Designing Text for a Catholic Shrine

QUESTION

Chicago, IL

A member of our community works in the museum industry. Her firm was hired by a local Catholic shrine to design the accompanying text that will be placed on the railings in the Shrine of St. Jude (a chapel/room in a larger church containing a statue of St. Jude and a relic of St. Jude (a piece of his arm).

The text she would be asked to write would not be about the history of the artwork or the architecture but would be about the life of St. Jude from the perspective of a believer intended for an audience of believers coming to worship at the shrine.

Is this a job she can take on? What if she did research and copy editing but not the writing? She visited the shrine earlier this week. She was told that the statue of St. Jude is meant to inspire and that intercessory prayer is endorsed but that the statue/St. Jude are not objects of worship (but people do leave little gifts in front of the statue and kiss the box that contains the relic.

Are there further clarifying questions I can ask her?

Thank you!

ANSWER

Thank you for this question. I should first note a relevant teshuva of Rav Moshe Feinstein (Iggrot Moshe YD 1:68) about whether an architect can do the architectural drawings for a church. He permits it because it is:

  1. not directly connected to an “idol”
  2. not lifnei iver because it is both
    1. a few degrees removed from any act of avodah zarah that will be done in the future (“לפני דלפני”)
    2. not really contributing to any future act of avoda zarah—since they can do their worship without a building or in a building built less nicely.

Rav Moshe does not engage at all with the position of Rema (Shulchan Arukh OC 156:1; Darkhei Moshe YD 151:1c, Shulchan Arukh YD 151:1; and Shakh YD 151:7) that Christianity is not Avodah Zarah for non-Jews (this would have totally addressed issue #2 of lifnei iver). I rule in these matters in line with Rema’s position, while remembering that it is critical to distinguish between whether (a) you, the Jew,  are doing something connected to Christian worship (e.g., going into a church, attending a Mass), in which case Rema is not relevant, and the issue must be dealt with in classic Avodah Zarah terms or (b) you are doing something that is helping a non-Jew in their worship, such as donating to the rebuilding of a church, which—following Rema—I think is totally fine.

So in our case—the person is preparing a text that worshippers will read, be inspired, kneel, pray, etc. and the worshippers, as non-Jews, are not doing anything wrong. (N.B.: If they were actually worshipping the statue itself, this would be Avodah Zarah even for non-Jews, and raise real issues of lifnei iver). She is not herself reciting this text (other than proofreading, etc.) or in any way declaring it to be true or her beliefs. I thus see no problem here.

I should add to this that Rav Moshe ends his teshuvah by saying this whole enterprise is a disgusting thing

אבל כשליכא הפסד ממון וא”צ לפרנסתו וליכא איבה יש לו להחמיר ולהתרחק מן הכיעור שלא להיות אף מסייע רחוק לזה.

Perhaps that was true in his time, but in our time I think that one could argue the opposite. The greatest threat to people of faith is not other faiths but the lack of faith altogether. We live in a heavily secular society—the use of religion in politics notwithstanding—and if the text she writes will help inspire people (non-Jews) and bring them closer to God, then that actually is a positive outcome. See in this regard, Rambam, Hilkhot Melakhim 11:4:

וכל הדברים האלו של ישוע הנוצרי, ושל זה הישמעאלי שעמד אחריו אינן אלא ליישר דרך למלך המשיח ולתקן את העולם כולו לעבוד את ה’ ביחד שנאמר כי אז אהפוך אל עמים שפה ברורה לקרוא כולם בשם ה’ ולעבדו שכם אחד: כיצד כבר נתמלא העולם כולו מדברי המשיח. ומדברי התורה ומדברי המצוות, ופשטו דברים אלו באיים רחוקים, ובעמים רבים ערלי לב. והם נושאים ונותנים בדברים אלו…

And Rambam wrote this despite the fact that he treats Christianity categorically as Avodah Zarah. For those who follow Rema’s ruling that Christianity is not Avodah Zarah for non-Jews, all the more so that one should adopt a positive orientation to Christians engaging in and embracing their faith.

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