As Christianity is Avodah Zarah, is a Christian cross which people kiss, pay respect to, and face toward when praying, considered to be an idol?

Here is a brief excerpt from a scholarly Christian source which sheds more light into their form of worship and how the cross is used:

Now, it was clear from the beginning that Christian prayer was not simply directed to God alone, but through Jesus Christ to the heavenly Father. This is precisely where the cross comes into play as a focal point. Thus, in the early church, not only heaven, but the cross, as well, was depicted in the apse, or at least placed at a high location in the apse. Everyone was supposed to be looking at the cross when they prayed. The best example of this arrangement is in the apse of the church of Sant’Apollinare in Classe near Ravenna, Italy, which dates back to the sixth century

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  • @Ali, the tags need to match the question you're actually asking. If you mean to ask about the history of Jewish views of the cross, then (a) that's pretty broad but (b) you would need to edit the question. But since you have answers already, you can't change it. I agree with DoubleAA that your second and third quotes are not relevant to the question; you are free to use them in a proposed answer. May 28, 2013 at 1:23
  • @Ali Also, please remember to ping the person you are responding to @User so they see your responses.
    – Double AA
    May 28, 2013 at 1:30

5 Answers 5


Need to look up exact source of the tshuvah, but paraphrasing the Ben Ish Hai: crosses in churches (and those found inbas-relief on antique "expensive" vessels, bowls etc) are to be considered as idols and used in idol-worship. He says however crosses worn on necklaces nowadays (in his day) are not considered such and are merely decorative. He also interestingly mentions paintings/images of "the Madonna" are not generally to be considered idols.

The source is Ben Ish Chai Year II, Masei #2, which is based on the Chochmat Adam: בזה"ז כל הצורות הנמצאים בין בכפרים בין בכרכים אם ניכר הדבר שנעשו לשם ע"ז אסורים, וכן צורת שתי וערב שמעמידין בבית כנסיה שלהם בפניה דינו כע"ז ממש, שהרי מכבדין אותם, וכן כל שתי וערב שמניחין בכל מקום אם מכבדין אותם שלוקחין הכובע ומשתחוים להם, דינם כע"ז ממש, אבל צורת שו"ע שתולין על הצואר וכיוצא אלו נעשין לזכרון ולא נקראו צלם ואין להם דין ע"ז, ועיין חכ"א כלל פ"ז סעיף א' יע"ש:

  • thank you! The worn-cross piece would very much be consistent with the Holocaust responsa. I'd assume the churches addressed by the Ben Ish Hai (who lived in Baghdad) would be of the Eastern Orthodox or Catholic variety.
    – Shalom
    May 27, 2013 at 12:37
  • The source is Ben Ish Chai Year II, Masei #2, which is based on the Chochmat Adam: בזה"ז כל הצורות הנמצאים בין בכפרים בין בכרכים אם ניכר הדבר שנעשו לשם ע"ז אסורים, וכן צורת שתי וערב שמעמידין בבית כנסיה שלהם בפניה דינו כע"ז ממש, שהרי מכבדין אותם, וכן כל שתי וערב שמניחין בכל מקום אם מכבדין אותם שלוקחין הכובע ומשתחוים להם, דינם כע"ז ממש, אבל צורת שו"ע שתולין על הצואר וכיוצא אלו נעשין לזכרון ולא נקראו צלם ואין להם דין ע"ז, ועיין חכ"א כלל פ"ז סעיף א' יע"ש:
    – Aryeh
    May 28, 2013 at 10:59
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    @Aryeh EDIT the answer to incorporate the references
    – knowit
    May 28, 2013 at 15:30

Judaism has some very specific rules regarding idols, and Jews have been around Christians for a very long time; thus this question has come up before.

Theologically speaking, we say that treating a human being as a deity is considered "idol worship", and it's generally assumed that medieval rabbis differed whether a non-Jew who worships both a non-corporeal, omniscient God along with a human being is considered doing "idol worship."

As for the physical cross itself, thank you DoubleAA for pointing to Shulchan Aruch YD141:6, in which Rama rules that a cross to which people bow should be handled like an idol (and therefore, for instance, you couldn't buy it and then use it for anything), whereas one worn is merely a symbol.

My sense is that a plain cross up in a Protestant church is probably not treated as an idol. Jews are prohibited from deriving any benefit from an idol, to the point that a building constructed for the sake of housing/sheltering an idol would be prohibited for Jews to ever use for any other purpose -- therefore (let's assume for the sake of this conversation that Hinduism is "idol worship") if a building was built as a Hindu temple and several years later they put the building up for sale, a Jew would be prohibited from buying/using it for any purpose. However, a responsum from almost a hundred years ago allowed Jews to buy an old Welsh-Scottish Methodist church and convert it into a synagogue (or house or school or shop or whatever, by the same logic) because there were no physical idols there. My understanding (and please correct me if I'm wrong) is that the Methodists have very little imagery in their churches, but they still have a plain cross.

Ask me if the same would hold regarding, say, an Eastern Orthodox church that has lots of icons ... not so simple.

The Holocaust generated (besides the overarching theological questions) a number of dilemmas relating to Jewish ethics and laws; at one point a rabbi was asked (I recall this rabbi has an mp3 about it) if a Jew is allowed to save himself from the Nazis by implying (or outright stating) that he is a Christian, the discussion involved the question of wearing a cross (just the "t" shape) vs. a crucifix (which has a picture of someone on it!); the rabbi was lenient in both cases, implying that a worn crucifix is a symbol of belief (Rabbi Rakeffet compares it to the insignia worn by a chaplain), not an idol.

Again, I can't tell you how every worshipper treats every cross in every church, but we have a few cases here that give us some starting points.

Note that all of this discussion is limited to "am I prohibited from receiving any benefit from such-and-such an item" or "what may I make use of in a life-or-death situation?" In today's liberal society it is prohibited (not to mention foolish and counterproductive) to actively damage someone else's property or body because of their beliefs, no matter how theologically wrong we feel they are.

  • "Generally assumed" doesn't make it true. The question can also apply to eg. a cross that you are given as a gift/missionary prop, plus as regards the Bracha recited upon seeing or destroying Avoda Zara
    – Double AA
    May 27, 2013 at 16:36

Archaeological evidence suggests that the cross is actually not an invention of Christianity in the first place as It has been used since a long time to represent pagan idols as well as used as an accoutrement to idolatry. Specifically The cross represented the religious trinity of heathen pagan deities like Semiramis, Tammuz and Nimrod

Author Sam Wickramasinghe writes in his book Babylonia, the Cross and Crucifiction:

In pictorial history of bygone civilizations, the cross was found... as a symbol of life and regeneration (reproduction), and to its connection with religion... in Babylonia, Phoenicia, Assyria

The article which specifically deals with this issue, "The Cross was used as an Idol in Ancient Babylon" elaborates on the matter:

The archaeological findings of Ancient Babylon reveal that the "cross" was used on necklaces and earrings, in much the same way that people use them on jewelry, in imitation of their religious devotions.

These findings - show that the cross was used as a religious symbol long before Christ was born. The cross represented the religious trinity of Babylon with Semiramis, Tammuz and Nimrod as the originators of this doctrine. As an emblem of the union between the male and the female So it is clear from above on the aspect that the prayer is not directed to God alone.

The reason to introduce cross in this new religion of Christianity was done to pollute it with pagan ideas. This was done to make the transition from paganism to the new religion easy for the pagan followers.

The earlier Christianity themselves never practiced cross worship, and specially condemned it as wooden Idols:

"The representation of Christ's redemptive death on Golgotha does not occur in the symbolic art of the first Christian centuries. The early Christians, influenced by the Old Testament prohibition of graven images, were reluctant to depict even the instrument of the Lord's Passion." -New Catholic Encyclopedia (1967), Vol. IV, p. 486

"Crosses, moreover, we neither worship nor wish for. You, indeed, who consecrate gods of wood, adore wooden crosses perhaps as parts of your gods. . ." -(The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 4, p. 191) Minucius Felix - 3rd Century

Hence for all practical purposes crosses are to be considered as Idols as they are considered so even by some Christian sects. The worshipers of cross don't realize it due to the ignorance on their part and this should not be a reason for us to remain ignorant about them.

The Christian sects which believe the cross to be an Idol are actually an extremely small minority overlooked by the majority Chalcedonian Christianity , The protestants , catholics and its sub sects belong to the Chalcedonian creed both of which consider it to be lawful, rather encouraged to use the cross to worship facing it.

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    I don't understand why the fact that a similar thing was worshiped in the past makes any particular cross into an idol when it wasn't itself worshiped. Can you explain why you think individual crosses which were not worshiped as idols would be affected by others' actions to other objects?
    – Double AA
    May 28, 2013 at 5:57
  • @DoubleAA It does not matter if others are currently worshiping the Idol or not. If in past the particular structure was an Idol which was venerated and now it is serving the same purpose then it deserves to be called as an Idol e:g: statue of baal would be an Idol even if people stop worshipping it.
    – knowit
    May 28, 2013 at 6:01
  • But this is a different object which has never been worshiped. If I make a new statue that looks like Baal now, why would it be an idol if nobody has worshiped it?
    – Double AA
    May 28, 2013 at 6:05
  • IAE you should source this assertion of your regarding Jewish law, namely, that objects which resemble worshiped objects are considered idols, because until you source it, it has only your word to stand on, and it is pretty obvious to us all that you are not an expert in Jewish law (not that there is any reason you should be).
    – Double AA
    May 28, 2013 at 6:06
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    If your argument is based on this particular object being worshiped when prayers are said facing it, then all the historical stuff is irrelevant.
    – Double AA
    May 28, 2013 at 6:07

Rav Yishak Yosef (Y"Y Y"D 139:4) writes that it is not:

צלב (שתי וערב) שתולין אותו הנוצרים בצוארם, אין לו דין עבודה זרה, שלא נעשה אלא לזכרון בעלמא, ומותר בהנאה, כיון שאין דרך להשתחוות לו, והוא הדין לצלב הניתן לאיש נכבד מאת המלכות לאות הוקרה וכבוד, (מדליה), שאין בו כל חשש שהשתחוו לו, שמותר לאיש ישראל לעונדו על חזהו ולהתכבד בו, כיון שאין בו סרך של עבודה זרה, רק לכבוד בעלמא, אלא שטוב שלא לעונדו תמיד, אלא רק בשעה שמבקר אצל אנשי השלטון, ובהופעות רשמיות, וכיוצא בזה. [שו''ת יחוה דעת ח''ג סי' סה. הליכות עולם ח''ז עמוד רעז].

He even permits one to wear one if he got as a medalion from the government. He writes specifically There is not a crumb of Avoda Zara involved (by the medalion). However by the ones the Xians, he writes, is not Avoda Zara and it is Mutar BeHanaa.

  • The question asked about "a Christian cross which people kiss, pay respect to, and face toward when praying". This answer doesn't seem to address such an object.
    – Double AA
    Aug 23, 2013 at 20:12
  • @DoubleAA so if it is payed Avoda Zara-y respect then it is Asur. Aug 23, 2013 at 20:14

To my understanding it would be considered the accoutrement of idolatry. See Hilkhoth A"Z ch. 7 and Sefer ha-Miswoth positive commmandment # 185.

  • -1 Those sources do not support your claim at all. They don't even mention crosses or Christianity.
    – Double AA
    May 27, 2013 at 2:38
  • Thanks, So yeah it seems reasonable to say but in many places including the protestants , they dont make idol of jesus as center of worship rather make the cross as the center of worship on an altar and perform worship facing it
    – knowit
    May 27, 2013 at 2:45
  • @DoubleAA - OP's question already accepts the premise that Christianity is AZ. Once this is accepted, the objects used in the worship of said AZ fall under the purview of the aforementioned halakhoth. The very first halakha in ch. 7 clearly states: מצות עשה היא לאבד עבודה זרה, ומשמשיה, וכל הנעשה בשבילה - everything that follows is in elaboration of this point. May 27, 2013 at 3:25
  • It may be very tricky to find because of the censorship problems. For example in SA OC 113:8 it says if a person is praying Shmone Esrei and a PERSON stands in front of him with a PICTURE OF AVODAS KOCHAVIM, when the person reaches a place in SE that one bows - he should not bow. Now in the quote in SA Horav 113:7 he says if a person is praying Shmone Esrei and a non-Jew stands in front of him with a cross, when the person reaches a place in SE that one bows - he should not bow. May 27, 2013 at 3:44
  • @Deuteronomy But you haven't shown that the cross is an object of worship. Perhaps their Avoda Zara is one without physical manifestation. It is certainly still prohibited to worship a different invisible god.
    – Double AA
    May 27, 2013 at 4:00

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