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Looking at different explanations regards Avodah Zarah, different/various forms of idolatry, I tried to sum things up, I tried to get to get a definition out of it based on their common denominator.

Avodah Zarah (strange service/worship);

The adjective in ‘strange service’ has two senses. One is the strangeness of the object toward which the service/worship is directed, not the ‘proper G-d’ but other ‘gods’. The other refers to the method of service/worship, strange in the sense one serves in a matter that is strange to the Torah, strange to the ‘proper’ way of service.

[which in essence could imply the belief in a certain idea, image or object].

So we got a strange method of worship one the one hand and strange object of worship on the other. Is this what Avodah Zarah is? Or is there more to it?

  • "Avodah Zarah (strange service/worship); The adjective in ‘strange service’ has two senses. One is the strangeness of the object toward which the service/worship is directed": wouldn't that one be avodas zara in the construct? – msh210 Feb 13 at 10:34
  • @msh210 that’s my question, but thanks for affirming – Levi Feb 13 at 12:45
  • If that's your question, you should really put it in the question post. It's not there, as far as I can see. – msh210 Feb 13 at 14:23
  • Why are you stuck with "strange"? You probably mistake it with contemporary "מוזר" which is "strange". זר is translated as "foreign", "alien", "unsuitable" etc. AZ is foreign to the Jews. There's nothing strange/weird about it. – Al Berko Feb 13 at 17:36
  • I -1ed the question, because it is unclear whether you ask for a definition or try to fit your definition in. Please clarify, b/c I think Rambam is very clear and your "strange" comparison is not. – Al Berko Feb 13 at 17:37
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Rambam, Hilchos Avodah Zarah 2:1:

עיקר הצווי בעבודת כוכבים שלא לעבוד אחד מכל הברואים לא מלאך ולא גלגל ולא כוכב ולא אחד מארבעה היסודות ולא אחד מכל הנבראים מהן

The essence of the commandment [forbidding] the worship of false gods is not to serve any of the creations, not an angel, a sphere, or a star, none of the four fundamental elements, nor any entity created from them.

Also, ibid. 2:6:

כל המודה בעבודת כוכבים שהיא אמת אף על פי שלא עבדה הרי זה מחרף ומגדף את השם הנכבד והנורא

Whoever accepts a false god as true, even when he does not actually worship it, disgraces and blasphemes [God's] glorious and awesome name.

Indeed, accepting such a god verbally as one's deity is also counted as avodah zarah, and is punishable by execution (ibid. 3:4).

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Let me just recap on Rambam's Yesodey Hatorah:

  1. G-d is one and only and omnipresent and omni-everything. But wait, what are we, then? What about the rest of the creation - Sun, Moon, Earth, mountains, trees et all - does it all exist or not?

  2. As you see the idea of one G-d is impractical, for we have to admit the existence of other bodies and powers within the Creation, for example, Sun is a physical body, Sun exerts [gravitational, thermal] powers onto Earth and us, or angels are spiritual bodies that can exert powers on humans and the rest of the creation. This idea aligns perfectly with the Torah.

  3. Idolatry is about two things:

    • Acknowledging that those bodies have independence from the Creator. That they act on their own, according to their own will.

    • Worshiping those bodies in actions, esteeming and admiring them in thoughts.

  4. As Rambam starts Hilchot Avoda Zara, mere acknowledging #2 (the existence of other bodies and powers) is not AZ per se. But forgetting whence their powers come from (aka G-d) and worshipping them is what's forbidden.

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