The first part discussed the basic nature of the
prohibition and how it is considered central in Torah.
Whoever denies it is like agreeing to the entire Torah. The
Torah warns against it a total of 44 times. If avodoh
zora falls into some other substance, it prohibits the
entire mixture, no matter how small a proportion the
avodoh zora is. We must not think about it or learn
about it. We should not even use its buildings as landmarks.
One should not even look at avodoh zora.
In some ways, the worship of avodoh zora is not
what people intuitively think of when they think of worship.
Avodoh zora can be done even in trying to debase the
object if that is the usual way it is worshiped. Also, even
if the worship is done with a blank mind, it is full
avodoh zora if the person is in general an idol
Why Is It So Serious?
We are very far removed from avodoh zora in many ways.
Anshei Knesses Hagedoloh eliminated the yetzer hora
for avodoh zora around 2,500 years ago, and certainly
the old-time idol worship is virtually nonexistent in the
West. When learning the words of the holy Torah that
repeatedly (44 times) warn against avodoh zora, or the
words of the prophets who speak against it at great length,
or the halachos as codified in Chazal, it sometimes can seem
as if it is all a part of the dead past and nothing more;
certainly avodoh zora will not be revived in the times
of Moshiach, bimheiroh beyomeinu, so we do not need to
preserve these halochos for those times.
Nonetheless these are mitzvos for eternity. If we understand
some of the explanations of the ideas underlying avodoh
zora we will see why.
HaRav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch explains (in his Commentary
on Chumash) that two main ideas that underlay the
world view of idol worshipers were a belief in the power of
blind fate and the overwhelming presence of death overhanging
every step in life.
The idol worshiper is conscious of the limits to human
striving and is sensitive to the always-imminent intervention
of what seems to him to be the powerful but blind forces of
nature. The fast track businessman who exercises regularly
can be killed in a car crash. Earthquakes, floods, famines
and other such occurrences can frustrate the best efforts of
the best people.
The word "elilim" (Vayikra 19:4) refers to the blind
forces of fate, that are generally seen as hostile to men.
The poor soul feels at the mercy of these powerful, hostile
forces and hopes that by offering his suffering to the
avodoh zora, he can placate it. Perhaps if he offers
his son to the Molech or his (or her) hair that is his pride
and joy to Kemosh, the G-d will be sated with that sacrifice
and will not visit further suffering on him.
Death is of course the strongest evident force. Living beings
die; things decay. Nothing (material) lasts forever. Life is
just a journey unto death. Each instant of it, each living
present, quickly takes its place as part of what they see as
the dead past. As HaRav Moshe Shapira says, "They live death.
(Heim chaim es hamovet.)" It is not only the only goal
that they see in life; for them death is the content of life
In contrast, the life of Torah is a life of eternity in every
instant. By fulfilling the words of the living G-d, the G-d
of life, we not only work every instant towards eternal life,
but we also partake of it in every instant of our lives.
The Modern Idol
No one has raised any doubt that the compound at Tirupati
which sells millions of dollars worth of high-quality human
hair each year is genuine avodoh zora, meaning that
essentially it is certainly something to which all the laws
against avodoh zora given to us by Hashem in the Torah
apply. There is a genuine idol there and those who worship it
are genuine idol worshipers whether they do so there or in
their homes in India or overseas in Pittsburgh or in one of
the great American universities. They are ovdei avodoh
zora and their worship and the objects they worship are
all subject to all the Torah laws of avodoh zora.
No one has questioned that what is going on at that shrine
that tens of millions of people visit every year is genuine,
real, one hundred percent avodoh zora. What some have
questioned is whether tonsure, the cutting of the hair that
is practiced by millions of thoroughly religious idol
worshipers, is itself an act of idol worship, like those who
cut their hair for Kemosh (the idol of Moav in ancient
Maran HaRav Eliashiv shlita determined that the hair
cut off in the Tirupati shrine is tikroves avodoh
zora, and he maintains this after spending hours
listening to the objections raised by rabbonim from all over
the world after he first issued his psak. His
information about the practices in India and at Tirupati in
particular are based on the reporting of Dayan HaRav Aharon
Dovid Dunner of London who made a special trip to India to
observe what went on there.
But overall, no one has challenged or even questioned in any
way that the big picture is that what goes on at Tirupati is
avodoh zora. After all, there is a big idol in the
area and millions come to visit it yearly.
If we want to summarize and sloganize the Torah's attitude
towards avodoh zora, and try to extract the basic
essence of the attitude that the Torah has towards avodoh
zora and to all the objects that it uses in its worship,
perhaps it may be possible to do so in a three-word sound
bite: Avodoh zora: FEH!
The laws of avodoh zora are many and complex. They are
not studied as much nowadays as the many other areas that are
much more relevant to modern life. However this basic lesson
should never be forgotten. Avodoh zora: FEH!
Perhaps a moshol can dramatize this further.
Let us say that the powers of modern commerce have drafted
the wonders of modern technology to be able to use the
products of Pe'or worship to produce attractive headpieces
for the modern lady. Of course they are freeze-dried in order
that there should be no halachic question. No one even has to
ask any questions. Freeze-dried Pe'or feces are clearly
But would you want to put it on your head and then go into a
shul to stand before the Melech Malchei Hamelochim
with a pile of that filth on your head, whether it is
technically tikroves avodoh zora or not?
Would you want to sit with your wife/ daughter/ mother at the
Shabbos table with such an adornment on her head, even if it
is unquestionably muttar? Is that what you want to
look at while you sing Shabbos zemiros?
What do you think they did when they gave their hair to
Kemosh? What do you think they thought when they threw a
stone at Mar Kulis? Do you think people had sublime thoughts
on their mind when they were po'eir to Pe'or?
No one questions that what goes on at Tirupati generally is
the real thing that the Torah was talking about: avodoh
zora. There is an idol there. The people are
unquestionably idol worshipers. When they come there they do
so to worship their idol.
Avodoh zora is to'eivoh and it says lo sovi
to'eivoh el beisecho vehoyiso cheirem komohu shakeitz
teshaktzenu vesa'eiv tesa'avenu ki cheirem hu.
That is what everyone should say to avodoh zora.
See also Part 1.