Monday, June 17, 2013

Maimonides on 'aboda zara: Unintentional idolatry

Last week we explained that according to Maimonides the origins of idol worshipping were related to a mistake in the identification of "God's agents" (what God created to physically run our planet, i.e., the sun, the moon, stars, etc. ) with God Himself. In antiquity people innocently believed that by adoring these God-created natural powers they were actually worshipping God himself (see this).

Before we continue reviewing the following halakhot of 'aboda zara I would like to reflect on the fact that 'aboda zara (which literally means "a way of worshipping God other than the way prescribed by the Tora") is still considered a great sin despite our naive intentions (or our ignorance). Many times we definitely don't mean to offend God, but we are. 

One example: a few years go I received a chain email, asking to be forwarded to other 18 people.  Like everyone else I'm used to see all kind of massive emails, some very important and some really silly. What caught my attention was that this particular email was sent to and came from people who I know, are really truly observant Jews.   

The email had attached the (photoshopped!) picture of the Helix nebula and encouraged the readers to pray for the fulfillment of their wishes while looking at the image of the Helix nebula, which looks like a "big eye"... 

This is the original email.

Subject: "May your wishes come true"    

 "You are one of my 18(chai). This e-mail came from  Israel. This photo was taken with the aid of NASA telescope, and it only happens every 3000 years. It is called the Eye of God. A lot of miracles happened to those that have gazed upon this, so make 7 wishes, even if you do not believe in it, and see what happens, what changes in your life. Send this to 18 (Chai) people on whom you would like to bestow well wishes. Do not keep it to yourself."

This was my response to the sender: 

Dear X:

"This picture is amazing and it inspires us to admire HaShem's Almighty power, and all the beautiful things He created. However, with all due respect, "to make a wish or seven wishes" to a star, or even if the intention of this email is to say that we should ask HaShem to fulfill our wishes while looking at a star or a constellation is considered 'aboda Sara: idol worshiping. The worst offense in the Tora.  Which by the way in Hebrew is called 'abodat kokhabim umazalot (worshipping of stars and constellations, the most ancient form of idol worshipping!). Despite your innocent or good intentions you should completely disregard these misleading suggestions. We, descendants of Abraham Abinu, pray directly to HaShem, never to a star, or other idols and obviously, without looking at any images.  Please send this basic information to all those who might have been mislead into committing a serious sin by that email"

As you can see, good intentions aside, we might be mistakenly mislead into 'aboda zara, even in our modern days!    

(From Sao Pablo, BRAZIL)
        √    The picture sent in the email     

 √  Read more about this 
astronomical hoax here