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What is the Halakhic Status of the Doctrine of the Trinity?

Posted By Aryeh Klapper On December 26, 2009 @ 12:45 pm In Halakha,New Posts,Talmud | 10 Comments

by Aryeh Klapper

Texts followed by analysis: 

Sanhedrin 63b

A beraita: “And the names of other divinities you must not mention” – this forbids a person to say to his friend ‘Wait for me next to that avodah zarah’; “it must not be heard on account of you” –  this forbids one from taking an oath in its name, or upholding a oath in its name, or causing others to take an oath in its name or uphold an oath in its name . . . “or causing others to take an oath in its name, or uphold an oath in its name’ – this supports the statement of Shmuel’s father, for Shmuel’s father said: It is forbidden for a person to make a partnership with a non Jew, lest the non Jew become liable to swear to him, and swear by his avodah zarah, when the Torah says “it must not be heard on account of you” 

סנהדרין סג:

תניא (שמות כ”ג): “ושם אלהים אחרים לא תזכירו” – שלא יאמר אדם לחבירו  ’שמור לי בצד ע”ז פלונית’; (שמות כ”ג) “לא ישמע על פיך” – שלא ידור בשמו, ולא יקיים בשמו, ולא יגרום לאחרים שידרו בשמו ויקיימו בשמו … “ולא יגרום לאחרים שידרו בשמו ושיקיימו בשמו” – מסייעא ליה לאבוה דשמואל,  דאמר אבוה דשמואל: אסור לאדם שיעשה שותפות עם הנכרי, שמא יתחייב לו שבועה ונשבע בעבודה זרה שלו, והתורה אמרה: “לא ישמע על פיך”.

 Tosafot Sanhedrin 63b

“It is forbidden for a person to make a partnership” – Said R. Shmuel (Rashbam): All the more so if it has actually come to an oath, that one must not receive it from him (i.e., one must not allow him to swear). But Rabbeinu Tam said: It is permitted to receive the oath from him rather than lose out financially, as we say on Avodah Zarah 6b: that on n a loan made orally one may receive payment from idolaters (near their festivals) because this is as if one is saving the money from them, and we are not concerned lest the idolater go and thank his divinity afterward. Even though that case (AZ 6b) is one of doubt (perhaps he will go thank his divinity), whereas this case is definite (as he must swear), nonetheless in this time all of them swear by their sacred ones (saints) but do not see enshrine them as divinities. Even though they mention among them the name of Heaven, and their intention is for something else, nonetheless this is not “a name of avodah zarah”, and also, their intent is for the Maker of Heaven. Even though they partner the name of Heaven and something else, we have not found that it is forbidden to cause others to partner, and there is no issue of “before a blind person (you must not place a stumbling block”, because the Noachides have not been prohibited to (partner the Name of Heaven and something else)..

תוספות סנהדרין סג:

אסור לאדם שיעשה שותפות – אמר ר’ שמואל: כ”ש שבועה עצמה דאין לקבל הימנו. ור”ת אומר: מותר לקבל הימנו השבועה קודם שיפסיד. כדאמר בפ”ק דמס’ ע”ג (דף ו:) דמלוה ע”פ נפרעין ממנו מפני שהוא כמציל מידם, ולא חיישינן דילמא אזיל ומודה. ואע”ג דהתם ספק והכא ודאי, מ”מ בזמן הזה כולן נשבעים בקדשים שלהן ואין תופסין בהם אלהות, ואע”פ שמה שמזכירין עמהם ש”ש וכוונתם לדבר אחר, מ”מ אין זה שם עבודת כוכבים, גם דעתם לעושה שמים, ואע”פ שמשתפין שם שמים ודבר אחר, לא אשכחן דאסור לגרום לאחרים לשתף, ולפני עור ליכא, דבני נח לא הוזהרו על כך.

Mishnah Sukkah 45a

When they left the altar (following the aravah-ritual on Hoshana Rabbah), what would they say? “Beauty unto you, altar; beauty unto you, altar.” Rabbi El’azar said: “To Him and to you, altar; To Him and to you, altar”.

סוכה דף מה.

בשעת פטירתן מה הן אומרים? “יופי לך מזבח, יופי לך מזבח”. רבי אלעזר אומר:  ”ליה ולך מזבח, ליה ולך מזבח”.

Talmud Sukkah 45b

“When they left the altar what would they say” – But they would be partnering the Name of Heaven and something else, and a beraita teaches: Anyone who combines the Name of Heaven with something else is uprooted from the world, as Scripture says: “Except to Hashem by Himself”. !? This is what the MIshnah means: (When they left the altar, what would they say?) “To Him we concede and to you we offer praise; To Him we concede and to you we offer encomia.”

סוכה מה:

בשעת פטירתן מה הן אומרים וכו’ – והא קא משתתף שם שמים ודבר אחר, ותניא: כל המשתף שם שמים ודבר אחר נעקר מן העולם, שנאמר (שמות כב) “בלתי לה’ לבדו”. !? הכי קאמר: ליה אנחנו מודים ולך אנו משבחין, ליה אנחנו מודים ולך אנו מקלסין.

             What is the halakhic status of the Doctrine of the Trinity?  This is in a certain sense a presumptuous, and in another sense a meaningless, question.  What I mean by that is that since many Christian theologians declare that the doctrine is rationally unintelligible, it is presumptuous of us to claim to understand it well enough to pass judgment on it, and since the logical positivists claimed that statements which cannot be falsified, i.e which are impervious to contradiction, are meaningless, a question about the meaning of an admittedly self-contradictory doctrine is meaningless.  Nonetheless, the question undoubtedly has practical halakhic ramifications of great import, such as whether one has to die rather than verbally assent to the doctrine, and therefore we have no choice but to address it.

            I don’t wish to approach it from the perspective of contemporary psak here, however, but rather to understand the seminal position of “the Tosafot on the daf”.  So I won’t engage with the many different Christian self-understandings of this issue, and will largely ignore the numerous variant formulations found in the various Tosafists.  I also need to acknowledge that the meaning of Tosafot is debated by a remarkable list of the great acharonim, as well as contemporaries, and that I can only write here, in standard rabbinic idiom, ואני הנראה לעניות דעתי כתבתי – acknowledging that others greater than I have said otherwise (and likewise), I have written what seems true to my impoverished intellect.  Finally, I need to thank my friend and long-ago chavruta Rabbi Yaakov Genack, who researched this sugya with me at great length in YU when we were “doing Avodah Zarah together”. 

              The immediate halakhic queston before Tosafot is the ban stated by Shmuel’s Father (Sanhedrin 63b) on forming commercial partnerships with ovdei avodah zarah (whether this position reflects a Talmudic consensus, or a minority position, is not our issue here) on the ground that

  1. a partnership disagreement may generate a requirement to take an oath, and
  2. an oveid avodah zarah partner would presumably swear by his own divinity, and
  3. there is a Biblical prohibition against being the cause of someone else mentioning the name of “another god”.  (There are of course contextual limits to that prohibition, but for our purposes, all that need be said is that an oath certainly falls within them.)

Rashbam reasonably deduces that a fortiori one may not require an oveid avodah zarah to swear to one even when imposing such a requirement is financially advisable, but Rabbeinu Tam permits this. 

Rabbeinu Tam’s initial basis for doing so is by analogy to a Talmudic permission to accept repayment of loans made without a receipt to ovdei avodah zarah near avodah zarah festivals, despite the risk that this will cause them to commit avodah zarah when they thank their god(s) for enabling them to remove their debt – this suggests that one can risk causing avodah zarah by ovdei avodah zarah in order to avoid financial loss.

This argument, however, is not seen as compelling, as here the issue is not a risk of avodah zarah, but rather a certainty that the oath will be taken.  (This rejection itself may be challenged as follows: The plaintiff in a lawsuit always requires the defendant to take an oath in the hope that the defendant will choose to concede rather than commit perjury; thus while it is certain that the oveid avodah zarah will swear by his god(s) of he swears, it is not certain that requiring him to swear will result in him doing so, and the Jewish plaintiff would much prefer, for reasons unrelated to halakhah, that he choose not to do so.  But Tosafot does not take this route.)

The alternative ground then offered is that Gentile contemporaries swore by the names of “their holy ones” (very likely saints, although in alternate versions it may refer to the Bible), and the do not see these holy ones as divine in a way that makes halakhah regard them as names of other gods.

This ground, however, is not sufficient, for two reasons:


Gentile oaths also referred to the Name of Heaven, and by this they seemingly intend something other than the God we worship (at least the Trinity; in Rabbeinu Yerucham’s version, “their intended referent is Yeshu haNotzri”). 

Two responses are offered to fill this gap:

  1. The Name of Heaven, even when used to refer to “another god”, does not constitute a “name of another god’, and therefore causing someone to use the Name in that sense is not a violation of the prohibition against causing the mention of the name of another god (This is a somewhat troubling argument, as it seems hard to think of a clearer instance of literally being ‘mechallel shem shomayim”, desacralizing the Name of Heaven.)
  2. While Gentile contemporaries have a different theology than we do, their intended referent when using the Name of Heaven is the One Who Made Heaven.  This is close enough to our conception of G-d that causing someone to use the Name of Heaven in that sense is not a violation of the prohibition against causing the mention of the name of another god.  (What remains unclear is whether causing someone to use a name other than the Name of Heaven, e.g. “Fred”, with the same meaning, e.g “the One Who is Three who made Heaven”, or “the human incarnation of the divine”, would also not violate this prohibition)


Granting that we can understand Gentile contemporaries as using the Name of Heaven in their oaths to refer to a god who is at the least not wholly other than G-d, and that their references to “their holy ones” in the same oaths are halakhically not references to gods, there seems no way to deny that they are swearing by the Name of Heaven and “their holy ones” simultaneously, and a beraita (Talmud Sukkah 45b) bans statements that refer to G-d and anything else equally, even if G-d is referred to only by pronoun.  (As cited in the name of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai on Sanhedrin 63a, the ban refers as well to including G-d and something else in a collective pronoun.  Again, this prohibition has contextual limits, but Tosafot assume that the taking of an oath falls within those limits.)

Tosafot’s response to this is that

a.  while the prohibition against the “names of other gods” applies both to mentioning them oneself and to causing others to mention them, the prohibition against referring to G-d and anything else equally applies only to doing so oneself.

b.  Furthermore, that prohibition applies specifically to Jews, and not to Gentiles.  Therefore, there is also no issue of causing a Gentile contemporary to sin by taking an oath by G-d and something else, even though it is forbidden to cause Gentiles to sin (as stated explicitly on AZ 6b and elsewhere in the Talmud), and even causing a Jew to take the same oath would be causing that Jew to sin. 

It should be evident that this last response says nothing whatever about the Halakhic status of belief in the Trinity – it refers specifically to statements that refer to G-d and other things equally even when it is obvious that the stater does not see those other things as divine.  In another context I have pointed out, as has Dr. David Berger, that it is actually the second response to A above that is more relevant to the issue of the Trinity.  The question, as I noted above, is whether the claim that using the Name of Heaven in a Christian sense does not constitute using a “name of avodah zarah” entails that believing the Christian understanding of G-d does not constitute Avodah Zarah; in other words, when Rabbeinu Yerucham says that the first statement is true even when the Name of Heaven refers to Yeshu HaNotzri, would he necessarily say that one could cause someone to swear by the name Yeshu haNotzri? 

It seems to me that the answer in Tosafot is likely yes, as to be effective Tosafot’s final argument regarding “lifnei iver” must also be true with reference to avodah zarah as such; in other words, he must hold that causing a Gentile to swear by the Name of Heaven, understood in a Christian sense, is not an act of worshiping Avodah Zarah.  This would presumably not be true if one intended the Name of Heaven to refer to a minor (or major) member of the Roman pantheon for instance. 

            In another context I seek to demonstrate1 [1] as against Professor Halbertal [2], that Meiri’s understanding of Christianity is mischaracterized as radical; it is actually identical with that of Tosafot as described in the preceding paragraph.  I also note more tentatively, in the name of the Seder Mishnah, that this position may even be shared by Maimonides, as he always derives the prohibition against belief that G-d is divisible from the verse “Shema Yisroel”, which presumably applies only to Jews.

            A few points in conclusion: 

  1. The halakhic position that belief in the Trinity is avodah zarah for Jews but not for Gentiles is highly attractive practically, and in some senses morally, and adopted by many post-medieval decisors, but I cannot find any medieval basis for it.  This of course raises fascinating issues in terms of psak.
  2. As noted trenchantly by Rav Yehudah Herzl Henkin, the claim that belief in the Trinity is not avodah zarah for both Jews or Gentiles does not mean that Christian practice for both Jews and Gentiles.  Certainly Maimonides states explicitly that Christianity in all its forms is avodah zarah, despite the cogent argument from Seder Mishnah cited above.  It also seems to me clear that Tosafot believed that conversion to Christianity was yehareg v’al ya’avor, and I find it very hard to believe, in the absence of an explicit contrary statement, that Meiri thought otherwise. 

What I think has generated confusion is the tendency to translate avodah zarah as “idolatry”, i.e. as the worship of false gods in place of the One True G-d.  A better halakhic definition is “the worship of anything other than the One True G-d”  (In another context I have argued for an even more precise definition that accounts for the permission to serve human beings in manners that would be forbidden as worship with regard to other things, ואין כאן מקום להאריך.)  This can be seen from Nachmanides’ understanding that the paradigmatic case of avodah zarah, the sin of the Golden Calf, was worshiping it as a representative of the true G-d, and from Maimonides’ argument that the original avodah zarah was the worship of the stars etc as the intermediaries between G-d and humanity.  Thus, for instance, genuflecting before, or burning incense before, statues of human beings may be avodah zarah even for someone (Jew or Gentile) who does not believe those statues to be anything more than symbols of the One True G-d.

It is necessary to state, and emphasize, in conclusion that as understood above Meiri stands for the critical position that the commission of acts of technical avodah zarah, and belonging to a religion that regularly requires such acts, does not remove a Gentile from the status of “bar dat”, of civilized person, to whom essentially all the moral obligations one has toward Jews apply equally,  This is actually more radical, and has more universalist implications, than understanding his tolerance as rooted in a particular understanding of Trinitarianism, although I tend to argue that even in this reading Meiri is not all we need to develop a Halakhah that genuinely acknowledges the tzelem Elokim of every human being.  But Meiri certainly takes us a long way in the right direction.

  1. Editor’s Note:  This is a referrence to an as-of-yet unpublished paper by Rabbi Klapper initially given at the 2007 AJS conference.  You can read an unauthorized summary here [3].  An audiotape of the basic ideas can be found here [4]. [ [5]]

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10 Comments To "What is the Halakhic Status of the Doctrine of the Trinity?"

#1 Comment By Michael P On December 26, 2009 @ 5:35 pm

>and since the logical positivists claimed that statements which cannot be falsified, i.e which are impervious to contradiction, are meaningless, a question about the meaning of an admittedly self-contradictory doctrine is meaningless.

Did the positivists claim that statements that can’t be falsified are meaningless, or that statements that can’t be verified are meaningless? Ayer ( [6]) said verifiable, I know. Using this criterion Ayer claims that ethical and religious statements are meaningless, so it wouldn’t only be the doctrine of the Trinity that is meaningless.

Admittedly, I’m not familiar with theology surrounding this doctrine. But isn’t the problem with a self-contradictory statement much more direct? Most people accept “reductio ad absurdum” as a principle of logic. That is, suppose P is the case, and that P entails a contradiction (“Q and not Q”); from this we can derive that P is not the case, that P is false. If the trinity is a contradiction, then, formally, anything is true by reductio ad absurdum. This itself is an absurdity, and so we have good reason to doubt contradictory doctrines. So the problem with a contradiction isn’t meaninglessness, but rather chaos.

The position that some contradictions are acceptable is called dialethisim ( [7]) and remains highly controversial.

#2 Comment By Aryeh Klapper On December 27, 2009 @ 8:27 am

Dear Michael – As always, it is a privilege to have readers who read so closely, and not for the first time, you’ve caught me being insufficiently rigorous in a contemporary philosophy reference. But let me explain what I intended by the reference, and as well answer what I think is the underlying question you were characteristically too polite to ask.
It is indeed the case that the logical positivists required verifiability rather than falsifiability as a criteria of meaningfulness. Moreover, they required the possibility (in principle or in practice) of empirical verification. As a result, they saw all statements about “metaphysics” as meaningless, no less or more so than particular formulations of Trinitarianisn. (They also permitted tautologies, which it seems to me opens the door for the ontological argument, but I’m sure that gedolim vetovim mimeni have trodden that path.) It was Karl Poppers who advanced the falsifiability criterion.
I was, however, working with two additional premises:
1) Within Orthodox Judaism, correspondence-to-traditional-texts is a mode of empirical verification
2) If the reason a proposition is nonfalsifiable is not that it is unfalsifiable in practice (we have no way of obtaining the evidence necessary to falsify it), but rather that it is unfalsifiable in principle (it is consistent with its own negation, and therefore with any conceivable other proposition), it is also unverifiable.
With those premises established, my intended argument was as follows:
The proposition “Proposition X is avodah zarah” is generally verifiable and falsifiable within Halakhah.
Let us suppose that the statement “Any proposition that contradicts the proposition ‘G-d’s personality is indivisible’” is true.
In ordinary language, then, the proposition “G-d is divisible into three personalities” is verifiably avodah zarah.
However, within some Christian understandings the proposition “G-d is divisible into three personalities” does not contradict the proposition ‘G-d’s personality is indivisible’; in other words it is consistent with its own negation.
Therefore the proposition “G-d is divisible into three personalities” is unfalsifiable in principle, and therefore unverifiable, and therefore meaningless in the positivist perspective. This would not be true of other religious propositions, as they could be verified or falsified by correspondence or lack thereof to traditional texts.
I look forward to your comments.
Aryeh Klapper

#3 Comment By Michael P On December 27, 2009 @ 10:24 am

I’ve learned to never be surprised that there is more going on than meets the eye when you write.

First, the positivists, and especially the verifiability criterion for meaning, are very much out of favor in modern philosophy. On the one hand the analytic/synthetic dichotomy has received heavy criticism, and on the other hand the verifiability criterion has shown itself to be problematic (in Ayer’s original formulation the principle is too permissive). So I don’t think that you need to be concerned about what the positivists would think about this question.

I apologize if I’m still not reading you correctly. You assume that “correspondence-to-traditional-texts is a mode of empirical verification” Is that true? Certainly correspondence-to-traditional texts is a mode of verification for a claim such as “‘the trinity is true’ is avodah zarah.” This might entail, for an Orthodox Jew, that the trinity is false, but the fact that traditional texts find the trinity to be avodah zarah is not verification that it’s false. Rather, the Orthodox Jew would have a principle such as “Halacha doesn’t make me believe false things” or something. (This principle has the interesting consequence that anything that’s assur to believe isn’t meaningless. Another interesting consequence is that the Orthodox scientist should sometimes look towards halacha, if possible, to determine the empirical truth.)

Assuming that the principle is correct, I think I understand your argument. Since “The only way for ‘G-d is divisible into three personalities’ to be avodah zarah is if it contradicts ‘G-d is indivisible’” is true, if the trinity can’t contradict ‘G-d is indivisible’ then it can’t be avodah zarah. This leads to the conclusion that the proposition “‘God is divisible into three personalities’ is avodah zarah” is unverifiable, and hence meaningless. This is far from the main point of your piece, so I’m happy to drop it here.

#4 Comment By Shalom Spira On December 27, 2009 @ 8:06 pm

Yi’yasher kochakha to R. Klapper for raising significant halakhic issues and insights. It is important to appreciate that there are three distinct topics that R. Klapper is addressing in his essay:

(a) Given the fact that the trinity is erroneous, what is the halakhic status of the trinity as a doctrine for a Jew?
(b) Given the fact that the trinity is erroneous, what is the halakhic status of the trinity as a doctrine for a Noahide?
(c) Given the fact that the trinity is erroneous, what moral obligations does a Jew enjoy toward Noahides who mistakenly believe in the trinity?

The first and the third questions are easy to answer. Regarding the first question: Since the gemara in Sanhedrin 63b and Sukkah 45b as cited by R. Klapper explicitly states that “sheetuf” is prohibited for Jews as avodah zarah, the trinity is forbidden as a doctrine for a Jew even under force majeure. All Rishonim, including Tosafot and the Me’iri, universally agree to this.
Regarding the third question: The Rambam writes in Hilkhot Melakhim 10:12 that Jews are obligated to take care of all the needs of non-Jews, in light of the verses “tov Hashem lakol, richamav al kol ma’asav” as well as “dirakheha darkhei no’am, vikhol netivoteha shalom”. Thus, a Jew enjoys full moral obligations toward all Noahides, including Noahides who believe in the trinity.
By contradistinction, the second question is intricate, and will depend upon the various sources that R. Klapper analyzes.
It is also intriguing to note in this context that Rashi to Tractate Avodah Zarah 10a in the uncensored version (no dibbur hamat’chil; three lines from the bottom) elucidates the gemara to the effect that the latin language, script and books of the Roman catholic church were all actually engineered by the Tanna’im through their Jewish emissaries Yochanan (i.e. John), Paulus (i.e. Paul) and Petros (i.e. Simon Peter), in order to save Klal Yisra’el from the heretical disciples of “oto ha’ish”. This Rashi is published in a cryptic and obviously truncated form in the traditional Vilna Shas, but appears in its fullness in the new Wagshal Shas, and is the subject of a lecture by Dr. Shnayer Leiman at
Dr. Leiman demonstrates that the episode described by Rashi is the basis for the secret reason of the optional fast of the ninth of Tevet, as per Tur/Shulchan Arukh Orach Chaim 580:2. Namely, the 9th of Tevet is the yartzeit of Simon Peter – the first Roman pope who was actually a Jew sent by Chazal to establish a latin language, script and set of books for the heretical disciples of “oto ha’ish”, in order to separate those heretics from Klal Yisra’el, such that Klal Yisra’el will follow the Oral Torah (as it always had since Kabbalat HaTorah at Har Sinai), and – lihavdil – the gentiles will follow the Noahide Code in the form of an organized religion.
Another one of the Rishonim – R. Yehudah Bartzeloni in his commentary to the Sefer Yetzirah (p. 146) – fills in further detail by pointing out that the latin alphabet designed by Chazal possesses the three middle letters “L M N”, which are vocalized as “Ell emm enn” – three Hebrew words meaning “G-d has no mother”. Thus, Chazal encoded in the very alphabet that they formulated for the church a repudiation of the heresy of the disciples of “oto ha’ish” who were worshiping him as [chas vichalilah] a deity.
[Tangentially, this insight of the Rishonim illuminates a subplot in R. J. David Bleich's Bioethical Dilemmas vol. II (Targum Press 2006). On pp. 1-2 and pp. 99-100, R. Bleich cites the Zohar as establishing (based on Genesis 7:11) that Providence will use the advancement of human scientific knowledge that will be triggered in the year 5600 as a vehicle for accelerating the arrival of the ge'ulah shelemah. Yet, on pp. 228-229, R. Bleich cites the Rambam in the uncensored version of Hilkhot Melakhim as establishing that Providence will use the many human beings who have been tricked by the falsehood and silliness of the heretical belief in "oto ha'ish" as a vehicle in order to bring the ge'ulah shelemah (as defined by Torah theology). We now understand that these vehicles are two sides of the same coin: the invention of latin by Chazal was a tool of Providence to accelerate the arrival of the messianic era by both facilitating scientific progress (seeing as latin script is the universal script of science, particularly since the year 5600) and by galvanizing the nations of the world to follow the Noahide Code through the teachings of Simon Peter.]
Arguably, then, one might interpret Rashi to mean that since the entire protocol of the church was actually engineered by Chazal, the church is consistent with the Noahide Code. [Cf. R. Ovadiah Yosef in his Shu"t Yechaveh Da'at IV, no. 45, who marshals a novel proof from Yevamot 47a that the church is consistent with the Noahide Code.] However, such an landmark interpretation of Rashi obviously requires confirmation through a formal halakhic decision, which I will leave to the poskim.

#5 Comment By Aryeh Klapper On December 27, 2009 @ 8:22 pm

With apologies to Rabbi Spira, whose derekh eretz is always inspiring, I feel compelled to note that my article presents a very different approach to his question a) than does his note. Specifically, I argue that at least Tosafot read the gemarot in Sukkah and Sanhedrin re “sheetuf” as relating not to theology, but rather a technical rule about including G-d and something else together in certain types of verbalizations. Thus those sugyot cannot teach us anything about either the Trinity, or about avodah zarah – in fact, the last line of Tosafot says explicitly that this type of shituf is permitted to Gentiles, and therefore clearly not Avodah Zarah.

#6 Comment By Yeshayhu Hollander On December 28, 2009 @ 11:57 am

Dear Rabbis,
I am very happy that this discussion was pointed out to me. I have been dealing with Bnei Noah for about four years, most of them people who left Xianity. From the information I have available, it transpires that there are a great many more people who have accepted the “Sheva Mitzvoth” WITHOUT giving up belief in oto haish. [Maybe a few hundredthousand!] I suspect giving up this belief is hardest, because they wouldn’t want to loose “salvation”.
Now the real problem arises:
Many of these “Messianics” are organised as “Ephraimites” who want to come to live in Israel and practice their faith, and also to convince all Jews to accept oto ha’ish as the Savior. They say this will be the proper fulfilling of the haftara of Vayigash!
They also say this will solve the so-called “demographic problem”.

The organisation I work for has published a policy of refusing to have anything to do with people who attempt to bring Jews into belief in oto ha’ish.

Now Rabbi Spira wrote “Thus, a Jew enjoys full moral obligations toward all Noahides, including Noahides who believe in the trinity”.

1. Would that include Messianics who are not actively trying to convert Jews?
2. Would that include Ephraimites?
3. Are Messianics Ger Toshav [according to those who accept ger toshav in our times]?
4. Are Ephraimites Ger Toshav [according to those who accept ger toshav in our times]?

Thank you for your thoughts.

#7 Comment By Shalom Spira On December 30, 2009 @ 4:21 pm

I thank R. Klapper for his kind words. I also thank Yeshayhu Hollander for his excellent questions, which shed new light on the paramount importance of the issues that R. Klapper has raised. Since I do not enjoy the privilege of being at least 40 years of age (which – according to some opinions – would not even be sufficient, for I would need to have 40 years of learning, i.e. be at least 53 [or perhaps even 55 assuming one begins from "ben chamesh esrei ligemara"], I have an excuse to decline answering the excellent questions, if a superior halakhic authority is available (as per the gemara in Sotah 22b). Nevertheless, I take Yeshayhu Hollander’s concerns very seriously (and I applaud his spiritually lifesaving outreach efforts), and so I will address the questions as best as I can, and the poskim can confirm my words as they see fit.
Although R. Klapper and (lihavdil ani hakatan) myself may debate the meaning of a particular passage in Tosafot, as a matter of practical Halakhah all poskim agree that it is absolutely forbidden – even under force majeure – for a Jew to profess the trinity. To that effect, R. Moshe Feinstein rules in Iggerot Mosheh, Yoreh De’ah III, no. 43 that interfaith dialogue between Jews and the church is categorically outlawed as a form of “abizraihu di’avodah zarah” (ancillary idolatry) and “mesit umedi’ach la’avodat kokhavim” (inciting others to consider foreign religions, a crime for which the Torah has zero tolerance). R. Feinstein emphasizes that there is no difference in this regard between the catholic and protestant churches. Notably, that 1967 responsum was addressed to R. Joseph Ber Soloveitchik (among others). I presume that R. Feinstein was implicitly paying homage to R. Soloveitchik’s already published “Confrontation” article (Tradition 6:2), where R. Soloveitchik outlaws interfaith dialogue as well, because the trinity is absolutely unacceptable to Jews. If I can select (what is in my opinion) the most eloquent paragraph of R. Soloveitchik’s treatise, it is this set of remarks on p. 25:

“Fourthly, we have not been authorized by our history, sanctified by the martyrdom of millions, to even hint to another faith community that we are mentally ready to revise historical attitudes, to trade favors pertaining to fundamental matters of faith, and to reconcile “some” differences. Such a suggestion would be nothing but a betrayal of our great tradition and heritage and would, furthermore, produce no practical benefits. Let us not forget that the community of the many will not be satisfied with half measures and compromises which are only indicative of a feeling of insecurity and inner emptiness. We cannot command the respect of our confronters by displaying a servile attitude. Only a candid, frank and unequivocal policy reflecting unconditional commitment to our G-d, a sense of dignity, pride and inner joy in being what we are, believing with great passion in the ultimate truthfulness of our views, praying fervently for and expecting confidently the fulfillment of our eschatological vision where our faith will rise from particularity to universality, will impress the peers of the other faith community among whom we have both adversaries and friends.”

Responding to R. Soloveitchik, R. Norman Lamm (Jewish Life, November-December 1964) writes: “A new attitude seems to have crystallized in American Jewish leadership which reflects the fundamental position of Orthodoxy… What cleared the air was the intervention of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, whose immense learning and undisputed Halachic authority lent cogency to his position, which was brilliantly conceived and articulately expounded in the last issue of “Tradition”… It should be understood that “dialogue” is more than polite conversation, even more than a scholarly colloquium. It involves the logos, the fundamental commitment of faith. It is a profound confrontation in which everything is risked, in which the results always remain unforeseen, and from which the two partners in dialogue rarely emerge unchanged. It is because of the unique and intimate nature of the logos, the incommensurability of one faith commitment with another, that we hold theological dialogue to be an absurdity… No, in matters of faith and ultimate commitment the only authentic dialogue is that between G-d and man. Conversation on such matters between members of faith communities… represents a distraction from and not a contribution to the great dialogue.”

Similarly, R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach is quoted by R. Simchah Bunim Lazerson in his Shulchan Shelomoh, Erkei Refu’ah, vol. 1 (Jerusalem 5766), p. 138: If a Jewish patient is deathly ill, and the only way to medically save his life is by admitting him to a hospital affiliated with the trinity, such that by being a patient in the hospital the Jew is conceding either directly or indirectly to the trinity, the Jewish patient must die rather than enter that hospital for treatment. Even so paramount a mitzvah as piku’ach nefesh does not permit a Jew to grant legitimacy to the trinity.

Likewise, R. Avigdor Neventzal, in his Sichot Lisefer Vayikra, pp. 365-368, prohibits the municipal government of Jerusalem to publicly display – in celebration of the Yom Yerushalayim holiday proclaimed by the Chief Rabbinate of Medinat Yisr’ael – a banner featuring both a Magen David and a cross. R. Neventzal negates such a plan, since he regards it as axiomatic that the trinity is forbidden for Jews.

Therefore, since the Noahide Code effectively forbids non-Jews from trying to cause Jews to transgress (as can be inferred from Rashi to Deuteronomy 23:9), and since it is universally accepted as a matter of practical Halakhah that a Jew can never believe in the trinity, therefore the Noahide Code obligates “Ephraimites” to discontinue their efforts from asking Jews to believe in the falsehood of “oto ha’ish”. Instead, “Ephraimites” can achieve the spiritual greatness and holines for which they legitimately yearn by occupying themselves with the study of the Torah (and championing the mitzvot the Torah) as it pertains to the Noahide Code. This latter proposition is based on the gemara in Avodah Zarah 3a that a non-Jew who occupies himself with the Torah as it pertains to the Noahide Code is catapulted to the spiritual greatness of a Kohen Gadol.

#8 Comment By Shalom Spira On December 30, 2009 @ 5:12 pm

Let us now address the four questions of Yeshayhu Hollander in series:
1. Yes. Indeed, Jews owe full moral obligations to all Noahides, including Messianics, as per the Rambam in Hilkhot Melakhim 10:12.
2. Yes. Admittedly, since we have established (in the previous post) that Ephraimites are definitely in violation of the Noahide Code by attempting to cause Jews to transgress, it may sound somewhat comical to say that full moral obligations are owed to Ephraimites. Nevertheless, this is the clear implication of the Rambam in Hilkhot Melakhim 10:12; a Jew owes full more obligations to all human beings, no matter what their conduct is.
3. The ger toshav question will depend on the dispute among the poskim whether the trinity is avodah zarah for Noahides. If the trinity is avodah zarah for Noahides, then Messianics are not gerei toshav. If the trinity is not avodah zarah for Noahides, then Messiancs can become gerei toshav.
The Rema in Shulchan Arukh Orach Chaim no. 156 writes “yesh mekilin” on this issue. I honestly don’t know whether the Rema means “yesh mekilin” and this is the Halakhah, or whether he means “yesh mekilin” but he doesn’t want to comment further. In any event, the Encyclopedia Talmudit, s.v. Ben Noach, catalogues the Noda Bi’Yehudah as forbidding Noahides from believing in the trinity.
As referenced in my Dec. 27 post, R. Ovadiah Yosef summons a proof to the side of leniency from Yevamot 47a, where Naomi is recorded to have told Ruth that if she converts to Judaism, she will be forbidden to worship idols. R. Yosef objects that even Noahides are prohibited to worship idols (as per the Noahide Code elaborated by the gemara in Sanhedrin 56b), answering that Naomi may have been referring to “sheetuf” – which would be understood as proscribed for Jews but permitted for Noahides. As further referenced in that post, the sources in Dr. Leiman’s lecture indicating that the entire protocol of the church was actually invented by Chazal certainly seem to serve as powerful evidence that Noahides are permitted to attend church [-though, interestingly, at no point in his lecture does Dr. Leiman actually verbalize such a novel conclusion.] Accordingly, I await the judgment of our contmeporary poskim to decide this weighty matter.
Parenthetically, the gemara in Avodah Zarah 8a describes an eight day holiday ordained by Adam HaRishon “Lishem Shamayim” that occurs every year after the winter solstice. The church perpetuates this very “mitzvah” of the Noahide Code every year from Dec. 25 to Jan. 1, which clearly stands to the credit of the church. [Although one might object that the Noahide Code only possesses seven mitzvot, in truth these branch out into thirty mitzvot, as per the gemara in Chullin 30a. Thus, there is much more to the Noahide Code than seven particular principles, and this apparently includes an annual holiday celebration.] Thus, even if the trinity is forbidden for Noahides, Noahides could still practice the annual post-winter solstice holiday that has been popularized by the church (in whatever way is kosher according to Hilkhot B’nei No’ach).

In the hypothetical event that a contemporary posek will discover that the matter of whether or not the trinity is permissible for Noahides remains a safek, then the question will ipso facto arise whether Noahides are obligated to be stringent regarding safek violations of the Noahide Code. The latter problem is surveyed by R. Yitzchak Yosef in his Yalkut Yosef, Issur Viheter vol. 2, who offers a lengthy appendix in which he calculates some forty-three nafka minot as to whether safek di’oraita lichumra is a matter of Torah law (as the Rashba holds in his novellae on Kiddushin 73a) or a matter of rabbinic law (as the Rambam holds in Hilkhot Tum’at Met 9:12). Nafka minah number nine on the list is this very question: If safek di’oraita lichumra is a matter of Torah law, then Noahides must avoid even doubtful transgressions of the Noahide law. If safek di’oraita likula is a matter of rabbinic law, then Noahides may doubtfully transgress the Noahide Code in good conscience, because rabbinic legislation was never directed to Noahides.
R. Yosef proceeds to advance an additional reason to be lenient vis-a-vis Noahides, as follows. Even if the halakhah follows the Rashba (that safek lichumra di’oraita is a matter of Torah law), perhaps the Rashba’s scriptural source was only directed to Jews and not to Noahides.
Accordingly, R. Yosef’s analysis would seemingly trailblaze a sfek sfeka likula to allow a Noahide to commit a safek violation of the Noahide Code:
(i) Perhaps safek di’oraita lichumra is rabbinic in origin, such that it cannot apply to Noahides.
(ii) Even if safek di’oraita lichumra is biblical in origin, perhaps this was only addressed to Jews and not to Noahides.
Upon further consideration, however, a countervailing stringency arises based upon the words of R. J. David Bleich in the latter’s Benetivot Hahalakhah II pp. 140-143, which obviously was not seen by the Yalkut Yosef. There, R. Bleich asserts that there is indeed a halakhic side to argue that rabbinic legislation does apply even to Noahides, under the rubric of “natural law courts” posited by the Rambam in Hilkhot Melakhim 10:11. If that is correct, then safek likula #1 of the above sfek sfeka is refuted.

4. No, Ehpraimites cannot be gerei toshav, since the Noahide Code requires Noahides to refrain from causing Jews to transgress. Ephraimites should be encouraged to instead occupy themselves with studying the Torah and practicing its mitzvot in those dimensions that relate to the Noadide Code.

#9 Comment By Shalom Spira On January 3, 2010 @ 10:58 am

Here are two more sources of interest for the halakhic subject at hand:

(a) R. Moshe Ashen, the kitchen kashrut mashgi’ach at RIETS, reports that R. Moshe Feinstein was asked whether it is permissible for a Jew to carry coins minted by the United States government into the washroom, when – after all – the coins proudly feature a word which appears identical with the “shem etzem” of HaKadosh Barukh Hu in English (i.e., “G-d”). R. Feinstein consulted with a knowledgeable clergyman of a prestigious church that was located in his own personal neighbourhood (somewhere on the Lower East Side of Manhattan). After discussing the matter with the clergyman, R. Feinstein concluded that word “God” as minted by the United States government does not refer to HaKadosh Barukh Hu, and therefore it is permissible to bring the coins into the washroom.

(b) R. Mordechai Willig, in a 2007 shi’ur digitally recorded at
discusses the dispute among the poskim whether Noahides are permitted to worship in church. His words are featured from 2:45 until 9:35.
In the end, R. Willig asserts as follows:
“Bottom line is we cannot resolve this issue… too great… the people are too great on each side, whether in fact a Xtian is in violation of one of the seven mitzvos [of the Noahide Code] when he practices Xianity…
“For non-Jews I cannot reach a conclusion.”
[end of citation]

Let’s look forward to seeing the fulfillment of the High Holiday liturgical poem “Vi’ye’etayu kol li’avdekha…”

#10 Comment By Moshe Benzaquen On January 22, 2010 @ 12:14 pm

Dear Rabbi A. Klapper. Yishar Koach for a great article on the trinity and its ramifications on practical halacha. I was born in a very catholic Spain and studied in catholic scools till the age of seventeen. I can assure you that the christianity that I lived in, was purely Avodah Zarah.
I am writing to you maybe to correct a statement of yours or maybe it was done with a tone of sarcasm when you thanked your havruta Rabbi Yaakov Genack for reviewing the material and for “doing avodah zarah together” You obviously meant for “studying avoda zarah together”. Again, Yishar Koach for a great article. Shabbat Shalom from a rainy California. Moshe Benzaquen

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URL to article: http://text.rcarabbis.org/what-is-the-halakhic-status-of-the-doctrine-of-the-trinity/

URLs in this post:

[1] 1: http://text.rcarabbis.org/what-is-the-halakhic-status-of-the-doctrine-of-the-trinity/#footnote_0_604

[2] Professor Halbertal: http://edah.org/backend/JournalArticle/halbertal.pdf

[3] here: http://drewkaplans.blogspot.com/2009/11/more-on-meiri.html

[4] here: http://www.archive.org/details/RabbiKlapperPaskeningLiketheMeiriReflections

[5] ↩: http://text.rcarabbis.org/what-is-the-halakhic-status-of-the-doctrine-of-the-trinity/#identifier_0_604

[6] : http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/ayer/#2

[7] : http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/dialetheism/

[8] : http://www.yutorah.org/lectures/lecture.cfm/726352/Dr._Shnayer_Leiman/Jewish_Perspectives_on_Early_Christianity:_Toldot_Yeshu

[9] : http://www.yutorah.org/lectures/lecture.cfm/721164/Rabbi_Mordechai_I._Willig/Is_it_the_Season_to_be_Jolly

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