Originally published in Gevuroth haromah: Jewish studies offered at the eightieth birthday of Rabbi Moses Cyrus Weiler. Ed. Ze’ev W. Falk (Jerusalem: Mesharim, 1987), xvii-xxxi [Engl. section].
Republished in L. Jacobs. Judaism and Theology: Essays on the Jewish Religion (London; Portland, OR: Vallentine, Mitchell, 2005), 102-16.
An attempt is made in this essay to analyse halakhic attitudes towards Christianity, an aspect of the relationship between the two religions that has not received much detailed treatment. 
In talmudic times the question regarding the status of a Jew converted to a religion other than Judaism could not have arisen. The Jew who worshipped the pagan gods did not become ‘converted’ to paganism, abandoning his faith for another. He was treated, to be sure, very severely in talmudic law as ameshumad to idolatry and, according to some opinions, he was given the status of a non-Jew for certain purposes. For instance, any act of shehitahcarried out by him was invalid, even if performed in the correct manner, as if it had been carried out by a non-Jew.  But, even according to this opinion, he remained a Jew for other purposes of the law. If he contracted a marriage with a Jewish woman the marriage was valid,  the woman requiring a get from him to release her to marry someone else. The Jew who worshipped idols was still a Jew, though a very sinful one. He had not gone over to another religion, impossible in talmudic times. In the tannaitic period, when the status of the Jewish Christians was first discussed, these Jews were seen as Jewish heretics—minim—and, as for the Gentile Christians, later the vast majority, these were not treated as non-Jews because of their Christian beliefs but simply because they were non-Jews, i.e. they had not been converted to Judaism.  The whole problem of halakhic attitudes towards other religions could have no meaning until the emergence of the ‘daughter’ religions, Christianity and Islam. That is why all the halakhic discussions on the question date from the middle ages.
The basic problem in the middle ages was whether the talmudic rules about avodah zarah (‘strange worship’, idolatry) applied to the new religions. For a Gentile to worship idols was for him to offend against one of the seven Noahide laws.  It has not been sufficiently appreciated that all the talmudic discussions about the seven laws of the sons of Noah were purely theoretical. It is unlikely in the extreme that the Talmud rabbis were ever consulted by Gentiles who, while not wishing to convert to Judaism, were eager to keep the ‘Torah’ for them. In the post-talmudic period as well there are no records, so far as I am aware, of, say, a Muslim or a Christian approaching a rabbi to ask him where his ‘salvation’ was assured as one of the righteous of the nations of the world even though he did not convert to Judaism but remained in his own faith, keeping the seven Noahide laws.
It was far different with regard to the practical implications of the question whether Islam and Christianity were idolatrous faiths. If they were, then all the rigorous laws in tractate Avodah Zarah against fraternization with pagan idolaters were still in force. If they were not held to be idolatrous faiths then some of the ancient rules could be relaxed. On the other hand, it could be argued that while a Jew who worships idols is still held to be a Jew in some respects, it was theologically intolerable that a Jew who actually takes the step of embracing another religion should still remain a Jew. In other words, whatever the talmudic halakhah might say, the theological problem demanded an approach to the halakhah that would allow it to be interpreted so as not to give the authority of the law to what was clearly an act of apostasy. The fact that a new theological dimension had to be given to the halakhah accounts for the ambiguities in the whole post-talmudic discussions. There was a new situation unenvisaged by the Talmud and yet the Talmud was the final court of appeal in matters of halakhah.
It was Islam that was first considered by the halakhists, that is, by the Geonim, who lived in an Islamic environment. Some of the talmudic regulations forbidding Gentile wine were relaxed in the geonic period on the grounds that Muslims were not idolaters, the original prohibition having stemmed from the fear that the pagans may have used the wine for idolatrous purposes, though later rabbinic prohibition was based on the need to prevent social intercourse, possibly leading to intermarriage, and this would apply even to Gentiles who were not idolaters. The general tendency in the geonic period was to forbid the actual drinking of Muslim wine but to permit its sale and the enjoyment of other benefits. In the talmudic period it was not only forbidden to drink pagan wine but also to enjoy any benefit from it. The geonic distinction was thus a compromise, a kind of reluctant recognition that the situation had changed, together with a need to preserve the status quo.
The Geonim  also debated whether a Jew converted to Islam was still a Jew for the purposes of the law. Some of the Geonim argued that a conversion to Islam severed all the apostate’s connections with Judaism so that if a man had died without issue and had a brother who was a convert to Islam, the widow could remarry without having to undergo the halitzah ceremony, it being considered as if there were no surviving brother so that levirate marriage or its alternative, halitzah, did not apply (Deuteronomy 25: 5-10). Other Geonim refused to treat the apostate differently from the talmudic meshumad who, as above, did not lose his Jewish status and whose wife required a get to release her from him before she could marry another. Those Geonim who do not require halitzah have, in fact, introduced a theological motif into the halakhah, according to which the death of` the levir mentioned in the Torah as severing the levirate bond is not only physical death, as was hitherto thought, but death to the faith, a concept unknown and which could not have been known in the talmudic halakhah.
A much more serious problem was whether a Jew must be prepared to lay down his life rather than embrace Islam; the talmudic law requiring a Jew to suffer martyrdom rather than worship idols. Maimonides  rules that Islam is not an idolatrous faith, the Muslims being pure monotheists. He carries this to the extent of ruling that if a Jew is threatened with death if he refuses to adopt Islam no martyrdom is required and he may embrace Islam without guilt.  Later authorities, while agreeing with Maimonides that Islam is not an idolatrous faith, take issue with him on the question of martyrdom since a conversion to Islam involves, inevitably, a rejection and denial of the Torah of Moses.  According to these authorities, a Muslim commits no offence against the Noahide laws since the faith is not idolatrous but for a Jew to become converted to Islam is to commit an act of apostasy worse than idolatry and rather than be guilty of such an act of disloyalty to his own religion the Jew must give up his life. Here again the theological motif has been introduced into the halakhah. To the authorities who do demand martyrdom in this instance it must have seemed intolerable that a Jew could forsake his faith with the blessing, so to speak, of the halakhah, of which there was no technical infringement. The halakhah had to be developed so that there would be an infringement.
The question of attitudes towards Christianity in the halakhah was complicated by questions that could not be asked of Islam. Was Christianity considered halakhically to be idolatrous because of the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation? Did bowing to the cross or to icons constitute an idolatrous act? All the early halakhists living in Christian lands held Christianity to be a form of idolatry. On the grounds of expediency, however, some of the more burdensome talmudic rules governing relations between Jews and Gentiles were relaxed; the change in law then being defended casuistically in such a manner as to suggest that no actual abolition of the talmudic regulations was being proposed, only that the older rules no longer applied in the new situation. 
It was not until the 13th century that R. Menahem Meiri of Perpignan argued, and he was the first halakhist of note to do so, that Christians were not to be treated as idolaters, that many of the talmudic rules could not, in justice, be referred to those whom Meiri calls ‘nations governed by religion’.  To all intents and purposes Meiri has created a third category, unknown in the earlier sources, between Jews and pagans. For Meiri, Christians were certainly not Jews but they were not pagans either. They did not have the Jewish religion but they did have a religion which made strong ethical demands on them in the same way as Judaism does for its adherents. Meiri, embarrassed by the Talmudic ruling  that it is forbidden to have ay business dealings with Gentiles on the first day of the week because of the Notzerim, feels obliged to make the very fanciful suggestion that the term does not denote Christians (the Nazarines, of Nazareth) but the Babylonians (the successors of Nebuchadnezzer) and that ‘the first day’ is not because of the Christian Sunday but because sun-worship is alleged to have taken place on the first day of each new week.  Yet, even for Meiri, there was no total abolition of the older rules. With regard to the wine of Christians, the geonic principle, in connection with the wine of Muslims, was adopted by the later halakhists. The wine of Christians could be bought and sold but it was forbidden to drink this wine.  It is well known that the great Rashi owned vineyards and employed Christian workers. No halakhist ever thought of applying Maimonides’ ruling in connection with Islam to Christianity and, of course, Jews throughout the ages were prepared to suffer martyrdom rather than embrace Christianity.
With regard to the status of a Jew converted to Christianity a new development took place, as Katz  has shown, in which a purely aggadic statement was laid under tribute to provide what amounted to a new halakhah. The talmudic statement  ‘Though he sinned, he remains an Israelite’ is aggadic and means no more than that even when a Jew commits a serious sin he does not thereby forfeit the high rank of ‘Israelite’. The context makes it clear that the reference is not to an individual Jew at all but to the people and the text should really be translated as: ‘The verse calls the people Israel even when the people has sinned’. Moreover, the passage does not speak at all of the sin of apostasy or idolatry. Rashi and his school, however, use the saying (in this they were followed by the later halakhists) to deny that a Jew can ever be converted to another faith. He then remains a Jew even after his ‘sin’, now understood as his conversion, and is obliged to keep all the precepts as before.  As Katz remarks: ‘The emphasis on an apostate remaining a Jew constituted a weapon employed by the Jewish community to counter Christian propaganda which intimated that the Jew achieves, through baptism, a superior religious status, releasing him from any obligation to the law’. It is also highly likely that Rashi’s school adopted the attitude it did in order to avoid any halakhic recognition of Christianity. If the halakhah had been allowed to acknowledge that the convert to Christianity had changed his legal status this would have had the effect of admitting the act of baptism into the halakhah itself, hardly a desirable aim in an age when Judaism was under the defensive against Christian attack.
A similar misunderstanding was responsible for the idea, among the later halakhists, that while Christianity was idolatry so far as Jews were concerned it was not idolatry for Gentiles. It was this misunderstanding of a passage in the Tosafot that was responsible for the oft-quoted and very influential statement that a Christian does not offend against the Noahide laws; he is not an idolater since shituf (‘association’) is not forbidden to a Noahide.  The Talmud  rules that it is forbidden for a Jew to have a business partnership with a Gentile because, when a dispute arises, an oath may be required and the Gentile will take the oath by his gods, something it is forbidden for a Jew to bring about indirectly. The Tosafists defend the practice of their day in which this talmudic rule was ignored, many Jews having business partnerships with Christians. The defence consists of the acknowledgement that when Christians take the oath they do so in God’s name. Even though, continue the Tosafists, they associate God’s name with that of Jesus, Gentiles (i.e. Noahides) are not forbidden shituf. The meaning here is that a Noahide is not forbidden shituf when taking an oath, i.e. there is no prohibition for a Noahide, when he takes an oath, to associate the name of God with another. Hence a Jew may go into business partnership with a Christian and the talmudic reason for forbidding Jewish-Gentile partnerships no longer applies. Even if it will lead to the Christian taking an oath, the Christian does no wrong, for which the Jew is indirectly responsible (unlike in the case of the pagan idolater who takes the oath solely in the name of his gods and makes no reference to God at all). This is, in fact, an illustration of the phenomenon, noted earlier, of the halakhists finding accommodation with Christians even though, for them, Christianity is idolatry. The Tosafists never intended to imply that Christianity is not idolatry for Noahides. But subsequent commentators, instead of understanding the term shituf correctly in its formal, legal sense (i.e. associating God’s name with another when taking an oath) take the term to mean what it means in the very different discipline of medieval philosophy, namely, as denoting the belief that God has an associate or associates. They misunderstood the Tosafists as saying that a belief, by a Noahide, in the Trinity or the Incarnation is not idolatry, resulting in the new halakhah that while Christianity is idolatry for Jews it is not idolatry for Christians. This cannot possibly have been the attitude of the Tosafists since the members of the French school never invoke the philosophical principle of shituf and only allow accommodation vis-à-vis Christians on casuistic grounds having to do with expediency and necessity. 
Isserles,  in the 16th century, states: ‘Some authorities are lenient in the matter of a Jew becoming a business partner with a Gentile, nowadays, for their intention (when they take an oath) is to the Creator of heaven and earth’. According to the famous 18th-century authority, R. Ezekiel Landau of Prague,  Isserles had the true understanding of the Tosatists and only refers to the taking of an oath but this cannot be correct since elsewhere  Isserles himself applies the shituf idea to laws other than those concerning the taking of an oath and clearly understands shituf in its theological sense.  In any event, Isserles is frequently quoted by later halakhists as ruling that a Noahide is permitted shituf in the theological understanding of the term with the consequence that a Christian commits no offence against the Noahide laws by believing in the Trinity and in the Incarnation. This is as far as the halakhists are prepared to go. None of the halakhists are prepared to go further to affirm that Christianity does not even involve shituf but is pure monotheism, a belief in a triune God. At the most, the halakhists are prepared to acknowledge Christianity as a non-idolatrous faith for Gentiles because of the shituf idea. Indeed, some later authorities, while understanding Isserles’ reference to shituf in its theological sense, yet hold that Christians are idolaters since, for these halakhists, the shituf principle can only be applied where there is belief in One Supreme Being (together with lesser deities) not to the Trinitarian doctrine of three equal Persons in the Godhead. 
Thus, among many of the halakhists, a compromise position was adopted. In the talmudic sources the distinction between a faithful Jew and an idolater is categorical. A Gentile who worshipped idols offended against the Noahide laws and a Jew who did so offended against the laws of the Torah. No distinction whatsoever was made between idolatry for ‘them’ and idolatry for ‘us’. Whatever constituted idolatry (on this there are discussions) was considered to be idolatry for both ‘us’ and ‘them’. Now, for the first time in the history of the halakhah, a religion came to be recognized, by many of the halakhists, as constituting an idolatrous faith so far as ‘we’ are concerned but a non-idolatrous faith so far as ‘they’ are concerned. In practice the distinction was hard to maintain since many of the regulations governing Jewish-Gentile relations have to do with ‘our’ relation to ‘them’. This explains the lack of clarity in the whole discussion among the later halakhists, of which some instances will now be noted.
Is it permitted, for example, for a Jew to enter a church? On the one hand, Christianity is not idolatry for ‘them’ and so the church is not a place of idolatrous worship it is forbidden for a Jew even to enter. But, on the other hand, it is ‘we’ who are entering the church and for ‘us’ Christianity is idolatry. Such a situation could not have arisen in the talmudic period. A ‘house of idols’ was such both for Jew and Gentile. R. Zevi Hirsch Shapira  decides that it is forbidden for a Jew to enter a church but records it in a somewhat less than categorical manner. May a synagogue be sold to Christians for use as a church? Here the grounds for permissiveness are stronger. If it be granted that Christianity is not idolatry for ‘them’  the sale in no way assists idolatrous worship. May a building that has been used as a church be used as a synagogue? Here the practice is to permit it but then, in any event, there is no clear ruling that a place in which idols have been worshipped may not be used as a synagogue. The proviso is naturally made that the building must contain no crosses.  May a Jew deal in selling crosses to Christians? Here the problem is complicated. If it held that Christianity is not idolatry so far as Christians are concerned it ought to be held that Christianity is not idolatry so far as Christians are concerned it ought be permitted, on the face of it, since the Jew does no wrong by helping Christians to observe their own religion. But it is forbidden for a Jew to obtain any benefit from idolatrous objects and for ‘us’ Christianity is idolatry. Isserles  does permit the sale of crosses that are for purely decorative purposes (i.e. to be worn as ornaments not as objects to be worshipped) but not even for these purposes if the crosses have actually been worshipped. This is an interesting point. There is no intrinsic halakhic objection to a Jew having in his home a work of art, for example, depicting Christian (or, for that matter, idolatrous) scenes (though, of course, there is the question of good taste and self-respect). The halakhah knows nothing of any objection to a Jew enjoying some benefit of pleasure from the symbols of another faith per se. From the halakhic point of view the sole criterion in all such cases is whether the object has been worshipped.
On the basis of this principle, the 19th-century halakhist, R. Joseph Saul Nathanson of Lemberg,  permits the wearing by a Jew of a medal in the form of a cross. It is permitted for a Jew to give a donation towards the funds of a church since Christianity is not idolatry so far as Gentiles are concerned and there should be no objection on the grounds that it is encouraging idolatrous worship by Noahides? Rabbi Markus Horowitz of Frankfurt (1844-1910) not only permits it but considers donations by Jews towards the building of a church meritorious. It is, he argues, a sanctification of the divine name by demonstrating that Judaism is tolerant and, at the same time, calling attention to the differences between Judaism and Christianity, from which it emerges that Judaism is the purer faith. 
Not all recent halakhists come anywhere near to accepting Horowitz’s tolerant attitude. R. David Hoffman (1843-1921), rector of the Orthodox Rabbinical Seminary in Berlin, takes strong issue with Horowitz’s view.  All the authorities agree, he argues, that Christianity is idolatry for the Jew. How, then, can a Jew be in any way responsible for what to him is idolatrous worship? If the Jew finds it hard and tactless to fail to contribute to the building of the church, he should simply give his donation without it being specified that it is for the building or repair of a church.
Many of the halakhic questions in the context of Christianity have to do with the status of a convert to that faith. We have seen how the school of Rashi refuses to treat the apostate as if his connections with Judaism had been totally severed when he became converted. His wife requires a get and his sister-in-law halitzah. The view put forward by some of the Geonim, that the convert to another faith loses his Jewish status entirely, was rejected. Thus theShulhan Arukh  does refer to this view but rejects it, ruling that the sister-in-law does require halitzah.
Isserles quotes in this connection the ruling that when a man betroths a woman and he has a brother who has been converted to Christianity, he may make the marriage conditional on his survival, i.e. so that if he dies without issue and his widow becomes abound to the apostate for halitzah (the apostate naturally refusing to participate in a rite contrary to his new faith) the marriage is rendered null and void retrospectively.
The status of a kohen who has been converted to Christianity and had then returned to the Jewish fold was first discussed by Rabbenu Gershom of Mainz in the 11th century.  The topic reoccurs in subsequent responsa.  Gershom discusses whether the kohen, after his return to Judaism, may recite the priestly blessing in the synagogue. Gershom cites the mishnaic ruling  that priests who had once worshipped idols may never again serve in the Temple, from which he concludes that it is only from participation in the Temple service that they are disbarred. The kohen who has now returned to the fold may again enjoy the other priestly privileges. He may be called up first to the reading of the Torah and he may recite the priestly blessing. After quoting biblical and rabbinic teachings on the power of repentance to wipe out all sin, Gershom is emphatic that it is wrong to brand the kohen publicly as a former apostate, which would be the effect of a ban on his carrying out the priestly blessing. We must provide apostates with every encouragement to revert to the fold instead of making their return an exposure to public ostracism. Gershon, in all this, has not the slightest doubt that Christianity is idolatry but he clinches his argument by referring to the talmudic passage  which states that even when a brother has sunk so low as to sell himself to idols as their priest no stones must be cast at him and he must be redeemed from his captivity.
It is interesting to note how this same question of the kohen who had been converted to Christianity and has now returned surfaces centuries later in the responsa of a Sephardi rabbi, Joseph Rahamim Franco (1838-1901) of Jerusalem, towards the end of his life chief rabbi of Hebron.  Franco, living in Palestine, then under Turkish rule, is very circumspect when dealing with Islam (the quotes in this responsum referring to Mohammed and Islam are omitted from the published version, evidently out of fear of the censor) but, by the same token, is completely unreserved when dealing with Christianity. The particular question discussed by Franco is that of a kohen who had been converted to Christianity by Protestant missionaries and who has now returned to Judaism.
Franco, at pains to permit the kohen to recite the priestly blessing, introduces the novel idea that technically it is not, halakhically speaking, the belief in Jesus that constitutes idolatry but the act of bowing to the cross. This constitutes the offence of bowing to an idol, though, strictly speaking, says Franco, the cross is a mere symbol and is not in itself an idol. Since among protestants there are no icons or crosses in their place of worship, the kohen has not been guilty technically of worshipping idols. He has, indeed, been guilty of entertaining false beliefs but, without any act of worship, he is not an idolater and may recite the priestly blessing and enjoy the other privileges of a kohen on his return to Judaism.
There are references in early halakhic works to the son of Rabbenu Gershom of Mainz allegedly being converted to Christianity. Gershom is said to have mourned for his son for fourteen days, instead of the usual seven; one set of seven days because the son had been lost to his earthly father, the other because he had been lost to his Father in Heaven.  According to this report there is to be mourning even when an apostate dies but this is qualified in the note appended in the sources which implies that it is only if the apostate had been murdered by Gentiles, his unnatural death being an atonement for his sin. On the basis of this, Isserles  rules that there is to be no mourning for an apostate but that ‘some say’ he is to be mourned if he was murdered by Gentiles. It is clear from the context that the report is of Gershom mourning for his son when the son died. But the whole passage was later incorrectly understood to mean that Gershom mourned fourteen days when his son, who was still alive, became converted to Christianity, as if the son had died. Arising out of this misunderstanding was the popular opinion, frequently acted upon, that the near relatives of an apostate must mourn for him as if he had died even though he was still alive, his very conversion to Christianity being considered death. Generally speaking, however, the halakhists reject the bizarre idea of mourning for a living person as if he were dead and they stress that to do so, in the case of a convert to Christianity, is to despair of his eventual return to the fold. 
In some respects a Jewish convert to Christianity is rejected by the halakhists to a greater extent than born Christians. Isserles  rules that if Christians who are Gentiles give donations to a synagogue it is permitted to accept these for synagogue use but it is forbidden to accept donations from a Jewish convert to Christianity. It appears that in Hungary in the 19th century it was far from unusual for Jews to solicit donations for the synagogue from their Christian neighbours. Rabbi Yekutiel Judah Teitelbaum (1808-83) of Sziget seeks to defend the practice.  His questioner had raised the objection, among others, that to accept donations from Christians for synagogal use amounts to a profanation of the divine name. Teitelbaum defends the practice on the grounds that it is only done in an emergency; for example, when a new synagogue has to built or where the old synagogue requires extensive repairs.
Finally, we may note, at a period much later than that of the Shulhan Arukh,  a semi-halakhic status was given to the folk custom of refraining from certain activities on Christmas Eve. Christmas is called Nittel (Latin, Natale Dominus; French ‘Noel’) in the late sources and in Yiddish parlance.  It was the custom to refrain from studying the Torah on this night and, in some places, to play cards instead. The prohibition of studying the Torah is very curious in view of the high value of Torah study in the Jewish tradition. In all probability its origin is to be found in the folk desire to treat the night as profane by avoiding sacred activities such as Torah study. But various other theories have been advanced to account for the custom. R. Moses Sofer  observes that in practice one only refrains from Torah study until midnight and so suggests that the custom was adopted in conscious reaction to the Christian practice of rising at midnight on Christmas Eve in order to offer their prayers. To demonstrate that Jews are at least as assiduous as their Christian neighbours in the performance of their religion, the custom developed of forbidding Torah study until midnight. This would serve to make sure that Jews would go early to bed and thus be encouraged to rise at midnight to make up their daily quota of learning. R. Moses Sofer cannot agree that the reason is because it is a night of mourning, a mourner being forbidden to study Torah, the Jew’s most joyous activity, since, if that were the reason, why are there no other signs of mourning and why only until midnight? He adds that if the reason were because it is a night of mourning he could have understood the further custom of refraining from marital relations on this night. But he considers this latter custom to be ridiculous and demands that it should be stopped. On the other hand, it is reported, in a reliable source,  that the Munkacser Rebbe upheld the custom and, of course, that of refraining from Torah study until midnight.
If the above analysis of an important area of the halakhah is correct, it throws light on the halakhic process in general as one not uninfluenced by external conditions and by other values than that of halakhah itself. About this there has been much discussion.
- But see; S. Federbusch: ‘The Attitude of Judaism to Christianity’ (Heb.), in his Hikrei Yahadut (Jerusalem, 1965), pp. 217-36; Meir Lerner: Hadar Hakarmel, vol. 2 (London, 1975), nos. 44 and 45, pp. 33 f.; H. B. Halevi: Aseh Lekha Rav, vol. 1 (Tel Aviv, 1975), pp. 178-81; vol. 2 (Tel Aviv, 1978), pp. 158 ff.; vol. 3 (Tel Aviv, 1979), pp. 19-22. On the whole subject see also my Theology in the Responsa (London, 1975), Index: ‘Christianity’ and ‘church’; R. Margaliot: Margalit Hayam on Sanhedrin 63b, vol. 2 (Jerusalem, 1958), no. 8, p. 22a; Lampronti’s Pahad Yitzhak, ed. Mekor (Jer., 1970), s.v. avodah zarah; Jacob Schachter: Sefer Mishlei (Jer., 1963), p. 231; Israel Abrahams: Jewish Life in the Middle Ages (Philadelphia, 1911), chs. xxiii and xxiv, pp. 399 ff. On page 399 Abrahams makes the pertinent remarks: ‘If the legal status of the Jews were our sole criterion, the picture of their relations with medieval Christians would seem to be painted in very sombre hues. Laws, however, were made to be broken, and the actual relations between Jews and Christians were for long periods far different to those which the Church Councils and, to a lesser degree, the Jewish ritual codes tended to produce. Jews and Christians often defied the laws which sought to keep them asunder.’
- Hulin 4b-5a. The term meshumad is the original term, not the term mumar as in current editions of the Talmud. It was because the term meshumadcame to be used for the convert to Christianity that the talmudic texts were altered to read mumar; see Saul Lieberman’s note in the Harry Wolfson Jubilee Volume (Jer., 1965), English Section, vol. 2, pp. 531-2. The term meshumad occurs in Tosefta, Sanhedrin 13: 5 and in Rosh Hashanah 17a (in uncensored versions see Dikdukei Soferim, p. 32 note 50). Lieberman notes that the term mumar in every talmudic text is a post-talmudic substitution for meshumad. For instance in this passage, Hulin 4b (where the term occurs 19 times in a single page) the Munich Codex has meshumad (erroneously quoted in Dikdukei Soferim as mumar). The Geonim were puzzled as to the meaning of the term meshumad, see Arukh s.v. shemad. Saul Lieberman (Tosefta Kifshutah, vol. 2 (New York, 1968), p. 402 n. 45) connects it with shemad, ‘destruction’, as in the expression dor hashemad, i.e. the generation in which Jews were compelled to worship idols and were hence ‘destroyed’. This original meaning was later extended to wilful ‘destruction’ by the intentional sinner. Cf Iggerot Soferim, ed. S. Sofer (Tel Aviv, 1970), Letters of the Hatam Sofer, no. 10, pp. 10-11.
- Yevamot 47b.
- See the excellent treatment of Lawrence H. Schiffman: Who Was a Jew? Rabbinic and Halakhic Perspectives on the Jewish Christian Schism (New Jersey, 1985), especially chapter 7, pp. 75-6. Schiffman, p. 53, writes: ‘By the time the Temple was destroyed, the Jewish Christians were a minority among the total number of Christians, and it was becoming clear that the future of the new religion would be dominated by Gentile Christians. Nevertheless, the tannaim came into contact primarily with Jewish Christians and so continued to regard the Christians as Jews who had gone astray by following the teachings of Jesus’. The same, one might add, applies in the amoraic period.
- Sanhedrin 56b and see Entsiklopediyah Talmudit, vol. 3 s.v. ben noah.
- See the statement of Maimonides: Yad, ‘Ma’akhalot Asurot’ 11: 7; on Gentile wine and on whether a Jew converted to Islam was still a Jew for his sister-in-law to require halitzah, see B. M. Lewin Otsar Hageonim, vol. 7, Yevamot (Jer., 1936), pp. 36-7.
- Teshuvot Harambam, ed. J. Blau (Jer., 1960), no. 448, vol. 2, pp. 725-8; Yad, ‘Ma’akhalot Asurot’ 11: 7.
- Iggeret Hashemad, Rambam Le’am, vol. 20, pp. 29-86. Cf. Yad, ‘Melakhim’ 11:4, in the uncensored editions; Judah Halevi: Kuzari IV. 24 and Nahmanides’ sermon: ‘The Law of the Lord is Perfect’ in Kitvei Haramban, ed. B. Chavel (Jer., 1963), vol. 1, pp. 343-4.
- See Responsa Radbaz (David Ibn Abi Zimra), no. 1163 (92) who quotes Ritba as having the same opinion.
- See Tosafot on Avodah Zarah 2a, s.v. asur, and Shulhan Arukh, ‘Yoreh De’ah’ 148: 12 and Isserles ad loc. Cf. Tosafot on Berakhot 57b s.v. haro’eh.
- See e.g. Bet ha-Behirah to Bava Kama 37b (ed. K. Schlesinger, Jer., 1973) p. 122 and to 113b p. 530. See J. Katz: Exclusiveness and Tolerance: Jewish-Gentile Relations in Medieval and Modern Times (Oxford, 1961), ch. 5, pp. 114-8, and the further passage from Meiri quoted there. The 17th-century Lithuanian scholar, Moses Rivkes, arrived at a similar position independently of Meiri. Rivkes’ work Be’er ha-Golah indicates the sources of theShulhan Arukh. He remarks that the use of such terms as ‘idolater’ in the Shulhan Arukh do not refer to Christians who belong in the ranks of the righteous of the nations of the world and have a share in the World to Come; see Be’er Hagolah on ‘Hoshen Mishpat’ 425: 5 and Katz, op. cit., pp. 164-6 (the reference is given incorrectly in Katz as 525: 5).
- In uncensored editions Avodah Zarah 7b. Cf. Ta’anit 27b and Meiri Bet Habehirah ad loc.
- Meiri on Avodah Zarah beg. Cf. Katz’s further essay: ‘Religious Tolerance in the Religious System of Rabbi Menahem Meiri—A Reply’ (Heb.) in Zion, XLV1, no. 3, 1981, pp. 243-4, where Katz defends his views on Meiri against the critics who argue that Meiri is not original in his stance.
- See Isserles on ‘Yoreh De’ah’ 123: 1. Although there is some doubt as to whether it is permitted for a Jew to drink beer in the home of a Christian (seeAvodah Zarah 11b and Tosafot s.v. vetarveihu), it was the practice of Jews in pre-expulsion England to do so (see the Etz Hayyim of R. Jacob of London, ed. I. Brodie (Jer., 1962), vol. 2, p. 65).
- ‘Though He Sinned, He Remains an Israelite’ (Heb.) in Tarbitz, XXVIII, nos. 2-3 (Jer., 1958), pp. 203-17.
- Sanhedrin 44a.
- For Rashi’s view see Teshuvot Rashi, ed. I. Elfenbein (New York, 1942), nos. 171, 173 and 175. Sa’adiah Gaon, though not in a halakhic context, declares Christianity to be a form of idolatry: Emunot Vede’ot 11: 5.
- See Entsiklopediyah Talmudit, vol. 3, s.v. ben noah, p. 350 n. 72. On this see Katz: Exclusiveness and Tolerance, p. 163.
- Sanhedrin 63b; Bekhorot 2b and Tosafot on these passages.
- The first to note this was R. Nissim of Gerona (d. c.1375), the Ran (on Alfasi, end of first chapter of Avodah Zarah). Ran points out that the Tosafist remark about shituf only refers to the case of a Gentile taking an oath. He is forbidden by the Noahide laws to be a Christian but there is no special prohibition, over and above this, to him taking a Christian oath. The Jew is not responsible for him being a Christian and there is no harm in the Jew being indirectly responsible for him taking a Christian oath. Maimonides (Yad, ‘Akum’ 9: 5) states that Christians (correct reading Edomim not Kena’anim as in the censored editions) are idolaters; cf. his Commentary on the Mishnah, Avodah Zarah 1: 3 (in uncensored editions). On the other hand, Maimonides holds that while it is permitted to teach the Torah to Christians it is forbidden to teach the Torah to Muslims because the latter accuse the Jews of having falsified the Torah (see Teshuvot Harambam, ed. A. Freiman (Jer., 1937), no. 364). On the question of teaching the Torah to Christians see J. J. Weinberg: Seridei Esh, vol. 2 (Jer., 1977), ‘Yoreh De’ah’, nos. 90 and 92, that the prohibition only applies, in any event, if the teaching is done as a religious act, not to teaching at a university where it is purely academic activity.
- ‘Orah Hayim’ 156; cf. Isserles on ‘Yoreh De’ah’ 147: 3. See Isserles on ‘Orah Hayim’ 215: 2 that it is permitted to answer ‘Amen’ to the benediction of a Christian and see Gumbiner: Magen Avraham ad loc. who refers to Isserles ‘Orah Hayim’ 156.
- Responsa Noda Biyehudah, Second Series, ‘Yoreh De’ah’, no. 148 end.
- Darkhei Moshe on Tur, ‘Yoreh De’ah’ 151.
- See Pithei Teshuvah on ‘Yoreh De’ah’ 147 n. 2.
- See Zevi Hirsch Shapira: Darkhei Teshuvah on ‘Yoreh De’ah’ 147, n. 12, and Entsiklopediyah Talmudit, loc. cit., where this opinion is quoted in the name of R. Jacob Emden. The closest we get to a defence of Christianity by a halakhist that it is pure monotheism and a rejection of the view that the doctrine of the Incarnation compromises this, is in the recently published responsum by the 16th-century Italian Rabbi Solomon Modena, but this responsum was written, in fact, as an apologia with an eye on the Church. For this responsum see David B. Ruderman: ‘A Jewish Apologetic Treatise from Sixteenth Century Bologna’ in HUCA, vol. L (1979), pp. 253-276.
- Darkhei Teshuvah 150 n. 2. Cf. the extreme view of the contemporary halakhist Rabbi E. Waldenberg of Jerusalem (Tzitz Eliezer, vol. 14, Jer., 1981, No. 91) that it is forbidden to enter a church or a mosque even for the purpose of studying the architecture. In medieval England the view was put forward that it might be considered meritorious to use a church as a short cut on the grounds that since it is disrespectful to use a synagogue for this purpose it should follow that it is advisable to use a church for the purpose; see Perushei Rabbenu Eliyahu Milondon, ed. E. J. L. Zachs (Jer., 1956), p. 131. Cf. H. D. Halevi:Aseh Lekha Rav, vol. 1, pp. 178-81, who forbids a Jew to enter a church even for the purpose of studying the architecture. The source for the general prohibition of entering a house in which idols are worshipped is Tosefta Avodah Zarah, ed. Zuckermandel, 17b, top, and Shulhan Arukh ‘Yoreh de’ah’ 150: 1; cf. Sefer Hasidim. ed. R. Margaliot, no. 1157.
- See the discussion in S. Braun: She’arim Hametzuyanim Bahalakhah (New York, 1949), vol. 4, pp. 159-60.
- See R. Joseph Saul Nathanson: Sho’el Umeshiv, vol. l, pt. 3, nos. 72 and 73, that in the case of a Protestant church building, containing no icons or crosses, it is not only permitted but meritorious to convert the building into a synagogue. The 19th-century Galician authority, R. Shalom Mordecai Schwadron (Responsa Maharsham, vol. 4, no. 46) permits the melting down of the remains of tallow candles that have been used in a church to make new candles of them for Jewish use. R. Simhah Bunem Sofer (1842-1906) in his responsa collection Shevet Sofer, ‘Orah Hayim’, no. 12, discusses whether church pews may be used in a synagogue. R. Hayim Eleazar Shapira (1872-1937), in his Minhat Ele’azar (vol. 2, no. 73), and Rabbi J. J. Weiss (b. 1902), in his Minhat Yitzhak (vol. 4, no. 87), both permit the telling of the time by a clock on a church tower. The clock is not an object of worship but has been placed on a high spot for the convenience of the townsfolk.
- Isserles on ‘Yoreh De’ah’, 141: 1 (in the name of the Mordekhai but not found in current editions of this work) but only if they are purely for decorative purposes, not those which have already been worshipped; see Darkhei Teshuvah 141 n. 2.
- Sho’el Umeshiv, vol. 1, pt. 3, no. 171; cf. Jewish Encyclopedia, vol. IV, s.v. ‘Cross’, pp. 368-9, and Halevi: Aseh Lekha Rav, vol. 2, no. 46, pp. 168-9; Aaron Walkin: Zekan Aharon, vol. 2 (New York, 1976), no. 52, on tea and tablecloths embroidered with a Maltese cross.
- Responsa Mateh Levi, pt. 2 (Frankfurt, 1932), ‘Yoreh De’ah’, no. 28; see my Theology in the Responsa, p. 281.
- Melamed Leho’il (Frankfurt, 1926-32), pt. 2, no. 148; see Theology in the Responsa, pp. 299-300. The Gaon of Vilna, it might be noted, considers Christianity to be an idolatrous faith. Thus, on the basis of Sanhedrin 63b, the Shulhan Arukh (‘Yoreh De’ah’ 147: 1) rules that it is forbidden even to mention an idol by name, upon which the Gaon (Biur Hagra n. 3) comments that while a Jew must not utter the name of Christ he may speak of Jesus, which, as a proper name, is mentioned in the Talmud. On the subject of referring to Jesus, Mary etc. see the interesting responsum of Yair Hayim Bacharach: Havot Yair, no. l, Hasagot 11/12.
- ‘Even Ha’ezer’ 157: 4 and Isserles gloss.
- Responsa of Rabbenu Gershom, ed. S. Eidelberg (New York, 1955), no. 4, pp. 57-60.
- See e.g. Rabbi Ezekiel Landau: Noda Biyehudah, Second Series, ‘Orah Hayim’, no. 10, the case of a kohen who had married a woman in a Hindu ceremony, and see Theology in the Responsa, Index s.v. ‘priestly blessing’. R. Hayim Hezekiah Medini (1832-1904) in his Sedei Hemed (‘Kelalim’, mem, 156, ed. Friedmann (New York, 1962), vol. 4, pp. 267-8) seeks to prove from the sources that an apostate cannot help to make up the quorum for prayer, the minyan, and that his donation to a synagogue must not be accepted. Cf. Isserles on ‘Orah Hayim’ 154: 11.
- Menahot 13: 10.
- Arakhin 30b.
- Sha’arei Rahamim (Jer., 1881). ‘Orah Hayim’, no. 5. Israel Abrahams tells of his visit to Franco in Hebron in: The Book of Delight and Other Papers(Philadelphia, 1905), pp. 82-3.
- Notes to Asheri, Mo’ed Katan, ch. 3, no. 59.
- Yoreh De’ah’ 340: 5. Cf. ‘Yoreh De’ah’ 345: 5 that normally there is no mourning for an apostate when he dies.
- On this subject see Turei Zahav on ‘Yoreh De’ah’ 340 note 3; R. Simhah Bunem Sofer: Shevet Sofer, ‘Yoreh De’ah’, no. 108; Y. J. Greenwald: Kolbo‘Avelut’ (New York, 1956), p. 317 and notes; Y. M. Tykochinsky: Gesher Hahayim (Jer., 1960), vol. 1, pp. 274-5; Sefer Hasidim, ed. R. Margaliot (Jer., 1973), no. 100, and the editor’s notes, pp. 187-8.
- ‘Yoreh De’ah’ 254: 2; cf. ‘Orah Hayim’ 154: 11.
- Responsa Avnei Tzedek (Lemberg, 1885), ‘Orah Hayim’, no. 14.
- Isserles on ‘Yoreh De’ah’ 148: 12 refers to it only in a very indirect way.
- On this see Jewish Encyclopedia, vol. 9, p. 318, and J. Eisenstein: Otzar Dinim Uminhagim, pp. 267-8, both articles very fragmentary with no attempt to date the emergence of the custom. Cf. J. D. Singer: Ziv Haminhagim (Jer., 1971), p. 265, who comments on the custom of fasting on the ninth day of the month of Tevet (Shulhan Arukh, ‘Orah Hayim’ 580: 2) that he had seen somewhere in a book that this fast has its origin in the fact that Jesus was born on this day. Cf. A. S. Sperling: Ta’amei Haminhagim (ed. Jer. n.d.), p. 500.
- Igerot Soferim, ed. S. Sofer (Tel Aviv, 1970), Letter 2 of the Hatam Sofer, pp. 2-3.
- Y. N. Gold: Darkhei Hayim Veshalom (Jer., 1974), no. 825, p. 308. Cf. Noam, vol. 20 (Jer., 1978), pp. 325-7 on the customs of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. The Rebbe upholds the custom of refraining from studying the Torah on this night but observes that this is novel (hidush gadol). Various Christian denominations observe Christmas at diverse times but the date observed by the majority of Christians in any particular place is the one on which the custom is to be observed. The Rebbe is less certain about forbidding marital relations on this night but remarks that perhaps it is better to abstain so as to prevent thoughts of Christianity, albeit negative ones, from entering the mind during what ought to be a sacred act.