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Many (perhaps most) Chess sets come with a King piece that has a cross on the top of it. Is there any problem with owning or using such a chess set? Should one break off the cross?

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Do the same thing you do with a plus sign when doing math –  Imray Mar 3 '13 at 2:58
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@Imray A plus is not a cross. With the King Piece, it's very clearly a cross. –  yydl Mar 3 '13 at 3:02
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@DoubleAA Not appearance. Intent of creation. –  yydl Mar 3 '13 at 5:11
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@Yirmeyahu That really depends which branch of Christianity one holds of (IIRC). Your norm is influenced by where you live(d). Either way, the lower leg on top of a chess piece is inconclusive because it serves the dual purpose of raising the plus sign higher in the air. –  Double AA Mar 3 '13 at 5:47
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Not all Christian crosses have one line longer vertically. For example, St. George's cross. –  Imray Mar 3 '13 at 18:41
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2 Answers

There is no prohibition against owning idolatrous figures. However, there is a prohibition against gazing as such figures, which would in general prevent one from owning them. According to Shulchan Aruch (YD 141:1) it is permitted to gaze at an idolatrous figure that is not intended for the purpose of worship. (See Rama there who includes the cross as an idolatrous figure, but maintains that in circumstances in which worship is not intended, such as a pendant on a necklace, it would be permitted.) For more information, see here.

R' Aviner brings several sources to indicate that although it is permitted to own the cross, it is nonetheless proper to remove the cross from the chess piece. (See here.)

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Why is look at the same as owning? –  Double AA Mar 3 '13 at 23:57
    
@DoubleAA, The only thing to prevent one's ownership would be the prohibition of looking at it. Once that is not prohibited, the ownership becomes not a problem. I just didn't want to say the the Shulchan Aruch says it is permitted to own... when really what the Shulchan Aruch means by "מותר" in this context is "permitted to gaze at". It is clear from the context though (and all the poskim) that this means it is permitted to own/derive pleasure from. –  jake Mar 4 '13 at 0:01
    
@jake, that seems like a big leap from looking at it to owning it. It is (as far as I know) permitted to look at chametz during Pesach, but not to own it. –  Daniel Mar 4 '13 at 5:02
    
@Daniel, The answer was perhaps unclear. I changed it to reflect what was meant. Please see the linked article for a more extensive explanation. –  jake Mar 4 '13 at 14:06
    
@jake, thank you. That is much clearer. –  Daniel Mar 4 '13 at 16:12
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See here an answer to that and similar questions by Rabbi Kaganoff.

TL;DR

According to the reasons we have applied so far, Zev may be able to keep his fancy carved chess set. No one worships the cross on the king, and one could, perhaps, argue that this is familiar enough that no one is led astray by these pieces. As mentioned above, it is meritorious not to have any images at all, and certainly not to have anything that is reminiscent of idolatry. Thus, there is good reason for the custom to break off the cross of such chess pieces.

On a personal note, my father (a rav), would indeed break the cross off the king on our chess sets. However, I never asked if he considered it a Halachic issue or just a "minhag tov".

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