How can a monotheistic religion’s primary text use terms like “other gods”?
The Torah repeatedly refers to various other gods.

Why does the Torah use the term elohim acherim, other gods, in describing the religious activities of other nations? If the Torah talked about the beliefs of others, saying that they were erroneous, I would have no question here. The use of the word elohim, though, implies that whatever deities or forces were being worshipped by other groups do indeed have some inherent powers. Even though it is done in the context of “putting down” those “other gods,” it still seems to give them a certain amount of credence and presents them as being actual (though less powerful) forces that are in a losing competition with G_d. Lehavdil a thousand times, what comes to mind here is two schoolboys arguing over whether Batman or Superman is stronger. My understanding of monotheism – of the very most essential Jewish theology – is that Hashem is One. There is one G_d, that rules over all things, and that any force within nature as observed by the layman, farmer, astrophysicist or mystic – is a power created by, ruled by and essentially part of Hakadosh Baruch Hu himself. This leaves no room whatsoever for the term elohim acherim in describing other religions. And if you say in response that the term should be understood in context, and means “G_d concept that those people think of as G_d” then why would the other nations be condemned – and the Israelites warned so sternly — about merely falling short on a complete understanding of who G_d is? The use of the term elohim implies something more — that these “other gods” are dangerous. Less powerful than our G_d, but nonetheless separate, heaven forbid, or even in opposition to Hakadosh Baruch Hu. This does not sound like genuine monotheism. What in the world is it doing in the Torah?
One possible understanding of all this is that the Torah acknowledges that the religious practices of the other tribes out there, though incomplete, are at least BASED on something real and powerful. The gods being referred to with the term “elohim acherim” are worshipped within religious systems that are not total nonsense, but rather are rooted in some essential truths about the way the world works – physically and metaphysically. Where they fall short is that the powers are thought of as powers in and of themselves, without recognizing them as being created by, ruled by and essentially part of the Infinite G_d that we worship. This falling short is worthy of the most extreme condemnation because it denies the existence of the Universal G_d. The term elohim acherim can be understood as saying that the various nations worship different gods from each other – nation A worships god A, nation B worships god B, etc. — they each worship another god – another genuine force within the world. Spoken of together, the nations of the world worship elohim acherim – OTHER gods from each other, all of them failing to recognize the unifying, Universal force that connects all of them and so many other unknown forces together in one total, world ruling, unified, non-seperable reality called G_d. They collectively worship all the separate forces, whereas Judaism sets forth the notion that there is only one ultimate G_d – multiple names, multiple manifestations – One G_d.
This interpretation would also explain why Judaism is so worried about other religious understandings. It always seemed to me, growing up in a multicultural, multiethnic world, that we are all big boys and girls, and that Judaism shouldn’t worry so much about what we are exposed to. We all have free will to make choices. Equip us with the real thing and trust G_d that we will be guided to make healthy choices. With the above understanding of how the Torah might view philosophies and theologies that are not consistent with our own, the grave concern seems well warranted. It is not that other beliefs are laughable and should be dismissed. No, they have genuine merit and power and should not be dismissed. Perhaps they may even be learned from in certain limited ways. BUT BE CAREFUL, LEST YOUR HEART BE TURNED ASTRAY AND YOU GO AFTER THEM – they attempt to disconnect powers from the SOURCE POWER that is our G_d. This “separation of powers,” so to speak, is ultimately dangerous in that it flies in the face of everything we Jews stand for – everything we have lived and died for since Avraham Aveinu first asserted the existence of One G_d. there is nothing more false than a partial truth.
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