CCAR RESPONSA

American Reform Responsa

29. The Hospital Chapel

(Vol. LXXVII, 1967, pp. 81-82)

QUESTION: Is it permitted to put a Jewish symbol such as the Ten Commandments in a hospital chapel where there already are crosses and other Christian symbols?

ANSWER: Unfortunately, Jewish legal tradition would make it seem that Christians are more liberal in this matter of material symbols than we. Christians would very likely not object to having a Jewish symbol such as the Two Tablets of stone in the same sanctuary in which the cross has been erected. That is because they believe in both New and Old Testaments. Also, according to Jewish law, Christians are "Children of Noah," and under that covenant are not forbidden to add other semi-deities to that of God (saints, etc.). It is no sin for a Christian to invoke the Trinity (this is the opinion of the French Halacha, and was adopted by the later Halacha, see Orach Chayim 156). But Jews are forbidden to add other divinities to God (Shituf), and therefore, in this case, it would be a sin for us to permit crosses side by side with Jewish religious symbols.

Of course, if it were a question of emergency and there were no other place to pray, a Jew has been permitted to pray in a place where there are crosses. The Trumat Ha-Deshen (Israel Isserlein, Responsum #6) permits a Jewish wayfarer to pray in a Christian inn even though there are crosses there; but even then, he says, it would be preferable if the man prayed by the roadside if he thought he would not be disturbed. If, of course, he cannot pray in the open without being disturbed, Israel Isserlein says: "Let him find a separate room in the inn, if possible, or a corner, and pray there." And he continues: "After all, all our prayers are recited in cities that are full of images." His statement, quoted by Isserles, is in Orach Chayim 94.9.

Therefore, if we were dealing with an emergency where there was no other place to pray, a Jew would be permitted to pray in the chapel, even though there are crosses there. But this is not a situation of emergency; it is a situation which we are creating, and we have some choice in the matter.

A similar question was asked by a Mr. James McGuire of the Western Pennsylvania Hospital in Pittsburgh. Following is the suggestion made to him:

Let me suggest a possible solution. If, for example, a niche with an eternal light were put near the entrance of the chapel with some extra chairs near it, this would do for private Jewish prayer, especially if the worshiper facing the niche would be facing East.

Of course, this solution would not work if the entire chapel already faces east, i.e., if the Christian altar faces east. But if the Christian altar is not in the east, then you may call attention to our custom of praying towards the east and have such a niche built. There you could put Jewish symbols, since we could well consider it a separate enclosure (rashut).

Solomon B. Freehof

If needed, please consult Abbreviations used in CCAR Responsa.