Kissing Objects
Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim
Reader: Why is it okay for Jews to kiss or bow to objects of Mitzvot? For example, bowing to the Torah, kissing the Torah or Tallis, kissing a Kipah if it falls off your head, etc. Why is this not Avodah Zara mentality? Thank you in advance for your response.
Mesora: Avoda "Zara" (normally translated as "idol worship") really means "strange worship", as in "different worship from that which God commands". Any worship originated by God is of course Torah. So bowing to the Torah is not a digression from God's commands. Bowing to that which the Torah did not command would be a form of Avoda Zara.
You need not kiss a kipa or sefer if it falls, or even the Torah as it passes you (you are supposed to follow it at least three steps to respect it via escorting it). If you do kiss these objects, it is not Avoda Zara as you are not doing so to deify them. You do so out of respect to God's commands. I personally feel that one must be on a level to kiss an object of Torah with sincere love. A simple act of kissing should not be performed if one has no grasp of the reasons why he performs such an act as Tefillin, Lulav, or of the mitzvos in general. Judaism demands honesty in all areas. If you truly don't appreciate the great benefit and concept behind a given command, or you don't have an appreciation for the Creator of this command, why are you kissing the object? Such a kiss would be pure action with no true motivation of love.
The simple act of bowing or kissing is not the sole consideration for determining an act as idolatrous. By definition, if the Torah commands an action, it is obviously not strange (to the Torah). Practices not found in the Torah, although practiced by many Jews, could possibly be idolatry, such as the act of wearing red bendels, or checking mezuzot if bad tidings occur. Here, one projects powers on to physical objects. Objects which cannot even protect themselves, foolish people wrongly believe can protect them.

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