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  • Halacha
  • Idols and Idolatry

Belief -without worship - in intermediaries

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Rabbi Daniel Kirsch

Adar II 3, 5782
Question
Hi Dear Rabbis, I disturb you for the following matter. According to Rambam (Mishneh Torah-Avodah Zarah 1: 1 and 2: 1; Hilchot Melachim 9:2): -Idolatry consists in the worship of any reality other than HaShem, and also exists when such worship is addressed to powers deemed subject to HaShem Himself (so-called intermediaries); -The aforementioned worship towards intermediaries constitutes idolatry also for Gentiles. My questions arise instead about the halachic framing of the case in which a person has the belief in the existence of such intermediaries between humanity and the Creator, subject to Him, however reserving the worship to HaShem only. It seems to me that Rambam does not consider this belief in itself illicit, constituting idolatry, as highlighted above, to worship such intermediaries. Wanting to deepen this case in the context of the Noahide Law, I have consulted two authoritative texts, Rav Moshe Weiners "The Divine Code", and Rav Oury Cherkis "Brit Shalom", both approved by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel. Rav Oury Cherki says, in his Brit Shalom: "An individual or nation believing it is being led by some power, whether physical or spiritual - which exists on a lower level than the all-encompassing Creator - is not prohibited as long as no worship is associated with said belief". In support of his ruling , Rav Cherki quotes Rabbeinu Bahya (Rav Bahya ben Asher ibn Halawa), Commentary on Deuteronomy 31:16. I have read the English translation of the aforementioned comment, available here: https://www.sefaria.org/Rabbeinu_Bahya%2C_Devarim.31.16.3?ven=Torah_Commentary_by_Rabbi_Bachya_ben_Asher,_trans._Eliyahu_Munk,_1998.&vhe=Midrash_Rabbeinu_Bachya_[ben_Asher]._Warsaw,_1878&lang=bi and it also seems to me that Rabbeinu Bahya supports the real existence of such intermediaries between the Creator and the Gentile Nations, while Israel alone is subject to the direct government of HaShem, without the presence of any intermediary. This position also seems to be expressed by another grand master, Nachmanides (Ramban), who often supports it in his Commentary on the Torah, for example by commenting on Leviticus 18:25, of which I have read the English translation here: https://www.sefaria.org/Ramban_on_Leviticus.18.25.1?ven=Commentary_on_the_Torah_by_Ramban_(Nachmanides)._Translated_and_annotated_by_Charles_B._Chavel._New_York,_Shilo_Pub._House,_1971-1976&vhe=On_Your_Way_New&lang=bi Of course, both Rabbeinu Bahya and Nachmanides regard worship of such intermediaries as idolatry, even for Gentiles. Instead, I was perplexed by the position expressed by Rav Moshe Weiner. From Rav Moshe Weiners The Divine Code, Limited Edition vol. 1: Therefore,a person is also an idol worshiper if he serves God along another entity as an intermediary,even if he says that the Lord is the "main God",but he also serves another power. This is so regardless of whether one serves the intermediary alone,for example by bringing a sacrificial offering or bowing down to it,or if he brings a sacrifice and bows down and says that this service is for both God and the intermediary. However,if a person serves only the Lord,but he also believes there is another power or god under the Lords command that one should also have faith in and swar by,then he is called a "believer in an intermediary". "Great Rabbinical authorities throughout history debated whether the false belief in an intermediary is actually idolatry and therefore prohibited to Gentiles, or if it is not included in the basic Noahide prohibition of idol worship and therefore not forbidden for Gentiles. The majority opinion and practical ruling is that it is not forbidden. But it is unrighteous, i. e. the person is not one of the Pious of the nations of the world" ( pag. 111). "Even though belief in an intermediary in not forbidden to Gentiles,this belief is not true.It is fitting for every person to see the mistake in this idea ,which originated in the mistaken beliefs of Enosh and his generation, and to distance oneself from it, especially since many of the grat Sages determinated that this belief is actually idol worship (see Rambam quoted in footnote 6 above, - my note: about christian worship towards a divine trinity-) , and according to all opinions it is considereded to be idolatry for Jews. Even for those Rabbinical opinions maintaining that belief in an intermediary is permitted for a Gentile, this only means that the person should not be considered ad idolater.But a person does not reach the spiritual level of a Pious Gentile as long as he holding such a belief." (pages 203/204) Rav Weiners words seem contradictory to me. He states that Gentiles who believe in such intermediaries but worship HaShem alone are not to be qualified as idolaters, and yet cannot acquire the status of "pious among the Gentiles" (Rambams Hilchot Melachim 8:11), as their belief is "false". Now, we know that the consequence for a Gentile of not attaining the status of "pious among the Gentiles" results in the harsh divine punishment of being barred from participating in the World to Come. But if such belief without worship does not constitute idolatry, evidently it is not part of the Noahide Law. And then why should a non-Jew be punished after his death for a lawful conduct, moreover limited to the intellectual sphere alone? I also find it completely incomprehensible that Rav Weiner maintains that for all authorities such a belief constitutes idolatry for the Jews, since great masters such as Rabbeinu Bahya and Nachmanides believed in the existence of such "lesser powers", always subject to HaShem and called to govern the Gentile Nations, not Israel, as I said earlier. I therefore believe that the position expressed by Rav Oury Cherki in his "Brit Shalom", in terms of the lawfulness of this belief (I repeat: with worship reserved exclusively for HaShem), I understand for both Jews and Gentiles, the latter without for this see denied the possibility of reaching the status of "pious among the Gentiles", is more founded on the halachic level. Of course these my statements do not concern the Christian religion, which is not a simple belief, but is based precisely on the worship towards a divine trinity, to which Catholics and Eastern churches add the worship towards angels, "saints" and Mary (the mother of Jesus the Nazarene). And in fact Rambam (Mishneh Torah-Avodah Zarah 9:4; Hilchot Maachalot Assurot 11: 7) qualifies Christians as idolaters, in accordance with what is stated in the Gemara (Avodah Zarah 6a and 7b). I ask for your authoritative responsum on what I have explained. A warm greeting Riccardo Gioviale Italian Noahide
Answer
Thank you for your question, I think we shouldn't confuse between believing that the One and Only G-d has angels and 'ministers' that are in charge of ruling the nations outside of Israel and 'avoda zara b'shituf'--meaning worshipping G-d along with a partner who is a deity. The Ramban (Vayikra (18:25) and Rabbeinu Bachya (Devarim 31:16) explained that G-d appoints 'ministers' or 'servants' that are responsible for the affairs of non-Jews outside of the Land of Israel. This is something that is true and not only non-Jews may believe in this, but Jews too are supposed to accept this. (This belief led many non-Jews to take this concept too far and actually worshipped these ministers or servants. This has been mentioned by the Ramban and Rabainu Bachya). However, "avoda zara beshituf", which means worshipping G-d and something else besides him as a deity, is a different story altogether. There is a big dispute amongst the halachic decisors if non-Jews are allowed to worship in this fashion. (see the former chief rabbi Harav Ovadia Yosef's book (Yechave Daata 4:45) who brings all the different opinions and he rejects the notion that Christianity is not considered 'avoda zara', which in his opinion, it is considered avoda zara). If a non-Jew thinks that there is a power that he should believe in and is worthy of swearing by, then even if he doesn't worship it or swear by it, we can't say that this man properly believes in G-d. The 'ministers' and 'servants' of G-d who are in charge of the nations of the world should not be the object of worship because they get all their 'power' from the the One and only G-d who gave them the power. See Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto's book Derech Hashem-- part 2, chapters 4-7, who explains this at length. According to this understanding, I do not think that Rav Sherki and Rav Weiner contradict each other. All the best!
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