Is one allowed to study other religions? If not, how is one supposed to know that Judaism is correct? If yes, is such study encouraged?

  • Rashi gives an answer to this in sefer Vayikra...the exact place and answer eludes me at the moment...
    – andrewmh20
    Mar 13, 2014 at 14:03
  • What if, all forms of monotheistic religions were forms of Judaism or the one true religion? Just something to think about, not trying to start a conversation here. Mar 14, 2014 at 18:12
  • Ramabam in MT says to study nature. One cannot prove a system with the axioms of that system. You CAN eliminate religions that are obviously falsified (like Mormonism, apologies to Mormons) or ones that have no specific claims that cannot be tested.
    – bondonk
    Jul 5, 2016 at 19:25
  • @andrewmh20 do you at least remember something of the content of that Rashi? Jul 5, 2016 at 23:48
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    related - how can know judaism is truth - judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/18653/…
    – ray
    Jul 6, 2016 at 6:24

4 Answers 4


Is one allowed to study other religions?

Mishne Tora, Avoda Zara 2:2 says the study of books on how to worship idols, written by their worshipers, is forbidden. Beyond that I don't know.

If not, how is one supposed to know that Judaism is correct?

The premise here seems to be that one cannot know Judaism is correct except by eliminating other religions. But that can't be, as no one has the time to eliminate every other (existing or possible) religion! Rather, it must be we know Judaism is correct because of internal, as opposed to comparative, reasons.

  • So one is allowed to read books on atheism, because those question if Judaism is true internally instead of comparatively? Feb 5, 2014 at 14:21
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    @IshPloniViKohen, that doesn't follow from what I wrote; and I don't know.
    – msh210
    Feb 5, 2014 at 19:16
  • I agree with @msh210 that one cannot prove Judaism's correctness by comparison, but I would add that one cannot construct a purely internal proof either without the logical chain containing at least one "leap of faith". Regardless how your question on permissibility is answered, one cannot prove Judaism correct to emperical scientific standards. You could read archaeology books giving evidence of the Exodus or Rambam using Aristotelian proofs or atheists providing purely naturalistic answers, but ultimately one has to look at what they know of the world and say "I believe".
    – Mike
    Mar 13, 2014 at 22:36
  • "...as no one has the time to eliminate every other (existing or possible) religion! Rather, it must be we know Judaism is correct because of internal, as opposed to comparative, reasons." That's not necessarily correct, because a person might think there are good reasons to believe in Judaism, and then only by studying other religions realize that other religions use those same reasons too (personal experiences, skip codes, fulfilled prophesies, miracle accounts, etc.). Most people think they were born into the right religion, but studying just a few others can help revise that belief.
    – Aaliyah
    Jan 26, 2018 at 20:36
  • @Aaliyah, I don't see how that contradicts what I wrote, namely that any assurance that Judaism is right and other religions are wrong can't come from examination of other religions. You don't seem to be discussing assurances that Judaism is right and other religions are wrong.
    – msh210
    Jan 27, 2018 at 18:00

The Rambam (Avodah Zarah 2:2) prohibits studying from the works of Avodah Zara (and other forms of heresy), and this is codified in the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 139). Rav Moshe Feinstein (Yoreh Deah 2:53) says that one is allowed to study religions that no longer exist, as in ancient mythologies, because everyone today knows how foolish they are.

I've heard based on an interpretation of the Sefer Hachinuch (Introduction and Mitzvah 213) that the reason for this prohibition is that despite the fact that the Torah is absolute truth, we in out foolishness might come to be swayed by erroneous claims of heretics. Therefore, God did us the favor, so to speak, of prohibiting these works so that we don't waste our time trying to figure out whether their claims have any merit.

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    The second answer is disingenuous. What about non-Jews? They equally could have laws forbidding them to study the Torah for the same reason, "to spare them the bother of going through the 'falsehood' "
    – bondonk
    Jul 5, 2016 at 19:27
  • @bondonk it is not inconceivable to me that non-Jews would also be prohibited from studying heretical or idolatrous books, but it is also possible that God is simply not as interested in non-Jews being guarded from falsehoods to the same degree Jul 5, 2016 at 23:50

The Rambam in Hilchos Avodas Kochavim (פרק ב׳- הלכות א,ג) says:

ספרים רבים חברו עובדי כוכבים בעבודתה היאך עיקר עבודתה ומה מעשיה ומשפטיה. צונו הקב''ה שלא לקרות באותן הספרים כלל ולא נהרהר בה ולא בדבר מדבריה. ואפילו להסתכל בדמות הצורה אסור שנאמר אל תפנו אל האלילים. ובענין הזה נאמר {ופן תדרוש לאלהיהם לאמר איכה יעבדו} שלא תשאל על דרך עבודתה היאך היא אע''פ שאין אתה עובדה שדבר זה גורם להפנות אחריה ולעשות כמה שהן עושין שנאמר ואעשה כן גם אני:

ג וכל הלאוין האלו בענין אחד הן והוא שלא יפנה אחר עבודת כוכבים וכל הנפנה אחריה בדרך שהוא עושה בו מעשה הרי זה לוקה

The Rambam forbids the study of Avoda Zarah due to the prohibition of אל תפנו, this would imply that if the study was meant not to follow the ways of Avoda Zarah but rather to understand for specific purposes it would be permitted.

Indeed, this idea has precedent in the Gemara Rosh Hashana 24b:

להתלמד עבד וכתיב {דברים יח-ט} לא תלמד לעשות, אבל אתה למד להבין ולהורות

Rashi on the passuk mentions this Gemara as well:

לא תלמד לעשות. אבל אתה למד להבין ולהורות, כלומר להבין מעשיהם כמה הם מקלקלים, ולהורות לבניך לא תעשה כך וכך, שזה הוא חק הגוים

Not learn to do. But you learn to understand and instruct, that is, to understand how their actions are destructive, and instruct your children not to do so, as it is the ways of the nations.

Rav Hirsch also echoed such a distinction:

אסור ללמוד את דרכי האלילות על מנת לחקות אותן, אבל מותר ללמוד אותן לצורך ידיעה עיונית כדי להבין ולהעריך את כל אפסותן. ולא עוד, אלא בתנאים מסוימים לימוד זה נחוץ כגון לחברי בית דין כדי שידונו כהלכה את המקרים המובאים בפניהם

It is forbidden to study the ways of idolatry to emulate them, but you can learn them for the purpose of theoretical knowledge to understand and appreciate their emptiness. Moreover, except under certain conditions such study is necessary for members of the Rabbinical Court to discuss court cases properly that are brought before them.

In summation: If the studying of the other religions will aide in your Torah study, or it will teach you something beneficial, there are opinions that it is permitted.

This is not to be relied upon as practical halacha. Consult your Local Orthodox Rabbi

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    ...aide in your Torah study, or it will teach you something beneficial, there are opinions that it is permitted. The sources you brought seem to explain "להבין ולהורות" more narrowly than "teach you something beneficial." For example, these sources wouldn't necessarily permit studying idolatrous religions in order to derive moral lessons or nuggets of wisdom from them. Most likely, they'd forbid study for that purpose. Likewise, "aid[ing] in your Torah study" also seems to be too broad a justification (see 'Avoda Zara 17a, "עי"ז נתפסתי למינות ועברתי על מה שכתוב הרחק מעליה דרכך זו מינות").
    – Fred
    Jul 5, 2016 at 19:27
  • I understand your concern. But I believe that it is clear from Rav Hirsch that it is broader, as well as from rashi ie to see teach your children it is bad. And lehavin ulehoros is specifically regarding learning. Jul 5, 2016 at 19:30
  • I'm not saying the bases for studying other religions are excessively narrow, either. But to "aide in your Torah study" is much more broad that the actual bases for studying other religions, namely: 1) Da ma shetashiv l'apikores. This would encompass study in order to understand for oneself - and teach anyone else - why Judaism is correct and other religions are not. 2) Understand the other religion so that you can understand how the halacha applies to it. | R' Eliezer listened to a Christian interpretation of a verse to help his study beyond these two reasons, and that was his error.
    – Fred
    Jul 5, 2016 at 19:46

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein instituted a ban on the study of evolution.


presumably because it could lead people who rely on their limited views astray

The mishna in Megila ch.4 calls heretics "Chitzonim", which the bartenura defines as those who trust their own intellect over those of the sages.

You ask how can one know whether his religion is the truth. But how much of Judaism have you really understood? the Moray Nevuchim alone with the shem tov commentary can take a lifetime to properly understand (and this requires proper guidance).

I recommend you go speak to some big wise Rabbi about your doubts in emuna.

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    Thanks for the link to the thorough and fascinating Wikipedia article! If the OP wants to study something, he would be well-served to study from the en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… section instead of going afield and studying Christianity or Buddhism. At least that would strengthen his faith, rather than destroy it.
    – Mike
    Mar 13, 2014 at 22:52
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