Another perspective on “other gods”

In my previous blog post, “Other Gods”, I posed a difficulty with Onkelos’ inconsistent translation of “other gods” in both verses in which they appear in the Ten Commandments.

After discussing my problem with my beloved Chavrusa, Rabbi Heshy Lowey, he shared an excellent explanation. Both verses read, “There shall not be to you other gods in my presence.” The term “Al Panai” is very problematic and Rashi offers his interpretation. According to Rashi, the intention of the verse is not to maintain idols in one’s possession ever. The Ramban claims, (in his commentary to Exodus), the Torah is saying we may not have besides Hashem other gods (elohim); we may not accept or believe in other gods and that includes all the angels on high and from among all the hosts of heaven, who are called elohim.

The Ramban concludes his thesis by saying that his argument is supported by Onkelos who translates: “You shall not have another god besides me.” Onkelos could not have understood the prohibition to be against possessing idols, as Rashi suggests, for then the words “besides me” would have no meaning. Rabbi Lowey suggested that the same argument can be used as to why Onkelos could not have translated :“the mistake of the nations,” as he usually does.