Rashi (Gen 18,4) on "יֻקַּח־נָא מְעַט־מַיִם וְרַחֲצוּ רַגְלֵיכֶם׃" says:

כַּסָּבוּר שֶׁהֵם עַרְבִיִּים שֶׁמִּשְׁתַּחֲוִים לַאֲבַק רַגְלֵיהֶם
He thought they were Arabians who worship the dust of their feet

I'd like to know how historically valid this claim is - what nations worshiped dust in 2000BCE, or where did Rashi take this idea from?

  • Some don't understand it literally mizrachi.org/seeing-the-good-in-the-other
    – rosends
    Nov 19, 2019 at 17:33
  • 2
    Sounds to me like this is a History question. Nov 19, 2019 at 18:04
  • 3
    @Salmononius ...as applied to Judaism
    – Double AA
    Nov 19, 2019 at 18:08
  • 2
    The Moabites weren't, uh, terribly far from worshipping dust Nov 19, 2019 at 18:08
  • See in tshuvot harambam about muslim religion origins
    – kouty
    Nov 19, 2019 at 18:47

3 Answers 3


Taken in the context of your quote, historically speaking it would be referring to the generations which preceded Avraham.

As the Torah of Moshe relates, this is dealing primarily with the generation of Enosh and later, up to the the time of Avraham. That is also how Rambam recounts the development of idol worship in the Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Avodah Zarah v' Chukot HaGoyim, chapter 1, along with many other Torah sources like Sefer Brit Menucha and others.

According to archeological evidence from places like Çatalhöyük which is located in what today is modern Turkey, the worship of dust, meaning the dry earth on their feet, was a detail connected to the idol worship of an Earth-Mother goddess.

As explained in this link to Wikipedia discussing this subject, they focused on how the *Earth-Mother goddess*sustained life through her body, meaning the dirt and minerals.

In the context of how Rambam teaches the tradition, this would have started from a legitimate and permissible observation that G-d's presence is in all things and that part of His blessing comes to life on earth through the soil. But as generations became misled, rather than focusing on the true source, that all comes from the Creator, they focused their attention on the physical material things. In this case the dust of the earth.

  • Thank you, 1. I think we have a misunderstanding of the term "worship". IMHO Rashi claims the dirt was the idol, not related to an idol. 2. My logic says as the dirt is completely negligible and exiguous it can't be considered a deity or an idol. 3. I followed Rambam, but he came to big things like the luminaries, mountains, etc. I don't see dust on his list.
    – Al Berko
    Nov 19, 2019 at 19:46
  • @AlBerko Fortunately, you don't think like an idol worshipper, so you don't understand their thinking. But if you review Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah from the Mishneh Torah, you can see that they would have a very clear order of Heavenly beings 'similar' to how Rambam breaks out the foundations of existence. And in fact, that is exactly what Rambam describes about the development of idol worship. And that morphed into worship of a detailed Heavenly celestial order (which would have included dust) like is evidenced from the later forms of idol worship associated with classical Greece and Rome. Nov 19, 2019 at 20:46
  • @AlBerko See as examples, Gaea: britannica.com/topic/Gaea Nov 19, 2019 at 20:50
  • @AlBerko Rhea: britannica.com/topic/Rhea-Greek-goddess Nov 19, 2019 at 20:50
  • @AlBerko And Demeter: britannica.com/topic/Demeter Nov 19, 2019 at 20:51

Rashi brings the idea from the gemara in Bava Metzia 86b:

"The Gemara continues its analysis of the verse: “Let now a little water be fetched and wash your feet” (Genesis 18:4). Rabbi Yannai, son of Rabbi Yishmael, said that the guests said to Abraham: Are you suspicious that we are Arabs who bow to the dust of their feet? Yishmael has already issued from him, i.e., your own son acts in this manner."


Hindus worship the dust of the feet of the followers of one of their gods: http://kunjeshwari.com/sweettexts/English/bhakta.pdf

Brahmarshi Bharat has clearly declared to King Rahugan that there is no other way to gain divine knowledge without serving (consuming, revering) the dust of the holy feet of the great devotees –

“O Mahârâj Rahugan, unless and until we bathe in the dust of the holy feet of the great devotees – we cannot gain knowledge about the divine truth by any other means, such as – austerity, Vedic rituals, food-distribution, building shelter for refugees, Vedic study, worshiping the water, fire or the sun.” – (S.B.5.12.12)

Srila Prahlâd Mahâshay too has prescribed worshiping the dust of the holy feet of the great devotees as the ‘sure-shot’ means to turn towards Sri Bhagavân - “Unless and until we bathe in the dust of the feet of the devotees who are free of material desire our mind cannot touch the lotus feet of Sri Bhagavân. When we turn towards Sri Krishna all our bad qualities get destroyed.” – (S.B.7.5.2)

“bhakta-pada-dhooli âr bhakta-pada-jal, bhakta-bhukta-abashesh – tin mohâbol.” Meaning - "The dust of the devotee’s feet, the foot-wash of the devotee and the remnants of the devotee's prasâdam - these three are enormously invigorating.”– (C.C.)

  • Very interesting, thank you. But it seems exactly what we say about our Teachers (Avot 1,4) "יהי ביתך בית ועד לחכמים; והוי מתאבק בעפר רגליהם ושותה בצמא את דבריהם." We are commanded to " sit in the very dust of their feet" (sefaria.org.il/…)
    – Al Berko
    Nov 19, 2019 at 18:31
  • "Sit at". Not eat, bathe in, worship, and the like. Nov 19, 2019 at 19:00
  • 1. Sit is not a good translation of להתאבק if you know what it is in Hebrew, more like "kissing the dirt on their feet". 2. This is exactly the quotation you provided - the true believers are worthy of worship to the level of the dust on their feet, but not the dust itself.
    – Al Berko
    Nov 19, 2019 at 19:33
  • 1
    Al, if what I posted does not answer your question, then nothing will. Nov 19, 2019 at 21:08
  • Please don't take it personally. I truly understand the need to justify the traditional claims by any price. A great example you posted has little to do with idolatry IMHO, it deals with honoring the devotees. And this is very similar to what we have in Judaism, where the dust is just a metaphor to our dedication to serving and admiring them. Similar to the mother of R"G that used to wash his feet and drink the water (Kiddushin 29-30 something). This citation fails to provide the support that the dust itself is idolatrous in any way.
    – Al Berko
    Nov 19, 2019 at 23:57

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .