In relation to "Definition of Avodah Zarah":

I would like to know what drives or causes a person to worship Avodah Zarah in the first place; i.e. what lies at the core of it? Is there a reason why it’s so hard to serve the ‘proper’ G-d in a ‘proper’ way?

  • 1
    Is there a reason to believe it is harder than other forms of service, or distinct in its motivations from other prohibited activities? If so it would strengthen the question to include those reasons and distinguish this from 612 potential near duplicates.
    – WAF
    Commented Feb 13, 2019 at 8:30
  • @WAF I don't think I understand what you're saying. My question is based on the idea that while people want to serve the 'proper' G-d in the 'proper way' (see my other question also), they still seem to slide back to Idolatry and Avodah Zarah. See the story of the chet ha'egel, and many other examples mentioned in the Tenach.
    – Levi
    Commented Feb 13, 2019 at 9:56
  • @WAF.. But maybe the intention-behavior gap showed in those examples are comparable to a man who want to change his lifestyle; wants to eat healthy, exercise on a daily basis, and wants to start avoiding some bad habits.. but after a while he has this relapse, and he starts to slide back into old behaviour. So yeah, it probably is just as hard as other forms of service. And maybe it's not distinct in its motivations from other prohibited activities also. For many children like to break the rules and grab a cookie from the cookiebox. But I'm not sure if I would compare those to idolatry
    – Levi
    Commented Feb 13, 2019 at 9:59
  • 1
    Yes, yes! All of that! Put all of that in the question!
    – WAF
    Commented Feb 13, 2019 at 10:24
  • @WAF feel free to eddit :-)
    – Levi
    Commented Feb 13, 2019 at 11:20

3 Answers 3


I had the same question when learning Massekhet Avoda Zara. How can one understand such a strong desire to worship idols? Who today has an urge to bow to statues?

The closest I could get to understand it is the gemara in Yoma 69b (and a parallel passage in Sanhedrin 64a) that juxtaposes the yetzer hara for idol worship to the yetzer hara for forbidden relations. Apparently, at a time, the passion for idols was equally strong to the sexual passion.

Maybe, just as Hashem wants us to channel our sexual passion in the right way (for the sake of harmonious relations between spouses and to have children), He wants us to channel our urge to worship in the right way.

PS. On the link between both see also Sanhedrin 63b

  • Have a look on my addition to your answer - a logical explanation.
    – Al Berko
    Commented Feb 13, 2019 at 18:34

If you ask me, I think it's fear.

As support, there are quite a few times when avodah zarah is referred to as fear/yir'ah in the Tanachic translations and the Talmud.

But on a deeper level, it's because of a weak connection with God. It works like a cycle; one has a weak connection to God(due to poor spiritual choices), which causes them to be scared because God took a certain degree of protection from him, and, in an effort to replenish their "holy" protection, they replace God with something else(chas v'shalom). However, it's all an illusion based on feelings. The difference between Judaism and other religions, is that Judaism is based on knowledge while other religions are based on feelings.

I could keep going but I think that's enough to get the point across. I think this is the true answer(in conjunction to the answer offered by the Talmud that the cause of avodah was to "permit" illicit relations) and based on a lot of thought. Just a simple answer I think could shed light on the topic.


As I answered to "Definition of AZ", #2 - the theological background:

  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?

So the idea of an almighty deity is impossible to grasp in our human mind. We're not built to perceive infinity in anything - space, numbers (math), matter. That complicates the belief in One G-d very problematic. On the other hand:

  1. 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.

In other words, it is a clear contradiction to say "G-d is everywhere" and "there are me AND G-d, where I am not G-d". That makes the idea of one G-d impractical - we can't observe the commands thinking there's only G-d in existence - we have to admit that we exist as well as all other things in creation to allow the interaction prescribed by the Torah.

  1. Therefore, we need to think about a handier deity, one that exists alongside His Creation, and that's exactly the shift that the Torah does, presenting a "human-like" G-d, with "limbs", "thoughts", "feelings" and "actions" (Rambam Yesodey 1, 9).

  2. That shift is very clearly presented in the Torah puzzling many interpreters with "אלוהים אחרים" or "גָדוֹל ה' מִכָּל־הָאֱלֹהִים" or similar expressions, implying there are many forces and powers in play.

  3. However, that's exactly where we are obligated to stop (see my definition of idolatry) and draw the line: even though other bodies and powers exist and act, we are to worship G-d alone admitting that the powers of all others come solely from His will.

  4. But some people just can't stop and extrapolate #1 further to people (Christianity) or solar bodies and natural forces (classical idolatry). That what Rambam explains in AZ 1: idolatry started with clear acknowledge of G-d's existence, but finding a handier deity to worship - one of His servants.

You might want to ask "why one is driven to worship anything at all", but it's a different question.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .