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Idolatry, defined as worshipping something or someone other than Hashem is forbidden to jews. This goes all the way back to Avraham and then is stated explicitly in the commandments received by Moshe at Sinai.

All major jewish scholars interpret Christianity as being Avodah Zara. This has been discussed on Mi Yodeya before and I don't wish to open that discussion. Is Christianity Avodah Zara?

My question is if, even if we hold that Christianity is a form of Avodah Zara, is there something different, or special to it, positive or negative. What the Christians call the Old Testament is more or less very similar to the Tanakh, and it claims for itself to be monotheistic, even if the Christian idea of monotheism is different than the one in Judaism.

Also related, the Christian nations have largely been some of the most successful in the world. That has also been discussed below, from the perspective of why Hashem would grant such success to idolaters. If Christianity is avodah zarah and Islam is not, why has the Christian world triumphed over the non-Christian, and why do Jews prefer to live among Christians and not Muslims?

Also relevant, some scholars, including Rashi and Ramban have identified Christianity with the descendants of Edom. https://www.etzion.org.il/en/lecture-7a-rashi-part-iv-rashi-and-christianity https://hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=41398&st=&pgnum=51

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    I thought the Rambam addressed this in his Igeres Teiman (sefaria.org/Iggerot_HaRambam%2C_Iggeret_Teiman?lang=bi). Christianity and Islam are patterned after the Torah. The Kuzari says this too. I forget who says that this will help the world accept the truth of the Torah when the time comes. – MichoelR Mar 16 at 12:28
  • I don't think your statement is true. While Christianity may be ascendant now, it definitely had times when it was inferior to Islamic countries. And for most of history, Jews were better off in Muslim countries than Christian ones. – N.T. Mar 19 at 11:02
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Regardless of the Christian opinions about the holiness of books, I think for a discussion of Avodah Zarah we have to focus on practice. I'd focus on areas of practice: prayer, non-prayer tasks, theological questions, and the practice of engaging the Torah.

tl;dr - Christian Avodah Zarah is unique in it's claiming to be inheritor of Judaism, but rejects MOST of what Islam does still adhere to: Idolatry, Diet/Cleanliness/Practices, Theologically unique in understanding human sin, and finally, unique in approach to Torah.

the too long:

Christian prayer practice by and large is obvious idolatry. A figure or memory of a man/god is worshiped. That's pretty serious Avodah Zarah. Is it unique too Christianity? No.

Non-prayer tasks, such as diet, cleanliness, charity, etc are very different from Judaism. Most importantly, they consider their religion to be a nullification, or some strange sense of "completion" of the very laws we live by. I'd say that makes doing christian non-prayer practices very uniquely non-Jewish, as they're seen as the precise nullification of them. The willful nullifying and overcoming or superceding of Jewish normative life is the uniqueness to me. What KIND of Avodah Zarah would it be? It was be a conscious rejection, with no appeal to ignorance. It would be a kind of Avodah Zarah directly purposed to be destructive of Jewish life. How many other types of Avodah Zarah are so consciously and arrogantly violent to Jewish law and normative practices? Sharia? I don't know.

Theologically, what Christians believe - that there is a unique incarnation of the divine spirit that existed in order to setup and resolve an "original sin" and that human sin can ONLY be absolved through this incarnation of the divine spirit. This flies in the face of all Jewish thought - we know that the soul is pure, the soul is good, and that humanity has teshuvah available always to clear away the problems and reveal the inherent and ineluctable goodness of the soul. In this way, by the foundational concept that the human soul is somehow impure, this type of Avodah Zarah is directly in conflict with Jewish ideas. It creates a psychological state of being that is exclusionary and rejects other traditions. In this way, the Avodah of HaShem, seeing and living universal consciousness bounded at the very least by the seven laws of Noah, is made impossible. Know this, as christians who know Judaism must, they are again arrogantly trying to replace fundamental Jewish theological ideas. It's the Avodah of Negation, perhaps, to coin a phrase.

Finally, wrt engaging Torah. Christians do not read the Torah according to our tradition. They read the Torah from a completely different point of view, without any reference to pre or post exhilic Jewish commentators, traditions, etc. They do not involve themselves in Mishnah, Gamara, or any of the ways we practice understanding Torah. As reading Torah is a normative Jewish spiritual act, an Avodat HaShem, they are espeically reading it in a way the cancels the Jewish tradition. Since they claim to be inheritors and supplantors of the tradition, I'd also call it a willful Avodah Zarah. This time I'd call it one of perversion of the mean, spirit, and text of the Torah, in order to teach falsehoods about the Torah.

So, to wrap-up, this Avodah Zarah is special, as it claims to be the supplantor of the Jewish tradition, it is often quite obviously idolatry despite their protestations, it casts out just about all the practical acts, warps the theological teachings to create a pitiful humanity imprisoned in sin, and willfully rereads the Torah to suit their theology, casting off the tradition from which the Torah came into the world and teaching from the "same" book the destruction of the Jewish people.

So, it's unique Avodah Zarah, indeed.

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You may be interested in Franz Rosenzweig’s reconceptualization of the Jewish-Christian relationship, in which he saw Christianity as Judaism’s pre-eminent ‘junior partner’ in the redemption of the world, indeed, the ‘rays of light’ in relation to the ‘fire’ of Judaism. He may not have been speaking Hashem’s word, but he seems to me to have grasped something important about Christianity’s ‘special status’ and pre-eminence over all other rival religions and philosophies. His philosophical analysis is complex, and not for the faint-hearted, but I for one have found his work very rewarding to study. Rosenzweig was first and foremost a great philosopher of History, which might make him helpful with regard to your reference to Christian ‘success’. I wish you success in your enquiries into this great subject :)

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I think we can set Christianity aside from all other forms of Avodah Zara, is that Christianity, as you write, accepts the Old Testament (ie all five books of the Torah and the Tanakh) where Islam claims these are a corruption of the word of G-d and recreates them in the Qur'an. Also, it could be argued that the Christian Father is the same HaShem of Judaism, save Jesus while Islam's Allah is a moon god of sorts.

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  • That's an interesting comment, but it doesn't answer the question. My thoughts are exactly the same, its a special form of Avodah Zara, but special how ? For better or for worse ? And at in the end of the day its still Avodah Zara. – WhatNot Mar 14 at 23:07
  • @WhatNot I agree that it's Avodah Zara. The only thing 'special' I can detect is the fact that it still accepts the Torah whereas all other religions, even Islam, rejects the Torah as we have it. Islam is the exception where they accept we received the Torah but claim this is a corruption of the Divine book. Whereas at least Chsitiansy calls our Torah Divine. Or, perhaps you mean special as in a historical sense, as in being successful in disseminating knowledge of the Torah throughout the world? Other than that, I cannot see anything 'special' about them. – Turk Hill Mar 14 at 23:11
  • Also, the Old Testament is not quite the same as the Tanakh. Different Christian denominations will have their version of the Old Testament, depending on which translation they hold as authoritative. The Eastern Orthodox Christians translations generally follow the Septuagint for example. Also, there are some books in the Old Testament which are not in the Tanakh. And some books are placed in different parts. For example the Book of Daniel is placed in Prophets, not Writings. – WhatNot Mar 14 at 23:12
  • @WhatNot This is true, and some Christian dominations, like, for example, the Prosetents may call the Catholic Bible non-authoritative, but by-and-large, the Christian community accepts the same Torah/Tanakh, as we have it, whereas Islam rejects this claim entierly. Yes, Christians have placed chapters and mixed the bag a little so that it is not exactly the same, but almost. – Turk Hill Mar 14 at 23:15
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    "while Islam's Allah is a moon god of sorts", that's an unsubstantiated claim which is patently and clearly false. Cf. judaism.stackexchange.com/q/105397/1739 – robev Mar 16 at 12:42

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