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I recently heard that one is forbidden to get any benefit from a church (or any other place of worship other then a shul). They went on to say that the prohibation included while giving directions "turn right at the church". Has anyone else heard of this prohibation being that extreme and what sources that?

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"or any other place of worship other then a shul" -- I'm really not sure where that's coming from. I've always heard that you're allowed to enter a mosque; even if there's a problem of how it looks, or bad influences -- I can't see how you could prohibit benefit. –  Shalom May 7 '10 at 16:34
    
There are those who are machmir about a mosque as well. While I'm not sure this could be considered the majority opinion the reasoning (as I understand it) is pretty straight forward, whether or not Islam is avodah zarah for a non-Jew it is avodah zarah for a Jew so entering their houses of worship is forbidden. Anybody else familiar with this? –  Yirmeyahu May 7 '10 at 17:33
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I've never, ever, EVER heard that before. –  Shalom May 7 '10 at 17:52
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Yirmiyahu, learn Ramabam's Igeres HaShmad. Islam is most definitely not Avodah Zarah. –  Yahu May 9 '10 at 12:58
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Yahu: Is Rambam the only Posek? –  Yirmeyahu May 10 '10 at 3:51
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3 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Please ask your rabbi; I've heard of this practice as well; if it's actually a law (and not just a recommendation), there are two sources that I know of, and I suspect it's a combination of them. I hope this provides a good starting point.

A.) Saying the name of a heathen deity

Talmud Sanhedrin 63a (also Rashi on Chumash):

תניא (שמות כ”ג): “ושם אלהים אחרים לא תזכירו” – שלא יאמר אדם לחבירו ’שמור לי בצד ע”ז פלונית’

When the verse (Ex. 23:13) says "do not mention the names of foreign gods", this includes telling your friend "meet me by such-and-such an idol."

The Rambam rules (Avoda Zara 5:14) that any idol mentioned in Tanach is okay to say. Only other names are prohibited.

I suspect this is the source. The Gemara above would seem to be stating it's a problem when naming the specific deity; I'm not sure how that translates into "turn right at the church on Main St.", where no deity is mentioned.

B.) Deriving benefit from an idol

We're prohibited from deriving tangible benefit from an idol. A building that was built to house and protect the idol would be prohibited as well.

To extend this prohibition to saying "turn right at the church" , you'd have to argue that:

  • The church houses an idol
    • Not so simple. For instance, I heard on a Rabbi Frand tape that ~100 years ago it was ruled that a Welsh-Scottish Methodist church did not house any idols.
  • AND, Signposting is considered a tangible benefit
    • Also not so simple. See the examples of tangible benefit in Rambam Hilchos Avoda Zara. Also, if so, why did source A sound like the problem is saying the deity's name? It sounds from the Rambam like you can signpost a Biblically-named idol; isn't that exactly what God tells Moses to do in Exodus 14:2? Okay, that was before the Torah was given ...

It could also be that for some of the reasons that it's a problem to enter a church (looks wrong, bad influence, etc.), it's recommended not to signpost them, but I'd have to see a source for this.

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Shalom, thanks. I corrected my post below. –  Yahu Feb 27 '11 at 23:48
    
Very good answer! –  Judah Himango Jul 1 '11 at 18:59
    
There is a shul I go to often for a "commuter's minyan" in the morning. This little shul has a small parking lot but is next door to a church with a large parking lot that many shul members use. I don't. At one point when the church asked for assistance in repaving their lot since so many of our members use it daily. The board agreed believing, wrongly, that the rabbi had given his OK. To put it mildly, he was not pleased when he heard of the decision too late to stop it. He had only told a board member that there were some who might permit it. He did not give his permission, however. –  Bruce James Jan 7 '13 at 18:51
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It is clearly stated in the Talmud Bavli, Sanhedrin 63b. The Rambam codifies it in Hilchos Avodas Cochavim, Chapter Five, 11

I stand corrected by Shalom, below, that this prohibition is only when mentioning the Avodah Zarah's name.

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@Yahu, that prohibition is saying the name of the idol, assuming that name isn't already in Tanach. "Turn right at the church on Green Street" is not mentioning any idol. –  Shalom Feb 27 '11 at 3:45
    
Shalom, I corrected my mistake above. –  Yahu Feb 27 '11 at 23:45
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Many years ago I wrote this question in to an author of a sefer on Hilchos Akum. I argued that it should be permitted based on the reasoning Shalom provided in his excellent answer.

The Rabbi responded that although my argument seems correct, since there is a minhag to refrain from using Avoda Zara in this manner, it should be avoided. He added that in general, the practice of Jews throughout time was to steer clear from anything that smacked of Avoda Zara.

(To illustrate, A relative of mine who lived long ago in Europe told me that the practice back then when passing a church was to cross the street and refrain from looking at it.)

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