Misunderstandings around the concept of ‘shittuf’

Recently, I was brought again to the attention of the misunderstandings around the concept of ‘shittuf’, that seem to be circulating in many misinformed circles.

Firstly, Christianity is not a monotheistic religion. In its core doctrine is the concept of the Trinity, which to the rational mind, clearly comprises of 3 distinct entities who themselves were, according to the Gospels, described to be interacting with each other as disconnected entities. By definition, this is polytheism. As such, Islam is considered monotheistic, but not Christianity.

Secondly, contrary to popular viewpoints, Christianity and Islam have nothing to do with Judaism at all, even though their founders had sought to latch on to Judaism to gain credibility. Hence, it is completely erroneous to state that they are “sister religions”. Historically, Christianity was among the pagan religions that sprung up in the 1st century. Its core doctrine, which includes among many – the 3 magi, the virgin birth, baptism, 12 disciples, crucifixion and resurrection, finds complete similarity in many other ancient mystery religions such as Mithraism, the cult of Krishna and the cult of Isis, among the more well-known ones. The central figure in Christianity is but an attempt to agglomerate a pagan idol with an obscure figure in Jewish tradition (ironically, one who is considered an evil man in Jewish tradition) who lived a few centuries before the story of the Gospels were set to take place. Therefore, what the Christians worship is by no means the G-d of Avraham, Yitzhak and Yaakov. To argue that they worship the same G-d in a different manner amounts to stating this: I consider my pen to be G-d (lehavdil), and I pray to my pen and worship it wholeheartedly. Is it true to state that I am thus worshipping G-d? Definitely not. I am only worshipping an entity whom I consider as G-d. I am not worshipping G-d in a flawed manner. I am not worshipping G-d at all!

Thirdly, following the above line of reasoning, the Christian does not comply with even the 1st commandment stated in the Seven Laws that prohibits idolatry. Assuming that a follower of a religion attributes all his/her actions to the idol or the idol’s teachings in that particular religion, they are automatically invalidated according to the concept of ‘mitzva ha-ba’a ba-aveira’ in Judaism, which implies that any action that emerges out of a violation of a law cannot be considered a fulfilment of any other law, no matter whether it is in accordance with that other law or not. Therefore, to “achieve salvation” and to “do what the Seven Laws prescribed”, a Christian is thus, by logic, obligated to renounce his/her idolatry in the first place.

Fourthly, the stand that ‘shittuf’ is not a sin for gentiles, is a common misunderstanding of a passage in the Talmud discussing a hypothetical situation in which a Jew requires an oath from a gentile (known to be idolatrous) regarding a matter. An oath in this context could cause the idolatrous gentile to utter the name of his/her idol in conjuction to uttering the name of the One True G-d. Since a Jew is prohibited not only to utter the name of an idol, but prohibited also to indirectly cause its utterance, the particular passage in the Talmud discusses whether the Jew would be considered as violating this commandment in the context of requiring oaths from idolatrous gentiles. Tosfos, a commentary on the Talmud, writes that:

  • if the gentile is not warned regarding uttering the name of his/her idol in conjuction to uttering the name of the One True G-d in making the oath, and
  • if this is due to the possibility of the Jew not being too certain whether the idolatrous gentile would utter the name of his/her idol in conjuction to uttering the name of the One True G-d in making the oath (thinking that it is not an inevitable result),

then the Jew is not considered to have violated the earlier prohibition of indirectly causing the utterance of the name of an idol.

The above-mentioned passage in the Talmud is thus not saying, or implying in any way, that gentiles are permitted to worship, or even merely ascribe power to another entity, as G-d in conjuction with worshipping G-d Himself – which itself is an inconsistent action and a contradiction if one were to say that the Christians are monotheists in the first place. This is even barring the fact that the Christians are not even worshipping G-d at all. Even if one says that they are worshipping several entities as gods (with a small g), one cannot consider the above passage from the Talmud as a justification, for the above passage only deals with uttering the name of an idol with that of another entity whom even the idolator has to acknowledge as the One True G-d in the context of making an oath.

This analysis is thus consistent with the ruling found in the one of the most fundamental texts for the Seven Laws, that of Maimonides’ Laws of Kings Chapter 9 verse 2, which implies that the laws of idolatry apply equally to Jew or gentile, no matter whether the gentile is executed for violating them or not ie. the gentile is prohibited in principle to engage in any form of foreign worship no matter whether it is done in a manner that would incur the death penalty.

References:

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~ by musafiremes on December 5, 2007.

2 Responses to “Misunderstandings around the concept of ‘shittuf’”

  1. Misunderstanding or differing points of view? Many sages have reached a different view than the one you have expressed, such as The Tosafist Rabbeinu Tam (Rashi’s grandson), Rabbi Isaac ben Sheshet and Rabbi Moses Isserles. Do they really misunderstand or do you simply disagree?

  2. My understanding is never based on my own opinion. All matters of Torah should be based on the Gemara and the holy writings of Jewish sages. My understanding is from the Noda B’Yehuda. I’m afraid that there are misinterpretations in the rulings of the Tosafist etc. these have been explicitly stated in the Noda B’Yehuda.

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