Chess Pieces

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The internal decor of your house displays not only your public persona but also the atmosphere in which you choose to dwell. The care you exert in choosing religiously appropriate objects in your home express your commitment to Judaism above, or at least in conjunction with, esthetics.

A chess set often serves as both decoration and entertainment. However, the game’s most important piece poses a dilemma to Jewish players. The king is generally adorned with a cross. A cross represents Christianity, reminding us of the religion’s foundational claim and also the centuries of Christian persecution Jews have suffered. The latter is an emotional claim but the former is legal. Jewish law prohibits the ownership of a foreign religious object. Must a Jew, therefore, break the cross on his king?

Jewish legal authorities have long debated the status of the Christian concept of trinity — is it monotheism or polytheism? While this may seem like it should be the crux of the issue (pardon the pun), it actually has no bearing on the outcome. Even those who accept that Christianity is a fine religion for gentiles, who are bound by the Noahide covenant to avoid idolatry and polytheism, consider the religion to be a forbidden foreign religion for Jews.

Thus, R. David Tzvi Hoffmann (Melamed Le-Ho’il 1:16) prohibits Jews from using an organ in synagogue because it is a Christian practice. Even though he holds that Christianity is permissible for gentiles, he considers it entirely forbidden for Jews. More to the point, both Rema (Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chaim 156:1) and Shakh (Yoreh De’ah 153:7) rule that Christianity is acceptable for gentiles (see Pischei Teshuvah, Yoreh De’ah 147:5) but forbid crosses as impermissible to Jews (Yoreh De’ah 141:3 and Shakh, ad loc. 6). The Avnei Neizer (122) struggles to find a reason to allow a Jew to let a hostile Russian township build a large cross on his property, successfully finding a leniency so the Jew need not forfeit his life to avoid the severity of this prohibition. Even the most accepting authorities see Christianity as a religion Jews must avoid at all cost.

If crosses represent a foreign religion to which Jews may not submit, may a Jew ever own one? This question arose for Jewish merchants who sometimes traded in religious jewelery. Can they sell decorative crosses? Rema (Shulchan Arukh, Yoreh De’ah 141:3) records a leniency. While you may not obtain even indirect benefit from an item used for a foreign religion, you may sell an item that serves only a decorative purpose. Since no one has worshiped with the object, it is not forbidden.

However, the Chokhmas Adam (85:2) points out, this leniency only allows you to derive benefit from the item. You still may not own it because people might think that it is your religious object. The only exception is an item that is used disrespectfully, in a way that no one would treat a religious object. Similarly, Nachal Eshkol (Hilkhos Avodah Zarah n. 50, quoted in She’arim Metzuyanim Ba-Halakhah 167:2 kuntres acharon) permits owning an oven with a cross on it. Since no one uses it for religious purposes, it is considered “disrespectful” and allowed.

Based on this, we might suggest (this is just a suggestion) that since a chess piece is also never used for religious purposes, it is considered a “disrespectful” item that a Jew may own. No one will think that it is your religious object because it simply is not one. It is a game piece.

Even if this is correct, the Jewish aversion to crosses is a long-standing tradition. R. Chaim Soloveitchik would even rearrange silverware that happened to be placed like a cross (Nefesh Ha-Rav, p. 230). There is certainly room for Jews to refuse to decorate their houses with a chess piece containing a cross and instead break it to remove reminders of a foreign religion and a very violent history.

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of TorahMusings.com, a leading website on Orthodox Jewish scholarly subjects, and the Book Editor of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine. He writes a popular column on issues of Jewish law and thought featured in newspapers and magazines, including The Jewish Link of New Jersey, The Jewish Echo and The Vues. In the past, he has served as the President of the small Jewish publisher Yashar Books and as the Managing Editor of OU Press. Rabbi Student serves on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America and as Director of the Halacha Commission of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. He also serves on the Editorial Board of Jewish Action magazine and the Board of OU Press. He has published five English books, the most recent titled Search Engine volume 2: Finding Meaning in Jewish Texts -- Jewish Leadership, and served as the American editor for Morasha Kehillat Yaakov: Essays in Honour of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

102 comments

  1. “Even the most accepting authorities see Christianity as a religion Jews must avoid at all cost.”

    You’re confusing me, Gil. RWMO is infatuated with the Christian Right; yet, the Christian beliefs that inform the positions that make them allies must be avoided at all cost?

  2. RWMO is not infatuated with the Christian right. Even if it was, that would be on non-religious areas of agreement.

  3. But, it is their Christian beliefs (e.g. Israel, homosexuality, funding for religious education) that defines the nature of the areas of agreement.

  4. The only exception is an item that is used disrespectfully, in a way that no one would treat a religious object. Similarly, Nachal Eshkol (Hilkhos Avodah Zarah n. 50, quoted in She’arim Metzuyanim Ba-Halakhah 167:2 kuntres acharon) permits owning an oven with a cross on it. Since no one uses it for religious purposes, it is considered “disrespectful” and allowed.

    Would a Jewish citizen of the UK, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Switzerland, Australia, Georgia (the country) or Iceland be allowed to have the flag in their home (all use crosses)? Usually one treats the flag of their country with a certain respect.

    What about using the “+” for addition, which most of us do, I’d think?

  5. “Would a Jewish citizen of the UK, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Switzerland, Australia, Georgia (the country) or Iceland be allowed to have the flag in their home (all use crosses)? Usually one treats the flag of their country with a certain respect.”

    Also Norway, Iceland, the Dominican Republic, Burundi, New Zealand, Greece, Tonga, Fiji, and Georgia (country)….or the provincial flags of British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland and Labrador….or the state flags of Alabama, Florida, Hawaii, Maryland, or Mississippi.
    the list goes on and on….

  6. My cousin, who’s Israel’s top chess player, once played about thirty people at once- it’s something the grandmasters do every now and then- in the Islamic Art Museum in Katamon. One-third of the kings had the standard cross; one-third had small Magen Davids on top; and one-third had crescents. We have a cute picture of another cousin of mine, who was one of his opponents, holding up his crescented piece and moaning “They’ve made a Muslim out of me!”

    IH, I’m not sure why you’re so eager to pick a fight, but have you ever wondered *where* Christians get those positions? Why, from their Jewish origins, of course!

    Here are lists of just the flags of the world that have crosses as their *central* feature:

    http://www.crwflags.com/fotw/flags/xx-scand.html

    http://www.crwflags.com/fotw/flags/xx-stgeo.html

    http://www.crwflags.com/fotw/flags/xx-stand.html

  7. My argument would be that it isn’t a cross – it’s a chess piece that, if you cut off a piece of it, you’d have a cross. But that’s just me.

  8. I’m surprised you quoted, indirectly, from the Nachal Eshkol, seeing that it is was written by a forger (see Dr. Marc Shapiro’s series of posts at the Seforim blogspot on Auerbach’s edition of the Eshkol).

  9. Speaking about chess, may I interest you in a poem about chess by none other than the ibn Ezra?

    http://onthemainline.blogspot.com/2011/03/ibn-ezras-verses-on-chess.html
    If someone wants to post the English version, go right ahead!

  10. “Even though he holds that Christianity is permissible for gentiles, he considers it entirely forbidden for Jews.”
    Agreed -and all religions are entirely forbidden to Jews even if they are permissible for non Jews eg Islam.
    A fundamental mistake that many people make is about nonJewish religions even if not AZ and may have a role in bringing knowledge of God to the world they are assur completely to non Jews. Thus, one can’t entertheir houses of worship-even if no problem for a non Jew.

  11. > Even if this is correct, the Jewish aversion to crosses is a long-standing tradition. R. Chaim Soloveitchik would even rearrange silverware that happened to be placed like a cross (Nefesh Ha-Rav, p. 230). <
    IINM, one can also see this aversion in the way some/Ashk'nazic Jews mount a m'zuzah on a doorpost.

  12. How about the Fluer Des Lis that adorns everything from sifrei torah to many a peroches, through bottles of a popular grape juice. I know someone who tries not to daven in shuls with a fluer des lis on the peroches and scratches it off the caps of their grape juice.

  13. JB,
    What does your friend have against lilies?

  14. MDJ, the fleur de lis was used in the Middle Ages to represent the trinity (three leaves). But so what? (Then again, the earliest Batei Knesset were decorated with swastikas. But that’s very different.)

    JB, the oldest Jewish coin in existence (the “Yehud coin” of the Persian period- i.e., about 500 years before Christianity) has a fleur de lis. It’s reproduced on the one shekel coin of today.

  15. “What about using the “+” for addition, which most of us do, I’d think?”

    where i live + for addition in most schools is not acceptable

  16. While I don’t recall the source offhand, I believe there was also a shaila involving a jew getting a government/military medal with a cross decoration. If memory serves, the posek was lenient, as the medal had no religious purpose.

  17. “IH, I’m not sure why you’re so eager to pick a fight, but have you ever wondered *where* Christians get those positions? Why, from their Jewish origins, of course!”

    Nachum — I think it’s fair to ask what Gil means by his emphatic assertion: ““Even the most accepting authorities see Christianity as a religion Jews must avoid at all cost.” A statement that is far more reaching than a discussion about symbology.

  18. Are there any halachic sources that question the use of the letter “t” in the English alphabet?
    I don’t see how the English writing world can function without it.

  19. Forget about using a fancy chess set as a house decoration, what about owning a chess set which sits in a drawer or on a shelf that has crosses atop the king?

  20. Totally off-topic, I find it interesting how it’s the king – not even the bishop! – which has a cross. Why should the monarch have to signal his religion more prominently than anyone else?

  21. It’s not just an issue of medieval Christianity; there are halachic parallels such as bigdei kehunah.

  22. Shlomo,
    Kings wear crowns with crosses (see the British coronation crown). Bishops wear mitres, that look like the bishop piece, and do not have crosses on them. The chess set is just giving the pieces their real life head gear.

  23. “Why should the monarch have to signal his religion more prominently than anyone else?”

    Two somewhat contradictory reasons:

    (1) To show that he rules by divine right.

    (2) To show that even though he’s the king, he’s subservient to God. Similar to our requirement that the king carry around a Torah scroll.

  24. Nachum,
    i don’t think it is so clear that that was the original or real meaning of the fleur de lis. The church may have adopted it in this sense, but I think it originally was simply a symbol of royalty, and certainly is still now used in non-Trinitarian contexts. Which gets us back to your point — “So what” (Addressed to JB, not to you.)

  25. How about the seal of Columbia University? Three crosses! Of course, it began as King’s College.

  26. European history, in many ways, is the history of the tension between Kings and Church.

    Wikipedia makes an astute point: “Although the king is the most important piece, it is usually the weakest piece in the game until a later phase, the endgame.”

    Further off topic, a recent BBC documentary on the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible (When God Spoke English) tells the fascinating story of how it came about largely due to King James trying to unite a country torn by religious factions.

  27. The fleur de lis forms part of the Quebec flag and the flag is the symbol of the separatistes.

  28. Mair Zvi:

    “Are there any halachic sources that question the use of the letter “t” in the English alphabet?”

    same schools i mentioned above that don’t permit + for addition also don’t permit lower case t the way most people write it.

    “I don’t see how the English writing world can function without it.”

    you write the t the way it appears right here on the screen. the bottom curves off to the right side

  29. “How about the Fluer Des Lis that adorns everything from sifrei torah to many a peroches”

    maybe this is another reason to asur fish (icthus)?

  30. “A cross represents Christianity, reminding us of the religion’s foundational claim and also the centuries of Christian persecution Jews have suffered. The latter is an emotional claim but the former is legal.”

    Halacha is halacha, but as for the emotional part, I detect a split between Holocaust survivors and their descendants, on the one hand, and Jews (like me) whose families were here before WWII, on the other.

    I grew up in a project with two Catholic families (out of eight) on my floor. They were lovely people, and I found not an ounce of prejudice in them. Similarly, at work, some of my closest friends are Catholics.

    I’m grateful to live in America, where there is a neutral public space in which people of all faiths can get along and overcome old suspicions about one another. Yes, that means that Jews, as well as others, must overcome their suspicions.

  31. As mentioned before, the same question can be asked about accepting and owning university diplomas with crosses (Fordham, Columbia and many others), owning and using currency with crosses (UK, Euro and many others), as well as flags, food products, clothes, and anything else. This would include all product by royal warrants (“By appointment of her majesty…”).

  32. How about Red Cross Salt? It has the OU.

  33. MiMedinat HaYam

    igrot moshe has a tshuva about selling necklaces with crosses (question is from cyril domb, prominent bobover chasid in london). RMF (reluctantly) allowed it — its not really a symbol, similar type of (weak, in my opinion) arguments.

    2. nachum — it was a “reverse swastika”, not the nazi swastika. nevertheless, no one would allow it today, just like even reform rabbis will not allow “here comes the bride” at a wedding (though most R rabbis dont even know why.) ditto the coomon jewish first name “adolf”.

  34. Is it a violation of Jewish law to display a sculpture of an idol in one’s home? Would it matter if the sculptor made the idol to sell as a souvenir to tourists, and not as an object of worship? What about common reproductions in plastic or on key chains (e.g. Tikis from Hawaii)?

  35. “How about the seal of Columbia University? Three crosses! Of course, it began as King’s College.”

    And when it was refounded after the American Revolution, one of the original Regents was Gershom Mendes Seixas!

  36. “The fleur de lis forms part of the Quebec flag and the flag is the symbol of the separatistes.”

    The French lyrics to “O Canada” have an explicitly Christian line. (It is missing in the English lyrics, which are not a literal translation of the original French.)

  37. Christian and pagan symbols are no longer a threat to Jews, so their symbols do not entice us away from Judaism, which is perhaps the reason for stictness in the past concerning crosses or idols. Today’s idolatries are materialism and nihilism.

  38. Minhag Ashkenaz

    “both Rema (Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chaim 156:1) and Shakh (Yoreh De’ah 153:7) rule that Christianity is acceptable for gentiles ”
    RHS says that the Shach misunderstands the Rema, and the Rama indeed holds that Christianity is AZ mamash.

  39. IH-To the extent that the Christian right supports Israel, as opposed to many mainstream Protestant denominations who engage in supercesssionist rhetoric and worse, there is nothing wrong in appreciating such groups support even though such groups theological perspectives are anathema to Orthodoxy. I would suggest that the Jewish groups that are most concerned about the evangelical Christians are the secular and heterodox , who view the same as threatening the liberal left and its POV, which they tend to view as being representative of the Jewish view on secular issues.

  40. Steve — Fine. But, these Christians are doing so due to their Christian belief; which, means that you (and others who associate with them) appear not to accept Gil’s assertion that “Even the most accepting authorities see Christianity as a religion Jews must avoid at all cost.”

    As an example, Pastor John Hagee whose webpage clearly articulates why he supports Israel: http://www.jhm.org/Home/About/WhySupportIsrael

  41. “RWMO is not infatuated with the Christian right. ”

    agreed

  42. IH, can you make an effort not to hijack a discussion?

    In R’ Rakeffet’s book on Bernard Revel, he includes a teshuva where the (priest) head of a Catholic university (St. John’s, I think) asked R’ Revel about Jewish graduates who didn’t want to accept a diploma because it had a cross on it. R’ Revel responded that as long as there wasn’t a depiction of Jesus on the cross (he phrased it more nicely), it wasn’t a problem, although he hoped that they could both appreciate the students’ motives.

    Shlomo: That’s exactly the point! The cross represents a typical European crown, or, to be more precise, in the near-universal Staunton design used today, the British one.

    Factoid: The “bishop” was once the elephant; the “rook” a chariot; the “queen” a prime minister. I once read a fascinating history of the chess queen, showing how it reflected the course of history of the Middle Ages.

    Efrex: I believe R’ Kook had an issue with the cross-shaped medal he got when he was knighted (or inducted into the OBE, at least). A picture shows him with one arm of the cross tucked under his lapel.

    MDJ: My whole point is that the fleur de lis is much older than Christianity.

    MeMedinat: There’s no distinction between right or left swastikas; that’s a myth. Of course, the Nazis used one version only, but there’s no real significance to that.

  43. “such groups support even though such groups theological perspectives are anathema to Orthodoxy”

    I would have stated

    “it is anathema for a Jew to accept such groups theology”

  44. If I sit with my hands together and my fingers crossed over, I’m often reminded that “Yidden don’t do this”.

  45. Nachum: If Gil stopped himself from writing barbs, there would be nothing to “hijack”. I was commenting directly on his words.

  46. On symbology, I’m surpised no one has raised the street plan of Ra’anana allegedly devised by its New York Olim in 1922 to not contain any “cross” intersections. I have no idea if this is true or urban legend.

  47. MDJ, Nachum – that begs the question, why should crowns typically have crosses on them?

    Scott –
    1) Divine right is certainly part of the reason, but I feel it must somehow be related to the king portraying himself as executor of God’s will, not just as someone who happens to be chosen by God.
    2) The Jewish king’s sefer torah have a practical not symbolic purpose:
    והיתה עמו וקרא בו כל ימי חייו, למען ילמד ליראה את-ה’ אלקיו

    To appreciate IH’s suggestion, look at the streets intersecting Ahuza street in Raanana.
    http://maps.google.com/maps?q=%D7%A8%D7%A2%D7%A0%D7%A0%D7%94&hl=en&ie=UTF8&ll=32.180008,34.877515&spn=0.008136,0.020406&sll=38.341656,-95.712891&sspn=30.735261,83.583984&t=h&z=16

  48. Shlomo, if you take it back that far…we just celebrated Rosh Chodesh Tamuz. “Tamuz” is a Mesopotamian god. Lots of ordinary Hebrew words are, in fact, gods. Tirosh, Yitzhar, Dagan, Ashtoret are gods of wine, oil, grain, and sheep.

    Ha! I was just on Ahuza Street on Sunday. Never noticed that.

  49. Shlomo,

    Quite so, on both points. The Queen of England is the “Supreme Governor of the Church of England,” and coronations are performed in Westminster Abbey by the Archbishop of Canterbury. See the movie “The King’s Speech.”

    In general, Christians tend to revere relics and symbols, while we Jews revere the written word of God–seforim, tefillin, and mezuzot.

  50. IH wrote:

    ” these Christians are doing so due to their Christian belief; which, means that you (and others who associate with them) appear not to accept Gil’s assertion that “Even the most accepting authorities see Christianity as a religion Jews must avoid at all cost”

    That’s their prerogative. I see no conflict in accepting the support of evangelicals, regardless of their vastly different theological perspective, which I would certainly agree that a Jew must avoid at all costs. IIRC, RAK once commented that he would kiss the Pope’s ring if it would help save the Jewish People.

  51. IH: these Christians are doing so due to their Christian belief

    If your life was in danger, and a Christian came along and wanted to rescue you, and you knew he put the effort into rescuing you because his religion commanded it, would you refuse the help?

    That’s basically the situation with evangelistic support of Israel.

  52. Shlomo — my only point is that Gil’s gratuitous barb is nonsense given the context of the world as we know it. To the extent there are remnants of the Jewish response to the horrible things perpetrated on us by Christians, we need to appropriately deal with them via the halachic process; but, there is no benefit to Jews (and certainly not Israel, as you point out) to assert Even the most accepting authorities see Christianity as a religion Jews must avoid at all cost”.

  53. IH: I answered your questions 5-1/2 years ago: https://www.torahmusings.com/2005/11/confronting-confrontation/

  54. To be clearer: the halachic context (particularly based on Rambam) has been reversed. Most forms of Christianity are no longer a threat to the Jews; but, many forms of Islam are a threat to the Jews.

    The RYBS Confrontation debate is a time-lapsed curiosity for academics and museum curators. It has no relevancy to our reality.

  55. MiMedinat HaYam

    nachum’s factoid — according to that, the chess set is based on greek lifestyle, etc. and one can develop a ban on chess for such reasons, etc., and some “gedolim” will have a problem with what to do on “nittel nacht” (which i believe was posted a few years ago on hirhurim.)

    (above somewhat satire)

    no crosses in rananah streets — reminds me of the avenue plaza hotel in boro park, per http://www.nytimes.com/1998/11/29/realestate/postings-going-up-in-borough-park-56-room-hotel-for-brooklyn.html?scp=1&sq=%22avenue%20plaza%22%20hotel&st=cse

    reverse or not swastika — it was not objectionable till the nazi era, so there can be no myth. its objectionable now. (ditto the name adolph, and ditto the marching song.)

  56. Ye’yasher kochakha to our Rosh Yeshiva R. Student (as well as the important responses of R’ IH and company). See also Shu”t Yechaveh Da’at III, no. 65, where ROY permits a Jew to wear a gold cross given to him by a government official as a secular sign of honor. ROY cites the Rema to Shulchan Arukh YD 141:3 that some are stringent to prohibit maintaining a vessel in one’s possession which possesses images of celestial bodies, even when it is obvious that the artist’s intention was entirely righteous and unrelated to idolatry. However, ROY counters that the Rema is not applicable to this situation because the cross is not as serious as the celestial bodies. [As far as I can discern from the responsum, no explanation is given for this by ROY.]

    Parenthetically, on this theme, I asked RJDB by e-mail on April 1, 2009 why the 2009 edition of his Birkat Hachammah book had the complete picture of a sun on its cover jacket (actually duplicated, since its reflection in a pond of water depicted is visible), in light of the aforementioned Rema. [The original 1981 edition of RJDB’s Birkat Hachammah shows only a partially visible sun on its soft cover, which I thought was precisely in order to avoid avodah zarah.] Was RJDB now in 2009 relying on the leniency of “lehaveen ulehorot” (apropos Shulchan Arukh YD 141:4?) In an e-mail on April 6, 2009, RJDB kindly responded: “The jacket is certainly not le-hovin u-lehoros. However, I see a series of white splotches rather than a sun.”

    Regarding the Quebec flag: Indeed, since Shulchan Arukh OC 113:8 prohibits a Jew to bow during amidah if there is a cross before him, in February 2009 I recommended to Congregation Shomrim Laboker to reposition the Quebec flag near its Aron Kodesh to elsewhere in the synagogue building. In other words, hakarat hatov to the malkhut shel chessed of Quebec (like any constitutional liberal democracy) is of paramount importance (as per IM CM 2:29), but it mustn’t come at the expense of hilkhot tefillah. Vekakh na’aseh ma’aseh: on March 1, 2009 the synagogue’s R. Yonah Rosner concluded that this is the correct course of action, and the flag was moved out of the sanctuary. I encourage all Quebec synagogues to follow this example.

  57. IH: I don’t think issues of danger underlying RYBS’ position and therefore your point, even if true, is irrelevant.

  58. Gil – I fully agree that RYBS’s position is irrelevant. But, it was you who twice used it as your (only) response to my criticism of your gratuitous barb: “Even the most accepting authorities see Christianity as a religion Jews must avoid at all cost”.

  59. Your post is entirely coherent and non-objectionable without this sentence. I do not understand why it is so important for you to poke sticks in the eyes of Christians for no purpose, especially given social and political reality. Or do you also spit on churches when you walk by them?

  60. That was my way of saying that the Avnei Neizer explicitly addressed this as an issue of yehareg ve-al ya’avor, even according to the lenient position, although he concluded with a heter for a different reason.

  61. If you drop the sentence, it does not change the meaning of your post one iota. As you often assert, not everything must be said.

    In my view, your posts often include an unncessary barb — like this one — that detract from their effectiveness. One of the pleasures of reading your Benedikt post was the notable absence of such a barb.

  62. This week’s SMS she’elot include one asking if it’s muttar to wear a Barcelona Football Club jersey, when the logo (actually based on the coat of arms of Barcelona) includes a cross. R’ Eliyahu’s response: “Mamash mamash lo.”

    For a very different (and, in my mind, more correct) view, see this fascinating photo of one of R’ Eliyahu’s father’s predecessors, R’ Yaakov Meir (R’ Meir was R’ Kook’s colleague, not as “modern” as he or as his successor, R’ Uziel):

    http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/64/Jacob_Meir_Jerusalem_Rabi.jpg

    I count at least three crosses (although they seem to be the same decoration) and one crescent-and-star.

  63. MeMedinat:

    1. Not Greek: Persian. Chess comes from India and Persia, and the militaries of those countries were arranged into infantry, chariots, cavalry, and elephants. Hence, pawns, rooks (two horse heads on a square became a castle, or a boat in Russia), knights (still a horse, minus a rider), and bishops (two tusks became a foolscap or a miter, although it sometimes looks like a helmet). Ancient queens weren’t so important, but they (or the idea of one) were in Medieval Europe; hence the general or vizier became a queen and much more powerful. The shah (hence the words check- in all its meanings, believe it or not- checkers, chess, etc.) stayed the king.

    2. I had no idea what that article meant by saying that the windows wouldn’t be a cross with the frames. Then I looked the place up on Google Maps street view. The windows definitely form crosses. Ah well.

    3. I’ve definitely heard people say the the Nazi swastika was “different”; that Hitler reversed it for mystical reasons, etc. There may be grains of truth there, but ultimately it’s a myth- a recent myth, of course. In the Far East, swastikas are completely neutral- tourist maps of Japan (I think) use them to mark temples. There was even an attempt to use a swastika in place of a red cross in Asia, much as a crescent or a magen david is used. Foreign tourists find it shocking, but the world is a fascinating place.

  64. Sorry for multiple posting, but I wanted to separate points. Also: Swastikas are, by the way, crosses. And sun images. And so to Shalom Spira, who I hoped I wouldn’t have to respond to. But I was a talmid of R’ Bleich- hakatan shebahem- and must defend his kavod. To annoy him with a letter that uses the- completely innocent and mutar!- decision of a book designer to somehow imply that he’s less than careful about Avodah Zara- I tremble even writing this in his defense- and then to write it to him personally- is lack of kavod and chutzpah of the highest degree. Or perhaps it’s simply being a noodge, and R’ Bleich is tolerant and/or mochel on his kavod. But I apologize, I feel I have to say it myself.

    As to your revolution in Quebec, well, you’d better just hope the anti-Semites don’t get wind of that. “Jews remove provincial flag from synagogues!” Would I have put it there in the first place? Maybe not, or maybe I would have used the Canadian national (currently, but not always) cross-less flag, as is done in the US. But once it’s up, you may very well be stuck.

  65. By the way, see my comment on the lobby of YU’s main building under the Astrology post. In stark terms: The Rav himself taught for forty-five years in a building with a picture of a Greek god in its entrance, and had no problem with that.

  66. IH: my only point is that Gil’s gratuitous barb is nonsense given the context of the world as we know it

    Gil wrote an unfortunately unclear sentence, which you are now interpreting in a way you must know is contrary to his intention.

  67. And no the post does not fall apart without that sentence. He clearly thinks we must avoid Christian symbols but not practical benefits from cooperation with Christian individuals.

  68. Shlomo — it is an example of a deepset pattern. See my comment at the very beginning of the Benedikt post.

    And if he agrees it is “an unfortunately unclear sentence” then why argue; just eliminate/change it.

  69. I’m not going to change a post because a reader misunderstood it, no matter how often he comments about it and how much he demands it. Generally speaking, once a post goes up it’s time to think about the next post.

    I wrote the post knowing that some Christians will read it and kept that in mind when choosing the words. I believe thoughtful Christians respect an exclusive and deeply held faith. Those who do not will not appreciate anything on this blog other than the Bloom County comics.

  70. If I have misunderstood, what does the sentence mean?

  71. That was my way of saying that the Avnei Neizer explicitly addressed this as an issue of yehareg ve-al ya’avor, even according to the lenient position, although he concluded with a heter for a different reason.

  72. “addressed this” in the paragraph refers to “allow a Jew to let a hostile Russian township build a large cross on his property”.

    So how do you get from there to the emphatic “Christianity as a religion Jews must avoid at all cost” to which you have now added “this as an issue of yehareg ve-al ya’avor”?

    Why do you feel the need to make a barbed rhetorical point that has no halachic meaning in today’s reality?

  73. I don’t understand your question. It is not a barbed rhetorical point. It is a halakhic statement that the Avnei Neizer himself made, albeit in different words. While you may believe that Christianity is not yehareg ve-al ya’avor in “today’s reality”, I disagree.

  74. Since you’re not going to change your mind, I will conclude by saying that, in my opinion, this is the same phenomenon that has led to both the Torat ha’Melech and Cutting debacles.

  75. I understand. And in my opinion your view is what has led to driving on Shabbos and gay rabbis.

    By the way, I am about half way through Torat HaMelech and hope to write a review either next week or the following.

  76. MiMedinat HaYam

    nachum — i know chess is persian / indian in origin, but the pieces seem to vary with the times / with the country / culture. till it was fixed in medieval times.

    i also dont really see the hotel avoiding crosses; i’ll analyze it next time i’m in brooklyn (for my pre three weeks haircut; proposed tpoic: how do we get from avelut to banning meat — that’s not an avelut minhag. ditto shoes (previously discussed on hirhurim.)

    swastika — also a symbol of indian (both in india (the reverse one), and some native american) culture.

  77. “Jews remove provincial flag from synagogues!” Would I have put it there in the first place? Maybe not, or maybe I would have used the Canadian national (currently, but not always)”

    Nachum in Quebec unlike the other provinces you will rarely find a Candian flag unless it is on Canadian government buildings. In the Quebec legislature (national Assembly) name means a lot-if I recall correctly there was aQuebec flag but NO Canadian flag.

  78. What is the purpose of putting up a government flag on display inside a synagogue? Doesn’t it detract from the focus on prayer, Torah, and exclusive Jewish symbols?

  79. Over Shabbat I was continuing my reading of R. Freundel’s “Why We Pray What We Pray” (https://www.torahmusings.com/2010/10/books-received-xxxiv/) and came across a section explaining a theory of why in Nusach Ashkenaz, Nishmat straddles Psukei d’Zimra and Shacharit Shabbat and we start the latter mid-stream with Shochen Ad (pp. 102-3):

    “The Franco-German community had lived in relative serenity for many centuries prior to the events we are discussing. The Crusades – particularly the first Crusade – shattered the community in a physical sense. But along with the material destruction and loss of life, from a psychological perspective, these events robbed the Jews of any sense of well being. Worse, it became clear to the Jews that they were very much at the mercy of their Christian neighbors who were showing them anything but Christian kindness. One of the possible ways to gain a measure of control in such a situation is not only to argue that Christian doctrine is theologically in error, but also to claim that this error came though purposeful Jewish action. If one adopts this understanding of history, then the Jewish community can be empowered by its implications. After all, it is we who, through our conscious and clever planning, took them to the place of ultimate failure – to profound theological error. They may be controlling us and even physically injuring us in significant ways, but we have gotten the better of them in the most important arena: the realm of God and the spiritual.

    Though this all may sound strange to modern ears, in an era like the Medieval period in Europe – when the belief that one was living according to the one correct religious truth was essential to many people’s self-identity regardless of their faith – this was a truly compelling narrative. Given Jewish physical weakness at this juncture in history, something like this tale was absolutely necessary for many Jews to maintain any sense of self-worth. Christians could and did attempt to show that their understanding of God was correct by saying that it must be He who is giving them the power to dominate the Jews. In response the Jews said, “but in the end, you live a lie because our God gave us the power to trick you into fundamental theological misunderstanding.” It is, at least in part, for this reason that the claim that Simon Peter was a Jew sent by the Rabbis on a mission to expose and accentuate the false underpinnings of Christianity became so popular. This popularity endured despite the lack of any historical evidence that such a mission actually occurred, and despite the condemnation by Simhah of Vitry of those who believed it.”

    Helpful context to the discussion of the history of Rabbinic attitudes to Christianity.

  80. “Canuck on July 8, 2011 at 7:54 pm
    What is the purpose of putting up a government flag on display inside a synagogue? ”

    Ideally should not be there. Judaisn is not equal to any nationalism. Nachum can probably find the discussion that was online from the Ramban schul in Jerusalem at a meeting led by Prof Schwartz that discussed this issue among others in an Israeli context.

  81. Canuck — On flags in synagogues, I think this is a North American thing that comes out of the flag veneration in US culture. (Subjectively) I do not recall seeing flags inside the sanctuary of UK Synagogues in the way one normally sees them in Modern Orthodox synagogues in the US.

    BTW, RMF’s ambivalent tshuva is available at: http://hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=916&st=&pgnum=105

  82. I don’t recall ever seeing a political flag on display in a synagogue in Montreal. I believe the one mentioned by R’Spira is atypical. American Jews are more like German Jews of the past, who considered themselves Germans of the Mosaic persuasion.

  83. IH – Thanks for linking to RMF’s teshuva. Is there any way to get it in English translation? Why didn’t RMF publish in English?

  84. Why do you think the King piece contains cross? A proper cross is designed on a fibonacci measurement. I don’t think any King’s piece contains that or is intended.

  85. R’ Nachum,
    Thank you for your kind response. Regarding the flag – if a government official expresses concern at the removal of the flag from the front of the synagogue, I would send him a copy of Confrontation explaining in philosophical terms the basis of Shulchan Arukh OC 113:8. I do think that it is entirely appropriate to have a Quebec flag in the synagogue, just not at the front of the synagogue, in the direction to which Jews are bowing. Thus, for instance, Congregation Beth Zion (also of Montreal) has its Quebec flag in the antechamber before its main sanctuary, in my opinion a win-win proposition.

  86. It wasn’t “kind” at all. Again, I’m sorry, but sometimes a man has to stand up.

    Wasn’t the whole separatist thing king of anti-Semitic, by the way?

  87. Dude, the cross on a chess piece is almost always a cross pattee. In diagrams, it’s more like a Greek cross. Still crosses, of course, but so is the Ktav Ivri tav.

  88. >Wasn’t the whole separatist thing king of anti-Semitic, by the way?
    No, it wasn’t.

  89. Thank you, R’ Nachum, for the important question, and thank you, R’ Canuck, for the important answer. There is discussion among Quebec historians whether certain limited elements of Quebec nationalism have been associated in the past with anti-Semitism. I claim no expertise on this issue (and B”H I have never encountered any anti-Semitism myself), but can refer you to a Wikipedia article on the subject at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delisle-Richler_controversy . In any event, I think today there is a very positive relationship between Quebec society at large and the minority Quebec Jewish community that is graciously hosted by the malkhut shel chessed of Quebec. Hence my endorsement of a Quebec flag in the synagogue as an expression of hakarat hatov, but just not at the front of the sanctuary.

    By the way, in a separate conversation with RJDB, he told me he agrees with RMF that having any sort of political flag in the synagogue is “hevel ushetut”, explaining that “it’s misplaced patriotism”.

  90. And here’s a pertinent responsum from R. Moshe Shternbuch’s recently published Teshuvot Vehanhagot V (no. 262), presently translated into English for the first time:

    “It is found in Shulchan Arukh YD (no. 141) in the gloss of Rema that the shape to which they bow has the law of a statue, and the older versions [of Shulchan Arukh] it was written “a cross”, and these words were deleted because of the censor (and I don’t know why they don’t rectify now the edition [of Shulchan Arukh]). And if it was not made on condition to worship it, the Acharonim argue about this. See in our words in [Teshuvot Vehanhagot] II, no. 411, that in our times that their intent in the cross is only for purposes of aesthetic beauty, one should not be stringent about this post facto, and see there what I wrote further about this. But that which they make a cross to suspend on a necklace, even though they don’t worship it, if it was made especially to show that he believes in it or to kiss it etcetera, it is forbidden to possess it, and in this there is no room to be lenient at all.

    And now I found in the responsa of R. Chaim Volozhiner zatza”l, that one should be careful in the tailoring of garments and in the engineering of windows that there should not be the shape of a cross. And the implication of his words is that even though there is no intention for foreign religious worship, still the essence of the shape is unacceptable [for a Jew] and he may not leave it as such [in his possession]. And our master the Kehillot Ya’akov zatza”l was very stringent about this shape, and he said in the name of the Ga’on R. Chaim Volozhiner zatza”l that if a synagogue has a shape similar to a cross, the prayers there do not ascend Upwards, and in a synagogue where there were windows arranged in precision he was concerned that they resembled a cross, and he requested that they be removed. And likewise in a tablecloth on which there checkers, he was concerned also that it resembled a cross, and he requested that it be removed. And likewise on a bus where there was a pipe that resembled a cross, he requested that it be removed. And there was even a case where an electrical post was made near his house and the wires resembled this shape, and he rendered an effort with the electric utility company until they changed it.

    However, the majority of the House of Israel is not particular to be concerned where this shape occurs by happenstance, since there is no intention for foreign religious worship.

    And it is customary to be lenient today in our countries where the nations of the world are removed from foreign worship, but in a holy place [presumably meaning a synagogue (-S. Spira)] one may not be lenient, and whoever is optionally stringent upon himself shall be called a saint.”

  91. R’ Spira — your summary reminds me of one of the Jewish put downs of Christianity when I was a kid. It went something like: can you imagine what things would have been like if Jesus would have been executed using the electric chair? 🙂

  92. MiMedinat HaYam

    “who considered themselves Germans of the Mosaic persuasion.”

    actually, a prof of “jews in germany, but not (directly) of holocause issues” as he described himself, pointed out to me that there never was a german jewish congress / committe, etc. it was (and still is) called “gemeindshaft of juden in deutcshland” (paraphraising), i.e., assn of jews in germany. there never was a concept of german jews, as we say about american jews. (french are another story — they always are.)

    2. that said, jews in germany are different. agudah (affilliated) shuls still said “hanoten tshuah li’malachim” even in the hitler era (q: does anyone know when they stopped?)

    3. canuk — what about toronto (or calgary, etc.)? do shuls there display the canadian flag? (i assume not the ontario flag)

  93. >there never was a concept of german jews, as we say about american jews.

    Are you sure? We know Germany was only unified in 1871, but perhaps those official Jewish organizations retained their pre-unification names? A great book on the subject is “The Pity of It All: A History of the Jews In Germany, 1743-1933” by Amos Oz.

    >3. canuk — what about toronto (or calgary, etc.)? do shuls there display the canadian flag? (i assume not the ontario flag)

    Sorry, I don’t know. A survey would be interesting. I believe R’Spira suggested that, as a token of our appreciation for living in a medina shel chesed, we may display local flags. I agree it’s best in the antechamber and not in the sanctuary (especially a flag with a cross). I’d like to know if mosques or churches typically display local flags, and if not, why not?

  94. Just to correct the typo, the author of the fascinating “The Pity of it All” was Amos Elon.

  95. Churches in the US very often fly the US flag, at least out front, side by side with some other flag- Vatican for Catholic, the Episcopal flag, or a generic American Christian flag flown by many denominations.

  96. MiMedinat HaYam

    canuk — i discussed previously here that american flags should be required, and some commenters here (somewhat) objected.

    as i mentioned, its called (something like) “gemeindshaft of juden in deutcshland” — assn of jews in germany, not “german jewish congress / committee” like in us / canada / russia / most of rest of world.

    presumably, before 1871, there was still a concept of national germany; just not political practicality. contra, the whole legal “austrit” issue. but that was local. (or was it?)

  97. MiMedinat HaYam – I agree the analogy (Jews of pre-WWII Germany and of today’s USA) isn’t perfect. In many ways the Jews of Germany were more like Canadians (cultural mosaic) than Americans (melting pot), except that there is little patriotism for Canada as a whole. A leading Quebec nationalist once said that Canada is divisible because Canada is not a real country.

  98. Thank you, R’ IH, for the valuable he’arah, as well as the link to RMF’s flag responsum. Thank you, R’ Canuck, for your kind endorsement of my philosophy.

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