Talmidav Shel Aharon
21-5768: Mitzvah N-17-18
March 31, 2008
Negative Mitzvah 17 – This is a negative commandment: Take no benefit from any decoration of an idol or from its ornaments.
Hafetz Hayim: For Scripture says, “you shall not covet the silver or the gold that is on them and take it for yourself.” (Deut. 7:25). It is in effect everywhere, at every time, for both men and women.
Negative Mitzvah 18 – This is a negative commandment: Take no benefit from an idol, form its offerings or its attendants, or anything done on its behalf.
Hafetz Hayim: For Scripture says, “you shall not bring an abomination into your house.” (Deut. 7:26). And it further says, “and nothing of the banned, proscribed matter shall cling to your hand” (Deut. 13:19) If a person derives any benefit from any of these, he violates these two prohibitions. Any object of idol-worship that was not made by human hands, such as a hill or a tree that was planted originally for bearing fruit and not for idolatry, or a domestic animal to which no act was done for the purpose of idolatry – it is permissible to have benefit from all of them; but from what is upon them, it is forbidden to benefit. It is in effect everywhere, at every time, for both men and women.
Just in case you were wondering if there was ANYTHING at all that could be recycled from use for idolatry, you are WRONG! The object of idol worship, the things that hold it up, that are used with it, that are placed upon it, that decorate it, that are connected to the religion in any way, that was offered to it, that did the offering to it or was used to prepare any of the offerings to it, it is all forbidden to have, hold, possess or even derive any benefit from (including money from the sale of these objects). Nothing at all that is connected to idol worship can be connected to anyone who is Jewish.
I remind everyone here that Judaism had a running battle with idolatry for thousands of years. The Sages knew full well that it only took one small token of idolatry to bring back the superstition and immorality that was paganism. Think about it. We keep souvenirs of a trip to remind us of where we have been. We don’t believe in the power of paganism so we bring back from a visit a replica of the god’s favorite bird. We were told that it was a symbol of good luck. We put it in a prime location so that the “luck” will fill our home. Maybe a storm comes and we admit that we were lucky our home was spared damage. A friend comes over and sees the bird and says that when he visited the same place they told him to really be lucky, you have to put the bird to the right of the door. So you move it, after all, what could it hurt? And then the cat knocks it off the shelf and you get mad at the cat. And then something goes wrong and (you never know!) you adjust it on the shelf for better luck and, well you get the picture. All of this from people who don’t believe in superstition.
The exception to this refusal to have anything to do with idolatry is related to those things that are not fashioned by human hands. Just because some pagans worship a hill, does not mean you can’t go climbing on it if you need to or if you want to. If pagans worship a tree, that does not mean you can’t collect its branches and start a fire with them. G-d made these things for everyone to use. If a rock is worshipped and you sit under its shade, that is not a sin, but if pagans carve or paint a face or markings into the stone, you can have nothing to do with it any more, and you can’t use any of the decorations they attach to that rock.
From all of this we understand without any question whatsoever, Jews should have nothing at all to do with idolatry or with idolaters.
I love thes study of these idolotry commandments; the fascination with Buddism and visits to India and Tibet of so many young Jews and I hear, Israelis tends not to lead back to Judaism. The few that do return can probably be counted by the number of books they have written on the subject!
Buddism, I think, is less an issue with idolotry than Hinduism and Shinto. Buddism is about meditation and personal enlightenment. You can make a case for connecting this to Judaism. The others are seeped in more of a Pagan background.
Rabbi,what about visiting places like Stone Henge or Mayan ruins? or temples in Japan or Asia and observing rituals there?
How could I approve of inter-faith work if we could not observe the religons of others? Understanding other cultures and other faiths will often bring us to places where we might feel that this would fall under Judaism’s understanding of idolatry. There is a difference in being at a place and observing the rituals that are performed there and actally participating in those rituals. There is a line between being an observer and joining in an observance. We can’t participate but we can watch and learn about the practice.