In general, there is a prohibition to adopt practices from other cultures (See, e.g., Maimonides' Laws of Idolatry 11; see also here) if there is no clear, reasonable, non-idolatrous justification for the practice (e.g. knocking on wood) for fear that it has its roots indeed from the rituals of idolatry. I believe this is the case regardless of whether or not the actual origins are known, provided there isn't a halachically-significant reasonable justification (e.g. flossing[?]).

What about specific aesthetic patterns or symbols that have been in use since antiquity (e.g. celtic knots)? What if the common practice in the observant Jewish world has already been to incorporate these patterns (e.g. braided loaves)? What if there is significant evidence that the origins do indeed have pagan ritualistic undertones?

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    As you noted in the comments there, the notion of pagan origins of braided loaves is dubious.
    – Fred
    Mar 27, 2015 at 20:50
  • @Fred I don't know if I would say it's dubious. That particular "authority" is not that credible, but he's not the first to make the claim. And, when a tradition is not already Jewish, as I noted, our criterion for rejection includes even just a doubt of idolatrous origin.
    – Loewian
    May 4, 2015 at 0:42
  • I've always been under the impression that knocking on wood was a reference to the wood of the cross, which would clearly be idolatrous. And why can't a practice have multiple origins, being both reasonable and non-idolatrous from one source but then ALSO having a separate idolatrous reason (the most straight forward example is a practice that originated in two locations separately)? Sep 20, 2016 at 12:50

1 Answer 1


I just came across one relevant reference regarding synagogue architecture

ועל אותן אשר מתכוונים לעשות בנין בשמונה צלעות (ומכל שכן בארבעה צלעות) כדמות היכלי הגוים, עליהם אני קורא וישכח ישראל עושהו ויבן היכלות ע”ש, ובפרט בבנינים כמו היכלי עכו”ם יש גם כן לאו של תורה, ובחוקותיהם לא תלכו, כמו שנתבאר רמב”ם פרק י”א מהלכות עכו”ם הלכה א’, וביו”ד סימן קע”ח דהבונה היכל כבנין היכלות שלהם עובר על לאו של תורה ולוקה ע”ש, ועיין ראב”ד שם דהוא הדין שלא יעשה צורות כמו שהם עושים, או שלא יעשה סימן לקבץ בו הרבים, כמו שהם עושים ע”ש, ועיין ט”ז שם סימן קע”ח ס”ק ג’ שכתב שיש לאסור כל אלו ע”ש

מנחת קנאות, נדפס בשו”ת מוהר”ץ (זאלקווא תר”י), עמוד תתקצא

And regarding those who intend to build an eight-winged structure (and certainly a 4-winged structure) like the form of the gentile halls, about them I read "And Israel forgot its Maker and built halls", see there. And particularly with regard to structures like idolators' halls there's additionally a biblical prohibition "and in their mores though shall not go" as explained in Maimonides chapter 11 in the Laws of Idolatry Law 1 and in Yoreh Deah 178 that one who builds a hall like their halls violates a bibilical prohibition... See also the Raavad there that it is also the case that one is forbidden to make forms like they do... and see the Taz there 178:3 who wrote that all these should be forbidden...

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    How does this answer the question?
    – Ploni
    May 19, 2017 at 2:47
  • @Ploni I don't think it (fully) answers the question, but I think it's at least a relevant source inasmuch as the structures he's describing sound symmetric and aesthetic, and he nonetheless rules that they are forbidden since they are similar to the symmetric/aesthetic structures of idolators.
    – Loewian
    Nov 30, 2018 at 16:11

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