I have been wondering - for no particular reason - what is worse between being an atheist and being an idolater?

I thought that a logical place to look for an answer would be the Ten Commandments, because the first commandment is basically that Hashem is the Lord, our G-d. Ok, this emphasizes the importance of monotheism but doesn't really answer the question.

Then I looked to the Seven Laws of Noach, because they were meant for the whole world, not just Jews. The first law is "Do not deny G-d", but this could mean "don't deny there's a G-d" as well as "don't believe there are many G-ds".

Trying to recall about something in the Torah that would answer my question I thought of Abraham. He convinced people there was a G-d and he also smashed idols (according to the Midrash). Realizing this still didn't explain my doubt, I ask here, what is worse? Believing in many G-ds or not believing in G-d at all.

  • The question is does a person who does not believe in God get killed by beis din unlike idolaters
    – sam
    Nov 30, 2015 at 1:57
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    @Sam On the one hand, idolatry in theory carries the death penalty while atheism does not. On the other hand, the Rambam (don't remember where) says an atheist is worse than an idolater for the obvious logical reasons.
    – LN6595
    Nov 30, 2015 at 2:07
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    There are two types of idolaters: those who believe in many equal gods but deny the existence of one overall God, and those that believe in one overall God yet think he bequeathed some of His powers to others. I can't see how the first is any better than atheism, though the second is vastly superior. In fact, some opinions hold that a non-Jew is permitted to believe the latter (avodah zarah b'shituf is the technical term.) Both remain forbidden for a Jew, and both are capital offenses.
    – LN6595
    Nov 30, 2015 at 2:10
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    The answers to judaism.stackexchange.com/q/9077 all say that "which is worse" is the wrong question to ask.
    – msh210
    Nov 30, 2015 at 6:25
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    Closely related (duplicate?): judaism.stackexchange.com/q/40178.
    – Fred
    Dec 1, 2015 at 0:11

1 Answer 1


Avodah Zarah is yehareg ve'al yaavor, kephirah is not.

Probably because through avodah zarah you have committed yourself to another deity.

The mussar take on this is probably, although their ain't no atheists in a fox-hole, the oved avodah zarah will turn to his getchke be'chi hai gavnah.

  • עבודה זרה-דף כו - ב המינין והמסורות והמומרים היו מורידין ולא מעלין
    – user6591
    Dec 1, 2015 at 1:24

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