Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Idolatry and Israeli Soldiers

In Hilkhos Tzava, an halakhic guidebook for Israeli soldiers (reviewed in Tradition 25:3 [Spring 1991], pp. 98-101: link), R. Zekhariah Ben Shlomo devotes a chapter (no. 88) to the laws of idolatry that apply to life in the Israel Defense Forces. The laws of idolatry are mentioned in other halakhic guides, such as Rambam's Mishneh Torah and the Shulchan Arukh. However, R. Ben Shlomo's book is directed at soldiers today and the situations they commonly face. That is what makes his rulings so interesting.

Click here to read moreAs you will see, he tends to be strict. Perhaps that is his general approach or maybe he feels that in this particular area the general atmosphere requires that we be strict. He even begins the chapter with a discussion of the unfortunate trend of Israelis looking to Far Eastern cultures and religions for "meaning" in life.

Here are some examples:

1. He prohibits bowing down to anything, even in a non-idolatrous circumstance such as learning karate, based on R. Soloveitchik's statement that it is forbidden because it is stupid (see Nefesh Ha-Rav, p. 233).

2. He prohibits seances because they either entail a forbidden inquiring of the dead (Deut. 18:11) or are nonsense.

3. He prohibits transcendental meditation because it has unequivocal signs (simanim muvhakim) of idolatry.

4. He prohibits (a Jew's) owning crosses but permits writing a plus sign.

5. He says that there is a debate whether magic tricks are permissible to entertain at a wedding but he otherwise forbids them.

6. He prohibits hypnotism except in the case of treatment.

7. He prohibits using a non-believing psychiatrist unless 1) there are no available believing psychiatrists and 2) the psychiatrist agrees not to discuss issues of faith.

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