Marc B. Shapiro: If Christianity Isn’t Idolatry, Then What Is?

According to the chief rabbinate of Israel, Hinduism is not idolatry. Hindus see themselves as monotheist. They’re not monotheists by our Jewish standard.

Hinduism has no doctrine of incarnation, of God becoming man. That’s the essence of Christianity and that’s idolatry on the face of it (but not necessarily in fact) according to Judaism.

In his second lecture on R. Joseph Mesas for Torah in Motion, professor Marc B. Shapiro says: “If Christians get let off the hook for being idolaters and they believe that God assumes human form in the incarnation, then if you assume God manifests in a statute, how is that different?”

“Once you assume that Christianity is not idolatry for non-Jews, then I don’t know what is idolatry for non-Jews. I don’t know what else qualifies.”

“What could be more idolatrous than believing that God assumes human form?”

The Rambam wrote that Christianity was idolatry.

“What could be more idolatrous than worshiping a human being? Yet the Ashkenazic psak (Jewish law) is that since they believe in a supreme deity and this is just a manifestation, this is not idolatry. Does this make sense? Is it correct? It is not for me to say.”

A Jew can say that he thinks Christianity is idolatry for non-Jews but in terms of practical halachah (Jewish law), he accepts that it is not. If you were to hold by the view that Christianity is idolatry, then that immensely complicates dealing with Christians as Jews face severe restrictions on doing business and having social interactions with idolaters. So who needs that tsures?

Marc: “R. Shalom Messas permitted a Jew to donate money to build a church because for a non-Jew, Christianity is not idolatry.

“I work at a Catholic university. I see this up close. If you were to go into a church and see the worship and the rituals and the beliefs, from a Jewish perspective, this is idolatry. And yet, so many poskim (rabbinic deciders of Jewish law) see otherwise.”

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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