On Shavuot, we commemorate the pact of spiritual loyalty that G-d and the Jewish people pledged to each other at Mount Sinai. Yet a plain reading of the biblical text shows us that not long after the Jews committed their loyalty to G-d, many abrogated their sacred promise and worshipped something else: the Golden Calf.
While still encamped at Mount Sinai, the Jews — or at least some Jews — violated their commitment and ended up worshiping an idol in the image of a Golden Calf. These sinners were duly punished and their cult was swiftly repressed … or was it?
Centuries passed, and following the death of King Shlomo, the cult of worship of the Golden Calf was revived with the erection by King Yeravam of Golden Calves at Beth El and Dan.
Rabbi Reuven Chaim Klein, author of G-d Versus Gods: Judaism in the Age of Idolatry (Mosaica Press, 2018), deals in some depth with this issue in the following manner:
Are these outbursts of bovine adoration to be understood as isolated incidents or as part of a larger, deviant stream of Judaism? Is there any significance to the Jews choosing a cow to worship as opposed to any other animal or element of nature? Do these cases of cow worship have anything to do with the Apis Bull or the Osiris cult in Egyptian worship, which also venerated the beast?
Rabbi Klein addresses these issues and much more. He traces the history of avodah zarah as it appears throughout the Bible’s narratives utilizing up-to-date research and traditional rabbinic sources that will give you an informed yet understandable approach to this era of our people’s history, all stemming from the experience of the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai.
This historical narrative takes us through the entire Biblical account, spanning the period of the judges, kings and their priests, detailing the idol worship that swept these eras that included the worship of Baal and Asherah.
This first section of the book concludes with a chapter dedicated to explaining the rabbinic legend of “slaughtering” the inclination for avodah zarah and what that means for us to this very day. One fascinating chapter deals with Rav Yitzchok Hutner’s teaching on “Idolatry’s Strangeness,” and warrants your attention. The footnoting here should be of particular interest.
Other idol worship traditions dealt with in this book include those of Molech, Baal Peor and Dagon.
Rabbi Klein’s teachings are staunchly traditional, coupled with a full appreciation for modern scholarship. As in his previous works, he carefully footnotes his sources, giving the reader a chance to research everything cited in this valued work.
Rabbi Klein is a longtime member of the Kollel of Yeshivas Mir in Jerusalem and lives with his family in Beitar Illit. He received his rabbinic semicha from Rav Moshe Sternbuch, Rav Zalman Nechemiah Goldberg, Rav Yosef Yitzchak Lerner, and Dayan Chanoch Sanhedrai. He is a member of the Rabbinical Council of America.
Questions and comments are welcome and can be directed to Rabbi Klein at firstname.lastname@example.org.