Killing Two Idols With One Stone


Looking For Merkulis? Those who follow the Daf just might be. The ancient deity appears on :נז. The halacha about the proper bracha to make when coming across this idol is cited in Shulchan Aruch, although the Rama cautions that we are not in the habit of reciting the bracha on seeing objects of pagan veneration.

But, just for the sake of argument, where would you find Merkulis if you were really looking for him?

The Rambam claims to know. In a responsum (#448), Rambam writes that the Yishmaelim used to worship three of the pagan Bad Boys: Pe’or, Kemosh, and Merkulis. Vestiges of those practices carried over, he says, to the Islam of his day. He is quick and emphatic to add that there is no question that whatever the roots of these practices, the Muslims he knew (and hated for their brutal fanaticism) were not idolators (that is the chief point of his responsum) and unquestionably pure monotheists; the old idolatrous practices had morphed into something more innocuous.

So what became of Merkulis? The practice of throwing stones at it remained, Rambam writes, and can still be seen at the Haj in Mecca. Today, however, Muslims claim that they are throwing stones at the Devil! But we know where that came from originally…

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3 years 1 day ago

I remember a few months ago reading something that the Rambam wrote on the subject of the relationship of Christians and Moslems to Jews. Since I am merely an amateur, I cannot guarantee that I understood him correctly, but according to my limited understanding, the Rambam said that while it is true that the Moslems have a purer, meaning more monotheistic, conception of G-d than do the Christians, that the Christians are nevertheless more amenable to G-d’s Truths because Christians have far more respect for our Torah. Christians may mistranslate certain key phrases of our Torah, but at least they agree that our Torah is the correct one. Not so the moslems. Aside from the subject of values we might share with our religious neighbors, I think that the larger point being made by the Rambam here, is that Torah study is the most reliable path toward our quest to know G-d.

Bob Miller
3 years 3 days ago

In Selichos, in more than one place, we pray for relief from both enemies, Esav and Yishmael. Why get pedantic over which has caused us the most harm? For some members of Esav and Yishmael to treat Jews with dignity, they first had to ignore their own “sacred” anti-Jewish writings and traditions.

Lawrence M. Reisman
3 years 6 days ago

To Joe Hill: Please remember the caveat in every mutual fund offering memorandum, “Past results are no guarantee of future performance.” While I do not forget what is past, I don’t think it necessarily binds us in the future. For now, Islam is the greater menace, or to quote a saying of Jews of the Middle East, “Better Esav than Yishmoel.”

3 years 6 days ago

Is Islam Idol Worship?

The position of the Rambam that Islam is not considered Avodah Zarah
[idol worship], of course, is quite well known.

Not so well known is the responsa of the Radbaz Volume IV #92
which quotes the Ritva in tractate Pesachim page 25B that
Islam is considered in certain aspects to be Avodah Zarah.

The Klausenberger Rebbe ZTL seems to go a bit further (Divrei Yatziv YD #40)
and holds of a position that the true belief in the One G_d will elude
anyone who does not believe in the truth of the Torah of Moshe.

Seen in: The Ground Zero Mosque by Rabbi Yair Hoffman, 2010/8/19,

3 years 6 days ago

Joe Hill, it’s a real stretch to say that the Holocaust was perpetrated by religious Christians motivated by Christian sentiment. It’s ludicrous, in fact, to anyone with the slightest knowledge of who the Nazis (and their ideological forebears of the preceding century who thought up racial anti-Semitism) were and what they believed.

Of course, you can debate to what extent Christian anti-Semitism provided a suitable environment for the Nazis’ ideas, to what extent the Nazis allies- other Germans, Ukrainians, etc.- were motivated by Christian ideology, whether the Pope and his Church or other churches did all they could- but those are side issues. To bring up the Holocaust makes about as much sense as blaming Soviet anti-Semitism on Christian influence.