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I9. Adopting Heathen Practices.    [Make a Comment]

We are not to adopt the customs and practices of heathens.

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

Key Scriptures

Leviticus 18:3 (Maimonides RN30; Meir MN21; Chinuch C262)
You are not to engage in the activities found in the land of Egypt, where you used to live; and you are not to engage in the activities found in the land of Kena'an, where I am bringing you; nor are you to live by their laws.

Leviticus 19:27 (Maimonides RN43-44; Mei MN176-177; Chinuch C251-252)
Don't round your hair at the temples or mar the edges of your beard.

Leviticus 19:28 (Maimonides RN41, RN45; Meir MN163; Chinuch C253, C467)
Don't cut gashes in your flesh when someone dies or tattoo yourselves; I am ADONAI.

Leviticus 20:23 (Maimonides RN30; Chinuch C262)
Do not live by the regulations of the nation which I am expelling ahead of you; because they did all these things, which is why I detested them.

Leviticus 26:1 (Maimonides RN12; Meir MN161; Chinuch C349)
You are not to make yourselves any idols, erect a carved statue or a standing-stone, or place any carved stone anywhere in your land in order to bow down to it. I am ADONAI your God.

Deuteronomy 12:29-31 (Maimonides RN30; Chinuch C262)
When ADONAI your God has cut off ahead of you the nations you are entering in order to dispossess, and when you have dispossessed them and are living in their land; be careful, after they have been destroyed ahead of you, not to be trapped into following them; so that you inquire after their gods and ask, 'How did these nations serve their gods? I want to do the same.' You must not do this to ADONAI your God! For they have done to their gods all the abominations that ADONAI hates! They even burn up their sons and daughters in the fire for their gods!

Deuteronomy 14:1-2 (Maimonides RN45; Meir MN28; Chinuch C467)
You are the people of ADONAI your God. You are not to gash yourselves or shave the hair above your foreheads in mourning for the dead, because you are a people set apart as holy for ADONAI your God. ADONAI your God has chosen you to be his own unique treasure out of all the peoples on the face of the earth.

Deuteronomy 22:5 (Maimonides RN39-40; Meir MN178-179; Chinuch C542-543)
A woman is not to wear men's clothing, and a man is not to put on women's clothing, for whoever does these things is detestable to ADONAI your God.

Deuteronomy 22:9-11 (Maimonides RN42; Meir MN181; Chinuch C551)
You are not to sow two kinds of seed between your rows of vines; if you do, both the two harvested crops and the yield from the vines must be forfeited. You are not to plow with an ox and a donkey together. You are not to wear clothing woven with two kinds of thread, wool and linen together.

Zephaniah 1:8 (Maimonides RN30)
When the time comes for ADONAI's sacrifice - "I will punish the leaders and the sons of the king, also those who dress in foreign clothes."

Matthew 6:7-13
And when you pray, don't babble on and on like the pagans, who think God will hear them better if they talk a lot. Don't be like them, because your Father knows what you need before you ask him. You, therefore, pray like this: 'Our Father in heaven! May your Name be kept holy. May your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven. Give us the food we need today. Forgive us what we have done wrong, as we too have forgiven those who have wronged us. And do not lead us into hard testing, but keep us safe from the Evil One. For kingship, power and glory are yours forever. Amen.'

Ephesians 4:17
Therefore I say this - indeed, in union with the Lord I insist on it: do not live any longer as the pagans live, with their sterile ways of thinking.

Colossians 2:8
Watch out, so that no one will take you captive by means of philosophy and empty deceit, following human tradition which accords with the elemental spirits of the world but does not accord with the Messiah.

1 Peter 4:1-5
Therefore, since the Messiah suffered physically, you too are to arm yourselves with the same attitude. For whoever has suffered physically is finished with sin, with the result that he lives the rest of his earthly life no longer controlled by human desires, but by God's will. For you have spent enough time already living the way the pagans want you to live - in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, wild parties and forbidden idol-worship. They think it strange that you don't plunge with them into the same flood of dissoluteness, and so they heap insults on you. But they will have to give an account to him who stands ready to judge the living and the dead.

Suportive Scriptures

Leviticus 19:19
Observe my regulations. "'Don't let your livestock mate with those of another kind, don't sow your field with two different kinds of grain, and don't wear a garment of cloth made with two different kinds of thread.'"

Leviticus 19:26
Do not eat anything with blood. Do not practice divination or fortune-telling.

Deuteronomy 12:2-4
You must destroy all the places where the nations you are dispossessing served their gods, whether on high mountains, on hills, or under some leafy tree. Break down their altars, smash their standing-stones to pieces, burn up their sacred poles completely and cut down the carved images of their gods. Exterminate their name from that place. But you are not to treat ADONAI your God this way. [You shall not worship the LORD your God with such things. (NKJ)]

Ezekiel 36:16-19
The word of ADONAI came to me: "Human being, when the house of Isra'el lived in their own land, they defiled it by their manner of life and their actions; their way before me was like the uncleanness of niddah. Therefore I poured out my fury on them, because of the blood they had shed in the land and because they defiled it with their idols. I scattered them among the nations and dispersed them throughout the countries; I judged them in keeping with their manner of life and actions."

Luke 11:2-4
He said to them, "When you pray, say: 'Father, May your name be kept holy. May your Kingdom come. Give us each day the food we need. Forgive us our sins, for we too forgive everyone who has wronged us. And do not lead us to hard testing.'"

Romans 12:1-2
I exhort you, therefore, brothers, in view of God's mercies, to offer yourselves as a sacrifice, living and set apart for God. This will please him; it is the logical "Temple worship" for you. In other words, do not let yourselves be conformed to the standards of the 'olam hazeh. Instead, keep letting yourselves be transformed by the renewing of your minds; so that you will know what God wants and will agree that what he wants is good, satisfying and able to succeed.


The Scriptures quoted herein prohibit the ancient Israelites and later New Covenant believers from adopting the customs and practices of heathens. Typical of these practices are eating blood, fortune-telling, practicing divination, rounding one's hair, cutting the edge of one's beard, tattooing or cutting one's flesh, wearing heathen-style of clothing, wearing garments of the opposite sex, worshiping idols, practicing debauchery, becoming drunk, and participating in wild parties and orgies.

Of special interest are Deuteronomy 12:2-4 and Deuteronomy 12:29-31 that enumerate ways in which heathens served their gods, and forbid Israelites from serving the one true God in similar ways. These two Scriptures have been the source of much debate as to whether customs and practices that were once used in idolatrous ways but are no longer used in those ways can be redeemed. Can a church not have a steeple because ancient heathen temples most probably had pointed roofs? Can we not light candles on Shabbat because the ancient heathen used candles and torches as part of their idolatrous worship? My opinion is that some such things can be used and some cannot, and we need to consult the Holy Spirit to know which are which.1

Other Scriptures that are related to this Mitzvah are those that prohibit wearing clothing made of wool and linen, and clothing of the opposite sex. I see them as related. Deuteronomy 22:9-11 prohibits our sowing two different kinds of seeds, plowing with two kinds of animals, and wear clothing made of two kinds of thread (wool and Linen). Leviticus 19:19 prohibits our mating two kinds of animals, sowing two kinds of grain, and wearing clothing made of two kinds of (shatneiz), which means "stuff". Deuteronomy 22:5 prohibits our wearing clothing of the opposite sex, which presumably means mixing two kinds of clothing - those of our own sex, and those of the opposite sex. The theme that is common to all of these is mixing things that do not naturally go together, and reminds one of 2 Corinthians 6:14 that states:

Do not yoke yourselves together in a team with unbelievers. For how can righteousness and lawlessness be partners? What fellowship does light have with darkness?

Mixing things that do not belong together was (and still is) a perverted heathen practice (for example, mixing temple worship with prostitution), and we are prohibited from adopting heathen practices as our own.

1. In view of this prohibition, one might consider the inappropriateness of Christians adopting heathen practices such as displaying images of deceased persons, erecting Christmas trees, and coloring Easter eggs.

Classical Commentators

Maimonides, Meir, and HaChinuch address each Scriptural prohibition separately; they do not connect them in a common theme. For example, Maimonides' RN30 deals with adopting the habits and customs of unbelievers generally, RN43 deals with shaving our temples, RN44 with shaving our beards, RN41 with receiving tattoos, etc.

According to Meir, examples of heathen customs that we must not follow are distinctive heathen dress, growing locks of hair, shaving the sides of the head, and leaving a crest of hair in the middle of the head (Mohawk hair style). Curiously, Meir exempts from such restrictions, those who are close to government rulers and, for whatever reason, must emulate their appearance. Maimonides likewise prohibits our wearing heathen dress, emulating heathens in their appearance, and participating in their social gatherings.


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