Entering a Church
I am a university student and have a perplexing problem. Our Hillel House is going to be torn down next year, and while it is being built the students will be using a Catholic church for Shabbat dinner and services. I feel it would be very uncomfortable for me and I think it is wrong for a Jew to pray in a Church. How should I handle this if I cannot persuade the rabbi to find another place for Shabbat services?
Also, what is the permissibility of entering church buildings for secular purposes, like voting or a musical performance? This is an issue that comes up here in Boston on "First Night," a New Year's Eve celebration when there are many performances held in various church-related buildings downtown.
The Aish Rabbi Replies:
The Torah declares that a Jew is not allowed to benefit from anything associated with idolatry. This would include a church, because the worship of a physical form (Jesus) as God this constitutes a violation of the Ten Commandments prohibiting idolatry. (sources: Avney Yashpeh 153:1; Darkey Teshuva 150:2)
I think it is important to understand why, throughout the centuries, that our Jewish ancestors chose to be killed rather than convert to another religion (e.g. in the Spanish Inquisition). Why didn't they just "fake it" – i.e. pretend to convert, but really remain Jewish in their heart?
The reason is that one must not even give the impression of subscribing to another religion. We don't live in an isolated, compartmentalized world. Rather, we are a community and a nation – and that puts each of us in the position to inspire others and lift the baseline of behavior. One person's actions – even those misconstrued – can generate either good or bad PR for God and the Jewish people.
This has implications for a variety of situations, including entering a church. I suggest that you discuss your concerns respectfully with the rabbi. If he cannot appreciate the problem, that may be a sign you should find another place to spend Shabbat.