In Exodus 23:13 we read the following prohibition against pronouncing the names of false gods:

Concerning all that I have said to you you shall beware, and the name of the gods of others you shall not mention; it shall not be heard through your mouth.

Yet in texts like Leviticus 18:21 the name of a false god is used:

And you shall not give any of your offspring to pass through for Molech. And you shall not profane the Name of your God. I am the Lord.

When reading from a sefer Torah in shul we freely pronounce this name.

So my question is how would I explain to a non Jew why it is OK to pronounce the name of a false god when reading from a sefer Torah in shul but not in everyday conversation?

  • 2
    It's not at all clear that it's mutar to teach non-Jews halachot that don't concern them. The answer to this question, however, is "we're not only allowed to read the Torah, we're actually commanded to." Oct 2, 2022 at 19:57
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    The Ramban comments: "It is possible that lo tazkiru (make no mention) is transitive, meaning: do not mention the name of other gods to their worshippers, such as saying, “By your god! deal kindly with me.”" Oct 2, 2022 at 22:56
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    Your question is particularly relevant because the Talmud [Megillah 25b] tells us to change Torah words that are "impolite" when reading from the Torah. One wonders why this practice does not extend, a fortiori, to the names of idols. Oct 2, 2022 at 23:01

1 Answer 1


The practice of reading the names of idols when reading the Torah comes from the Talmud [Sanhedrin 63b]:

When Ulla came from Eretz Yisrael to Babylonia, he lodged in a place called Kalnevo. Rava said to him: And where did the Master lodge? Ulla said to him: In Kalnevo. Rava said to him: But isn’t it written: “And make no mention of the name of the other gods”? [Kalnevo is the name of an idol.] Ulla said to him: This is what Rabbi Yoḥanan said: With regard to any object of idol worship that is written in the Torah, it is permitted to mention its name. Since one may mention the idol while reading the Torah, it is permitted to mention it altogether. Rava asked: And where is this idol written? Ulla answered: As it is written: “Bel bows down, Nevo stoops” (Isaiah 46:1).

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