By the grace of G-d
Copyright © 2014 Nathaniel Segal
Noahites are not supposed to worship
However, no law law court, neither a Noahide court nor a court of Jewish law,* is permitted to deal with this issue. Sheetoof is a personal shortcoming, but it is not actual idol worship. It is actual idol worship that is prohibited by one of the Seven Noahide Commandments and is especially against their spirit.
Those who worship the One and Only
In such religions, as in ancient Egypt, Greece, and still in India, the gods have a full extent of human characteristics. They are jealous of each other. They are masters of trickery. They posses weaponry, and sometimes ride horses. They eat and drink, sometimes to excess just like humans.
Even if one god reigns supreme, he (or sometimes she) often needs to fight its enemy gods to retain supremacy. Furthermore, these gods sometimes despise humans! At times, a god will mingle with people to cause mischief or even to steal from them.
Idol worshipers themselves are often fickle. They change
their allegiances according their situation. For example,
in ancient Mesopotamia, each
In contrast, Noahites believe, at the very least, that
Astrology began this way. According to astrology, what
happens in our lives on Earth comes about through the intermediate influence of
the Sun, Moon, planets, and constellations. Noahites know
Who created these particulars of the Cosmos. And of
course, Noahites know that
Astrology, though, is so oversimplified * that it hardly gives us any information about our lives. Its value was only in inducing a careful study of the sky – astronomy.
Sheetoof as a personal shortcoming is understandable. As I asked before, "How does a human being relate to Someone Who is outside our experiences?" Education is an answer. This web site tries to provide as much educational material as possible. Maimonides is a prime source for much of the material in this web site.
A fundamental tenet of Christianity as taught by its clergy is that one must pray "in the name of Jesus." The accepted theology of Christianity calls for an intermediary by the name of Jesus, the central personality of the Gospels.
As I wrote above, this is not idol worship. Accordingly, Jews are not restricted from doing business with Christians or entering into a business partnership with them. A Jew need not hesitate to help a Christian earn a living even though he or she may turn over a tithe of their income to their church.
This is normative Judaism as codified in Jewish Law – Halacha.* See the Code of Jewish Law – the Shulchan Aruch * – as annotated by Rabbi Moses Isserles and completed in 1570. He lived in the region of Poland or Bohemia where it was vital for Jews to see a definitive ruling concerning doing business with Christians. This ruling is in the first part of the Shulchan Aruch, Chapter 156.*
At the bottom of this page, I'll present a story to illustrate that we Jews trust practicing Christians. On the other hand, we fear for our lives from someone who professes to be a Christian but demonstrates that he is not sincere.
With the advent of the Hasidic, pietist movement a couple
hundred years ago, this ruling was affirmed in their conduct and
practices. The Hasidic approach to Judaism, to put it
succinctly, is to live a life above and beyond the letter of the
law, one that is more strict in some ways than what is required
or permitted by Jewish Law. Nonetheless, in the area of
business relations with Christians, Hasidism subscribes to the
Although one could suppose that for Hasidim (Hasids), as with other Jews, the necessity of earning a living overrode any consideration to be stringent. This is not so, as witnessed by explanations from Hasidic Grand Rabbis – Rebbes – over the last century and a half (at least).
I was educated in the Habad Hasidic philosophy with its
approach to understanding the underpinnings and secret
dimensions of Judaism. Among the texts which I have
studied, I've repeatedly found explanations of what constitutes
sheetoof, why Jews are not supposed to chastise
Christians over this issue or engage in debate, and why some
Before actually entering the world of Hasidic teachings, let me
mention that I feel that when each Rebbe brings up the subject
of how Jews are absolutely forbidden to use or seek an
intermediary, the Rebbe is also reminding his flock not to let
themselves be tempted to consider the Rebbe as an intermediary
for worship. He is, among other things, an accomplished
teacher and mentor par excellence. He does pray
for the welfare of a Hasid, all Jews, and the entire
world. Besides this, though, a congregation and its
individuals, especially family and friends, have also been
Our Rebbe, His Holiness, Grand Rabbi Menachem Mendel
Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, published one of his earliest
lessons of 1953.* He writes that everyone can be aware
We can learn this by looking at the relationship between our
bodies and their life force. It seems that each limb or
organ has its own
Similarly in our relationship with
So why do some people turn to the idea of an intermediary – sheetoof?
Consider the situation of an absentee landlord. You know
that there is a landlord. You also know that he has hired
Although a tenant in this situation has no direct relationship with the landlord, he or she is a good tenant because they follow the rules and maintain a good relationship with the manager. A bad tenant can be seen as a "rebel." The manager, according to policy, evicts the bad tenant.
Another situation that we can relate to is working for a large corporation. The board members and executives stay away from their stores or factories. In fact, it's not unusual for corporate headquarters to be far removed from where the corporation actually does its business. Employees answer to local managers. A good employee follows the rules and maintains a good relationship with management. But, managers don't make policies or rules. Each employee is really working for those who design the business model at their offices at the headquarters.
Whether a tenant or an employee, their situation is along the
lines of the verse, "The
In terms of a relationship with
A more sophisticated understanding comes from the unconscious – sometimes we feel anxious or depressed, for example. We feel these states but have no idea why, what could be causing our bad mood. Eventually, if we are fortunate, we recognize what bothers us and can address the underlying situation. The first state is pure feeling, as an animal has. Recognition and insight are exclusively human qualities.
Animals have no real recognition of what bothers them. They function on a level of instinct. In contrast, we humans have feelings that seem like instincts although they are not. We might feel fear before we can recognize an imminent danger. Often, what is dangerous to us is buried in the subconscious. We feel a general impending doom. But, we can analyze our situation. An animal, on the other hand, responds to such a feeling only instinctively.
The prophet Jeremiah says in
Among other things, we see here that
Like animals, our nature is to have no real awareness of why we feel the way we do. As I wrote before, if we are fortunate, we can learn to recognize what bothers us – we can develop recognition and insight. But, this comes through training and practice.
In contrast, a few people, "seed of man," have innate
knowledge. In terms of worship and service, these
individuals know that
everything comes directly from
Our parents are like intermediaries. An eternal soul will not be born into a body without the material contributions of parents. Without our parents, we would not be alive. Knowing this, we honor them. This is a metaphor for why a person would turn to sheetoof. Nature and its laws connect the cosmos with the Almighty. Accordingly, we honor and respect their contributions as we honor and respect our parents. So, sheetoof is a kind of respect and honor – expressions of gratitude.
A genuine teacher has a sophisticated knowledge of his or her
subject. In order to teach the rudiments of the subject to
their students, teachers hide what they know. They
simplify a subject, bringing it down to the level of the
students. For every sentence that teachers deliver, there
are dozens more flashing through their minds. Teachers are
intermediaries between students and the subject matter.
So, it's only right to honor and respect them. What
teachers are hiding resembles
a court of Jewish law - a tribunal which has been duly constituted according to the tradition of Jewish
Law –Halacha. The supreme court of seventy-one Sages is known as the Sanhedrin, which meets in session only in the Land of Israel. No such court has been convened in about 1,800 years, since a couple of generations after the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem in 69 ce. A future supreme court will be convened when the Messiah comes and he is anointed, which is imminent. However, this court has no jurisdiction outside the Holy Land. In addition, no duly constituted Sanhedrin can mete out the death penalty unless the Temple is standing and this court sits in judgment in an adjacent hall. The Sanhedrin of old ceased trials of capital cases around the year 30 ce when it moved away from the Holy Temple.
Prime Mover - I am not using this expression to refer to the clockmaker who sets his clock in motion and then leaves. This is a forbidden outlook. It is a form of idolatry – that
G-dhas left us in the hands of lesser beings.
I carefully wrote "ongoing." I mean that
G-dis active and interested in His creation at all times. According to the idea of sheetoof, though, G-d'sactivity is moment-to-moment toward the intermediary who in turn transfers G-d'sinfluence into a form that we can handle.
Astrology is so oversimplified - We are well aware of the influence that the Sun and the Moon have on earthly life. The other planets and the constellations have no apparent influence on us except as measures of time. In the course of a cycle of seasons – a solar year – the constellations that are visible at night also change in a yearly cycle. Even so, this seeming insignificance of the planets and stars is not the issue here for judging astrology.
Astrology as an idea presumes to inform us about our lives based on the celestial configuration when we were born. I can show you the primary foolishness of looking at a fortune reading on such a basis. People at a distance from each other see a slightly different configuration of the sky at the same time of the day. Consider midnight for example. If we live far enough apart, the sky looks different. The ecliptic of the constellations may be lower in the sky in one place and higher in the other. Even when two people are born at the same time, they could not share the same destiny based on reading a star chart since the actual configuration in the sky is different for each.
Also notice that I wrote "the same time of the day." I'm not referring to how time on clocks has been standardized. In any location, we can determine the
mid-pointof the night, midnight, for example. But, this midnight is not simultaneous in two places. Each location has its own midnight. "Two people having been born at the same time" were not born simultaneously, not born at the same time.
Astrology, though, has standardized time. Astrologists fit local midnight, for example, into their charts as a standardized time, which is to say non-local. How can you read an individual fortune – a local one – based on a
non-localcelestial description. Of course, you can't.
This is why astrological readings are so vague. An astrologist has taken a nothing and produced from this a nothing. This is an early case of "garbage in, garbage out," as those of use who work in data processing are wont to say.
the first part of the Shulchan Aruch, Chapter 156 - This ruling reiterates an earlier ruling by Rabbeinu Tam from the 12th century. His ruling is in his gloss on Tractate Bechorot 2b, "shemmah." Just as Rabbi Moses Isserles lived in Christian Europe, so did Rabbeinu Tam – in Champagne County, France.
one of his earliest lessons of 1953 - The discourse "Bosi l'Gani" – 10 Shvat 5713. This lesson was on the occasion of the third anniversary of the death of his
father-in-law,the previous Rebbe. Anniversary of a death is called a yahrtzeit * in the Yiddish language.
sheetoof - shee TOOF (shee TO͞OF), SHIH toof (SHĬ to͞of)
Shulchan Aruch - shool KHAHN ah
ROOKH (RO͞OKH)or SHOOL khahn AW rookh
yahrtzeit - literally "a year's time"; pronounced YAWR tsite.
Rabbi Israel Ba'al Shem Tov
One way or another, we are certain that the wagon driver professed to being a Christian.
This road, passing through a wooded region, was distant from
civilization. Along the road was a Christian religious
shrine. By habit at least,
The Ba'al Shem Tov noticed that the wagon driver failed to cross himself even though this road was a regular trip for him. This is to say that the driver knew that he was passing the shrine.
The Ba'al Shem Tov told the driver to stop to let them off the wagon. The Ba'al Shem Tov paid the driver in full and sent him on his way.
His students were astounded. They were now stranded far away from other people, not to mention from transport out of the wild.
The Ba'al Shem Tov explained to them that they could not
entrust their lives with this man. If he didn't even go
through the motions of piety, who is to say that he would listen