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It is commonly accepted that Islam is not Avodah Zarah (idolatry) since Islam has a clear monotheistic theology with a belief in Allah that parallels our view of "kail" or Hashem. It is even permissible for Jews to enter and pray (Jewish prayer) in a mosque. The views of Christianity and their Trinity are more clouded. Entering a Church is a questionable act. Do we group Christians as one? Would we paskun differently for Catholicism vs Protestantism? Is Saint worship more concretely Avodah Zarah than other Christian worship?

I know there are opinions on both sides. Are those who say that Christianity is Avodah Zara just not being open-minded enough to their explanation of how the Trinity equals monotheism? Are those who say it's not Avodah Zara just looking to appease the Christian majority in the countries where they live?

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Just for clarification, practicing any religion that is not Judaism constitutes "foreign worship" for Jews. The question here is limited to defining permissible and forbidden practices for non-Jews. The ramifications include whether a Jew may contribute monetarily, benefit from, or possibly even encourage those practices. –  WAF Dec 22 '09 at 23:33
    
see this question as well: judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/6004/… –  Menachem Jun 28 '11 at 18:07
    
Kaballah also said that Torah, God, and Israel (another trinity?) is one. Perhaps it's in that sense too. kabbalahmadeeasy.com/… is that idolatry too? I do not know what trinity truly means in Christianity. There are many flavors and each condemn the other as heretic. And that's just a branch of christianity. I think there is a reason why Jesus pick simple fishermen as his original followers. –  Jim Thio Nov 16 '11 at 9:18
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"Would we paskun differently for Catholicism vs Protestantism?" It's probably worth clarifying that "Protestantism" is by no means a unified belief system. (Also, Anglo-Catholics, known also as Anglicans, are not in communion with the Bishop of Rome (the Pope). It gets a bit confusing.) –  TRiG Jun 23 '12 at 21:36
    
Most christians nowadays do not understand the fine detail of what trinity really means (it is actually very complex). When asked in christianity stackexchange, many answers are effectively sabellianism rather than trinity (which the church used to condemn as heretic). –  Jim Thio Sep 23 '13 at 8:56

11 Answers 11

In Jewish law, the idea of the Trinity falls under the catchall term of "shittuf" - worshipping G-d along with some other being.

Shittuf is prohibited for Jews. This means that a Jew would be prohibited to acknowledge the Christian savior as part of the G-dhead, or to participate in Christian worship, even at the cost of his or her life.

There is a dispute among the posekim as to whether shittuf is permitted to non-Jews. (This has ramifications, for example, concerning the laws of yayin nesech, doing business with them on their holidays, etc.). The Rambam (Laws of Idolatry 9:4) states that Christians are considered idolaters under Jewish law - i.e., according to him, shittuf is not a Jewishly acceptable belief for non-Jews either. The Meiri, on the other hand (commentary to Avodah Zarah 2b and 6b), says that present-day Christianity is not considered idol worship, and the Rema (Darchei Moshe to Yoreh De'ah 156) spells out that shittuf is permitted for them.

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Welcome to mi.yodeya! Thank you very much, too, for tackling this sensitive topic. You could make your post even better by editing it to include citations of your sources. –  Isaac Moses Dec 30 '09 at 18:46
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Although non-Jews are permitted (according to some authorities) to worship "b'shittuf", this is where the actual worship is directed towards all of the Gods. If a non-Jew believes in the existence of all 3, but today he worships (e.g. prays to) just one of them, he is guilty of A"Z. In other words, it is prohibited for a non-Jew to pray to Jesus for anything, even if he believes that Jesus constitututes just 1/3rd of the full God (or however that should be phrased, I'm wording this loosely just to capture my point). –  Barry Jun 18 '10 at 14:45
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see my comment where I bring a the Nodeh Be'Yehuda, who says that even the Remah holds that Shituf is forbidden to Non-Jews: judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/6004/… –  Menachem Jun 28 '11 at 18:09
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It would seem fairly clear to most that worshiping any person or thing, living or dead, as a god or as G-d would be assur. From my experience, it's much more than just worshiping G-d along with another being, it's worshiping that other being as G-d. (I have a bit of experience, being a former Christian.) –  Naftuli Tzvi Kay Nov 17 '11 at 2:22
    
I don't see it in 156. It's all about haircuts... –  Double AA Jun 27 '12 at 17:10

The Talmud, in discussing whether the practice of refraining from engaging in business with worshipers of Avoda Zara (lest they offer thanks to their Avoda Zara) three days prior to (and according to R Yishmael also: following) their holidays (cf. Mishna AZ 1:1) includes the day of the holiday itself in the count of three days, states (AZ 6a and 7b):

אמר רב תחליפא בר אבדימי אמר שמואל: יום א' לדברי רבי ישמעאל לעולם אסור
R Tachlifa bar Avdimi said in the name of Shemuel: the first day [of the week] is always forbidden according to the opinion of R Yishmael.

However, the uncensored version states:

אמר רב תחליפא בר אבדימי אמר שמואל: נוצרי לדברי רבי ישמעאל לעולם אסור
R Tachlifa bar Avdimi said in the name of Shemuel: Christians [lit. נ[ו]צרי Nazarenes] are always forbidden according to the opinion of R Yishmael.

[Not only is the uncensored version upheld by manuscripts (see below), it also flows better in the Talmud, which goes on to ask:

ואי ס"ד הן ואידיהן, האיכא ארבעה וחמשה דשרי!‏
If you think [the day itself is included in the count of three days] then the fourth and fifth [days of the week] should be permitted!

The Talmud is clearly understanding Shemuel's statement as forbidding all the days of the week, a read borne out by the uncensored text (which still ends up counting days from Sunday). (One could reread this into the censored text, by understanding לעולם to refer to the whole week, with the claim being that the whole week is forbidden because of the aforementioned holiday on the first of the week (such indeed is Soncino's rendering). This sounds unnecessarily forced IMHO.)]

The Meiri (Ta'anit 27b) is clear that he had the uncensored text in front of him, though he understands נוצרי to refer to the people mentioned in Jeremiah 4:16. This explanation is troubling because I haven't found anyone else (after checking Rashi, Radak and both Metzudot) who understands נצרים in that verse as a nationality as opposed to a job description, and secondly it seems odd for Shemuel (~750 years after Jeremiah) to reference such an obscure people who may not even have been around anymore. (See Christians, Noṣerim, and Nebuchadnezzar's Daughter Lawrence Zalcman, The Jewish Quarterly Review, New Series, Vol. 81, No. 3/4 (Jan. - Apr., 1991), pp. 411-426 who identifies the Meiri's group as the Mandaeans.)

Screenshots of manuscripts:

french

jts

munich

It's interesting to note while this censorship is not noted in Mesoret haShas in the classic 1880 Vilna edition of the Talmud (link), it is mentioned in the new 'redone' Mesoret haShas in the 2008 Neharda' edition of the Talmud (link, note 3).

Additionally the new Mesoret haShas brings a variant of Rashi to the censored sv. יום א'‏ which accords with the uncensored text of the Talmud, and takes a clear stance against the Meiri's understanding of the word:

נוצרי: ההולך בטעותו של אותו האיש שצוה להם לעשות להם יום איד בא׳ בשבת.‏
A Christian: who follows in the mistake of that man [a common euphemism for Jesus] who commanded them to make themselves a holiday on the first day of the week.

This variant is attested to by Dikdukei Soferim and in a manuscript:

munich with rashi

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In the original version of the Rambam in Sefer Qedusha, Hilkhot Maakhalot Asurot 11:7 (compare the censored version and the uncensored version) he rules that xian are idol worshipers.

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Would the downvoter care to comment? I won't censor your remarks. –  Double AA Jun 29 '12 at 4:58
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The Rambam makes the same statement in Hilkhot 'Avodah Zarah 9:4 (link) –  Lee Jun 20 '13 at 20:12

One: the Rema does not rule that goyim are permitted shituf, but merely rules that for them swearing in the the name of a shituf is not an act of avodah zarah (as only Jews are prohibitted from swearing in anything but HaShem's name). As explained in the Nodah Beyahudah, Yoreh Deah 148: "The intention of the Tosefos and the Rama is that combining the Name of Heaven with something else in an oath does not constitute the actual worship of idolatry; rather he is combining the Name of Heaven with something else, but he is not calling in the name of Elokim and he is not saying 'you are my g-d.' Instead, he is merely mentioning him in his oath with the Name of Heaven in a manner of honor, regarding which we find a prohibition upon Israel, as it is written 'and in His Name shall you swear'; this is a warning to Israel not to swear except in His Name (blessed be He) and not to combine the Name of Heaven and something else, as the Rambam wrote in 11:2 of Hilchos Shevuos —and the gentiles are not warned regarding this shittuf. However, regarding the service of avoda zarah with shittuf, there is no difference between a Jew and a gentile!

Two: The Meiri ruled that because it did not engage in the degenerate immorality generally associated with avodah zarah, christianity must be a corrupted form of Judaism. This is a conclusion he reaches without consideration of the actual beliefs of christianity and determing whether or not those beliefs contitute avodah zara. Meaning no disrespect, c"v, I would seriously dispute the Meiri's reasoning and submit that the opposite is true: that christianinty is a "Judaized" form of idolatry.

Three: In more modern times, various gedolei hador have ruled that christianity is avodah zarah. In 1964, Rav Soleveichik zt"l ruled that, despite Vatican II, it was still forbidden to teach Torah to christians. He further forbade teaching them how to learn Torah or even to teach them lashon hakodesh. As it is prohibitted to teach idolators Torah, This can only mean that he considered them ovdei avodah zara: there is not other reasonable explanation.

Rav Moshe Feinstein zt"l ruled at least twice that christians were idolators: he ruled that if one is in the middle of a shiur and a christian walks in, even though it is forbidden to teach them Torah, it is not neccessary to interrupt the shiur. As above, the only reason it would be forbidden to teach christians Torah would be if they were idolators; he also wrote a teshuva to a shailah whether it was permitted to teach a class to a group of reform children (since some of them would obviously be gentiles) that it was permitted because since those children attended a reform "temple" it was unlikely that they were idolators and that the need to teach Jewish children the Emess outweighed the (in this case) unlikely violation of the prohibition against teaching idolators. I can't imagine that Reb Moshe was concerned about an Indianapolis "temple" being overrun by, say, buddhist or hindu children. Clearly he considered christians to be ovdei avodah zara.

More recently, within the past few years, Maran HaRav Yosef Sholom Eliyashiv zt"l has ruled on at least two seperate occasions, in very clear language, that christianity is avodah zara: A Jew planning a trip to Israel was asked by a christain bussiness associate if he would pray for him in Jeruslam. He wrote a shailah to Rav Eliyashiv to ask if this was permitted. Rav Eliyashiv respponded with one sentence: it is prohibiited to pray for an idolator. He also ruled that it was forbidden for Mosdos to accept money from the "International Fellowship of christians and Jews" (an organization almost entirely funded by christian churches) under the prohibition of accepting tzedaka from idolators.

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TorasMosheEmess, welcome to the site and thank you for the well-written and informative answer. Citations to sources would make it even more valuable. You may also wish to register your username: this will give you a better site experience. –  msh210 Nov 17 '11 at 17:40
    
You use "A Jew… asked by a christain… if he would pray for him… wrote… to Rav Eliyashiv to ask if this was permitted. Rav Eliyashiv respponded with one sentence: it is prohibiited to pray for an idolator." as proof R' Elyashiv "has ruled… in very clear language, that christianity is avodah zara"? Sounds to me like he's saying "it's forbidden if Christianity is avoda zara". –  msh210 Jun 24 '12 at 18:16
    
@msh210 So you think Rav Elyashiv thinks it's a safek? Do you have any basis for that? –  Double AA Jun 27 '12 at 17:03
    
@DoubleAA, I have only what he's quoted as saying to go by. I was commenting only that that's not "very clear language, that christianity is avodah zara". –  msh210 Jun 27 '12 at 17:51
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Have a look though at Darkei Moshe YD 151 and Pitchei Teshuva YD 147 –  Double AA Jan 20 '13 at 16:44

I have much experience with Christianity in its many forms and denominations. I can tell you absolutely that their beliefs are not uniform throughout the denominations. One may worship Yushka as the physical incarnation of G-d (outright Idolatry) and another may pray to him as the son of G-d (arguably Shituf). The point that they don't actually believe in what they are doing is also not uniform as some believe 100% and are willing to sacrifice their lives for their beliefs while others hold it all lightly. The trinity is a very complex idea believing that "the one God exists in three Persons and one substance."(G-d forbid). This is not three faces of one but each unit is equally the whole perhaps like a three headed hydra. It is part of Judaism to know as Rambam did the nature of other religions and how to properly interact with their proponents.

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Yehudah, Welcome to mi.yodeya, and thanks very much for sharing your perspective! Please consider clicking "register," above, to create your account. This will allow you to access all of mi.yodeya's features and to take full credit for your contributions. –  Isaac Moses Jun 17 '10 at 5:10
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What about kaballah that says that sephirot has 7 branch? –  Jim Thio Nov 15 '11 at 4:52
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@JimThio Sefirot are not G-d. –  HodofHod Nov 16 '11 at 6:56
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@JimThio the sefirot were created by G-d, and are thus His creations, not Him, though they reveal much about his essence in the way l'havdil a beautiful landscape might. –  Naftuli Tzvi Kay Nov 17 '11 at 2:24
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I remember explaining to my 94-year-old great aunt -- a true southern belle and devout Methodist -- about why I left Christianity and became a Jew. I said that the Trinity was in conflict with the concept that G-d is One. She said, "I never quite understood that, either." –  Bruce James Feb 7 '13 at 16:47

Inferring polytheism based on the Holy Trinity is a wildly literal interpretation of the concept and totally misses the point. Few Christians think it implies more then one God. In fact, I have never even heard this discussed as a possibility. Not that I'm a theologist or even overly religious, but I think this smacks of nitpicking.

Of course, I have no idea what basis the Jewish community uses to categorize such things, so I'm just giving an unaffiliated protestant opinion.

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Sean R, Thank you very much for bringing an important insider's perspective to this conversation. Please consider clicking on "register," above, to create an account. This will give you access to all of mi.yodeya's features and will allow you to take full credit for your contributions. –  Isaac Moses Mar 19 '10 at 2:30
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The doctrine of the Trinity means [at very least] that the Nazarene is identified as divine. Insofar as a Christian is asserting that G-d is G-d, and that so is the Nazarene, they are asserting that two different entities are divine. Whether or not they believe these two entities are one, they are not and to worship both is to worship two different "beings" as G-d. I state this matter of factly not to flippantly dismiss your beliefs, but just in recognition that this is a Jewish site where Jewish beliefs are [at least somewhat] presumed –  Yirmeyahu May 7 '10 at 6:18
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Trinity has many different senses and branches, each calling each other heretic. Not sure about the killing that follow (got to check history) given that most laymen don't get it enough to lift their sword to split the difference. But then again, what about kabbalahmadeeasy.com/… –  Jim Thio Nov 16 '11 at 9:34
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@Yirmeyahu - R' Isaac Luria is known as the AR"I, the E-lohi Rabbi Yitzchak. E-lohi means divine as well, was Jesus not divine in some aspect? –  Adam Mosheh Jun 24 '12 at 17:59
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@Adam Mosheh, No, a proper translation insofar as our discussion would be concerned would be "godly". To use this notion/term as any sort of support for the Trinity is simply equivocation. –  Yirmeyahu Jun 27 '12 at 23:07

I just heard a great lecture on this subject on YUTorah.org: The Halachic Status of Christianity and its Legal Consequences, by Rabbi Josh Blass.

I don't have the Meiri in front of me, but it was my understanding that he held that "nowadays", Christianity is not A"Z because they don't really take it seriously, which would also hold true to adolescents playing around with sorcery and the like — they don't really believe in the idolatry of it. Regardless of what Christians actually believe, this is an important point for halakhic discourse in general: times change, and so does reality, and halakha reflects this. So even in the Rambam thought Christianity was A"Z, he might think otherwise if he were alive today.

And in passing, do all branches of Christianity believe in the Trinity, or is that specific to Catholicism?

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Almost all branches of Christianity believe in the Trinity. (My religious background is one of the few branches that doesn't, and is often regarded as non-Christian by others.) Jehovah's Witnesses, Christadelphians, Mormons, Arians, and some Gnostics reject the Trinity. The vast majority of Christians accept it (in theory, anyway: I've spoken to a few Catholics who don't really have any idea what the Trinity even is). –  TRiG Aug 5 '11 at 21:11
    
I thought that the Meiri's ruling that Christians don't really take it seriously only applied to lay-people. Priests (ie, experts in their religion) do take it very seriously and would, therefore, come under the geder of avdei avodah zara. –  Shemmy Jun 24 '12 at 11:11
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Unitarians are another Christian sect which does not believe in the trinity. Of course non-trinitarian does not necessarily imply not A"Z. Mormon beliefs are non-trinitarian from the point of view of Nicene Christianity, but in ways that appear to make it more clearly A"Z rather than less. –  Noah Snyder Jun 24 '12 at 18:38
    
I am a non-practicing Catholic and in general, Catholics believe in the Trinity. I have attended services in Methodist, Lutheran and Disciples of Christ and I, personally, haven't heard the Trinity mentioned. I cannot speak for my Christian brethen, but - personally - I don't believe it in. There is one G-d and that's it. I believe that Jesus is His son and the Holy Spirit works for Him, but neither of them are G-d. Now, I usually pray only to G-d, but in times I've trouble, I've been known to pray to Jesus, the Virgin Mary and a dead uncle. But, I don't worship them, like I worship G-d. –  DataGirl Mar 27 '13 at 16:38
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Christian here. To answer your last question, virtually all Christians believe in the divinity of the Messiah, which necessitates a theology like the trinity or something like it. This is because the gospels and Paul's letters in the New Testament affirm the elevated status of Messiah. Interestingly, the Orthodox Jewish scholar and talmudist, Daniel Boyarin, writes in his book, the Jewish Gospels, that the idea of a divine messiah was not foreign to 1st century Judaisms. thejc.com/judaism/judaism-features/106271/… –  Judah Himango Sep 30 '13 at 17:59

Regardless of whether there is any implied 'cohesion' or oneness of the elements of the so-called "trinity," the fact remains that they are 1) three distinct 'beings', and 2) that one of these beings has a human form, is a human body, etc. Therefore, that is clearly avodah zara. Worshipping a human being is the same as worshipping G-d in any other idolatrous form. G-d has no form. Worshipping any form whatsoever is idolatry.

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jeff rez, Welcome to mi.yodeya, and thanks very much for sharing your perspective on this! We'd love to have you as a fully-registered member, which you can accomplish here: mi.yodeya.com/users/login –  Isaac Moses Apr 1 '11 at 4:23
    
Jeff is there any jewish commentary that claim that God doesn't have human form before Plato? This should be another question. Maybe it belongs to history stack. –  Jim Thio Nov 16 '11 at 9:31
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Even saying "three distinct beings" may not be an accurate description of Christian belief. Most Christians accept the Nicene Creed which in its original Greek said ὁμοούσιον ("of one being"), though this caused later issues as there is no present participle of to be in Latin and the use of consubstantialem led to new debates. –  Henry Dec 15 '11 at 8:20
    
-1 for misunderstanding the Trinity. (Not that anyone actually can understand it, since it's nonsensical, but "three beings" is a fairly basic error.) –  TRiG Sep 26 '12 at 21:23

the trinity churches are avodah zarah because if you believe in that kind of shituff you believe in a different definition of an unlimited g-d we believe in a g-d which none is similar to him "vehu echad veain sheini lehamshil lo" ( "והוא אחד ואין שני להמשיל לו" )(adon olam) and trinity does not support that therefore they belive in a different deity then us

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The Trinity doesn't say that Jesus is comparable to God. It says he and God are one. There's no comparing happening. –  Double AA Aug 18 '13 at 8:28
    
@DoubleAA if you believe in more then one thing as being "godly" then there is something comparable to him in addition we believe in a indivisible god (ה אחד) and believing in a god which part of him is jesus is also a different type of god –  tryingToGetProgrammingStraight Aug 18 '13 at 15:09
    
They believe in only one thing as Godly. It is the Trinity. Jesus is not a part of God; he is God. –  Double AA Aug 18 '13 at 15:18
    
@DoubleAA yes but if god has 2 hands he isnt "INDIVISIBLE" –  tryingToGetProgrammingStraight Aug 18 '13 at 15:20
    
OK. Good thing the Trinity doesn't have that. –  Double AA Aug 18 '13 at 15:22

Protestantism-based answer, intended to clarify the Christian disposition on the idea of the Trinity.

Christianity is a monotheistic faith, meaning simply, believers in it say so. Take a poll of Christians and exclude anyone who says they believe Jesus is now dead, or is/was not a real historical person. Ask those remaining whether the idea of the Trinity means that "there are three Gods", yes or no. I would be shocked if even a single person said yes out of a hundred.

Within Christianity a common analogy for the Trinity is the shamrock: one plant with three distinct leaves. (Another answer here mentions the hydra. That's the same idea I suppose, but you won't hear many Christians use that analogy for the Trinity, for reasons.)

Not all official statements of faith discuss the Trinity explicitly, but here are some that do:

With Catholicism, however, other questions could be in play, because many Catholics pray to their "Saints" as proxies, asking the Saints to pray to God on their behalf. Many Protestants consider this practice to be idolatry. This is, in fact, one aspect of one of the critical doctrinal divides between Catholics and Protestants. I do not know how the Orthodox Christian traditions treat this issue.

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Thank you for this information. Do any of the Protestant denominations have an "official" written statement on the trinity, or is that considered unnecessary? (If this were Roman Catholicism I would expect a papal decree, but that obviously don't work for Protestants and I don't know what your sources of authority are. Sorry if this question misses the mark.) –  Monica Cellio Feb 5 '13 at 15:05
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How do you know that the definition of monotheistic that you use is relevant to this issue? –  Double AA Feb 5 '13 at 16:43
    
I think you're a little confused about the Catholic and Orthodox doctrine of prayer to the saints. –  TRiG Feb 5 '13 at 23:49
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@MonicaCellio Good point, I have found and included some references, including a Catholic catechism. –  wberry Feb 7 '13 at 3:58
    
@DoubleAA I guess I don't. I only know one definition for monotheistic :-) –  wberry Feb 7 '13 at 3:59

yes it is avodah zarah as G-d is not a person not does G-d take on human form.

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The question is about Christianity not Islam. Hence the vast majority of your post is irrelevant. The part that remains is not sourced at all. –  Double AA Oct 14 at 23:57
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And we know the definition of avodah zarah hinges on the "person/human form" thing from...where? I mean, I'd like this to be true, but you haven't supported it at all and you're just some anonymous dude on the Internet, so we won't know if you don't tell us. –  Monica Cellio Oct 15 at 1:19
    
@ AA the question brings up Islam in the details. you should re-read the question. @Monica from the basic tenets of the Jewish faith. –  Dude Oct 15 at 19:57
    
@Dude It mentions it. That doesn't mean you should talk about it... –  Double AA 3 hours ago

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