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I3. Benefitting from Idolatry.    [Make a Comment]

We are not to derive any benefit from idolatry.

This precept is derived from His Word (blessed be He):

Key Scriptures

Exodus 34:12 (Meir MN15; Chinuch C111)
Be careful not to make a covenant with the people living in the land where you are going, so that they won't become a snare within your own borders.

Exodus 34:13-16 (Maimonides RN194; Meir MN15; Chinuch C111)
Rather, you are to demolish their altars, smash their standing-stones and cut down their sacred poles; because you are not to bow down to any other god; since ADONAI - whose very name is Jealous - is a jealous God. Do not make a covenant with the people living in the land. It will cause you to go astray after their gods and sacrifice to their gods. Then they will invite you to join them in eating their sacrifices, and you will take their daughters as wives for your sons. Their daughters will prostitute themselves to their own gods and make your sons do the same!

Numbers 25:1 (Maimonides RN194)
Isra'el stayed at Sheetim, and there the people began whoring with the women of Mo'av.

Deuteronomy 7:25 (Maimonides RN22; Meir MN17; Chinuch C428)
You are to burn up completely the carved statues of their gods. Don't be greedy for the silver or gold on them; don't take it with you, or you will be trapped by it; for it is abhorrent to ADONAI your God.

Deuteronomy 7:26 (Maimonides RN25; Meir MN18; Chinuch C429)
Don't bring something abhorrent into your house, or you will share in the curse that is on it; instead, you are to detest it completely, loathe it utterly; for it is set apart for destruction.

Deuteronomy 13:16-18(15-17) (Maimonides RN24, RN25; Meir MN18; Chinuch C429, C466)
... you must put the inhabitants of that city to death with the sword, destroying it completely with the sword, everything in it, including its livestock. Heap all its spoils in an open space, and burn the city with its spoils to the ground for ADONAI your God; it will remain a tel forever and not be built again - none of what has been set apart for destruction is to stay in your hands. Then ADONAI will turn from his fierce anger and show you mercy, have compassion on you and increase your numbers, as he swore to your ancestors

Deuteronomy 32:17
They sacrificed to demons, non-gods, gods that they had never known, new gods that had come up lately, which your ancestors had not feared.

Deuteronomy 32:38 (Maimonides RN194; Chinuch C111)
Who ate the fat of their sacrifices and drank the wine of their drink offering? Let him get up and help you, let him protect you!

Acts 15:28-29
For it seemed good to the Ruach HaKodesh and to us not to lay any heavier burden on you than the following requirements: to abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from fornication. If you keep yourselves from these, you will be doing the right thing. Shalom!

1 Corinthians 10:19-21
So, what am I saying? That food sacrificed to idols has any significance in itself? or that an idol has significance in itself? No, what I am saying is that the things which pagans sacrifice, they sacrifice not to God but to demons; and I don't want you to become sharers of the demons! You can't drink both a cup of the Lord and a cup of demons, you can't partake in both a meal of the Lord and a meal of demons.

2 Corinthians 6:16-17
What agreement can there be between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God - as God said, "I will house myself in them ... and I will walk among you. I will be their God, and they will be my people. Therefore ADONAI says, 'Go out from their midst; separate yourselves; don't even touch what is unclean. Then I myself will receive you.'"

1 John 5:21
Children, guard yourselves against false gods (NKJ: idols)!

Supportive Scriptures

Psalm 106:36-37
They went on to serve their idols, which became a snare for them. They even sacrificed their sons and their daughters to demons.

Colossians 3:5
Therefore, put to death the earthly parts of your nature - sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed (which is a form of idolatry)

Revelation 9:20
The rest of mankind, those who were not killed by these plagues, even then did not turn from what they had made with their own hands - they did not stop worshipping demons and idols made of gold, silver, bronze, stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk.


This Mitzvah prohibits us from deriving any benefit from idolatry. This includes deriving benefit from objects of idolatry, from idolatry as a practice, and from those who engage in it. We are prohibited from selling or even possessing objects of idolatrous worship, and thereby benefitting from their value and the intrinsic value of their material components. We are also prohibited from benefitting in less obvious ways such as (I would argue) employing idolaters to do for us on the Shabbat, that which we are commanded to not do ourselves. It also prohibits us from benefitting from idols that are not of the physical kind, but rather idols of the heart and flesh such as pride, lust, self before God (and others), etc. There are numerous ways that we might be able to (but must not) derive benefit from such idols; an example would be compromising a moral biblical precept in order to not lose a business opportunity (see Matthew 6:24 and Colossians 3:5).

Idols of all kinds (including things of the occult) are associated with demons and curses (see Deuteronomy 7:26), and we must therefore not possess them, take them into our homes, or even touch them. It is a matter of discernment, however, as to how direct the receiving of benefit from an idol or idolatry must be, in order for it to be considered a violation of Scripture. For example, is it permissible to eat food prepared by one you suspect of being an idol worshiper? Suppose the restaurant one enters exhibits a statue of Buddha or displays food sacrificed to the proprietor's ancestors? Interestingly, Scripture allows Israelites to receive commercial benefit from foreigners (most likely idolaters during the time of Moses) that they cannot receive from fellow Jews. One such example is that all debts are cancelled during the sh'mittah (sabbatical year) as to fellow Jews but not as to foreigners (Deuteronomy 15:1-3). Therefore, if you loan to a foreigner and the sh'mittah arrives, you can continue to collect what you have loaned, whereas, if you loan to a Jew you cannot. Another example is that, according to Deuteronomy 23:21(20), a Jew can lend at interest to an outsider (presumably even an idolater), whereas a loan to a fellow Jew has to be interest-free.

Finally, note the similarity of Acts 15:28-29 and Deuteronomy 32:38 in their instruction to not eat or drink foods connected to idol worship. They both prohibit the physical eating of such foods, but one might perceive a broader and higher meaning from them, which is to abstain from nourishing ourselves with anything related to idolatry.

Classical Commentators

Maimonides, Meir, and HaChinuch treat the subject of not benefiting from idolatry as several mitzvot. They anticipate that some of the prohibited benefits of idolatry could be (1) covenanting with idolaters for any gainful purpose; (2) wearing items that have adorned an idol; (3) obtaining a wife for one's son; and (4) profiting from the precious materials of carved statues.


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