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In YD Siman 151 it discusses the things that one is allowed and not allowed to sell to a gentile (for reasons that they might be used for Avodah Zara -- idol worship). I didn't see the following particular case discussed in Shulchan Aruch, although perhaps someone will find a reason why it's a problem.

If someone outside of Eretz Yisrael has a large piece of land that a gentile wants to purchase for the purpose of building on it a church or a school to train Christian leaders (or perhaps to build a building for actual idol worship), is one allowed to sell the land? Again it's not a building or house that is being sold, just land, and this is outside of Eretz Yisrael. May he sell the land?

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    I know of at least one Orthodox rabbi in our community who bought a large plot of land, sold a portion to a church, and used the proceeds to build a synagogue. I'm not sure what source he relied upon, or whether he sold the land to the church via a strawman (which I understand is the method for selling a synagogue). Good question. – Bruce James Jan 23 '13 at 14:13
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    Many old shuls in Washington, DC, are now churches - both the buildings and the land. (6th & I was a shul, then a church, then a shul again!) If what you say is halakha, it's often broken. – Charles Koppelman Jan 24 '13 at 4:19
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    @CharlesKoppelman Or there are loopholes, like selling to an escrow or bank as a middleman. – Double AA Oct 21 '15 at 2:08
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    @CharlesKoppelman Could be that the community sold the synagogue to a realtor, who then in turn sold to a church, who then in turn sold to another synagogue. – ezra Mar 1 '18 at 22:24
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In Iggrot Moshe (OC 3:28) Rav Moshe takes a question from Rabbi Gedalia Anemer. At the time Rabbi Anemer ZT"L was the rabbi of a congregation where the population had migrated away from where the shul was. Rav Moshe answered a number of questions related to that, one of which was selling the building. He says that once there were no longer services happening in the old shul, once was allowed to sell the building, although it is better to do it via a non-Jewish broker. In the letter they are saying it is obvious it will be purchased to be a house of worship. R' Moshe explains that in this case (where the new synagogue is already paid for), the holiness leaves the synagogue when you sell it. Although it is a "Davar Ma'us" it is still permitted. (There are restrictions on what one can do with the proceeds since they have some kedusha to them, but that's a separate issue). He also adds that there's no need to take a lower price for the building by selling to someone else (like the bank).

  • Did he say one could sell it for a church? Or just one could sell it in general – Double AA Aug 27 '18 at 23:17
  • In the letter they are saying it is obvious it will be purchased to be a house of worship. R' Moshe explains that in this case (where the new synagogue is already paid for), the holiness leaves the synagogue when you sell it. Although it is a "Davar Ma'us" it is still permitted. – Menachem Aug 27 '18 at 23:23
  • The issue there is selling a synagogue. That (and the massive trove of similar responsa) basically proves that no one is concerned per se about selling an empty plot of land. The Gemara's concern is selling things that will directly be used in pagan worship, like incense. Firewood to keep the general building warm, for the benefit of the attendees, is okay; an empty plot of real estate should be so as well. Note, for example, that if they use the frankincense for pagan worship it becomes prohibited. Land just sits there, it's not seen as a component of pagan worship. – Shalom Aug 28 '18 at 11:49

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