There is an interesting dialogue between the elders of Rome and the sages of Israel recorded in Talmud Avodah Zarah 55a:
[Rome]: "If [your God] has no desire for idolatry, why does He not abolish it?"
[Israel]: "If it was something unnecessary to the world that was worshiped, He would abolish it; but people worship the sun, moon, stars and planets; should He destroy His universe on account of fools!"
[Rome]: "If so, he should destroy what is unnecessary for the world..."
[Israel]: "They [the common people] would say, ‘be sure that these are deities, for behold they have not been abolished!"
Idolatry is one of the most frequently warned against transgressions in the Torah, and one of the most common errors of the Jewish people in Biblical times. Yet, for Jews of the 21st century Western society, idolatry seems a rather foolish, foreign concept. However, for centuries, millennia even, the worship of idols was a very real part of everyday life.
The modern catch-phrase “Seeing is believing” may help one understand the drive for idolatry. People began to worship the sun and the moon because they recognized that these celestial bodies influenced the world - the people just lost sight over Who controlled those celestial bodies. People made idols and statues, because having a god they could see made them feel more in control of the world. The Jewish concept of the Creator of the world, however, has no corporeal body, and one must work all the more to create a relationship with Him.
The desire for physical proof of power is no different today than 2,000 years ago. So why does idol worship sound so archaic? According to Jewish tradition, this is because the Men of the Great Assembly, seeing how idolatrous crimes had led to the destruction of the First Temple and exile from the Promised Land, successfully beseeched God to remove the desire for idolatry from the Jewish people.
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