What is the proper definition for an idol/idol worshiping?

I'm asking this because in Christianity, an idol can be any person or thing that consumes your thoughts, words, time, energy, or money other than God.

I would like a source for the definition of what an idol/idol worshiping really is in Judaism because by the Christian definition, this could be absolutely anything.

  • Don't get me wrong, I am not trying to compare them, I just want to find out what exactly is an idol/idol worshiping in Judaism because this will be the real explanation to what idolatry really is, regardless of what definition Christianity has for it. I also want to know if there is an explanation for idolatry in Judaism like in Christianity, meaning that anything could be an idol, which this seems a little too far stretched.
    – Mineder
    Commented Mar 20, 2023 at 12:06
  • Does this answer your question? judaism.stackexchange.com/a/133535/31534
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Commented Mar 20, 2023 at 14:41
  • @Mineder I think my answer should answer your question.
    – msj121
    Commented Mar 20, 2023 at 15:22

3 Answers 3


Look at first chapter Rambam Hilchot Avodah Zara Vechukot Hagoyim https://www.sefaria.org/Mishneh_Torah%2C_Foreign_Worship_and_Customs_of_the_Nations.1.1?lang=bi in order to understand the Rambam Hilchot Avodah Zara Vechukot Hagoyim 2:1 https://www.sefaria.org/Mishneh_Torah%2C_Foreign_Worship_and_Customs_of_the_Nations.2.1?lang=bi which I believe is the answer.

  • Thank you for the sources. It is much clearer now, but I still want to know if there is anything similar in Judaism like in Christianity regarding idols. By this I mean, if an idol can be any person or thing that consumes your thoughts, words, money, etc. other than God.
    – Mineder
    Commented Mar 20, 2023 at 13:09

In Judaism, an idol is a living creature or an inanimate object that you believe has unlimited power to grant your wishes or harm you.


I think Idolatry can have different levels and meaning in Judaism.

There is technical idols/idolatry on one extreme, and then there is idolatry in terms of one even following their own emotional anger on the other extreme.

“One who tears his clothes, breaks his utensils, and destroys his money in his rage should be in your eyes as one who commits idolatry” (Shabbos 105b).

These imo are all true, and there will be different opinions why these overlap. For example, anger causing someone to do something is like submitting their own free choice to an outside cause, like idolatry which follows some outside cause, both not being Hashem. But many other ideas have been written discussing similarities as well.

However, to be clear the Gemara says "in your eyes like one who commits idolatry" and so there is a difference between the two.

Please see Rambam Perush Mishnayos Avos 2:10. who quotes the gemara above (shabbos 105b) and says that anger and idolatry are the same. ׳׳ר׳׳ל ששני הדברים אחד.׳׳ I understand the same in nature not equivalent.

  • "like idolatry" refers only to the seriousness of the offense, not to an identity of the two. Ketubot 68a says that not giving charity is tantamount to idolatry. Not the same, but as serious. Commented Mar 20, 2023 at 15:04
  • @MauriceMizrahi If that were true it would only need to say "like one who is chayav skila" imo, it would not specifically choose idolatry. In fact many many sources explain how the two are indeed similar, including Ketuvot 68a see Yismach Moshe (parshat Korach) and why/when it is like idolatry. Your source as far as I can tell only proves my point. I did point out that they are not equivalent, so I am not sure what your argument is....
    – msj121
    Commented Mar 20, 2023 at 15:20
  • The most serious Jewish offense, in all ancient sources, is idolatry. So, to emphasize the importance of other infractions, rabbis say they are tantamount to idolatry. But this does not modify the definition of true idolatry -- otherwise the only infraction, ever, would be idolatry, and the term would only mean "breaking a commandment". Commented Mar 20, 2023 at 15:30
  • @MauriceMizrahi I have provided a Rambam to show that they are the same. I can see how you can disagree and that yes they are different, but I personally think there is overlap and that the Rambam is a good proof to this beyond the Gemara that explains it.
    – msj121
    Commented Mar 20, 2023 at 16:09

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