- Molech Worship and Blood Eating
- Moshe Ben-Chaim
- Maimonides states ("Guide for the Perplexed", Book
III, chapter XLVI, pg. 362 Dover ed.) that certain cultures who
would either eat blood or sit around a pot of blood, as they
felt they would be favored by "spirits". He writes:
- "They imagined that in this manner the spirits would
come to partake of the blood which was their food, whilst the
idolaters were eating of the flesh; that love, brotherhood and
friendship with the spirits were established because they dined
with the latter, at one place and at the same time, that the
spirits would appear to them in dreams, inform them of coming
events, and be favorable to them."
- After Maimonides explains the origin of the Torah prohibition
against eating blood, he connects this prohibition to the prohibition
to serve Molech, a fire G-d. (I will record a few sources in
a moment which depict Molech's practice.) Maimonides continues:
- "....the law emphasized the prohibition (against
blood eating) in the exactly in the same terms as it emphasizes
idolatry. 'I will set My face against that soul that eats blood.'(Lev.
17:10). The same language is employed in reference to him 'who
gives of his seed to Molech'; 'then I will set My face against
that man.' (Lev, 20:5). There is, besides idolatry and eating
blood, no other sin in reference to which these words are used.
For the eating of blood leads to a kind of idolatry, to the worship
- Maimonides points to a connection between eating blood and
Molech. His parallel is drawn from the Torah's own language,
which is almost identical in both offenses, "I will set
My face against that soul that eats blood", and , "then
I will set My face against that man" regarding Molech. These
two verses strengthen the equation of these two offenses. Maimonides
also mentions the notion of "spirits", in application
to both blood eating and Molech - a further equation.
- Molech Worship
- How exactly did one worship Molech? According to Maimonides,
a parent would cause his child to pass through flames without
burning the child. As he states, people felt this to be a "light
thing", and by doing so, the imagined they were protecting
their children. A "light thing" as he puts it means
no risk. Followed by, "to protect their children" clearly
indicates that Maimonides held Molech worship not to cause harm
to the child. Ramban (Lev. 18:21) was of the opinion that parents
would actually burn their children to the point of death. He
bases this on many verses. He also equates Molech to the sacrificing
of children to Baal, which he concludes are one and the same
practice. He points out that the admonishment used by G-d in
reference to such vicious abominations is, "(matters) that
I have spoken not of, nor entered My mind." What is so significant
about Molech and Baal that this sentiment is used by G-d?
- What is the common denominator in these theories of Molech
worship? What would both Maimonides and Ramban agree is the element
which distinguishes Molech from all other practices?
- Why is Molech referred to more harshly than idolatry, "you
defiled My sanctuary and profaned My name."(Lev. 20:3) And
why is this prohibition followed immediately by prohibitions
to divine spirits and enchanters?
- On this point, the Talmud (Sanhedrin, 64a) teaches that Molech
is in fact, not classical idolatry. It derives its proof from
a previous Mishna on page 53a, where it lists Torah violators
who are stoned. There, it includes "idolaters, one who gives
his seed to Molech, ...". The talmud proves that had Molech
been a classical form of idolatry, there would be no need to
isolate it. It would be subsumed under the broader category of
idolatry, as is done with regards to all other forms of idolatry.
But as the Mishna lists Molech separate from idolatry, the Rabbis
conclude, Molech is not idolatry. So what is it? Furthermore,
the Talmud asks, "Why is Molech called "Molech"?
The answer according to one view is that "Molech means "that
which rules; one violates the Torah through allowing anything
to rule over him, even a pebble, even a chip of wood." This
is significant, as idolatry usually has some fixed form, some
unique structure for the idol. Here, the Talmud states that the
worshiped form is irrelevant. And even though one might say,
"are they not worshiping fire?" It might well be that
they do burn their children in fire, but perhaps they do so,
not TO the fire per se, but to an imagined deity. An intangible
thing. Let's keep this last point in mind. The fact is that Ramban
pointed out that both Molech and Baal incorporate child burning
as their practice, so I would say that the fire was a means of
worship, not the deity.
- Blood Eating
- What about the other practice which Maimonides equates to
Molech, that of blood eating? How did one violate it? This seems
very straight forward, based on Maimonides' description. People
either ate blood, or dined around a pot of blood. Both practices
were based on "dining with spirits". This fits in well
with the verses which immediately precede the prohibition of
blood eating. First, the Torah discusses prohibition to slaughter
animals on the field: (Lev. 17:4-5) "And to the opening
of the Tent of Meeting he did not bring to sacrifice offerings
to G-d, before the tabernacle of G-d, ....he will be cut off
from the midst of his people. In order that the Children of Israel
bring their sacrifices that they sacrifice in the fields, and
they bring them to G-d." Notice how in both verses the Jews
are warned to bring their sacrifices to "G-d". This
indicates that their crime is one where they are sacrificing
to 'another' imagined entity. And two verses later, "And
you shall not continue anymore your sacrifices to seirim (demons)
that you err after,..." This proves that the sacrifices
in the fields were intended for a recipient other than G-d. (Keep
this in mind, as I believe this to be the underlying tie between
blood eating and Molech.)
- Now we find after these verses addressing sacrifice, the
prohibition of eating blood. What does blood eating have to do
with sacrifices to the "seirim", these demons? It would
appear that the goal is one and the same, as both, sacrifices
in fields (not to G-d's Tabernacle), and blood eating, were meant
to approach spirits as Maimonides stated earlier. According to
the Ibn Ezra, (Lev. 17:7) these spirits were seen only by fools,
"mishugaim". They are not real, but imagined things.
Maimonides says so well, "They sacrificed to spirits, not
to G-d. According to the explanation of our Sages, 'lo eloha'
(no to G-d) imply the following idea: They have not only not
left off worshiping things in existence; they even worship imaginary
things." (ibid, pg. 363)
- To summarize, Molech and blood eating share in G-d's "setting
of His face against that person." Molech is not considered
classical idolatry, it is its own category. Maimonides mentions
"spirit" numerous times when equating Molech with blood
eating. Blood eating immediately follows the prohibitions of
sacrificing to demons.
- Two Crimes - One Flaw
- I believe we already see the initial idea mentioned by Maimonides,
that blood eating and Molech worship are uniquely different from
other crimes. They alone deserve the response of "I will
set My face against that man...." What is the crime they
both share? I would formulate it as follows: "The assumption
of forces other than G-d." Here is where these two crimes
set themselves apart from idolatry. In classical idolatry, the
worshiper does not deny G-d, but rather, he claims a certain
sub-deity or practice is a method for relating to G-d. In regards
to the Jews who bowed to the calf, the commentators say that
no one thought the calf took them out of Egypt. Also, a Rabbi
pointed out that Pharaoh accepted one G-d, but the method of
worship was through sub-deities. So too the Prophet states, "Who
would not fear you, King of the nations." (Jeremiah, 10:7)
Idolatry does not include the denial of the One, true G-d. Rather,
they deviate in their approach to Him. However, blood eating
and Molech worship have a different deviation; both assume a
new thing called "spirits". These violators believe
there may be G-d, but they definitely believe in other forces
- We said that the Talmud teaches Molech to be any object one
accepts to rule over himself. Meaning, it is not a physical object
or statue, but a force, or spirit. Blood eating too was described
by Maimonides as a wish that imagined spirits would be favorable
to those worshipers who dined near the pot of blood. Here too,
forces are imagined to exist in addition to G-d.
- Now we understand G-d's response, "I will set My face
against that man...." The only proper response to one who
imagines other forces, is that G-d take the most severe action.
How does G-d do so? The worshiper feels that by eating blood,
or worshiping Molech, that his fortune will improve. This is
his very motivation. But when G-d actually destroys his fortune,
the worshiper must say to himself, "The Torah's words of
destruction have come true, and my imagined forces are false,
they have not saved me." The wording is that G-d will "set
His face against that man". Meaning, there is only G-d,
and no other. Nothing else can respond to his practices of blood
eating or Molech worship, because there are no such things as
spirits. The only Being Who can respond is G-d. The very misfortune
teaches the violator that in fact, his actions are only witnessed
by G-d, the only Witness to his actions. Nothing else is "out
there", so nothing else responds.
- Denying the exclusive reign G-d retains over the entire universe
violates the central focus of Judaism. Therefore, one who violates
G-d's unity deserves the most "focus" from G-d. G-d
responds by saying, "I will turn aside from all My involvements,
and I will concentrate on him." (Rashi, Lev., 17:10) A deviation
of such proportion requires G-d's proportional "attention".
- The phrase of G-d, "(matters) that I have spoken not
of, nor entered My mind" is used in connection with Molech.
Perhaps with this phrase, G-d wishes to indicate that Molech
worshipers assumed forces outside of what is "real".
Meaning, if this practice "did not enter G-d's mind",
G-d means to teach that Molech is a practice unlike idolatry.
It is a practice where one forges a false reality that G-d did
no conceive of. Idolatry assumes the real G-d. Molech does not.
- So Molech and blood eating are not idolatry. G-d plays no
part in the goal of the violator. In idolatry, at least one is
trying to approach the true G-d, but his methods are corrupt.
But Molech and blood eating do not have G-d as their aim. They
worship imagined "spirits", as Maimonides states repeatedly.
The verses support this idea fully; "And to the opening
of the Tent of Meeting he did not bring to bring sacrifices to
G-d, before the tabernacle of G-d, ....he will be cut
off from the midst of his people. In order that the Children
of Israel bring their sacrifices that they sacrifice in the fields,
and they bring them to G-d,..." The Jews are warned
to bring their sacrifices to G-d, because it is here that they
attempt to communicate with something other than G-d. This approach
also explains why Molech is followed immediately by prohibitions
of divining spirits and enchanters.
- One question remains: If blood eating and Molech are so similar,
what in Molech alone is deserving of the statement, "you
defiled My sanctuary and profaned My name"? (Lev. 20:3)
Think about it. Write in with your answers.