When the Sefer Torah is brought out of the ark, everyone stands up and kisses it. On occasions such as simchat torah and hoshana rabbah people dance around the Torah.

To an outsider these actions can seem like plain idol worship. Why is there no concern with idol worship when it comes to dealing with the Sefer Torah?

  • 4
    I'm not sure how these behaviors seem like idol worship. We stand for the aged, we dance for a kallah, we kiss our tzitzis. What definition of behaviors which point to idol worship are you using?
    – rosends
    Commented Dec 11, 2014 at 17:20
  • 2
    Are you asking why this is not considered idol worship or why this is not considered to resemble idol worship?
    – Daniel
    Commented Dec 11, 2014 at 17:27
  • 2
    I don't know what the point of those images is. None depicts kissing for instance. They all just show people looking at the Torah. Would you say Kim Jong Il was the biggest idol worshiper of all time?
    – Double AA
    Commented Dec 11, 2014 at 18:14
  • 2
    Why the down votes? I would happen to agree that on the face of it, dancing around an object as such seems like idol worship.
    – andrewmh20
    Commented Dec 11, 2014 at 19:05
  • 3
    Very related: judaism.stackexchange.com/q/10495/472 Commented Dec 11, 2014 at 19:07

3 Answers 3


As the Rambam codifies in Hilchos Avoda Zara 3:5, only four activities are "objectively" idolatry when done in honor of something other than G-d, and forbidden to do to any idol. 1) Prostration, 2) Animal Sacrifice, 3) Incense burning, 4) Libations.

Outside of those four things, it is only idolatry if done as part of the normal service of the idol. So an idol who's practice is to dance around it, or kiss it, or whatever, it would be idolatrous. However to do that to something else, even an idol would (at least) not be a capital crime, unless it is part of the way in which the idolatry is set up to be worshiped.

So just like there is an idol where the practice was to defecate in front of it (or on it), this doesn't prohibit going to the bathroom on a toilet.

There is probably no human function that hasn't been done in the service of an idol at some point in history, but that in and of itself doesn't affect what constitutes appropriate Jewish practice.

  • 1
    This isn't entirely correct. While it's true that kissing the idol (if not a normal form of worship) isn't a capital crime, it is still prohibited as a לא תעשה. See Sanhedrin 60b (the source for the Rambam you quoted) Commented Feb 3, 2015 at 18:26
  • @Matt, I think I covered that in my answer "to do that to something else, even an idol would (at least) not be a capital crime", but that halacha is also in that very chapter of Rambam halacha 12.
    – Yishai
    Commented Feb 3, 2015 at 18:35
  • 2
    I see, but then it still doesn't answer the question: even if it isn't a capital crime, it's still prohibited as a form of idolatry. Furthermore, your answer implies (though I'm sure you don't mean to) that if I prostrated (let's not get into sacrifice/incense/libate) to the Sefer Torah, that would be avodah zarah Commented Feb 5, 2015 at 4:41

There is a difference between respect and worship. Respect means that you are honoring something because it is important to you, and worship is when you perform a service to something that has power so that you will receive something in return.


I was taught (Conservative) that the Torah has several of the attributes of a person, and is only one step below God in authority. I tend to provide the same respect to the Torah as I would a flag officer.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .