Early history of the Jewish people: a translation of Rambam’s “laws of idolatry”, chapter 1

What follows is a translation of the first chapter of “Laws of idolatry”. (All text added by the translator is bracketed.)

Laws of Idolatry and the practices of Idolaters, chapter one:

Law 1: In the days of Enosh [see Genesis 4:26] mankind made a grave error, and the wise men of that generation began to give foolish counsel; Enosh, himself, was one of those who erred. Their error was thus: they said, “since G-d created stars and planets with which to conduct the world, and he placed them on high and accorded them honor, and they are servants who serve before him – it befits them that we praise them, glorify them, and accord them honor. It is G-d’s will that we exalt and honor that which he himself has exalted and honored. [This] is similar to a king who desires to honor his servants who stand before him. Thus is [,truly,] the king’s honor.”

After they came to this conclusion, they began to build temples for the stars and to offer them sacrifices. They praised and glorified them verbally and they prostrated themselves before them. All this was an attempt to fulfill the will of the creator in accordance with their false view.

This was the ideology behind idolatry. And this was what all idolaters in the know would claim. But they did not hold that there was no G-d other than the particular star [they happened to be worshiping]. [Indeed,] to this Jeremiah referred when he said, “Who does not fear you, O King of nations? For to you it is fitting; for among all the wise men of the nations, and in all their kingdoms, there is none like you. In but one way, they are foolish: their instruction regarding their idols, which are just wood!” [Jeremiah 10:7-8] This verse means to say that all know that you [G-d] are alone; their foolishness and error consist only in that they believe that this tripe is your [G-d’s] will.

Law 2: A long time later, false prophets arose amongst men, claiming that God had appeared to them. They would say to the people that God had said things like,” worship this star “or
“worship all the stars”; “sacrifice unto it” or “offer unto it these libations”. [Or they would say,] “build for it a temple and make a proxy image to which all people-men, women and children- must bow,” and would then go on to describe some form they would make make up themselves, declaring it the form of the star about which had been the prophecy.

Before long, people began to place idols in temples, under trees, and atop mountains and hills. They would congregate at these places and would proclaim to all how the particular idol around which they congregated could bestow goodness, mete out harm and was, therefore, deserving of worship and reverence. Either priests would determine how the idol was to be worshiped, what one must do and what one must not, or charlatans would describe the same, claiming how the star, sphere, or angel, itself, had revealed it to them.

Before long, worshiping idols in various and strange ways, offering them sacrifices and prostrating before them became the norm. And finally, after even more time had passed, God himself came to be forgotten among men. The masses -men, women, and children- knew nothing at all, save for the temples and the wooden or stone idols which they had been raised to worship
and swear by; and the more wise among them, their priests for instance, came to believe that there was no God other than the various entities for which the idols served as proxy.

So, in the end, God himself became utterly unknown, save but to a few unique men, such as Chanoch, Mesushelach, Noach, Shem, and Ever; and, so the world went until the birth of the world’s foundation, namely, Avraham Avinu.

Law 3: As soon as this mighty one [Avraham] was weaned [the beginning of his third year of life], he began to contemplate day and night. He wondered to himself just how the sphere moves in a fixed path without anything directing it. He had no teachers nor guides of any kind, but rather, he was raised in Ur Kasdim among foolish idolaters. His father, mother, and all people, generally, served idols; and he served along with them. But he contemplated constantly until he comprehended the truth. He came to understand and know that there is but one God, who directs the sphere and created everything; he comprehended that there is not in all that is a god aside from him [the one God]; and he came to the conclusion that the entire world was mistaken.

Avraham was forty years old when he recognized his creator. And once he did, he began to argue with the people of Ur Kasdim. He would debate them, telling them that they were not not traveling on the path of truth. He would smash the idols, informing people how it is fit to worship God alone and that to him must one bow, sacrifice and offer libations, so that the coming generations will recognize him. He taught them how it was right to smash and destroy the idols so that people would not stray after them.

After he overwhelmed them with his proofs, the king [Nimrod] tried to kill him, but Avraham survived miraculously and escaped to Haran.

Once he was there, he began to teach, calling out in great voice to the whole world, informing them that there was only one God and that he alone is worthy of worship. He would travel from city to city and from kingdom to kingdom, congregating and teaching people, until he arrived to the land of Cana’an. There he continued to call out, as the Bible says, “there [too,] he called out in the name of Hashem, God of the world”.

When people would come to him, asking him about his message, Avraham would teach each and every person according to his own mental capacity, bringing the person back to the way of truth.

Eventually, Avraham amassed tens of thousands of followers, who are known as the “men of the house of Avraham”. He planted this great truth in their hearts and wrote many books on the subject.

Avraham taught his son Yiztchak (Isaac,) who, in turn, would teach others. Yizchak would go on to teach his son Ya’acov (Jacob), appointing him to teach and bring back all who would join him [Ya’acov].
Ya’acov taught all his children, but he separated Levi and appointed him the head. He sat him in the academy, enjoining him to teach the way of God and to keep all of Avraham’s commandments. Ya’acov instructed his children that they never allow a cessation of appointees from the house of Levi, in order that the learning never be forgotten. And so the matter developed until a nation who knows G-d was formed in the world.

But alas, after Israel spent many years in Egypt, they began to learn the ways of the Egyptians and to serve idols like them. The tribe of Levi, however, remained faithful to the heritage of the fathers; the tribe of Levi never worshiped idols.

A bit more time, and the great truth that Avraham had planted in them would have been uprooted; and the children of Ya’acov would have reverted to the ways and foolishness of the nations. But because of Hashem’s love for us, and in keeping with the vow he made to Avraham our father, he made Moshe [Moses] the master of all prophets, and sent him.

After Moshe had been made, and Hashem chose us for himself as his portion, he crowned us with his commandments and taught us the way to serve him. He taught us the laws of idolatry and the laws of they who stray after it.

Chapter 2: …


19 Responses to Early history of the Jewish people: a translation of Rambam’s “laws of idolatry”, chapter 1

  1. Dean's World says:

    The First Jew

    (See here for context.)
    “G-d said to Avram: ‘Leave your country, your birthplace, …

  2. […] The First Jew  (See here for context) […]

  3. […] The First Jew (See here for context) […]

  4. Deborah Shaya says:

    Yoga and Tai Chi (qigong/qi kung)

    These physical exercises are based upon AVODAH ZARAH (idolatry), and come from a SOURCE OF TUMAH. (‘Tumah’ is spiritual ‘uncleanliness’, which is extremely damaging to a person’s home and life).

    The Torah cannot be mixed with Avodah Zarah. This is twisting the Torah, and the Torah must remain straight.

    Practicing yoga or tai chi is harmful to a Jewish person – spiritually, and therefore physically.

  5. Deborah Shaya says:

    Many people today have been misled into avodah zarah (idolatry), of one kind or another. Some people have been misled unknowingly. The sting of avodah zarah can cause terrible harm c”v.

    Nevertheless, there is always great hope. And that is the great light of Teshuva (returning to Hashem, our G-d.) Hashem is calling out to us every day, to return to Him properly, with a pure heart:

    “……shuvu Eilai ve’Ashuva aleichem amar Hashem Tzevakot…..” (Malachi 3:7)

    “……return to Me and I will return to you, says Hashem, Master of Legions…..”

    Teshuvah is very great and is regarded very highly in Shamayim. A person should seize the opportunity to do Teshuva to Hashem right now, while “the Gates of Teshuva are open”.

    Teshuva is one of the greatest Gifts that Hashem, Our G-d, has given to us. So swallow your pride.

    By doing a true and sincere Teshuva to Hashem, the brachot (blessings) from Hashem will come into a person’s life, and obstacles will begin to shift.

    1. I will list below:
    (a) what the sources of Tumah, and Avodah Zarah are. (‘Tumah’ is spiritual ‘uncleanliness’, which is extremely damaging to a person’s home and life). And

    (b) what a person should do to remove the sources of tumah and Avodah Zara from her/his home/life.

    2. I will then list a few mitzvot, and practical steps that a person can take, in order to do Teshuvah for any kind of involvement in avodah zara.

  6. Deborah Shaya says:

    What are the Sources of Tumah, and Avodah Zarah? (‘Tumah’ is spiritual ‘uncleanliness’, which is extremely damaging to a person’s home and life)

    What should a person do to remove the sources of tumah and Avodah Zara from her/his home/life?


    We are specifically commanded against idolatry, in the SECOND COMMANDMENT of the Asseret Hadibrot:

    ‘Do not have any other gods BEFORE ME.’

    ‘Lo yiheyeh lecha elokim acherim AL PANAI.’

    And: ‘Do not represent (such gods) by any CARVED STATUE OR PICTURE of anything in the heaven above, or the earth below, or in the water below the land.
    Do not bow down to (such gods) or worship them.

    I am G-d your Lord, A JEALOUS G-D, who demands EXCLUSIVE WORSHIP.

    Where My enemies are concerned, I keep in mind the sin of the fathers for (their) descendants, to the third and fourth (generation).
    But for those who love Me and keep My Commandments, I show love for thousands (of generations.)’

    ‘Lo ta’aseh lecha PESEL, vechol temunah asher bashamayim, mima’al va’asher ba’aretz, mitachat va’asher ba’mayim, mitachat la’aretz. Lo tishtachaveh lahem, ve’lo ta’avdem, KI ANI HASHEM ELOKECHA, KEL KANAH, poked avon avot al banim, al shileshim, ve’al ribe’im, le’sonay.
    Ve’osseh chessed la’alafim, le’ohavai, u’leshomrei mitzvotai.’

    (Parsha of Yitro, Chapter 20, verses 3-6)

    Hashem, our G-d, is a very “Jealous G-d” who demands “Exclusive worship.”

  7. Deborah Shaya says:


    Do not go into any of the following, as they are all places of idolatry, and AVODAH ZARAH (literally ‘strange worship’). They deny the Sovereignty of Hashem, the One G-d, and Creator of the World.

    – Churches
    – Buddist temples
    – Hindu temples
    – Sikh temples
    – Greek temples
    – Temples/buildings of any other kind of foreign worship.
    – Freemasonry

    There is a lot of TUMAH in them (spiritual ‘uncleanliness’ which can affect a person has veshalom, physically and spiritually in different ways). Always walk to the opposite side of the road rather than walk directly past one of these buildings e.g. a church.
    If any Jew is a “Freemason,” this too is based upon Avodah Zarah. He/she must stop going to such a place, and associating with “freemasons.”


    These are graven images. They should IMMEDIATELY be removed from your home and discarded, no matter how much they might have cost, or the sentimental value attached to them. They are a strong source of Tumah.

  8. Deborah Shaya says:

    3. Tefillah/Prayer – in the synagogue, and at home.

    (a) There should be NO IMAGES whatsoever, inside any shul.

    There should be NO IMAGES of
    • ANY PERSON, or
    • ANY ANIMAL or
    inside any synagogue.

    Any images of a person, animal or object should be REMOVED immediately, and ENTIRELY out of the synagogue or shteibl. No matter how large or small they may be. This is against the Halachah.

    (b) When praying at home, a person should endeavour to pray in a room which does not contain any images or paintings of a person, animal or object.

  9. Deborah Shaya says:

    4. BOOKS, MAGAZINES, LEAFLETS, DVD’s, CD’s, clothing

    These are a strong source of TUMAH, and bring in a lot of negativity into the home. These books and magazines negatively affect those who live in that home.

    Go through every book in your home very carefully, and check for the following. If it falls into one of these categories, or you have doubt about it – sort them out into a pile, and then DISPOSE of these books as soon as possible, and take them out of your home. Or at least take them out of your home and put them in a shed if you can.

    It is a very great MITZVAH to remove such sources of Tumah from your home. If some of these books were expensive – discard them anyway, and put aside how much they cost. They are a form of Avodah Zarah, and should be removed immediately.

    • Instead, place your EMUNAH (faith) in Hashem, the King of the World, that He will bless all your endeavours, and new, good things, will now be able to come into your life. You might start to feel better in yourself.

    The following are some examples:

    (a) ‘New Age’ books – (e.g. Indian authors, ‘Shambhala’ publications)

    (b) Philosophical books (e.g. by Indian writers such as Deepak Chopra etc)

    (c) Yoga/Tai Chi/Reiki.

    Yoga/Tai Chi (qigong)/Reiki books; yoga and reiki magazines &leaflets; tai chi (qi kung) magasines & leaflets; yoga/tai chi/reiki DVD’s & CD’s; yoga/tai chi special clothing:-

    • These physical exercises and practices are all based upon AVODAH ZARAH (idolatry). They all come from a SOURCE OF TUMAH. (‘Tumah’ is spiritual ‘uncleanliness’, which is extremely damaging to a person’s home and life).

    • The Torah cannot be mixed with Avodah Zarah. This is twisting the Torah, and the Torah must remain straight.

    • Have Emunah (faith) in Hashem, the King of the World, that He will help you to find another alternative form of exercise.

    Hashem, our G-d, and Creator of the World, is, “The Healer of all flesh, and perfoms
    wonders”. (From, ‘Asher Yatzar’ prayer said every morning.)

    (d) Meditation books – by non-Jewish or unorthodox Jewish writers.

    Buddism abounds with “meditation.”

    Meditation is only for Prophets – it is not for the ordinary man or woman.

    (e) Books that appear ok – but contain many idolatrous images and drawings e.g. mathematical or philosophical books interspersed with pictures of dragons; snakes; mandalas; crosses; ‘third eyes’; hindu gods; hindu goddesses; buddas; tibetan gods; egyptian gods; greek gods; stone/gold idols etc etc – THESE SHOULD ALL BE REMOVED IMMEDIATELY FROM YOUR HOME.

  10. Deborah Shaya says:

    5. (a) Written “Requests” of the Igrot/Igros (letters of advice written to other people by Rabbi M. Schneerson tz”l during his lifetime);

    (b) FAXES and LETTERS “SENT TO” Rabbi M. Schneersohn tz”l after he passed away in 1994 – at the Bet HaChaim (incorrectly referred to as the, “Ohel” by Lubavitch);

    (c) Any other written “communications with” tzaddikim at the Bet HaChaim (cemetery), who are not physically alive.

    These written requests should all be destroyed. However “nice” or “comforting” or “accurate” the “reply you received” was; or whatever “bracha you received;” or “whatever the date of the letter was;” – these writings should be destroyed. They are pure Avodah Zarah.

    • There should be NO MEDIATOR between a person’s tefillot (prayers) and Hashem.
    If a person chooses to use intercession instead of praying directly to Hashem, this is completely Assur, and forbidden.

  11. Deborah Shaya says:


    If you have taken holiday photographs of e.g. Buddist temples, whether on the outside or inside, these are a source of Tumah, and should be discarded. Similarly for buddist celebrations. These places of AVODAH ZARAH completely DENY THE SOVREIGNTY OF HASHEM, the One and Only G-d, and Creator of the World. They should not be in your home.

    The same applies to photographs of:
    – Churches
    – Hindu temples
    – Sikh temples
    – Greek temples
    – Temples/buildings of any other kind of foreign worship.
    – Freemasonry

    Sort through your photographs, and discard those that relate to Avodah Zarah.

    However attached you may feel to these photographs, they should be discarded, as they completely deny the Sovereignty of Hashem.

    • Instead, place your EMUNAH (faith) in Hashem, the Creator, and King of the World, that He will bless all your endeavours, and new, good things, will now be able to come into your life. You might start to feel better in yourself.

    7. Discard any other items related in any way to Avodah Zarah. No matter how small and insignificant, or however large e.g. bookmarks with pictures of churches; jewellery and accessories.

  12. Deborah Shaya says:


    1. Do not go into any places of idolatry.

    2. Discard and remove from your home all stone/wood sculptures e.g. sculptures of:
    (a) the human form (“nudes.”)
    (b) the human face
    (c ) statues – of the human form in particular.

    3. Books – discard and destroy all books relating to Avodah Zarah.

    4. Photographs – discard and destroy all photographs of Avodah Zarah.

    5. Discard any other items you have relating to Avodah Zarah e.g.jewellery.

  13. Deborah Shaya says:

    HOW TO DO TESHUVAH FOR AVODAH ZARAH – once you have removed all sources of Tumah, and Avodah Zarah from your home/life.

    1. Say the KETORET twice a week at least (Tefillah, prayer).

    The Ketoret has great Kedushah, (holiness) and power to transform all negatives into positives. Say the full text of the Ketoret in the full “Sefarad” version.

    If you can say it every day, including Shabbat, this is even better. You can say it as many times as you like during the day.

    The Ketoret is said formally 3 times a day in total: twice in the Shacharit, and once during the Minchah prayer.

  14. Deborah Shaya says:

    2. Decide on an amount to give to TZEDAKAH, (charity) in Israel, so that it ‘hurts you’ a little bit. Give to a proper registered charity, such as a hospital or emergency services.

    3. MEZUZOT – (Positive Mitzvah, commandment in the Shema – affirming that G-d is ONE, and warning against idolatry.)

    Check that:

    (a) You have properly affixed a mezuzah on EVERY DOORWAY which needs a mezuzah. This includes archways, patio doors, folding doors, side doors to garden, garden doors.

    (b) If any places in your home are lacking a mezuzah, purchase one as soon as possible from a qualilfied Sofer (Scribe), and put it up as soon as possible.

    (c) Check that ALL your mezuzot are kosher, as soon as you can. These should be given to a qualified Sofer (scribe) for checking.

    (d) Mezuzot should ideally be checked ONCE A YEAR.

  15. Deborah Shaya says:

    4. Travel to the KOTEL in Israel. If you can travel with a group of people who are going for the purposes of Teshuvah, this is even better. The purpose will be to pray, (Tefila and Teshuva), and ask Hashem, Hakadosh Baruch Hu, for His forgiveness, for mechilah.

    If a group can be arranged, this will be a greater mitzvah for everyone who joins. If you can go individually to the Kotel, in the meantime, before the group travel, this is also very good.

    5. When you have done 1-3 and/or 4 above, (summarised below as well), you should obtain the special BERACHA, (bracha, blessing) of someone who is known to be a TRUE KOHEN/COHEN. This will bring Hashem’s brachot of the material and spiritual blessings directly into your life.


    1. Say the Ketoret – at least twice a week.
    Say the full text of the Ketoret in the full “Sefarad” version.

    2. Give Tzedakah to recognised charity in Israel.

    3. Mezuzot – Have you affixed a mezuzah on every doorway?
    – Have you checked that all your mezuzot are kosher?

    4. Kotel in Israel – in a group (and individually, if possible).

    5. Bracha of a true Kohen/Cohen.

  16. Deborah Shaya says:


    This is based on AVODAH ZARAH (idolatry). It should therefore be avoided. It comes from a SOURCE OF TUMAH. (‘Tumah’ is spiritual ‘uncleanliness’, which is extremely damaging to a person’s home and life).

    The Torah cannot be mixed with Avodah Zarah. This is twisting the Torah, and the Torah must remain straight.

    It is therefore harmful to a Jewish person – spiritually, and therefore physically.

    1. Hashem, our G-d, and King of the World, is, “The Healer of all flesh, and performs wonders”.

    Hashem is, “….ROFEH CHOL BASSAR U’MAFLI LA’ASSOT.” (From, ‘Asher Yatzar’ prayer said every morning, and throughout the day following natural bodily functions.)

    2. Hashem is “ …..a Healer and a cure; He is all-seeing and a support…”

    “…VE’HU ROFEH VE’HU MARPEH, ve’Hu tzofeh ve’Hu ezrah….” (From the Song of, ‘Adon Olam’ – ‘Master of the Universe’ prayer said every morning).

    3. So great is the power of Teshuvah, that from the MOMENT of INNER RESOLVE, of the sick person to do Teshuvah (to ‘return’ to Hashem with a pure heart), Hashem sends a Refuah Shelemah, healing, to the sick person.

    • Hashem heals, with the very same Hand, with which He strikes.

    “Re’u: atah KI ANI ANI HU, ve’ein elokim Imadi……machatzti VA’ANI ERPA…..” (Devarim 32:39)

    “See! Now, THAT I, I AM HE, I AM THE (ONLY) ONE! There are no (other) gods with Me!…………………I wounded AND I WILL HEAL…..”

    “And (Hashem) said, ‘If you surely listen to THE VOICE, OF HASHEM YOUR G-D, and you do that which is upright in His Eyes, and you carefully heed ALL His Commandments, and you keep all His statutes, then I will not place upon you any of the sicknesses/diseases, that I placed on Egypt, FOR I AM HASHEM WHO HEALS YOU.’ ”

    “Vayomer im shamoa tishma LEKOL, HASHEM ELOKECHA, ve’hayashar be’einav ta’aseh, ve’ha’azanta lemitzvotav, ve’shamarta kol chukav, kol hamachalah asher samti bemitzrayim lo assim alecha, KI ANI HASHEM ROFECHA.” (Beshalach 15:26)

  17. Deborah Shaya says:

    Other forms of Avodah Zarah (idolatry): e.g. ‘Palm reading’

    It is against the Torah and forbidden, for a person to have her/his ‘palms read.’

    These kinds of people deny the Sovereignty of Hashem, the One G-d, and Creator of the World.

    Moshe Rabeinu has told us in the Parsha of Shoftim (18:10-13)
    ‘Among you, there shall not be found anyone who
    passes his son or daughter through fire;
    who practices stick divination;
    who divines auspicious times;
    who divines by omens;
    who practices witchcraft;
    who uses incantations;
    who consults mediums and oracles (who inquires of Ov or Yidoni);
    or who attempts to communicate with the dead.
    Anyone involved in these practices is REPULSIVE to Hashem….You must therefore remain TOTALLY FAITHFUL to Hashem YOUR G-D.’

    ‘Lo yimatzei vecha ma’avir beno u’vito baeish, kosem kessamim me’onen u’menachesh u’mechashef. Ve’chover chaver ve’shoel ov ve’yidoni ve’doresh EL HAMEITIM. Ki toavat Hashem kol osseh eileh………Tamim tiheyeh im Hashem Elokecha.’

    • Open a Chumash in order to increase your Emunah (faith) in Hashem.
    And in there, you will see the Words of Hashem, the Living G-d, in the Torah. The words of the Torah are eternal, for all time.

    • More specifically, open the Parsha of the week. Because we live through the Parsha of each week. And the Parsha of the week will contain words of direct significance to you. Think about what you are reading. And from those Divine words, you will be elevated, and derive inspiration. You will be strengthened in your Emunah and activities for your daily life.

    Remember that Hashem watches over each person, individually. We are all tested with different kinds of problems and challenges in life. These are all tests of our Emunah in Hashem. In order to pass these tests, we must keep our faith and Emunah in Hashem – no matter how ‘bleak’ or challenging our situation may be.

    What do we say every morning?
    “Modeh ani lefanecha, Melech, Chai, Vekayam….”
    “I give thanks before You, LIVING and everlasting KING….”
    Hashem is our Living King. And so we must look at His words of Life – which are to be found in His Torah.

    Try it.

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