Synagogues, Churches and Mosques

February 23, 2012

I have been asked many times about whether or not it is permitted for Jews to visit the houses of worship of the various religions, so here goes!

The Mishna (Avoda  Zara 11b) clearly forbids Jews to enter a house of avoda zara (idolatry). See also Maimonides Commentary to the Mishna, Avoda Zara 1:3. The Halacha is codified in the Shulchan Arukh Yore Deah 149-150 (see Shach to 149:1 and 150:1).

So the real question is whether or not a church or a mosque is a house of avoda zara.

Maimonides writes in hilchot maachalot asurot (11:7) that Islam is NOT to be considered avoda zara. Most of the poskim (decisors) follow the Rambam in this view, hence they do not forbid entering a mosque.
There is a minority view of the Meiri to Tractate avoda zara 57a who quotes the Chachmei Sefarad (the early Spanish scholars) who rule that Islam is avoda zara! (See Shu”t Tzitz Eliezer 14:91 and 18:47 who rules accordingly)

All agree that Jews should not visit mosques unless there is a compelling reason.

This is amazing as we will see later that it is none other than the same Meiri that holds that Christianity is not avoda zara!

However the Rambam rules unequivocally that Christianity is avoda zara.

Other Rishonim (early decisors) claim that Gentiles are only considered idolators if they totally reject the existence of God. ( See Tosafot to Sanhedrin 63b in the name of Rabbenu Tam, Meiri to Avoda Zara 2a and 6b).

Christianity combines a belief in God with other beliefs, one of which is the trinity. This is known in the Halacha as “avoda zara b’shituf” (in partnership or combination).

Some poskim ruled that avoda zara b’shituf is not real avoda zara. That is they are allowed to believe in God and other things. (Rema to Orach Chayyim 156 according to the Pischei Teshuva Yoreh Deah 147:2;  Mor uKetziah 224; Shoel umeishiv, tanina 1:51; Etc)

Others held that it is indeed avoda zara! (Noda beYehudah, tanina Yore Deah 148; Shaar Ephraim 24 quoting the Chelkat Mechokek; Pri Megadim Yore Deah 65:45; Teshuvot Chasam Sofer Orach Chayyim 84 and see Mishnah Berurah 304:4)

Of course Maimonides and other early authorities knew only  of per-reformation Christianity not that I have seen that point raised.

There is also a view that Christians nowadays cannot be considered idolators. They are merely following the tradition of their parents. Most of them don’t actually believe in it not do they attend church.

Practically speaking, most authorities consider Islam to be monotheism and Christianity to be idolatry. Therefore, it is forbidden to enter a church even not at the time of services.

The houses of worship of other religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism are also strictly off-limits at all times.

It is mitzva to visit a synagogue at all times and as the Psalmist wrote:

אחת מבקשותיו המפורסמות של דוד המלך היא זו המופיעה בפרק (כז, ד): “אחת שאלתי מאת ה’, אותה אבקש -שבתי בבית ה’ כל ימי חיי, לחזות בנעם ה’ ולבקר בהיכלו”

One of the most famous request of King David was (Psalms 27:4):
“One thing I have asked of the Lord; this I request,
That I may dwell in the House of the Lord, all the days of my life
And to perceive the pleasantness of the Lord, and to visit in His sanctuary”

Good chodesh,

Rabbi Meir Wise

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