Idolatry: The Ultimate Betrayal of God

From the worship of statues to--some would say--the absolute veneration of political movements, Judaism forbids idolatry in all its forms.

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In the Jewish tradition, even the Torah is to be seen as a means to God, never as an object of worship. Some authorities go so far as to forbid Jews to bow to the Torah since this might seem to treat the Torah as an object of worship. The custom is to bow to the Torah but only as one bows as a token of respect, to a human being. The Torah in Judaism [in that it is not viewed as itself divine] is more akin to Muhammad in Islam than to Jesus in Christianity.

A constant complaint of the Mitnaggedim [opponents of the Hasidim] against Hasidism was that the Hasidic veneration of the tzaddik [the righteous leader] bordered on idolatry--although, in fact, while the Hasidim revere the tzaddik, they never worship him.

The Hasidic master, Shneur Zalman of Liady [1745-1813] sees idolatry not as a denial of God but as an attempt at insubordination. Man desires to have a little corner of life apart from God's all‑embracing power, and the idols he sets up are his means of effecting the separation between God and that part of life man wishes to call completely his own. Hence, for the Rabbis, pride is equivalent to idolatry because both commit the same offence of insubordination.

"Pride is truly equivalent to idolatry. For the main root principle of idolatry consists in man's acknowledgement of something existing in its own right apart and separate from God's holiness, and does not involve a complete denial of God" (Tanya, chapter 22).

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Rabbi Louis Jacobs

Rabbi Dr. Louis Jacobs (1920-2006) was a Masorti rabbi, the first leader of Masorti Judaism (also known as Conservative Judaism) in the United Kingdom, and a leading writer and thinker on Judaism.