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Shittuf and the Samaritan Precedent

July 2, 2014

Shittuf is the act of worshipping The One True God in conjunction with other (read: false) gods. There is a view among the Rishonim that although such practice is forbidden to Jews, it is permissible for gentiles. Others, like Maimonides, make it clear that whatever is prohibited to Jews under the rubric of idolatry, etc., is equally prohibited to the gentiles, who are just as bound by the Torah as Jews are, except by fewer of its rules. Practical halachic application: the classical Christian doctrine of the Trinity and modes of worship. According to an opinion shared by many of the Tosafists, for example, subscribing to such beliefs would be forbidden for Jews but permissible for gentiles, but according to Maimonides, Christianity is problematic even for gentiles. I believe that the Shulhan Aruch implicitly takes this position also, by making it clear that certain laws of yayin nesech (wine used in idolatrous service) and stam yeinam (lit., “their ordinary wine”) do not apply to Muslims, indicating that those laws do apply to Christians.

Recently, I saw an interesting suggestion of a very early proof for one of these positions. II Kings 17:24-35 describes how the Assyrians settled foreign idolaters in the Israeli lands that they had depopulated of the Ten Tribes:

And the king of Assyria brought men from Babylon, and from Cuthah, and from Avva, and from Hamath and Sepharvaim, and placed them in the cities of Samaria instead of the children of Israel; and they possessed Samaria, and dwelt in the cities thereof. And so it was, at the beginning of their dwelling there, that they feared not the LORD; therefore the LORD sent lions among them, which killed some of them… Then the king of Assyria commanded, saying: ‘Carry thither one of the priests whom ye brought from thence; and let them go and dwell there, and let him teach them the manner of the God of the land.’ So one of the priests whom they had carried away from Samaria came and dwelt in Beth-el, and taught them how they should fear the LORD.

In order to ensure the newcomers’ safety, the Assyrian authorities trained them to practice Judaism.

However, every nation made gods of their own, and put them in the houses of the high places which the Samaritans had made, every nation in their cities wherein they dwelt… So they feared the LORD, and made unto them from among themselves priests of the high places, who sacrificed for them in the houses of the high places. They feared the LORD, and served their own gods, after the manner of the nations from among whom they had been carried away.

After that, there is no report that the Samaritans would be attacked by lions. That is, it was apparently sufficient for these idolaters to just incorporate the worship of the True God into their idolatry in order to satisfy His religious demands and placate His wrath. God Himself held gentiles to a lower standard in this regard than He did Jews. This is thus a support for the halachic position that shittuf is permissible for gentiles to practice.

I was thinking that this case does not necessarily prove that anything is permitted to gentiles. Rather, shittuf is just as forbidden for gentiles as it is for Jews, except that God lets it slide, so to speak, when its practitioners are gentiles. That is, although the Samaritans should not have done what they did, after the fact, God did not hold them to the same standards to which He held the Ten Tribes.

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One Comment
  1. Can’t we find a logical explanation for the lions going away?

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