Letters Nov, 2005


Polytheism II


Shalom, Rabbi:


After listening to your explanation on today’s class, and reading again the article “One God” in this week’s Jewish Times I have come to the conclusion that those who say shittuf allows a gentile to swear by two deities (independent of each other and existing at the same time), one being the G-d of Israel, are wrong!!

My introduction to shittuf or partnership was from “The Path of the Righteous Gentile” by Clorfene and Rogalsky. The following paragraph and its footnotes are in the chapter on idolatry:


“5. According to many authorities, a Noahide is not warned about the concept of “partnership with God.”[5] The concept of partnership is the acknowledgment of the existence of the God of Israel in combination with the belief in the possibility and existence of a deity (independent will) other than God. So long as ascribing power to a deity other than the Creator remains conceptual, it is permissible to the Children of Noah according to many authorities [6]. But worship of this independent being is clearly idolatry. The danger of the concept of partnership is that it frees people to act in accord with nonexistent gods and opens a doorway to actual idolatry. Most recent authorities agree that Children of Noah are forbidden to believe in a partnership. But even according to these, the Children of Noah are permitted to swear by the name of an idol in combination with God (to swear by the Lord of Hosts and a Hindu deity, for example).

[5] Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chaim, chapter 156, law 1
[6] Nodah B’Yehudah, volume 2, Yoreh Deah, number 148”


Unfortunately I don’t have access to either source to see what exactly they say, but by the explanation above then it would seem permissible for a gentile to swear by the G-d of Israel AND another deity, let’s say, Zeus, making that two deities independent of each other and existing at the same time.

But, by my understanding after listening to several explanations including yours today and some serious thinking, I think the correct scenario would be something like this: A person who was raised in an environment where the geek gods are worshipped comes to the realization, as Abraham did, that there is only one G-d. He still calls him Zeus, but rejects Apollo, Nike, etc, as gods. Later on, this person learns about the G-d of Israel and that the Jews call Him Hashem, the One True G-d. This person then would swear “By the One True God, whom the Jews call Hashem, and the Greeks call Zeus” that way recognizing that there is not a multitude of gods but just one: except He is called by different names in different places and, sadly, not given His proper place in other religions outside Judaism.

So, shittuf equals different deities and wrong. But we might understand Shittuf as One G-d, but with different names, even those of the chief gods in idolatrous religions, used to refer to the G-d of Israel. This latter interpretation of Shittuf would be allowed by the gentile, but not by the Jew. Do I understand this correctly?

Hector Fernandez, Little Rock, AR



Mesora: Your explanation is actually in accord with both the Talmud (Bechoros 2b), and with Tosfos there, which cite the verse that a Jew may not mention other gods’ names, nor cause them to be mentioned by others: “Lo yishama al picha”, “False gods’ names shall not be mentioned via your doings (lit. “your words)”. (Exodus 23:13) But this prohibition is reserved for the Jew. However, although a gentile is prohibited from idolatry, he is not mandated with this high caliber of perfection, where he must refrain his speech. The gentile’s system is one of minimum requirements to deserve life, and this far, a gentile is not required. However, he is certainly more perfected if he does adhere.




Polytheism III


I want to thank you for the article that was published in the latest issue of Jewish Times on the modern error of misunderstanding the Tosafist teaching of shittuf.  As a Ben Noach, it angers and hurts me whenever I come across writings and proclamations by other Torah-observant Jews, especially by rabbis, that state that the avodah zarah is permitted to Gentiles.  We are following in the steps of the brave and G-d-fearing Avraham, the progenitor of the nation that would serve as a light to the Nations, who fulfilled the mitzvah of abstaining from idol worship when he came to the true knowledge of G-d.

To be told the kinds of insane things, such as what your correspondent complained about, feels like a slap in the face.  Surely, these rabbis do no mean us harm, and they wish only to establish peaceful relations with the non-Jewish world, but the lack of scholarship in this area is appalling.  I am thankful to Hashem that this rebuke has been made public.  The nation of Israel is entrusted with the mission of teaching the Sheva Mitzvoth to the entire world.  The laws of Avodah Zarah (idolatry) are among the most fundamental, and it is in this area where much education is needed, it seems. 

I would also like to add another halachic source, which is indisputable and unequivocal concerning the obligations of Gentiles in regards to Avodah Zarah:  Hilkhoth Melakhim u’Milchamotheihem 9:2 states that all the laws of Avodah Zarah that apply to a Jew, apply equally to a Gentile, whether he is executed for it or not.  It is interesting to note that this is the only law of the Seven, in which the Rambam does not state any caveats or differences between how it applies to Jews and Gentiles.  In the detailing of the other six mitzvoth, differences are stated.  You may want to add this halachic source to the article, or as a follow up for the next issue. 

Thank you for taking the time to read this letter. Keep up the good work.