The children of Israel were commanded not to join with the Canaanites nor to learn their ways, lest they be led astray from the pure worship of Hashem into worshipping the idols of the nations. (Exodus 34:11-16, Joshua 23:7, Jeremiah 10:2)

Much of the world today does not worship statues or false deities but rather idols not associated with religions such as money, fame, and power. Along with the rest of creation, we were created for Hashem's glory (Isaiah 43:7, Psalm 19:1) and to give Him praise (Isaiah 43:21). Instead of putting Hashem in the center of their lives, seeking to give Him glory by obeying His commands from hearts of praise, the world lives for their own glory and praise, putting themselves in the place of Hashem as their object of worship, effectively becoming their own idols. Hashem has said, "My glory I will not give to another." (Isaiah 48:11). It has historically not gone well for those who gave themselves glory instead of Hashem. (Daniel 4: Nebuchadnezzar was made to eat grass like a beast for boasting in himself!)

Can we apply the commands for keeping separate from the Gentiles and their idols to these non-religious idols of our day such as money, fame, power, self-worship? As returning to obey Hashem required destruction of physical idols (i.e., Jeroboam's golden calves atop the high places), does modern-day obedience to these commands include uprooting these idols from our hearts and lives?

  • You'd be amazed how many Jews are interested or pay attention to Christianity and its holidays. The halacha is, unfortunately, quite applicable till today in it's most basic form.
    – MDjava
    Jan 5 at 16:22
  • Those types of issues are obvious. But I find that most people I speak to in everyday life don't have their hearts set on the pursuit of religion at all. I am just wondering if the things that the non-religious world puts in place of Hashem could be considered idols, and if the command to not learn their ways could be applied to keeping our hearts and lives separate from sharing in their selfish desires that are the opposite of fearing and loving Hashem.
    – 1Sam1223
    Jan 5 at 22:33
  • The short, halachic answer is: No. Societal trends are not the idolatry punishable by the Noahide laws, only the performance of special rites and devotions as detailed in the Rambam, Book of Knowledge (prostrating, sacrificing, burning Incense, pouring out a libation, prayer, any ritualistic act common among idol worshippers, etc). These rules are the same for Jews and Gentiles.
    – user25706
    Feb 2 at 16:44

1 Answer 1


In a figurative sense, everyone should always think about what are the driving forces in their lives and whether they align with God's will. Rabbi Joseph Soloveichik famously stated that any absolute loyalty to an "-ism" can become its own figurative idolatry if it goes beyond loyalty to God. (While it was omitted from some transcripts, he included unquestioned fealty to the State of Israel as one possible concern.)

PRACTICALLY -- and here's what keeps us away from extremism: it was easy to say "don't have idols in your house, don't make idols, even if you don't plan to worship them." We follow the LAWS we were given. It's not our place to create new ones.

But to say "ban all honor?" "Destroy all money?" That sure wasn't, and still isn't, in the Torah. The Talmud says poverty is a terrible thing; it sure is not noble. We have the much harder task of figuring out what extent is appropriate. The rabbinic leadership of the medieval era made local policies about how big or expensive a party was allowed to be. Contemporary rabbis tried such a detailed policy about 20 years ago, and it got nowhere. Instead, however, they can continue to preach about "please think through this carefully, and make good choices."

PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE: Do not go destroying stuff and claiming that's what the Torah told you to do.

  • Thank you for your answer. I wasn't thinking so much along the lines of destroying possessions or anything like that. The issue is not having possessions as much as making idols out of them. Are there no sources that speak this way? The command to love Hashem with all of our hearts is violated when we set our hearts on earthly things without Him in view. That is the Law I am concerned with.
    – 1Sam1223
    Jan 5 at 22:28
  • Au contraire. The third on the list after "heart and soul" is "all your possessions." Which implies that people have them. There was a famous rabbi in the late 1700s who commented that the desire for idolatry was replaced by one for money. We can rage against materialism all we want ... but that's just one of many issues that people can allow to get in the way of service of God.
    – Shalom
    Jan 6 at 0:07

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