God says to have no other God before Him:

Exodus 20:3You shall not have the gods of others in My presence.
גלֹא יִהְיֶה לְךָ אֱלֹהִים אֲחֵרִים עַל פָּנַי:

Wives kiss their husbands, and people pay homage to kings and reverence authorities. There seems to be some discussion about people bowing to angels as well.

What is the line between worship due only to God, and worship/honor/respects paid to man/authority/ potentates or powers in heaven and on earth?

Related: Do not worship any graven image? Or do not worship any created image/being


2 Answers 2


There is a Baraisa (brought down in Sanhedrin 61b) that deals directly with your question,

לא תשתחוה להם - להם אי אתה משתחוה אבל אתה משתחוה לאדם כמותך. יכול אפילו נעבד כהמן, תלמוד לומר ולא תעבדם

The Ran (ibid) explains that if people bow down to someone in order to show respect that is not problematic, however if the objective is worship (as in the case of Haman), even if the person is not deemed to be a god, as long as the motive is worship, bowing down is prohibited (or any form of worship). See how he infers from this implications regarding Islamic worship.

It seems that it depends on the motive of the person doing the action (like bowing down) rather than the kind of action he's doing.


I recall being taught that:

There are 2 things that make an action an act of worship which is prohibited to anyone/anything but God .

  • Any action done as worship in the Bais Hamikdash is universally an act of worship. For example Bowing ( which in this context refers to kneeling face to floor arms out. Not the greeting ,that's fine) sacrificing animals , incense (with intent to worship)etc

    • Specific idols had unique methods of worship which only apply to them, the classic example being the worship of Peor which involved defecation.

I'll try to find and add sources when I get a chance.

  • See ch. Dalet Mitot in Sanhedrin...
    – mevaqesh
    Commented Aug 5, 2016 at 18:19

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