Is there any halachic issue with burning incense today? I am referring to standard, at home use. The question arises because incense (I have heard) is used by non-Jews in religious ceremony and also because it resembles the ketoret.


1 Answer 1


You raise 2 issues:

1. is used by non-Jews in religious ceremony

I don't see anybody discussing this. I would assume that if you're doing the same ceremony as non-Jews do when worshiping, then you'd need to ask a Rabbi, but if you're simply burning it, (without a ceremony) then it's irrelevant that incense is burnt in non-Jewish ceremonies also.

The Rambam in הלכות עבודת כוכבים וחקותיהם - פרק אחד עשר discusses what types of behavior are forbidden under "imitating non-Jews" based on the verses וְלֹא תֵלְכוּ בְּחֻקּוֹת הַגּוֹי and וּבְחֻקֹּתֵיהֶם לֹא תֵלֵכוּ‏.

2. because it resembles the ketoret.

This would be an issue, but only if the ingredients - and their ratios - are identical to those used in the Ketoret. What these ingredients are is uncertain - the Wikipedia Koteret page lists some possibilities.

Sources: Kitzur Shulchan Aruch states in סימן קסח - צורות האסורות.

וְהָעוֹשֶׂה קְטֹרֶת מֵאַחַד עָשָׂר סַמְמָנִין שֶׁבַּתּוֹרָה לְפִי הַמִּשְׁקָל, אֲפִלּוּ לֹא עָשָׂה אֶלָּא חֶצְיָהּ אוֹ שְׁלִיֹשִיתָהּ, חַיָּב כָּרֵת. עָשָׂה לְהִתְלַמֵּד בָּהּ, פָּטוּר. ‏

Rambam in הלכות כלי המקדש והעובדים בו - פרק שני is even more explicit:

ט: הָעוֹשֶׂה קְטֹרֶת מֵאַחַד עָשָׂר סַמְמָנִין אֵלּוּ לְפִי מִשְׁקָלוֹת אֵלּוּ כְּדֵי לְהָרִיחַ בָּהּ אַף עַל פִּי שֶׁלֹּא הֵרִיחַ חַיָּב כָּרֵת עַל עֲשִׂיָּתָהּ אִם עָשָׂה מֵזִיד. וּבְשׁוֹגֵג מֵבִיא חַטָּאת קְבוּעָה. אַף עַל פִּי שֶׁלֹּא עָשָׂה הַמִּשְׁקָל כֻּלּוֹ אֶלָּא חֶצְיוֹ אוֹ שְׁלִישׁוֹ. הוֹאִיל וְעָשָׂה לְפִי מִשְׁקָלוֹת אֵלּוּ חַיָּב כָּרֵת. שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (שמות ל-לז) 'בְּמַתְכֻּנְתָּהּ לֹא תַעֲשׂוּ לָכֶם' (שמות ל-לח) 'אִישׁ אֲשֶׁר יַעֲשֶׂה כָמוֹהָ לְהָרִיחַ בָּהּ וְנִכְרַת מֵעַמָּיו':‏

  • Concerning point 1: we certainly can burn incense without any worries of it looking like non-Jewish service. Afterall, some Gentile, even idolatrous cultures make use of prayer shawls and head coverings that are similar to the tallit and kippa, and we make no effort to not wear those items just because these certain religions have similar ideas.
    – ezra
    Commented Feb 5, 2017 at 18:27
  • @ezra - I agree, but to assert that (we certainly can) would require a source, unless you're a Rabbinic authority. Maybe you are, IDK, but I'm not. :-) Commented Feb 6, 2017 at 8:33
  • 1
    Nope, I'm not a rabbi. That's why it was a comment. ;)
    – ezra
    Commented Feb 6, 2017 at 14:49

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