6

I apologize if this is a stupid question, but I was pondering it today and I hope you will find it as interesting as I do. Every Rabbinic opinion I've seen, although there are plenty I haven't of course, says that Buddhism for example is idol worship because Buddha was a man and assigning god-like features to a man is idol worship. However, Kabbalah also teaches that some angels come to earth as humans, in human bodies, and also that each nation has a ministering angel appointed to it by G-d. In that case, how do we know the "men" that some cultures worship are not actually their ministering angels, appointed by G-d, who incarnated in human form as Buddha and so on?

Because if all the religious cultures that exist now were not based on their proper "minister" that G-d assigned, then why would the majority of their people have been drawn to a religious person/angel different than the one that they can actually connect to? Would the majority at least have gravitated towards their ordained minister? There are obvious precedents for "no, just look at..." but I ask it anyway as part of the whole question. And if they were, then couldn't you say in some sense they are the god (lower case) of that nation, the one assigned by G-d to that nation, and the highest form of the energy of Deity/deity that that nation can reach without that intermediary? In which case, so long as the cultures did not attribute the creation of the world to for example Buddha, but rather said he is some spiritual representation of G-d (a minister) but not the Master G-d that created the world out of nothing, would it not be idol worship? Even the Christians don't say that Jesus was the Creator G-d all by himself, although they do say he was part of G-d even from the beginning as far as I know, and they don't treat him as an angel, so you could still call it idol worship for those reasons even if you didn't count the other.

But that key distinction is a main part of this question. Is it idol worship because they worship Jesus, period, or is it only idol worship because of the Trinity doctrine and so on, whereas if they just worshiped him as their minister, or the aspect of G-d that they have access to, then it would not be?

That is assuming there is any way to determine that the human man Jesus was an incarnation of the ministering angel for Christians in the first place, which I do not know. One rebuttal to the idea would be if only a different class of angels can enter into human form, not the ministering angels themselves. But considering who the Christians ministering angel is said to be, and how many stories there are of him/it possessing human form, I'm not sure this is the case. So here are the questions.

  1. Can a ministering angel enter human form?
  2. Were Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, and others ministering angels in human forms?
  3. Is it idol worship for a nation to worship their ministering angel? Or
  4. Is it only idol worship for nation X to worship a human being, but not idol worship to worship their ministering angel? Which would then take us full circle back to question one and the distinctions there.

And 5. I forgot to put, does the large majority of a nation worshiping the same...person/angel/(what they believe is their deity)...for thousands of years prove that that is their appointed minister? Or could they conceivably have been worshiping the wrong minister that whole time?

Edit: Most responses agree that it's idol worship. If we take that position, we do we reconcile it with this from the Zohar?

Whoever curses his Elohim, NAMELY, ONE OF THE SEVENTY MINISTERS, even though it is idolatry, since I appointed them as ministers to guide the world, whoever curses and desecrates them, "shall bear his sin" surely. For by My power they exist and guide the people in the world.

If the nations can't pray to them because it's idol worship, how do they guide the nations? More of a one-way relationship maybe?

4
  • I don't understand. If we assume that Budda is the angel of the Chinese Nation, is it a reason to allow to idolatry of his statue?
    – kouty
    Feb 23 at 21:01
  • I had a similar thought a few years ago with regards to people who experienced clinical death and then recounted having seen deities of various religions. It occurred to me that perhaps this was a way in which Hashem "eased in" people into the post-death existence by first showing them an entity they related to during their life, and this entity would slowly reveal to them the truth, except most people didn't stick long enough for the reveal. Instead they came back to life.
    – Harel13
    Feb 25 at 8:59
  • Can you link the source of the Zohar you brought?
    – Harel13
    Feb 25 at 12:16
  • 1
    @Harel13 In a comment to one of the answers he brings it from section 326 on this page.
    – Tamir Evan
    Feb 25 at 14:57

3 Answers 3

4

Rambam in his 13 principles says

  1. I believe with complete faith that the Creator, blessed be His name, is One and Alone; that there is no oneness in any way like Him; and that He alone is our G‑d - was, is and will be.

  2. I believe with complete faith that the Creator, blessed be His name, is the only one to whom it is proper to pray, and that it is inappropriate to pray to anyone else.

Since the Creator alone is our G‑d  and He is the only one to whom it is proper to pray it seems that worshipping a ministering angel is prohibited and like “avodah zoroh” (strange worship) or “avodas kochovim umazolos” (worshipping stars and the zodiac), which (I assert) are equivalent to worshipping idols.

3

Can a ministering angel enter human form?

This is a debate among the Rishonim about whether the visitations by malakhim were within prophetic visions (Rambam, see H. Yesodei Ha-Torah 2:3-4) or something that was corporeally perceived in a wakened state (Ramban, see commentary on Gen 18:1).

Were Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, and others ministering angels in human forms?

In absence of anything to suggest this, there is no reason to affirm that they were anything other than human. Furthermore, if anything transmitted by them contradicts the Torah it could not possibly be divine in any capacity.

Is it idol worship for a nation to worship their ministering angel? Is it only idol worship for nation X to worship a human being, but not idol worship to worship their ministering angel?

The worship of anything other than God is idolatry. Any worship of any created entity (including angels) is idolatry. Gentiles are upheld to the same standard as regards the prohibition on idolatry (H. Melakhim 9:2).

I forgot to put, does the large majority of a nation worshiping the same... person/angel/(what they believe is their deity)... for thousands of years prove that that is their appointed minister? Or could they conceivably have been worshiping the wrong minister that whole time?

Here's how the Rambam puts it (H. Melakhim 11:13):

וכשיעמוד המלך המשיח באמת, ויצליח וירום ויינשא--מיד הם כולן חוזרין ויודעים ששקר נחלו אבותיהם, ושנביאיהם ואבותיהם הטעום.

When the true messianic king will arise and prove successful, his position becoming exalted and uplifted, they [i.e. the gentiles] will all return and realize that their ancestors endowed them with a false heritage and their prophets and ancestors caused them to err.

1
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Isaac Moses
    Mar 8 at 19:11
2

Within his note to the English version of Rambam's Mishneh Torah - Avodat Kochavim 1:1 the translator Rav Eliyahu Touger, Orthodox rabbi, states the following:

"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".

Therefore, according to Rav Touger this type of worship is considered lawful for non-Jews by some Halachic authorities.

It is not clear to me what poskim Rav Touger is referring to, he does not mention any names. I know the case of Nachmanides (Ramban), who however affirms the sole existence, for all Nations except Israel, of "malachim", that is, of "separate intellects", appointed by HaShem as His ministers called to govern the Gentiles ; but Nachmanides never considers it lawful for Gentiles to worship such intermediaries even when non-Jews recognize HaShem as Supreme Power, a conduct that Nachmanides still considers idolatry, and therefore forbidden also to Gentiles by Noahide Law.

In a private conversation by email Rav Dr. David Berger, dean of Yeshiva University's Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies,told me that according to Rav Yaacov Emden, in Sheeilas Yaavetz 1:41, Jews may not worship God along with lesser intermediaries while Gentiles may. Even Gentiles may not worship God along with entities believed to be equal to Him.

Rav Dr Berger himself acknowledges, however, that the exact understanding of Yaavetz's words is problematic, as emerges from his following translation of an excerpt from this responsum, kindly sent to the undersigned:

“And surely (we have a favorable view) of these (Christians) nations, who are people of religion and law. They believe in the Creator of the world who governs it and rewards and punishes, and they affirm appropriate fundamentals.. Even though they sought many gods (a Talmudic term about shittuf), they are not commanded about this, as the sages said, ‘Noahides are not commanded regarding shittuf.’…Still, this requires investigation, because it seems that one who associates (God) with something else [i.e, one who engages in shittuf] is one who leaves the honor of the unitary God intact but places intermediaries between Him and the lower world” and associates them in His worship on the assumption that He wants them worshipped since the servant of the king is like the king. This is what most idolaters did. Christians [he doesn’t use the term, but the continuation appears to require this understanding], on the other hand, believe in different “beginnings and separate entities, even though they say that they are unitary.” Thus it may be that they are not engaging in shittuf, but in worse heresy. “Nevertheless, it is enough for us that all Israel considers them to be non-idolaters, and the Sages said that gentiles outside Israel are not idolaters but are merely following the customs of their ancestors. Therefore their blood is precious in our eyes, and this would be the case even if we ruled over them and they were conquered under our control in our land…”

I am an amateur on the subject, but it seems difficult to me to be able to base solid halachic arguments on this responsum to support the legitimacy, for the Gentiles, of the worship towards intermediaries between humanity and HaShem. Yaavetz in fact expresses a positive judgment on Christian worship on an ethical level, but as for the monotheistic aspect he is more vague: it is true that he speaks of a shituf lawful for the Gentiles, but then he says that the type of Christian worship of intermediaries is typical of the most of the idolaters.

If Rav Touger means referring to authorities who have expressed arguments of this kind, I believe that his statement is weak.

12
  • How do we reconcile this verse in the Zohar? "Whoever curses his Elohim," NAMELY, ONE OF THE SEVENTY MINISTERS, even though it is idolatry, since I appointed them as ministers to guide the world, whoever curses and desecrates them, "shall bear his sin" surely. For by My power they exist and guide the people in the world." Idols (positively, it's implied) guide people?? How is this reconciled with one of the 613 commandments, to destroy idol worshiping cities. Why would someone have to bear their sin for fulfilling a commandment? Does everyone who responded see this or do I have to tag? Feb 24 at 1:22
  • Source of Zohar quote is here zohar.com/zohar/Emor/chapters/43. 326. Feb 24 at 1:45
  • @ShipBuilding The commandment to destroy idol worshiping cities is to destroy Jewish cities who have become idol worshiping. It doesn't require destroying Non-Jewish idol worshiping cities (especially not for non-Jews to destroy them), and Jews are forbidden to practice idol worshiping. The quote you bring is about non-Jews cursing their gods. These are two separate categories.
    – Tamir Evan
    Feb 24 at 4:34
  • Thanks a lot for your response. Are you saying all the major Rabbis agreed on this point? If not, which is usually the case, do you have any sources for the overall debate? What is your source for saying it only applies to Jewish cities? Also the Zohar excerpt says you will bear your sin for cursing the elohim of the 70 nations. I thought the commandment to destroy idol worship cities applied to non-Jewish cities who idol worshiped elohim, which is why I juxtaposed the verses, but even if that's not the case, the question still arises why would one bear sin for cursing idol worshiping? Feb 25 at 4:18
  • @ShipBuilding "What is your source for saying it only applies to Jewish cities"? The only commandment I'm aware of to destroy idol worshiping cities, is the one "To slay the inhabitants of a city that has become idolatrous (עיר הנידחת) and to burn that city" (positive commandment 186 in Maimonides' count) ('has become' - meaning it wasn't idolatrous to begin with)...
    – Tamir Evan
    Feb 25 at 11:14

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