Is Buddhism Avodah Zarah, atheistic, or a philosophy not related to any specific brand of theism?

If it is Avodah Zarah, then one would not be able to enter a Buddhist temple, benefit from items of worship, etc. If it is atheistic, than one may not be allowed to read its writings, but if it's just a philosophy, it may not be incompatible with Judaism at all.


3 Answers 3


Interestingly, I haven't seen too much discussion of Hinduism or Buddhism in halakhic sources, despite their prevalence and what I agree seems to be some halakhic ambiguity. (Eisenstein has an entry on Buddha in his book, where he writes that it's a 'new idea regarding Godhood', but doesn't elaborate).

Regarding Hinduism, this Hirhurim blogpost notes that even if the belief system isn't strictly idolatry, their practices are. Likewise regarding Buddhism, Wikipedia declares Buddhism to be a "nontheistic religion", which shouldn't pose a problem in and of itself, but the same article states:

Devotion is an important part of the practice of most Buddhists. Devotional practices include bowing, offerings, pilgrimage, and chanting.

The practices of bowing and giving offerings of (animal or) incense towards anything other than the One God are considered avodah zara practices (Sanhedrin Mishna 7:6) and therefore it appears that any statue or ritual object that has been used for such devotional practices would indeed be prohibited as avodah zara or tashmishei avodah zara.

However, this is not necessarily so clear, as certain devotions are actually meant to be done with the intent of devoting oneself to what might be referred to as the one God, creator of the universe. The Shach (151:7) says that even these forms of devotions to Hashem along with another deity is permitted for a non-Jew, and the Avnei Nezer (Y.D. 123:9) extends this even to the statue itself (which is the object of such an incense sacrifice or bowing).

R. Akiva Tatz, in Letters to a Buddhist Jew, writes that Buddhist temples and statues are indeed Avodah Zara, because they are used for servitude of this kind. (He understands, based on the Rambam in the beginning of Hil. Avodah Zarah I assume, that all of idol worship is actually the worship of 'lower spiritual forces' with the recognition that there's a greater God.) He doesn't phrase the reason for the prohibition in this way, but it seems like his reasoning is that despite the fact that these statues aren't worshiped in and of themselves, they are still object of devotional bowing, an idolatrous practice.

  • Didn't listen to it yet, but this promises to be an interesting shiur.....
    – MTL
    Commented Jun 30, 2014 at 4:35
  • @Shokhet both. That shiur and book record the same discussion regarding Buddhism and idol-worship, but Rabbi Tatz doesn't directly address the question, though I believe that the implication is as above, that the devotional bowing etc. is idolatry even though they don't believe that the statue itself is a deity Commented Jun 30, 2014 at 4:51
  • Not a buddhist. Though an interested readers of buddhism. Buddhist do not believe in a creator God. Gautama believe in a being called bakka brahma that "think" he creates everything but doesn't. The realms we're in have been around from eternity to eternity and has no beginning in buddhism. Not sure how they reconcile that with big bang followed by age of photons.
    – user4951
    Commented Jul 2, 2015 at 5:48
  • So according to Gautama, even bakka brahma, the most powerful being in the universe, is pretty delusional because he think that he creates everything and nothing is above him. It's like gnostic christians (declared heretical by catholic too). Have you ever think that may be Hashem is delusional too and need enlightenment? Well, that seems to be what gautama think. Nothing live forever and everything is impermanent and illusionary (maya)
    – user4951
    Commented Jul 2, 2015 at 5:50
  • Gautama and most buddhists believe that Gautama himself is above all, including any supreme being or beings. I think I wrote enough to be answer. You can check this. I am neither jewish or Buddhist.
    – user4951
    Commented Jul 2, 2015 at 5:53

My understanding is that Buddhism views the goal of reality to escape it. That like Judaism, this reality is just a mask of a truer reality. However, unlike Judaism which calls the infinite truth G-d, Buddhism fails to call it anything or attribute it with any traits or powers. It is as if they are on the right path and then just stop.

A Buddhist then tries as much as possible to unattach himself from the "Olam HaSheker", but not to attach to "emes" but rather solely to be unattached.

They view Buddha as a man who achieved a high spiritual level, but not as a god.

So Buddhism is agnostic (atheistic at worst).


It 's basically spiritist , it does acknowledge spiritual levels , where like the hebrew thought of ATzilut etc.. it atributes levels of spiritual personalities , it's concept of the pure land incarnation is very similar though not in the same dimension(space/time) to that of the promised land concept of the hebrews ... some similarites with deep emphasis on acheiving one's enlightenment through strict disciple and avoidance of desires (earthly ) distinguishes it, it is very naturo spiritual and may be avoda zarah as it constitutes the involment or worship of the elementals or deificaiton of them ( open to observation) - pmge

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