Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Shituff and the Noahide

The most consistently raised issue by the ‘Ger’ crowd against other Noahides is with regards to what is called Shituff. That is the technical term for the belief of Christians in the middle ages. It was coined to distinguish it from the type of polytheism that we find in the time of the Talmud which was the practice of the Romans and the other nations surrounding the Jewish people.

Some Ger people claim that other Noahides are akum (idol worshippers), and believe in Shituff and their Rabbis tell them they can believe in it. This is one of the things, the Ger people claim that makes them different/better than Noahides. As I mentioned in the previous article this is blatantly false. In this article I will clarify the issues around Shituff and how the Rabbis who rule on this and advise Noahides actually teach.


Before getting into the issue of shituff and where it comes from, and how a Noahide is required to act/believe, we need to discuss an issue that relates to how Halacha is discussed and decided.

Every action a Jew does falls into one of a few legal categories.  Likewise when a Rabbi makes a decision about whether an action is allowed or not, it is because that action falls into one of a number of possibilities. Let me list some of them. This is not the place to go through all of them in detail. Nor will I cover all the issues involved in making legal decisions. I want to include only those that clarify what will appear in the articles I will be writing.

First are those things that are forbidden and the violation of them is punishable. This is the status of all of the 7 laws themselves. Things like this are called issur (forbidden) and chiyav (punishable).

There are some things that are forbidden, but we don’t tell people about it because they will not listen. This does not apply to Torah commands it would only apply to Rabbinic prohibitions, so it is not relevant to Noahides.

Then there are things that are forbidden but not punishable. We call them patur (non-punishable) aval issur (but forbidden). This is an important category for Noahides, as will be discussed in future articles.

Next are things not forbidden, nor required, they are just permitted. They are optional. Some of these are practices that are so positive that we consider it a blessing for those who do it. Sometimes these are referred to as Chumras (stringencies).

Next there are things permitted that some even require, but which you can only do them if you are of a certain level of observance, where doing it would not be a sign of arrogance (yehorah).

Another similar type of permitted action is one that is permitted but because it could lead to something forbidden we do not teach it openly. We refer to this as “Halacha (it is the law) vAyn Morin” (but we do not teach it). In some cases only a big Talmud Chocham is allowed to do this action because we are not afraid he will err and do something that is forbidden if he does this.

Then there are acts that are not required but expected. This is very relevant to Noahides, and I will be discussing them in a later article discussing the prohibition of ‘baal tosef’ (not adding to the Torah) and how it applies to a Noahide

Finally there are those things required and their non-performance is considered a sin, and in some cases is punishable.

Not all of these categories will be relevant in our discussions about the Noahide laws, but they are good to have in mind. It should make us aware that categories like allowed or forbidden do not take in the whole range of actions.


Rabbis decide questions of law with the above in mind and also with many other principles. For example if the particular act could be a violation of a Torah law as opposed to a Rabbinic one. This is the source of many of the differences we find in Halacha and in approach to Noahides. For example, I know of someone who follows the Rambam even when later sources ignore his view, and even against the commentaries on the Rambam.

I would like to start to explain how I usually answer questions posed to me. My answers follow from some pretty simple principles. Most of what I say can be traced back to Rabbis who discussed these issues before the modern Noahide ‘movement’ started. Unlike the customs of Ashkenazim and Sefardim, which have a clear legal tradition, the Noahide laws do not have a clear tradition of how to rule.

The primary source is the Talmud and the commentaries on it. This gives the basic background to understand what the poskim are saying and the general principles involved. Then there is the Rambam and those commentators on him. When the Rambam disagrees with what is codified in Shulchan Aruch or other later rabbis, I favor them as opposed to the Rambam.

Rav Moshe Feinstein Z’L discusses Noahide laws in a number of places in his responsa, as does the Viener Rov Z’L (Rabbi Yonason Shteif) in his sefer on the Noahide laws. Their views seem to represent the majority or consensus view.

What I mean by consensus or majority is what the major Rishonim have seen as the Halacha based on the discussions of the Talmud. In the first article I discussed the mechanics of Halacha, and that is applied here.  Since there is no tradition to draw on, we have to follow the standard practice of following the majority/consensus.

I will also look into the more recent works written specifically for Noahides, of which I have many.

One of the reasons for following the majority is that there are sources that say we need to consider the 7 Laws for a non-Jew on the same level as a Torah law for a Jew. That requires us to not be more lenient than the majority view. No Jew would eat in the kitchen of another Jew who ran his kitchen based on ignoring the majority views and using the leniencies of individuals.

I am sure this will be confusing at this point, but we shall go through a number of issues over these articles and this will be clearer.


What is Shituff?

While polytheism says there are many gods, Shituff says that there is only one God but he has partners with Him. In Christianity: Father, Son and Holy Ghost. This Christian belief was/is usually justified by appeals to Platonic or Aristotelean philosophical ideas, which were considered scientific fact during the Middle Ages (and still are in the Catholic Church.)

As far as a Jew is concerned, both polytheism and Shituff are exactly the same and are idolatry and worship of such a god is covered under the prohibitions of idol worship. This is indisputable. But with regards to the laws of Noach, there is a disagreement, and from that disagreement there appears in Halacha three distinct views.


Before we can discuss what the Halacha is with regards to Shituff, we need to know what exactly shituff is. The translation of shituff is partnership. For example: if Reuven and Shimon own a business or work together with each other; each of them is the shituff of the other. In the religious sense, however, it does not mean two or more gods working together on a project. The Greek gods often worked together but the Rabbis did not apply the word shituff to that.

One of the problems I have seen in the literature is an assumption of knowledge as to what shituff means, when that is usually not the case. The name shituff was introduced in the realm of religion in the middle ages for a specific purpose. To understand that purpose we need to discuss the history of idol worship.

Unlike Judaism and Christianity, the ancient pagans had no idea of exclusivity. They had their gods and accepted that the gods of other people were also real. In their stories they relate supposed exploits of their gods. For example in the Iliad of Homer the Greek gods divided as to which side they supported. Some supported the Greeks and some the Trojans. We do not refer to these ‘partnerships’ of gods as shituff.

Likewise, there were various levels of being a god in the ancient world. There were the major gods, than lower levels ones, and at the bottom were men who became gods, like the Emperors in Rome. Basically their gods, were gods because they had powers and were considered to be immortal. Jewish Rabbis were familiar with this and the law with regards to this kind of idolatry is well documented and is discussed at length in Tractate Avodah Zara and in Shulchan Aruch Yoreah Deah.

The problem was how to look at Christianity which has a total different theology. Many people today do not even see why there should be a problem, and the truth is that, at least in America where the overwhelming majority of Christians are Evangelical or have similar beliefs, it is easy to understand why some don’t see why there would be a question. Ask your local Christian who G-d is and the answer is ‘Jesus’. If you ask them who ‘Jesus’ is they will also answer God. They pray ‘in Jesus’ name’. When they say ‘god’ they think ‘Jesus’. This is clearly not shituff, but idolatry, both in practice and belief.

However in the middle ages the Christianity the Rabbis encountered (and at times debated with) had a theology strongly influenced by the philosophies of Plato and Aristotle. If you would have asked the priest who is G-d he would have said ‘Father Son and Holy Ghost.’ Ask him who Jesus is, he will say the Incarnation of the Son. The formula of prayer used until today by the Catholic Church is ‘In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.’ All three. When they say ‘god’ they mean all three. This is where the concept and terminology of ‘shituff’ comes from.

Shituff is the denial of the unity of HaShem and for a Jew the denial of the Unity of HaShem is idolatry. However there is a discussion among authorities whether it is the same for a non-Jew.


It should be noted that the problem is only with belief, and not worship. That is clear in the sources and is the unanimous view of the Rishonim and Achronim. To understand this distinction fully we need to look at two discussions in the Talmud and how they are understood by later authorities.

The Talmud in Sanhedrin 56b says: “Those things that a Jewish Beis Din gives a death penalty for (a Jew) a non-Jew is warned against (i.e. forbidden and punished); that which a Beis Din does not give a death penalty a non-Jew is not warned against (not punished but could still be forbidden.)”

This clearly forbids a non-Jew to worship in any way that is forbidden for a Jew. Worship of shituff is forbidden for a Jew by all authorities, hence that is the same for a non-Jew. Any act of Christian worship is therefore included.

But what about belief? Just believing in an idol and not doing anything is not punishable by death in a Jewish court. It is forbidden for a Jew, but what about a non-Jew? This Talmud passage does not address that issue.

This issue comes up as the result of a discussion of another issue. The Talmud in Sanhedrin 63b has a discussion based on Exodus 23:13 where the verse forbids even saying the name of an idol. The Talmud then relates that the father of Shmuel taught that it is forbidden to make a partnership with a non-Jew because it could lead to him making an oath in the name of his idol. This would then involve the non-Jew saying the name of his idol. This would imply that belief is also forbidden. That is, in fact the view taken by Rambam; the author of Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 156:1) and is the accepted view in Sefardic lands. This can be called View 1: no partnerships with idolaters (even believers in shituff).

However there is a Tosephus there which argues that today the law is different and it is allowed to make partnerships with them because “Even though they mention the name of heaven (i.e. God) and their intention is for something else (i.e. the Trinity) that Is not the name of an idol and also they understand that they are referring to the one who makes heaven (and earth). And even though they join together the name of heaven (i.e. God) with something else (i.e. the Trinity) we have not found anywhere that it forbids anyone to cause another to mention shituff (i.e. saying God and meaning Trinity). And ‘before the blind’ (lifnei aver) does not apply because Benei Noach (non-Jews) are not warned against that.” This leads to the famous comment of the Rema in Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 156:1 that today we are allowed to make partnerships with non-Jews because even if they do make an oath, shituff is not forbidden.

Here we see that according to Tosephus a business partnership is allowed (and that is the view of Ashkenazim.) This view seems tied in to there not being any prohibition to make a believer in shituff mention their god. However the reason why it is not forbidden is the subject of some famous disagreements among the Gadolim of Ashkenaz. This leads to two more views.

The Shach and probably the majority of Rabbis in Ashkenaz understand Tosephus and the Rema as saying that shituff is not forbidden like idol worship as a belief for non-Jews under the 7 laws. (As I said above this does not mean that it is allowed, just that such a belief is not one that is forbidden.) Therefore partnerships can be made and if they want to make an oath by their god there is no prohibition because the belief in shituff is not forbidden for a non-Jew, only the worship of shituff. Those having this view include: Shach; Tzvi Chatos, Tashbatz and the majority of Rabbis of Europe. (It appears to be the view in Lubavitch also.)

There is another view by the Pri Magadim and others which maintain Shituff is forbidden but that we don’t worry about causing them to mention their god since even if they mention their god there is no prohibition on US for causing it. Therefore we can make a partnership, and if they need to make an oath by their god, this Is not a problem; the prohibition of ‘lifnei ever’ does not apply in this case. Those having this view include: Pri Magadim; Minchas Chinuch; Nodah bYehudah, Mishnah Berurah


As a question of practical Halacha: What should a non-Jew believe? What should we teach them? A majority of all the Rabbis forbid shituff and that is what should be taught. In Judaism we follow the majority of recognized authorities. But as I said above this discussion applies ONLY if the non-Jew truly believes in shituff. The majority of Christians in America do not. Therefore even those who would say that shituff is allowed, would forbid the Christian belief common in America.

If we look at the works on the 7 laws we see that even when they bring this disagreement the conclusion is that we advise the non-Jew that they should not believe in shituff. (Sefer 7 Mitzvos HaShem chapter 1 footnote 7)

However there is no support for a status change that is tied to shituff; those who forbid it say it is outright idol worship and hence a non-Jew is forbidden to believe it. Those who will say a non-Jew is not prohibited would consider it as being not punishable but not that it is fully allowed. And they do not assign any status difference in rejecting shituff. No Rabbinic authority say it is 100% allowed for any non-Jew.

To summarize:

1.     Shituff is forbidden to worship according to all opinions.
2.     The Sefardic Rabbis all follow the Rambam and the Shulchan Aruch which would forbid belief in shituff.
3.     The majority of the European (Ashkenaz) Rabbis say belief is not forbidden.
4.     A significant minority of important Ashkenaz Rabbis disagree and forbid this belief.
5.     The majority of all Rabbis forbid.
6.     No Rabbi with any knowledge who is teaching non-Jews today will say that it is acceptable for a non-Jew to consider themselves a follower of the 7 mitzvos and believe in shituff. This is especially the case with those who call themselves Noahides because of their relationship with the ‘Noahide movement’.
7.     The common belief of Evangelical Christians is NOT shituff, but actually idol worship and polytheism.

My next few articles will deal with general issues of Noahides; what is the purpose of the Noahide Laws and what is a Torah based Noahide Spirituality.

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