From the Rav’s Desk: Looking at a church

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Looking at a church

  1. Question:

As a sequel to your article on the subject of walking by a church, and your conclusion that it is proper not to do so and that so is the age-old custom, I would like to know if the same applies regarding looking at a church. Can you look at a church from across the street are must you avoid all contact with your eyes?



While one may not stare at a church, especially when done in order to marvel at its beauty, there is no prohibition against seeing it at a glance within one’s peripheral vision, such as while walking and the like. Accordingly, you may walk down a street that has a church making sure not to contemplate its structure [although the custom is to walk on the other side of the sidewalk as explained in the previous Halacha].



It is forbidden for one to benefit from idolatry, and the Poskim rule that this includes a prohibition against looking at idolatry to benefit from looking at its beauty. Elsewhere the Poskim state that it is forbidden for one to stare at idolatry or images of idolatry. This restriction is extended and applies even towards ornaments or structures of idolatry. Accordingly, one may not stare at a church to mesmerize of its beauty and architect, even in a mere picture. However, this prohibition only applies if one intentionally looks at the idolatry to benefit from it. However, it is permitted for one to casually see idolatry, such as while walking, and no prohibition is transgressed if one has no intent to benefit from what he sees and has no pleasure from seeing it.

Sources: See regarding the prohibition to look at idolatry: Michaber and Rama Y.D. 142:15; O.C. 307:16; M”A O.C. 307:23; Rabbeinu Yerucham Nesiv 17 5:159 based on Rebbe Shimon Ben Pazi in Pesachim 26a regarding Meila; Rambam Avoda Zara 2:2; Rambam Pirush Hamishnayos Avoda Zara “Its almost forbidden to see it…”; Avoda Zara 50a; Tosafus Shabbos 149a; Rosh 23:2; Machatzis Hashekel on M”A ibid; Shulchan Hatahor 224:1; See regarding the prohibition to look at a church: Minchas Elazar 2:73; Sheraim Hametzuyanim Behalacha 116:5; Mishneh Halachos 4:111; Minchas Yitzchak 4:87; Teshuvos Vehanhagos 2:412; Ohel Yaakov 149;  See regarding the allowance to casually look at idolatry so long as one doesn’t contemplate it: Rama Y.D. 142:15; M”A O.C. 307:23; Machatzis Hashekel on M”A ibid See regarding the custom not to look at a church: Avnei Yashpei 1:153; Ohel Yaakov 149;  See regarding distancing oneself from a road of idolatry: Michaber Y.D. 150:1; 149:1; 142:2 Rama 149:2; Avoda Zara 17a and 18b; Chayeh Halevi 4:63; 7:37-17; Rivivos Efraim 3:496-497; Maros Yechezkal 1:457; Ohel Yaakov 150:2 and 12; See regarding the custom not walk by a church: Likkutei Sichos 18:459; Tzitz Eliezer 14:91; Al Minhagim Umikoroseichem [Bloy] p. 293;

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