Many rabbis (mostly, if not only, non-traditional, I believe) are giving us new interpretations of the word “idolatry”. We sometimes hear that the pursuit of material possessions is worship of wealth; that objects of sentimental value, such as items that belonged to a loved one, is worship of objects; that viewing certain ideas as absolute and not subject to inquiry is worship of ideas, or idolatry of the mind; that nationalism is worship of country; that egocentrism is worship of self; that astrology is worship of the stars; that love of another human being is worship of a person; that love of pets is worship of animals; that excessive family pride is worship of ancestors; and so on.

I don't buy it. According to this view, anything you care one whit about is idolatry. So the only way to observe the commandment against idolatry would be not care at all about anything.

Is there ANYTHING in our traditional Sources about idolatry (avodah zara -- strange worship) being anything other than the worship of material objects as if they had power over your destiny?

  • Rambam in Yesode Gators., Ramban on Chumash
    – kouty
    Feb 14, 2019 at 3:52
  • Idolatry is worshipping anything as god other than Hakadosh Baruch Hu, and also worshipping Hakadosh Baruch Hu in anything physical, be it a stone, a tree, a person, etc.
    – ezra
    Feb 14, 2019 at 4:20
  • 1
    I believe it is mostly a figure of speech. They speak of liking money as if liking a foreign God. And it is not just non-traditional rabbis e.g., here
    – mbloch
    Feb 14, 2019 at 4:49

1 Answer 1


Shabbat 105b:

והתניא רבי שמעון בן אלעזר אומר משום חילפא בר אגרא שאמר משום רבי יוחנן בן נורי המקרע בגדיו בחמתו והמשבר כליו בחמתו והמפזר מעותיו בחמתו יהא בעיניך כעובד עבודה זרה שכך אומנתו של יצר הרע היום אומר לו עשה כך ולמחר אומר לו עשה כך עד שאומר לו עבוד עבודה זרה והולך ועובד אמר רבי אבין מאי קראה לא יהיה בך אל זר ולא תשתחוה לאל נכר איזהו אל זר שיש בגופו של אדם הוי אומר זה יצר הרע‏

Wasn’t it taught in a baraita that Rabbi Shimon ben Elazar says in the name of Ḥilfa bar Agra, who said in the name of Rabbi Yoḥanan ben Nuri: One who rends his garments in his anger, or who breaks his vessels in his anger, or who scatters his money in his anger, should be like an idol worshipper in your eyes, as that is the craft of the evil inclination. Today it tells him do this, and tomorrow it tells him do that, until eventually, when he no longer controls himself, it tells him worship idols and he goes and worships idols. Rabbi Avin said: What verse alludes to this? “There shall not be a strange god within you, and you shall not bow to a foreign god” (Psalms 81:10). What is the strange god that is within a person’s body? Say that it is the evil inclination.

  • Good find, but it seems to me it's saying that this behavior may LEAD to true idolatry, not that it IS idolatry: "Eventually, when he no longer controls himself, it tells him worship idols and he goes and worships idols." Feb 14, 2019 at 16:24
  • Fair point. Although note that R Avin at the end of the passage equates the Evil Inclination to a strange god.
    – Joel K
    Feb 14, 2019 at 16:41
  • @Maurice While your point is true, it's still ignoring the יהא בעיניך כעובד עבודה זרה part of what chazzal said. Whatever chazal meant and how to reconcile their words (or anytime they said כאילו for that matter) would be a different question. We could also ask if the problem here is the eventuality of avoda zara, why focus on these actions only? We definitely see here an equating of various acts to avoda zara. +1
    – user6591
    Feb 14, 2019 at 17:05

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