18-5768: Mitzvah N-13 and 14

Talmidav Shel Aharon
18-5768: Mitzvah N-13 and 14
March 10, 2008

Negative Mitzvah 13 – This is a negative commandment: Do not swear in the name of an idol
Hafetz Hayim: For Scripture says, “and make no mention of the name of other gods” (Ex. 23:13) neither should one make a vow in the name of an idol. Included, as well, in this prohibition is the rule not to make a heathen swear by his object of veneration. And even to mention an idol’s name, not in the course of an oath, is forbidden. That is: a person should not tell his fellow man, “wait for me at the side of that certain idol.” and so forth. When an idol is written in the sacred Scriptures it is permissible to mention its name-for example, Pe’or, Bel, Nebo, and so forth. It is forbidden to cause others to vow or swear in an idol’s name. It is in effect everywhere, at every time, for both men and women.

Negative Mitzvah 14 – This is a negative commandment: Do not lead a town in Israel astray to worship idolatry.
Hafetz Hayim: For Scripture says, “neither let it be heard out of your mouth” (Ex. 23:13) if someone persuades an individual to worship idolatry, he is called an inciter. If one persuades many, he is called one who leads stray; and his death should be by stoning. Even if he did not worship an idol but only persuaded them until they worshipped it. It is in effect everywhere, in every time, for both men and women.

These two laws are just the logical conclusions of all the previous Mitzvot. There is no reason to call any idol by name especially in a vow when that deity is supposed to be the “guardian” of your vow. What would be the use of vowing in the name of a god that you do not believe in? It could only mean that you are trying to deceive someone by invoking a god that you believe has no power. If, on the other hand you do believe that the pagan god has the power to enforce your word, than you are guilty of idolatry. Similarly if you are having a dispute with an idolater, and he swears by his pagan gods, if you don’t accept the power of that god, you will not accept the word of the idolater either. If you do accept that vow, than you are guilty of idolatry. In short, it is a bad idea to even mention the name of pagan gods. You should just talk about something else. The only exception is, not surprisingly, you can use the name of pagan gods that appear in Jewish Scriptures. If the Bible can mention them, than we can too. If one is reading Torah and comes across the name, it is OK to mention it and to prove the point, the Hafetz Hayim even prints their names in his text! Once again I remind you that Christianity and Islam are not considered pagan and you can mention the names of people and rituals that are associated with them. I only caution Jews to be careful that they do not use the names sacred to these other faiths in a way that would be disrespectful.
The rules associated with a city that has gone over to idolatry are very severe. The inhabitants of that city are killed, the city is razed to the ground and even the plunder is forbidden. If you are the one that caused this catastrophe, than you are liable for death by stoning. If you, yourself did not worship an idol but you caused others to do so, you are still guilty and liable for capital punishment. I can see someone using this ruse to get a group of people killed because of some harm they have caused him. If you convince another person to become an idolater, than you are and inciter and could also be liable for punishment.

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