27. One Idol, Due Thursday: The prohibition against making idols

Do not make for yourself any image or likeness… (Exodus 20:4)

It is prohibited to make images intended to be worshipped, even if the manufacturer is not the one who is going to be performing the idolatrous service. It’s forbidden to make an idol one’s self and it’s equally prohibited to commission one from a craftsman. Simply put, idol-making is no good, so don’t be a party to it in any capacity!

The Sefer HaChinuch is surprised that the Rambam includes one who commissions an idol, as the general rule is that one cannot appoint a messenger to commit a sin. If Joe tells Mike to rob the bank, it’s Mike who is held responsible. It would seem that the Rambam considers this an exception since the verse instructs us not to have idols made for ourselves.

The reason for this mitzvah is obvious: idolatry is heinous, so there’s no good that can come out of keeping idols around. They’re a “stumbling block” and we must remove them.

The Ramban (Nachmanides) does not see this verse as the ban on creating idols. He views this verse as part of the general prohibition on idolatry found in the “Ten Commandments,” preferring Leviticus 19:4 (“Do not turn to idols and do not make molten ‘gods’ for yourselves) as the actual prohibition on idol-making. (You may be wondering how Nachmanides can disagree with Maimonides as to the “Ten Commandments.” As we discussed in Mitzvah #25, the “Aseres HaDibros” really means “ten statements,” rather than “ten commandments.” There are more than 10 mitzvos in the Aseres HaDirbros, so if the Ramban disagrees with the Rambam on some of the details, it hardly makes much impact.)

The prohibition against making idols is found in the Mishneh Torah in Hilchos Avodas Kochavim and in the Shulchan Aruch in Yoreh Deah 141. It is #2 of the 365 negative mitzvos in the Rambam’s Sefer HaMitzvos and #9 of the 194 negative mitzvos that can be fulfilled today as listed in the Chofetz Chaim’s Sefer HaMitzvos HaKatzar. It is binding upon both men and women in all times and in all places.