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Imagine that a Jew were to say the following:

I believe in the Greek sun god Helios. I believe that he is real, is a god, and has power. However, I believe Helios was created by, and is subservient to, Hashem. I also believe that Helios' power is dependent upon Hashem, and can be revoked or removed at Hashem's will at any moment. I do not worship Helios, I just believe he exists.

As far as I can tell, this belief, while rather nontraditional, is not in fact at odds with Judaism or halakha. I would even go so far as to say it ultimately comes down to semantics - if god is defined as "The singular being with complete and absolute power, ineffable, that which always was and always will be, and Who created everything and is everything", then it follows that there could only be one such being, and that is Hashem. If we instead define the word "god" as "someone or something really big or really strong, with capability that dwarfs any normal human, but not necessarily infinite in scale", then I think it is not, strictly speaking, "un-Jewish" to say that multiple beings fit that criteria provided that we recognize their subservience to/inferiority relative to Hashem, from whom all other beings descend. Indeed, by that definition it could be said that Gabriel, the Leviathan, or even Og, are, in some sense of the word, "gods", but much smaller/limited in scope and scale/undeserving of worship/otherwise total squares compared to Hashem.

Is my reasoning correct, or is there a clear prohibition against ever acknowledging any validity of another deity, no matter how it is justified or downplayed?

Note: I use Helios as an example because there are a handful of cases in which synagogues of the ancient world contained pictures of Helios or other references to him, making Helios a genuine comparison. The prevailing scholarly theory is that these synagogues were not heretical Jewish groups who believed in Helios as an independent deity per se, but rather began to consider the gods of the surrounding nations to be angels while not actually worshiping them. My question is inspired by that, and essentially asks whether such a thing or its logical extension is possible/halakhically permissible.

Update: I'll note that the first and second of the ten commandments are "I am the Lord your God", and "You shall have no other gods before me". As far as I can tell, this could mean "I am your God, and the other godlike beings are not your God, even if they could be defined as a god by some definitions", and "You shall have no other gods before/above me, or receiving worship, but not necessarily after me [in the manner I described two paragraphs above]".

Also, to be clear, I do not believe in Helios or any other such thing, but I still think it's an interesting question.

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  • You may be correct in terms of Biblical Judaism, especially pre Babylonian Exile. But in post Babylonian Rabbinic Judaism, you pretty much have to believe any other gods are actually nothing. Even Ibn Ezra who many claim says that Azazel is another deity or Demon that is subservient to Hashem, couldn't write this opinion in a straight forward way and we only assume he meant this based on the hints he told us
    – Aaron
    Apr 3, 2023 at 20:54
  • As you point out, perhaps terminology is misleading. See sefaria.org/…
    – אילפא
    Apr 3, 2023 at 20:57
  • @Avrah The source you bring describes pretty much what I was saying, and even in the very same words - that there is only one power, that power is Hashem, but other "elokim", created by, dependent upon, and subservient to, Hashem, do exist (those being the angels, presumably). This of course does not make them worthy of worship or veneration. Is this a correct understanding?
    – Benyamin
    Apr 3, 2023 at 21:06
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    It sounds like word games to me. An angel or other agent of God would fit your description. Apr 3, 2023 at 23:57

3 Answers 3

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Absolutely forbidden. See Rambam Hilchot Avodah Zara 1:1:

בימי אנוש טעו בני האדם טעות גדול ונבערה עצת חכמי אותו הדור ואנוש עצמו מן הטועים היה. וזו היתה טעותם. אמרו הואיל והאלהים ברא כוכבים אלו וגלגלים להנהיג את העולם ונתנם במרום וחלק להם כבוד והם שמשים המשמשים לפניו ראויין הם לשבחם ולפארם ולחלק להם כבוד. וזהו רצון האל ברוך הוא לגדל ולכבד מי שגדלו וכבדו. כמו שהמלך רוצה לכבד העומדים לפניו וזהו כבודו של מלך. כיון שעלה דבר זה על לבם התחילו לבנות לכוכבים היכלות ולהקריב להן קרבנות ולשבחם ולפארם בדברים ולהשתחוות למולם כדי להשיג רצון הבורא בדעתם הרעה. וזה היה עקר עבודת כוכבים. וכך היו אומרים עובדיה [!]היודעים עקרה. לא שהן אומרים שאין שם אלוה אלא כוכב זה. הוא שירמיהו אומר מי לא יראך מלך הגוים כי לך יאתה כי בכל חכמי הגוים ובכל מלכותם מאין כמוך ובאחת יבערו ויכסלו מוסר הבלים עץ הוא. כלומר הכל יודעים שאתה הוא לבדך אבל טעותם וכסילותם שמדמים שזה ההבל רצונך הוא:

During the times of Enosh, mankind made a great mistake, and the wise men of that generation gave thoughtless counsel. Enosh himself was one of those who erred.

Their mistake was as follows: They said God created stars and spheres with which to control the world. He placed them on high and treated them with honor, making them servants who minister before Him. Accordingly, it is fitting to praise and glorify them and to treat them with honor. [They perceived] this to be the will of God, blessed be He, that they magnify and honor those whom He magnified and honored, just as a king desires that the servants who stand before him be honored. Indeed, doing so is an expression of honor to the king. After conceiving of this notion, they began to construct temples to the stars and offer sacrifices to them. They would praise and glorify them with words, and prostrate themselves before them, because by doing so, they would - according to their false conception - be fulfilling the will of God. This was the essence of the worship of false gods, and this was the rationale of those who worshiped them. They would not say that there is no other god except for this star.[!]

This message was conveyed by Jeremiah, who declared (10:7-8): "Who will not fear You, King of the nations, for to You it is fitting. Among all the wise men of the nations and in all their kingdoms, there is none like You. They have one foolish and senseless [notion. They conceive of their] empty teachings as wood;" i.e., all know that You alone are God. Their foolish error consists of conceiving of this emptiness as Your will.

As can be seen, simply ascribing power, will and honour to entities that do not deserve or have such constitutes the essence of worship*, so there's no way round it. If this is said simply by stars etc. kal v'chomer it's much worse to do so for a pagan god.

Rationale is given at the end: one of the definitions of AZ is ascribing Hashem's will to something that doesn't have will.


Chassidut adds another layer. The folly is likened to children of the king honouring the king's ministers, and sending messages to the king through them. No, the king's children go straight to their father. Anything else is very inappropriate and perverse.


Note: a chiddush by the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Why is the above "history lesson" given as a "halacha" by Rambam, and not in an intro or philosophical work? Because knowing what is wrong and stupid about Avodah Zara is halacha. One can't fulfil this mitzva by simply not doing it, or simply remaining apathetic, or ignorant.


* - note, it has been raised several times that the Rambam looks to be basing this statement on the actual temple sacrifices and bowing just mentioned. This is not the case. This whole halacha is outlining the mitzva of שלא לפנות אחר עבודה זרה, which includes not reading about them, inquiring about them, or even thinking about them at all. See Negative Commandment 47. Sefer Hachinuch encodes this as a separate Mitzva and a full discussion would be a huge undertaking.
The point that we are allowed to believe in supernatural powers created by Hashem doesn't apply to pagan gods - we would have to be talking about something that is part of Emet, something revealed through prophecy or Torah, for the points made to apply.

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  • This answers my question very clearly. Thank you!
    – Benyamin
    Apr 4, 2023 at 3:21
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    @Benyamin What makes something a "god"? Maybe you can open another question "may an orthodox jew believe in superman?". Also why "accepting as a god" (kabalat elohus) is clearly listed in the Talmud as an act of avodah zarah, this Rambam talks about honering, worshiping, bowing, and sacrificing. Which is excluded by the terms of your question "do not worship Helios'. As for my personal practice I beleive the sun exists. I don't assign it independent power. Apr 4, 2023 at 4:18
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    Don't think this is right - it just says (as a matter of prohibition) that you can't worship them?
    – AKA
    Apr 4, 2023 at 11:21
  • @AKA the word worship isn't mentioned in the proof, it's just the conclusion. I think my arguments are clear, if you could address them directly I would know better what your objection is?
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Apr 4, 2023 at 11:34
  • The question was about whether one who believes in other gods has transgressed simply for believing. The Rambam only writes that a) it's silly to do so, and b) that it's forbidden to worship them.
    – AKA
    Apr 4, 2023 at 11:37
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This is a really thought-provoking question. We need to begin with the Rambam. Most of the prohibitions around avoda zara are based on practice rather than belief: worship, making images, etc. However, the Rambam is the main source for the idea that belief in avoda zara is asur in and of itself. (If you study the rishonim, you will see that this really is an unusual approach. This is a long topic For a thorough analysis see Marc Shapiro's The Limits of Orthodox Theology.).

The Rambam writes in Sefer HaMitzvot, Lav #1 היא שהזהירנו מהאמין באל אחר זולתו. והוא אמרו יתעלה לא יהיה לך אלהים אחרים על פני. What does he mean that it is asur to "believe in another god"" Clearly it is not asur to believe in supernatural beings other than the one God, such as angels, demons, sea monsters, spirits, etc. But when someone says "I believe Helios exists but was created by God and subservient to God and should not be worshipped," it sounds to me like he doesn't really think Helios is a god at all. Rather, he is functionally saying Helios is an angel or something similar. To give an extreme analogy, it seems a bit like saying "I believe Bigfoot is real but he's actually just a regular moose that people have mistaken for an ape-like cryptid." Why would that be asur? I can think of two hava aminas.

First, maybe it's asur to believe that the gods of the non-Jews exist at all. I.e., there is some kind of prohibition to give credence to their incorrect beliefs. That would mean it's asur to believe that the being Helios exits period, whatever you call him. However, I do not think that would be correct, because Rambam himself writes in Hilkhos Avodah Zarah 1:1 that idolatry arose out of the mistaken practice of worshiping God's messengers like the sun and the moon. Thus, avodah zarah isn't the belief in something that isn't real but rather the belief that something other than God is an independent being worthy of worship. Put another way, if someone worships the Sun, you don't have to say "I don't believe the Sun is real," you just cannot believe the Sun acts independently of Hashem or worship the Sun, etc. So if Helios is basically a mistaken proxy for the sun, or the angel (or sar or whatever) of the sun, I don't think believing he exists would be asur according to the Rambam. I.e., I do not think the Rambam would prohibit you from saying "the Greeks who worshipped Helios were really worshiping the angel in charge of the sun and mistook him for a god."

The second, and more interesting possibility, is that the word "god" has a special power, and it is prohibited simply to call something other than the one true God a "god" even if you don't mean that thing is in fact a god in any meaningful way. As OP points out, this seems like more of a semantic issue than a theological one. This could potentially have far reaching applications. For example, what about calling the Beatles "gods of Rock and Roll"? (OTOH maybe there is a distinction between something someone might actually come to believe is an independent deity, but we don't worry aboutcommon slang.)

I have never heard of such a prohibition and don't see evidence of one in the other answers to this post. The only relevant source I can find or think of is Psalms 82:6-8 where the psalmist says: "6 I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High. / 7 But ye shall die like men, and fall like one of the princes. / 8 Arise, O God, judge the earth: for thou shalt inherit all nations." Apparently, King David did not have a problem calling people "gods" when saying they are mortal and subject to Divine judgment. To be fair, Rashi and Radak say that the word doesn't really mean "gods," which is plausible grammatically. But either way it uses the Hebrew word for "god" or "gods," and we also see elsewhere that Biblical Hebrew calls judges or lords "elohim," (e.g., Exodus 21:6), which suggests that there is no prohibition to call something a "god" if you don't ascribe it god-like qualities.

TL;DR in the hypothetical scenario described in the OP, it sounds like you don't really believe Helios is a "god" at but more of a supernatural being. It does not seem that there is a prohibition to (a) believe that supernatural being exists or (b) refer to him as the (false) "god" Helios because you don't really think he is a god or treat him as such. It's just "word games." But I don't have a clear proof for that.

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  • Avraham, I'll sum it up briefly. The question invokes the words "god" and "diety", not angel etc. The example of Helios is specific enough - a pagan god, which is what the Rambam discusses in 2:1 and 2:2, and negative mitzva 47. It is prohibited to engage in any way whatsoever with a belief in such beings. Actual angels revealed to us through prophecy and Torah sources are a separate topic, but that's not the case of the question. All your points are correct otherwise (although the use of the word "elohim" in Torah is something we could discuss further).
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Apr 4, 2023 at 23:55
  • Thank you. I hear you, and the word "god" certainly raises red flags. But the specific details sound like the hypothetical person doesn't really believe Helios is a god in any meaningful sense. Do you think it would be asur to say "the Greeks who worshipped Helios were really worshiping the angel in charge of the Sun. He exists, but he is not a god"? If that's not AZ, how is the OP different? It seems literally the only difference is the use of the word "god," and I don't think that can be dispositive for the reasons I give in the second half of my answer.
    – Avraham
    Apr 5, 2023 at 5:51
  • I would say that sentence would be not allowed, unless we have some mesora that Helios was an angel. Does that make sense?
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Apr 5, 2023 at 7:49
  • I see. I responded in your chat with AKA. Thank you for the response.
    – Avraham
    Apr 5, 2023 at 8:28
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The 2nd one of the Aseres Hadibros:

You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself a graven image, nor any manner of likeness of anything that is in heaven above, that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them, nor serve them. For I the L‑rd your G‑d am a jealous G‑d, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children of the third and fourth generation of them that hate Me; and showing mercy unto the thousandth generation of them that love Me and keep My commandments.

There is not only an issur to worship a false G-d, but there is also an issur to believe in one. One who did believe in another G-d (chas veshalom) would be an oived avoida zara. Edit: 'having' a false G-d by necessity means believing in one - as there is objectively there is only 1 G-d, Hashem, the only thing you can do to a false one is believe in it and serve it.

As far as I can tell, this belief, while rather nontraditional, is not in fact at odds with Judaism or halakha.

The assertion that this wouldn't go against Judaism and halacha is ridiculous. Even if you didn't realize that it is totally assur, can you really tell me that you think that belief in multiple G-ds is acceptable in Judaism? Even without knowledge of WHY this would be wrong, I think it is obvious that belief in some Greek theology type of thing is NOT at all compatible with believing in Hasehm, the one and only creator and maintainer of the universe.

I would even go so far as to say it ultimately comes down to semantics

  • if god is defined as "The singular being with complete and absolute power, ineffable, that which always was and always will be, and Who created everything and is everything", then it follows that there could only be one such being, and that is Hashem. If we instead define the word "god" as "someone or something really big or really strong, with capability that dwarfs any normal human, but not necessarily infinite in scale", then I think it is not, strictly speaking, "un-Jewish" to say that multiple beings fit that criteria provided that we recognize their subservience to/inferiority relative to Hashem, from whom all other beings descend.

There is one G-d, Hashem. He created and maintains the world (meaning that the only reason the world continues to exist is because it is Hashem's will). Just because us mortal beings don't understand Hashem, it doesn't mean we can say that it is a really strong guy. There is 1 G-d, Hashem - and any attempt to make it into some Greek trinity is NOT Jewish.

Indeed, by that definition it could be said that Gabriel, the Leviathan, or even Og, are, in some sense of the word, "gods", but much smaller/limited in scope and scale/undeserving of worship/otherwise total squares compared to Hashem.

This is a silly assumption. Why would a human that Hashem endowed with greater physical strength all of a sudden be considered a G-d? You're thinking seems to have been greatly influenced by Greek mythology and culture.

You bring up some valid points, and its not a bad thing to think and be intellectually honest, but I think it would be best asked as a question, without the assumptions.

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    The first part of your answer address my question. The latter couple paragraphs seem to misunderstand the question, however. Obviously there is only one maintainer of the world, and that is Hashem, and any other being who makes that claim is lying, and Hashem is obviously not a "strong man". The question is whether or not those are necessary qualifications to be "a god". Comparably: Hashem is not a strong man, but Hashem is strong. Og was also strong. Compared to Hashem, Og is weak, but that doesn't make Og himself "weak", at least compared to us.
    – Benyamin
    Apr 3, 2023 at 20:57
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    @Benyamin There are no qualifications to be a G-d. There is Hashem. Hashem IS G-d. There are no other G-ds that are compatible with Judaism.
    – Kovy Jacob
    Apr 3, 2023 at 21:01
  • Continued: And I do think it might come down to terminology, and the answer depends on language used. In Greece, where anyone with a reasonable modicum of power was a god, there may be a different answer than today in the Western world, where monotheism is very common and so the concept that is brought to mind when the word "god" is used is very different - even though two people from both locations/worldviews could ultimately agree on Hashem's existence and nature relative to the world writ large, and the only source of disagreement is the meaning of a god. Thus the question.
    – Benyamin
    Apr 3, 2023 at 21:01
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    Respectfully, this post misses the heart of the question, which is what the prohibition to "believe in" another god entails. It also doesn't cite a source that it is prohibited to believe in a false god. The verse says you shall not "have" another god "before" Hashem, which is ambiguous, and not to serve other gods. Rambam says it is asur to believe in other gods, but that still doesn't answer the question of whether what OP describes is what the Rambam meant. As I said in my answer, clearly you are not prohibited to believe the Sun exists just because some people worship it.
    – Avraham
    Apr 4, 2023 at 0:33
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    @KovyJacob are you saying that to believe angels have free will is heretical (not just wrong but an utterly forbidden belief)?
    – AKA
    Apr 4, 2023 at 11:30

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