Avodah zarah is the Hebrew term for “idolatrous worship” or “strange worship” — or as I interpret it, estranged worship or worship estranged from Divinity.

Idolatry Segregates

Idolatry is not what we learned about in Sunday School – the worship of stars or stones or mountains or trees. Idolatry has its own weltanschauung. Idolatry is the worship of a part as if it was the whole. Idolatry is a pervasive way of thinking.

Idolatry segregates. Here God, there man; here the sacred, there the profane; here ritual, there ethics; here believing, there behaving; here me, there you; here my people, there humanity; here the law, there the spirit; here this world, there the other world.

The classic case of idolatry in the Torah is the worship of the Golden Calf. But idolatry is not a matter of a calf. It can be a place, an idea, an ideology, a country, a guru. Everything can be made into an idol. The Kotzker rebbe said that even a mitzvah can be made into an idol, even the Torah can be made into an idol. Idolatry means to deify a part of the world, a part of a person, a part of a people, or part of myself as if this were the whole.

Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis (1925-2014) z”l

The Kokzker Rebbe said anything “of God” — bibles, good deeds, rituals, commandments — can be turned by humans into the separatist and ego-centric practice of idolatry.

Religious practices, religious beliefs, clergy-people, social media, gossip, politicians and political movements can all be made into idols that are worshipped above the dignity and welfare of other human beings.

Pride (egotism) is truly equivalent to idolatry.

Tanya, chapter 22

Ego-self segregates with airs of superiority and exclusivity.

Splintered Thinking

Rabbi Schulweis taught, ‘idolatry is splintered, either/or thinking.’ “She or he or I” are either worthy or unworthy, valued or devalued, visible or invisible, heard or unheard, selected or rejected.

Idolatry is worshiping the part as if it were the whole. Social stratification and inequitable social constructs are at the core of idolatry.

You Will Become What You Worship

Idolatry reveals what we truly value and love. Beneficial or harmful, healthy or toxic, cruel or compassionate, dividing or uniting, hurtful or healing…we will become what we idolize. We will become what we worship.

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43 thoughts on “Idolatry

  1. I also want to make the daily choice for the sake of making & creating good intentions daily. Fred Freedman

  2. “Ego-self segregates with airs of superiority and exclusivity”
    Such is our programmed mind…
    The media today is programming many to idol worship celebrities, of one form or another be it film stars or football, soccer, or baseball, or basketball, sports personalities..
    The media also programs fear…
    Your Rabbi is right.. for much of our thinking has indeed been splintered.. We have been conditioned into labels… And those labels are many… Each label given by someone wishing to segregate or separate. Divide and Conquer… to feel alone and separate means you begin to feel powerless… and if you feel powerless, you are more easily controlled…

    To know we are ALL powerful BEings, ALL ONE, and to unify together, threatens the status quo..
    In my way of thinking, NO ONE person is greater than another… NO life is lesser than another…
    We are all of us God’s Creation, and GOD is within each of us… if we truly go within to seek her/him out.. 😉
    That is my take … 🙂 lol
    Lovely to read and be back within your blog Avigail ….

  3. I really related to what you wrote. I am impressed with your humility and your brilliance. You bring out points that other Rabbis, usually, do not talk about. It is obvious not to worship money over God but what about (as you mentioned) ritual over your fellows. This is conducive to arrogance and separation on the extremist part, who is obsessed with the rituals. This person thinks that he or she is better than I am because he is glatt Kosher and Davens 3 times a day. An example, would be you, Rabbi Abbi. You are extremely learned with a vast Jewish education from an orthodox family and you are a Bat Cohen, with Yicas(a linage to die for) and irrespective of that you are humble. You are not obsessed with who does more rituals, etc. Thank you for your generosity of spirit.

  4. That’s a great post, Abbi. Idolatry, how many Gods do we worship, let me count the ways. The Gods of consumerism for sure, the gods of political idealism maybe, the gods of status without a doubt. Why do we revere the Kardashians, the Megan Markels, etc.etc.etc. We like to create our own golden calf’s.

    • Thank you! I’ve asked myself the same question about the people our society is obsessed with that are plastered all over the media every day. Our societies have many idols and gods. I remember the days before the social media god burst onto the scene. Now we have the “influencer” gods to add to the list. It’s getting awfully crowded.

      I learned my lesson about putting people up on pedestals. Every time I’ve done so, it turns out they have clay feet. 😅

      • You both are understanding yourselves better to appreciate the more you give the more positive & more uniquely special as contributing to the betterment of our world.

  5. It is easy in religious worship to idolize people instead of Hashem. Often times, the pastor, priest, or rabbi becomes the object of undue attention and reverance. We have seen many examples in history. Jim Jones comes to mind! Sometimes rituals become so important, that we lose track of their intent, and we concentrate on assuring they are strictly followed to the loss of what they represent. We see many examples in Torah where those performing the rituals sought to exalt their own position, instead of doing it to worship God and suffered admonition and even loss of life because of it. I greatly appreciate your commentary that we need to be cautious in all we do, examining it for intent and purpose to prevent becoming caught up in idolatry!

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