Keep Yourself Far Away and Do Not Come Near The Doorway

A fascinating question was recently posed to our Beis Medrash. Hatzala responders carry radios, pagers, or cellular devices that alert them to medical emergencies in their vicinity. Generally, the person closest to the scene responds. The following incident raised the question that we will discuss below.

A call came in for an emergency at a certain address. The responding Hatzala member was not familiar with the building at his address, and discovered upon his arrival that it was a church. A small crowd standing outside the church, urged him to go inside quickly to provide urgent medical assistance to someone whose life was in danger. Is it permissible to enter a church for this purpose?

The answer depends on a wide-ranging Machlokes Rishonim in how to understand a Sugya in Maseches Avoda Zara:

The Gemara (Avoda Zara 17a) implies that it is forbidden [even] to pass by the entrance of a place containing an Avoda Zara. This is derived from the Pasuk, “Distance from the entrance of its house” (Mishlei 5:8), as stated by Tosfos (ibid. 17b s.v. “Neizil”).

Moreover, the Gemara (ibid. 12a) also forbids going to a city that is celebrating a festival of an Avoda Zara.[1] Rashi explains that this is due to “Chashad” – the concern that others will suspect that he is on his way to worship the Avoda Zara there. However, the Rosh (ibid. 9) maintains (in the name of Rabbenu Yona) that the Gemara is discussing a trade fair; a person traveling in that direction will be suspected of wanting to trade there in order to honor the Avoda Zara but not of going in order to worship. The Ritva sides with Rashi.

The Gemara then cites three other cases in which there is a concern of Chashad. For example, if a person has a thorn stuck in his foot while passing an Avoda Zara, he may not bend down to remove the thorn because he will appear to be prostrating himself to the Avoda Zara. He may similarly not bend down to pick up his money if it had scattered there or to drink from a spring that is situated at the feet of the Avoda Zara.

Why was it necessary to provide three examples? The Gemara explains:

If we were only taught the case of the thorn, [we would not have been able to derive the case of the scattered money. A person is able to remove a thorn a short distance away, [thus we may require him to do so], however, he cannot recover the money [that is located right in front of the Avoda Zara] anywhere else, thus we might not [have forbidden him to collect the money that is scattered there.]

If we were only taught [the case of the] scattered money, [we would not have been able to derive the case of the thorn since] it is only a financial loss, but not to endure physical pain.

If we were only taught the cases [of the thorn and the money, we would not have been able to derive the case of drinking from the spring.] In those cases, there was no Sakana, but in the case of the spring where there is a Sakana, as he could die if he does not drink[2] [there would therefore have been more reason to be lenient if it wasn’t explicitly forbidden.]

The Gemara clearly implies that a person must even ignore a danger to his life (by not drinking from the spring) to avoid even giving the impression of worshiping an Avoda Zara.

The Rashba adds:

And he is certainly forbidden to enter the courtyard of an Avoda Zara, even to speak with one of them[3], due to Chashad. And perhaps it is forbidden to enter even to deal with matters of the public or even for matters of Pikuach Nefesh. We can adduce proof to this conclusion from the Gemara below regarding a spring of water in front of an Avoda Zara. A person may not bend down and drink [from it] because it looks as though he is prostrating himself. [The Gemara] establishes that it is even [discussing a case] where he will die if he does not drink. And all of this is only due to the Chashad of the onlookers. Here too, since [by entering the courtyard of an Avoda Zara] there is a Chashad that he is worshipping the Avoda Zara, it is forbidden even if there is a danger to life.

He also notes that this notion has practical ramifications regarding the Isur of traveling on a road to a town where they are celebrating a festival of Avoda Zara. As we mentioned earlier, according to Rabbenu Yona, the only concern is that by traveling there he may end up honoring the Avoda Zara. If so, he is not obligated to sacrifice his life to avoid traveling there. However, according to Rashi, the Isur is due to the concern of Chashad – people may suspect that he is going to worship the Avoda Zara. If so, he is obligated to sacrifice his life to avoid traveling on this road because concerns of Chashad warrant sacrificing one’s life, as explained by the Rashba.

The Rashba does not state with certainty that a person is obligated to sacrifice his life to avoid Chashad of Avoda Zara (“perhaps it is forbidden”). However, the Ritva holds that this conclusion may certainly be drawn from the Gemara “It is Abizraihu d’Avoda Zara for which the Halacha is ‘Yehareg v’Al Ya’avor”.[4]

However, other Rishonim dispute the Rashba and Ritva’s conclusion. The Ran asserts (Avoda Zara 3b miDafei haRif) that one cannot conclude from the case of drinking from the spring that a person is obligated to sacrifice his life to avoid Chashad. Though the Gemara does say that there is a possibility of Sakana if the person does not drink, it does not [necessarily] mean that he will certainly die. Rather, the Gemara is only noting that his life may be endangered if he does not drink now and is unable to find another source of water if he becomes dehydrated. In a case of definite Sakana, we do not see clearly from the Gemara that a person is not obligated to sacrifice his life just to avoid Chashad. (The Ran also draws a distinction between the case of the spring and that of entering the courtyard of an Avoda Zara. Since drinking from the spring gives the direct impression that he is prostrating himself to the Avoda Zara, it is forbidden even in a case of Sakana. However, entering the Avoda Zara’s courtyard only gives the impression of going to worship it, not of actually worshipping it.)

The Ran brings a proof to his approach from the Rosh. The Rosh discusses this question in a Teshuva (Klal 19:17) regarding a man fleeing for his life who wanted to take shelter in a house of Avoda Zara. The Rosh ruled that it was entirely permissible. This is also the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch (Y.D. 157:3).

It is apparent from all of the above that one may only discount the Chashad of Avoda Zara in a case of Pikuach Nefesh. In fact, as described above, there are opinions that forbid these actions even in a case of Pikuach Nefesh (see Tur Y.D. 149). If so, if there is no Pikuach Nefesh all would agree that one may not do something that could cause a Chashad of Avoda Zara, even for a great need. If so, in our case the Hatzala responder would presumably be forbidden to enter the church.[5]

We should note that although we have concluded that the Chashad of Avoda Zara is only overridden in a case of Pikuach Nefesh, it is only an Isur d’Rabbanan – akin to Maris Ayin. If so, one could contend that it should be waived in a situation of potential Eiva – hatred from non-Jews[6] – as might occur if the Hatzala responder would refuse to enter the church to treat the patient.

However, this is not the case. Though entering a church is [at most] only an Isur d’Rabbanan, it is clearly more severe than other Isurim d’Rabbanan, given that it is only waived in cases of Pikuach Nefesh (and, according to some, not even then). Thus, Eiva that is only invoked as a concern of possible Sakanas Nefashos would not necessarily override Chashad of Avoda Zara.[7] Nevertheless, because most Poskim consider Eiva to be a matter of actual Pikuach Nefesh, we would actually permit a Hatzala responder to enter the church on the grounds of avoiding Eiva since we Pasken according to the opinions that Chashad of Avoda Zara is permissible in cases of Pikuach Nefesh.

There is another possible argument to permit the Hatzala responder to enter the church. The Gemara that discusses the case of the Avoda Zara and the water spring concludes: “But if it is not discernible, it is permissible”. The Gemara explains that this cannot mean that nobody is able to see him bending over, as whenever the Chachamim forbade something due to Maris Ayin, they even forbade it in private (“b’Chadrei Chadarim”). Rather, the intent is that he may bend down in a manner that clearly indicates that he is not prostrating himself in worship, such as doing so with his back towards the Avoda Zara.

If so, a Hatzala responder wearing a uniform and carrying his equipment would not violate the Halacha of Chashad at all, as it is obvious that he is going into the church as a first responder. This argument would also be valid according to the stringent opinions that maintain the prohibition even in cases of Pikuach Nefesh. Since the first responder does not give the appearance of entering to serve Avoda Zara in this case, he does not violate the Isur at all.

`[The Rosh cited above regarding an individual fleeing from persecution also delineates similar conditions to those that we have outlined here. However, the Rosh’s ruling may be subject to a Machlokes, whereas when the Hatzala responder’s behavior and uniform indicate that he is entering the church only for lifesaving purposes, it is likely that everyone would agree that it is permissible.]

We should also point out that all of the above only applies when he knows that the patient in the church is a non-Jew. Then we must invoke Eiva in order to permit his entry. However, in cases where the patient might be Jewish (which is sadly the reality in some places, unfortunately including even the Old City of Yerushalayim), a first responder is certainly permitted to enter given that we follow the Poskim who permit it in cases of Pikuach Nefesh.

[There is an additional Isur that can be violated by entering a church, namely that of deriving benefit from the house of an Avoda Zara (see the Shach Y.D. 145:9 and Taz ibid. 6). For example, one may absolutely not enter to enjoy the architecture (Igros Moshe Y.D. 3:129:6). In fact, Rav Moshe Feinstein ztl (ibid.) asserted that the very desire to do so is a “Hashchasa” – a corruption of our faith and morals, as the Torah instructs us “You shall surely loathe it and you shall surely abominate it for it is banned” (Devarim 7:26). However, this is not relevant in our case as the Hatzala responder is not intending to derive any personal enjoyment at all.]

[1] The Halacha follows the Chachamim who only forbid journeying on a road that heads exclusively to that city.

[2] In a case of extreme thirst or dehydration; see Rashi s.v. Aval Ma’ayan.

[3] I.e., one of the idol worshippers.

[4] However, the Ritva qualifies that this only applies if the courtyard in question is used only for worshipping the Avoda Zara. If it is also used for other purposes or as a shortcut one may enter, even if it is [only] to prevent for the purposes of preventing financial loss.

[5] [Editor’s Note: This is predicated on the assumption that the patient is a non-Jew. Pikuach Nefesh would only be Doche the Chashad if the endangered individual is Jewish. See below for further discussion.]

[6] [Editor’s note: The concern of Eiva is that the inaction of a Jew to save a non-Jew could lead non-Jews to either refuse to treat Jews when they are endangered or potentially even attack Jews in retaliation, Rachmana Litzlan.]

[7] Unless we draw a distinction between the Sakana of an individual, which does not override the Isur d’Rabbanan of Chashad, and the Sakana of the public due to Eiva, which would override it. This requires further examination.

Yossi Sprung

Yossi Sprung

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