Dialogue: When Idols Require Destruction


Moshe Ben-Chaim



Malka: What constitutes an idol to be destroyed? I’m really curious, is it because it’s a graven religious image? Because nobody actually worships these things, it’s more like a siddur where you treat it respectfully and that’s it.


Moshe Ben-Chaim: It depends; if a gentile created the idol, then as soon as it was created, it requires destruction. But if made by a Jew, then it requires destruction only after it was worshipped.


Zach: Wow, I guess I have a lot idols to destroy in my own home . . . I suggest we be a bit more sensitive to others beliefs. Further, I am curious who really worships an “idol” in our society, today? For example, in Hinduism, it is thought that the common mind of humans cannot comprehend the abstractness and transcendence of the nameless and formless versions of God, thus these myriad of symbols, images and “idols”, as you call them, are just that, only symbols, and they are not substitutes for God. Your use of the term “idol” is careless, insensitive, and inflammatory.


Moshe Ben-Chaim: Zach, Who said I was addressing Hinduism? It may apply, and it may not...but I did not single them out. So your response is invalid. Where one worships the object or attributes powers, then he/she violates idolatry. Rabbit’s feet, religious objects, horseshoes, red bendels, lucky pennies/stars, statuettes, and many cultures...the list goes on where people attribute luck and power to brute, physical objects. Maimonides classifies idolatrous rites in his work the Mishneh Torah...required study for Gentile and Jew alike. You will have to search out where and when people violate the “attributing of power” to mere, physical creations, violating Torah codes and adhering to idolatrous tendencies


Kell: I’m confused. Why would a Jew make an idol? And why would it matter who made the idol?


Moshe Ben-Chaim: Aside from the fact that Jews made the Golden Calf, the question is concerning the “theory” of the law, not the practical application. When a gentile creates an idol, it is at its creation - not only later worship - that it requires destruction. The reasoning is that a gentile has no system (Torah) with which he might be tempted to refrain from idol worship once an idol is formed, and adhere to a “command”. Thus, once he makes an idol, he will straightaway worship it. But a Jew has a “last chance”, a means of refrain, so his idol is not prohibited as “idolatry” until worship. Only then does it achieve that status.


Kell: More confused now...if a Gentile has no system (Torah) then why would it matter if they worship an idol.


Moshe Ben-Chaim: Good point, my error in clarification. A gentile doesn’t have a “complete Torah” system, is what I should have said. But he must follow his 7 Noachide laws, which include a prohibition on idolatry. Now of course, you will ask, “If he has laws, then how is he different than the Jew?” The answer is, we are discussing a case when the gentile is an idolater, and has expressed idolatrous behavior. Therefore, we state, once he forms an idol, we know he will worship it, so it already achieves its status as an idol even upon completion, regardless of worship. Whereas a Jew’s idol does not achieve a status of a real “idol” until worship, for he may refrain based on his previous adherence displayed to Torah.