Blog: September 2017

Most of these posts were originally posted somewhere else and link to the originals. While this blog is not set up for comments, the original locations generally are, and I welcome comments there. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Can Jews participate in Christian prayers?

A question on Mi Yodeya was motivated by the asker hearing a Jew decline to participate in a Christian "grace" before a meal. This person asked: since Jews, Christians, and Muslims all worship the god of Abraham, wouldn't it be permitted for a Jew to participate in a Christian prayer so long as it's to God and not to Jesus?

I answered:

Christianity and Islam say they worship the same god that we do, but that does not make it so.

Christianity is the bigger problem. They say that a human being was part of God, which is shituf (think of it as heresy). That means it is forbidden for a Jew to participate in their prayers. On top of that, the trinity concept adds confusion. I am aware that different Christian denominations give the trinity greater or lesser importance. Distinguishing all the nuances calls for more expertise in Christianity than most of us have. It's hard for us, as outsiders, to navigate their theological variations, especially in real time.

Islam is less problematic, in that they don't say that God took human form, but they do sanctify the Christian gospels, counting Jesus as a prophet. Like Christianity, they say that the torah was deprecated or superseded, so they are at least wrong about God, who gave us an eternal torah, as far as we're concerned. Whether that is enough for halacha I do not know, but it is enough for (dis)comfort for many, including the author of the comment you quoted. Some are also concerned about giving the appearance of endorsing another religion.

Even if you think the text of any particular prayer is unobjectionable, carefully reviewing the text (if you can even get it in advance) imposes a burden of both effort and knowledge that many aren't willing to take on. Especially in a social setting where it's relatively easy to extract oneself, like words before a meal, it makes a great deal of sense to do so instead of trying to navigate what is or isn't acceptable.

Besides, in my experience Christians tend to extemporize their prayers, and it's very, very difficult for them to leave Jesus out of it. So your qualifier of "as long as they pray to God and not Jesus", even aside from the other issues I raised, might not stick in the moment. Rarely-needed care almost never wins out against deeply-ingrained reflex, and the phrase "through so-and-so our Lord (sic)" is a standard phrase in Christian prayer.

Why have a Jewish marriage and risk being an agunah?

In Jewish law, a husband can divorce the wife but the wife cannot divorce the husband. In other words, for them to be divorced, religiously speaking, requires his consent. Some husbands are spiteful and withhold this consent to extort other concessions from the wife. Sometimes the husband disappears and it's not known if he's alive -- this is less common now than when people might be lost at sea, but it's an issue even today when there is a disaster from which not all remains are found or identified. So, there's a risk that the woman can become an agunah, a "chained woman", who cannot remarry because she is still legally married.

Against this backdrop, somebody on Mi Yodeya asked: so why get married Jewishly instead of just getting a civil marriage? It sounds risky.

My answer:

Let's take your question a step farther: why get married at all? Why not just live with, and have relations with, whomever you like? No marriage means no difficulties in ending it.

If you're hesitating at that -- if you think that the concept of "marriage" has some meaning and you're just questioning which type (civil or religious) -- then the first part of the answer is: because a civil "marriage" isn't a marriage according to Judaism at all.

Here are some reasons for couples to want a Jewish marriage: Read moreā€¦