to be forbidden, it also need not protrude (Tosafot, 14Avodah Zarah, ibid.).

The images of animals and other living beings - with the exception of men - Avodah Zarah 42b also mentions a prohibition against making the image of a d'rakon which Rashi and others interpret as an animal similar to a serpent.

In his Commentary on the Mishnah (ibid.), the Rambam describes this image as a fishlike man with fins and many scales, probably referring to the Greek god Neptune.

and similarly, the images of trees, grasses, and the like may be fashioned. This - leniency

applies even to images which protrude. - From these two halachot, particularly according to the Rambam's understanding as reflected in his Commentary on the Mishnah, we see that there is no conflict between Torah law and aesthetics. There are only two restrictions: realistic human statues (and according to some authorities, these must be complete, full-bodied statues) and depictions of pagan gods. Even according to the other opinions which forbid depictions of the sun, the moon, and the like, there is no prohibition against abstract portrayals of these entities. No other restrictions apply at all.

There is definitely a divergence between the approach to life that spawned much of the art forms of Western culture and a Torah lifestyle. Perhaps for that reason, many religious Jews have traditionally shunned participation in and patronage of the arts. In the present generation, however, a number of our Torah leaders have urged religious artists to dedicate themselves to expressing Torah ideas and values in a variety of art forms, explaining that:
a) Through these media, it is possible to reach many Jews who might never enter a synagogue or Torah center;
b) Everything in the world was created to be used by the Jews for a Torah purpose (Rashi, Genesis 1:1). This also applies to art. Using these art forms for Torah purposes expresses the true intent for their creation and endows them with a depth of meaning and inspiration - and in its deepest sense, a new wellspring of creativity.

According to Kabbalah, God's presence is more manifest in the sefirah of Tiferet ("Beauty") than in any other sefirah. Thus, the challenge confronting a Torah artist today is to use beauty as a medium to express Godly truth.

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