I was playing cards [the deck with the Joker and Ace King etc.] with a group of friends and was told that it is forbidden for one to play with these type of cards due to being considered similar to idolatry, and that we are very careful to avoid playing it. Can you please clarify the subject.
It is a long-standing Jewish tradition, recorded in various Sefarim, to not play cards due to a great impurity that is associated with them. It is evident from their words that the opposition was mainly and specifically to the deck of cards that contains the figures of the Joker queen and king and the numbers in the form of dice.
Various Poskim and Chassidic masters spoke ardently against playing cards, saying that it contains much impurity. The bulk of their discussion is dedicated towards the Chanukah Festival in which many individuals were accustomed to take time off from Torah study to play various games, including playing cards and hence the above leaders came out against this practice. These leaders include: The Baal Yesod Veshoresh Havoda, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchiv, Rav Tzevi Elimelech of Dinov, The Chofetz Chaim, and others.
As for the reason behind this prohibition, all write that it is somehow associated with a great impurity and idolatry, however not much context is discussed and there is more concealed than is revealed. Some write that the 36 candles lit throughout Chanukah corresponds to the thirty-six Tractates of Gemara that the Yevanim desired to abolish with their Kelipa that was represented by the thirty six cards introduced in those times. Others write that the figures that are on the cards represent idolatry and were actually worshiped at one point in time. All in all it is due to the tradition that we avoid playing with them whether we properly understand it’s reason or not
Sources: See the following sources which record this tradition against playing cards: Yesod Veshoresh Havoda Shaar Hamifaked 1 “every God-fearing Jew should distance his children so that they do not come to recognize at all the figures of the Kelipos that are found on the cards”; Kedushas Levi Parshas Mikeitz p. 70 “I have seen that the lads play with cards during Chanukah and you must know that in every car there is certainly a very great Kelipa which cannot be mentioned… One who plays with them defiles himself with an impurity that is not befitting to even mention with one’s mouth”; Bnei Yisaschar Mamar Chodesh Kisleiv 2:12 “from here one can understand the great prohibition and blemish of the soul that is caused to one who plays with the game known as cards which is the same numerical value as Satan. This impurity was invented in the times of the Yevanim who originally made a deck of 36 cards to nullify the 36 tractates of Shas in order to have secular wisdom dominate the world”; Biur Halacha 670:2 “Venohagin” “the holy books have spoken ardently against this and every man who guards his soul should distance himself from it”; See also: Lev Dovid 28; Binas Yissachar p. 81; Nefesh Bekol Chaiy