Did Solomon Really Worship Foreign gods? (19 December 2016, 19 Kislev, 5777)
Yair, What is your understanding to the fall of King Solomon on the subject of witchcraft or sorcery. Does the Torah discuss this particular subject. I have understood the main reason, is his heart going after foreign women who did not believe in our God also that he was building their false temples etc. Any insight from the Talmud or other texts would be appreciated. Shalom Mike
Different opinions or rather shades of opinion exist on this subject.
In general the consensus appears to be that Solomon tolerated the idolatry of his foreign wives. This led to his heart turning away from the Almighty though in practice he may not actually have committed idolatry in the full sense.
Since he was a great man and had once come close to the level of Prophecy this deviation of devotion was computed as idolatry in his case.
What the Talmud says in this case does not involve practical law. it would therefore be permitted to hold divergent opinions and such opinions probably exist. Nevertheless the opinion of the Sages does fit a certain understanding of the grammatical structure of the Hebrew. The expressions "and he did" [1-Kings 11:6] and "then he built" 1-Kings 11:7] could indeed be understood to connote "intended to do" and "intended to build then." In other words we need to understand Scripture as well as we can. We should not dismiss what the Sages said just because they said it. Very often what they say fits a deeper meaning of the Hebrew and the psychological thought process underlying it.
1 Now King Solomon loved many foreign women along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women, 2 from the nations concerning which the LORD had said to the sons of Israel, 'You shall not associate with them, nor shall they associate with you, for they will surely turn your heart away after their gods.' Solomon held fast to these in love. 3 He had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines, and his wives turned his heart away. 4 For when Solomon was old, his wives turned his heart away after other gods; and his heart was not wholly devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father had been. 5 For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians and after Milcom the detestable idol of the Ammonites. 6 Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, and did not follow the LORD fully, as David his father had done. 7 Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the detestable idol of Moab, on the mountain which is east of Jerusalem, and for Molech the detestable idol of the sons of Ammon. 8 Thus also he did for all his foreign wives, who burned incense and sacrificed to their gods.
Yehudah Kiel (1916-2011, in the Commentary "Daat Mikra" on the Book of Kings):
# ... One should not explain this [1-Kings 11:4] as if to say that Solomon himself worshipped other gods. If such was the intention it would not say "his heart was not wholly devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father had been".... it transpires from these sources that the weakness of cognition that Solomon demonstrated [through tolerating] the deeds of his foreign wives indicates gaps in the wholeness of his heart, i.e. in his thought. #
The Commentary "Kli Yakar" (Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim Luntschitz, 1550-1619) quotes the Talmudic saying "his wife is as his body." The woman is the other half of the man. The wives of Solomon were part of himself. Solomon was blamed for what they did especially since Solomon could have prevented their actions and did not.
4. Talmudic Opinion
Talmud [Shabbat 56;b] Rabi Shmuel Bar Nachmani said in the name of Rabbi Nathan, Whoever says Solomon sinned [in idolatry] is in error. It says "his heart was not wholly devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father had been" (1-Kings 11:4). His heart was not as wholly devoted as that of his father had been but sin [through idolatry] he did not. What do I mean to say? "For when Solomon was old, his wives turned his heart away.. " [1-Kings 11:4]. This was explained by Rabbi Nathan. His wives inclined his heart to turn after other gods but he did not actually turn.
Scripture says, "Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the detestable idol of Moab... [1-Kings 11:7]. He wished to build but did not do so and it says,
"Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the LORD" [1-Kings 11:6]. He should have protested against his wives but he did not do so. It was therefore imputed to him as if he himself had sinned [through idolatry].
[Source: Talmud, Shabbat 56;b, similar sources from the Talmud, Midrashim, etc, are quoted by Menachem Zeev Stern, "Torah shel Baal-Peh," Sefer Malacim p.178].
King Solomon when he got old was led astray by his wives. His psychic faculties evidently were weakened. He did not prevent his womenfolk from worshipping idols, etc. Consequently he himself began to incline in some degree in their direction and this was counted against him as if he had done what they did.
Solomon was a great man of high standing and a higher standard of behavior and a more elevated level of attitude was expected from him. He need to all take hold of ourselves and realize that we have a responsibility beyond ourselves.