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Maimonides: Islam Good, Christianity Bad, Muslims Bad, Christians Good

Rabbi Moses Maimonides is our fundamental source for relating to Islam and Christianity, and his views are clear and occasionally unexpected.

A statue of Moses Maimonides at the Jewish quarter of Cordoba, where the great Torah scholar and philosopher was born in 1135. He taught us much of what we practice today regarding Christianity and Islam.

A statue of Moses Maimonides at the Jewish quarter of Cordoba, where the great Torah scholar and philosopher was born in 1135. He taught us much of what we practice today regarding Christianity and Islam.

Twelfth century scholar, philosopher and religious commentator Mosheh ben Maimon, known in the west as Moses Maimonides, is considered one of the main foundations of modern Jewish law, and the most widely accepted authority on Jewish philosophy.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve mentioned in several JewishPress.com articles that there are huge differences between our views of Islam and of Christianity—the former generally considered a fine religion for gentiles, the latter considered, essentially, idol worship. My source for those statements, which most yeshiva-schooled Jews are familiar with, is Maimonides. And since it’s difficult to describe traditional Judaism without Maimonides, what he says on these issues is followed and adhered by the vast majority of observant Jews.

Each time I mentioned the fact that a religious Jew is permitted to pray in a mosque, but forbidden to even enter a church, I would be challenged by a few readers, and answer on the spot. But as the issue of Islam vs. Christianity keeps coming up, I decided to offer this essential article which we could all refer to in future exchanges.

I’m grateful to Prof. Eliezer Schlossberg of Bar Ilan University for his article “Maimonides’ Attitude Regarding Islam,” on which I relied heavily for citations.

If you woke up Maimonides in the middle of the night and asked him his opinion of all the non-Jewish religions, he would tell you they’re all stolen from Judaism, they all offer little more than a shallow veneer of what our Torah has to offer, and the difference between all the gentile religions and our own is like the difference between a statue and a real person (Yemen Epistle).

Moreover, since all the other religions are well aware of our special relationship with God, their fundamental purpose is to destroy the Torah of Israel. The more God loves us, the more the gentiles hate us (Yemen Epistle).

However, Maimonides views the two major religions, Christianity and Islam, as necessary preparations for the coming of the Messiah and the universal worship of God that will follow in the future.

In his legal opus Hayad Hachazaka, Maimonides states that thanks to both these religions “the world has become full of the ideas of the Messiah, the ideas of the Torah and the ideas of the commandments, so that these have spread to faraway islands and to many dim hearted nations, and they now discuss these ideas and the commandments of the Torah.”

Nevertheless, Maimonides considers both Christians and Muslims to be heretics, mostly because of their various replacement doctrines regarding the Torah and the status of the Jewish nation.

So far, though, Maimonides’ assertions are expressed in the abstract, without hard and fast references to their halachic implications. Both Islam and Christianity are far better than the pagan religions, and both of them are a far cry from the truth of God’s only Torah.

Halachically, Maimonides says in three distinct places that the Christians are idol worshippers.

1. In his interpretation of the Mishna, tractate Avoda Zara 1:3, he writes: “Know that this Chriatian nation, who are making the claim of a messiah, with all their many different sects, are all idol worshippers and all their holidays are forbidden, and we deal with them regarding religious issues as we would pagans.”

And he adds (AZ 4): “Therefore one must know that in every one of the Christian nation’s cities which has an altar, meaning their house of worship, it is a pagan house of idolatry without any doubt.”

2. In the uncensored version of Hayad Hachazaka (Hilchot Avoda Zara 9:4), Maimonides issues the edict: “The Christians are idol worshipers and Sunday is their religious holiday, therefore in Eretz Israel we may not trade with them on Thursday and Friday of every week, and needless to say on Sunday, which is forbidden [for trade with Christians] everywhere.” Trade in this context refers especially to paying back loans, which would enhance their joy on the day of their idol.

3. Also in Hayad Hachazaka, the laws of forbidden foods, the uncensored version (Hilchot Maachalot Asurot 11:7): “The Christians are idol worshippers and their regular wine if forbidden to be consumed” by Jews since it is likely to be used as libation in their pagan service.

On the other hand, Maimonides defends Islam against the popular accusations of his day, which argued that the Kaaba stone in Mecca and some of the rites performed during their Haj pilgrimage were rooted in idol worship.

In his Letter to Obadiah the Proselyte Maimonides states clearly: “These Ishmaelites are not idol worshippers in the least, and [paganism] has been long since cut off from their mouths and their hearts, and they worship the singular God properly and without any blemish.”

However, Maimonides’ view on the discourse between Jews and members of the two other major religions appears to contradict everything that we’ve established so far. It is an example of the great man’s clarity of thought, and his ability to depict crucial nuance in both religions.

“It is permitted to teach the commandments to Christians and to attract them to our religion, and it is not permitted to do the same with the Ishmaelites,” he writes.

This is because the Christians never denied the authenticity of our Torah, they merely added their nonsense on top of it, but they and we believe both in the Torah’s sanctity and in the fact that it is an accurate representation of the original Torah delivered to the Jews by God through Moses.

The Muslims, on the other hand, even though their Koran describes the giving of the Torah to the Jews, they insist that in every point where their version differs from what’s in our Torah, this is because we either made a mistake in copying our texts, or, worse, falsified our texts.

Therefore, argues Maimonides (Rambam’s responsa, Blau, answer 149) that while a discourse with a Christian could lead to his understanding of his mistaken reading and therefore could benefit from the explanation, even if he didn’t convert to Judaism – a Muslim will always perceive our explanations as being founded on a lie, so don’t bother.

To summarize: while we consider both Islam and Christianity to be merely stepping stones in humanity’s path to true Divine enlightenment, we do not treat the two of them equally. We recognize a higher capacity for abstract worship in Islam, while Christianity remains mired in embarrassing paganism. However, the discussion of our Torah is permitted only with Christians, who accept its validity, and not at all with Muslims, who see it as a Jewish forgery.

Now you know.

About the Author: Yori Yanover has been a working journalist since age 17, before he enlisted and worked for Ba'Machane Nachal. Since then he has worked for Israel Shelanu, the US supplement of Yedioth, JCN18.com, USAJewish.com, Lubavitch News Service, Arutz 7 (as DJ on the high seas), and the Grand Street News. He has published Dancing and Crying, a colorful and intimate portrait of the last two years in the life of the late Lubavitch Rebbe, (in Hebrew), and two fun books in English: The Cabalist's Daughter: A Novel of Practical Messianic Redemption, and How Would God REALLY Vote.


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22 Responses to “Maimonides: Islam Good, Christianity Bad, Muslims Bad, Christians Good”

  1. Bea Zeis says:

    the terrorists are killers,muslims bad christians don’t terriorize and kill women and children

  2. They killed as recently as WWII killing Jews by the millions in Europe, and throughout the centuries before.

  3. Excellent summary. Wasn’t ben Maimon’s exposure to Christians limited living in Islamic areas? But the only reason, it should be emphasized, Christianity had an advantage is because only of Islam’s claims undermining the authenticity of Torah. I personally know Muslims who are complementary of Judaism over Christianity, believe it or not.

  4. Dick Farrel says:

    this silly riddle make no logical sense…none. even from Moshe ben Maimon….

  5. Dick Farrel says:

    40 days from now. the Christian world puts aside their silly and often comical differences with each other to proclaim PEACE ON EARTH – GOOD WILL TOWARD MEN. They will engage in the ancient Hebrew tradition of Sedakah…charity, they will be honoring the birth of a Hebrew Child in a Barn near Bethlehem some 2000 years ago. Every Jew, should wish everyday was Christmas. Some 2 billion Christians…all centered on a Hebrew Child…it’s just AWESOME

  6. Ch Hoffman says:

    the writer should seriously consider sticking to reporting the scores from local baseball teams; little context and not much understanding is required to present such material

    In dealing with theological issues, however, there is a bit of a background and education which is a prerequisite; also, a recognition that the public statements of Maimonidies are presented to a great degree in a censored version.

  7. Ch Hoffman says:

    the writer should seriously consider sticking to reporting the scores from local baseball teams; little context and not much understanding is required to present such material

    In dealing with theological issues, however, there is a bit of a background and education which is a prerequisite; also, a recognition that the public statements of Maimonidies are presented to a great degree in a censored version.

  8. Aryeh Sax says:

    This is not surprising, Islam and Judaism have much more in common then either have with Christianity, in their religious practice, but only years apart, that is the age of each. Christianity is seen as a form of Idolatry by both, in their Orthodox forms.

  9. Aryeh Sax says:

    Christians have had a history of be terrorist from the Crusades, WW2, And Ethic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia. All religions have had leaders who have taken them away from righteous treatment of others, but none have been as effective at terrorism as Christianity over the last 2000 years.

  10. Aryeh Sax says:

    I know I will get beat up with this link, but history is recorded and though some facts have been known to have been changed, but, some are just out their and cannot be denied.

  11. The Jewish Bible and the Christian Bible teach core values of respect for human life and tolerance. When Christian leaders took it upon themselves to engage in the killing and oppression of Jews and others they were violating the teachings and core values of Christianity. In other words, they were bad Christians. By contrast, the Koran teaches that all non-Muslims are infidels; that Jews and Christians must now in subjugation to Islam and pay Jizya (extortion money) to be spared the sword. Those who refuse subjugation must either convert to Islam or be put to death. So when a Muslim attacks and kills Christians, Jews and other "infidels" they are following the Koran and are "good Muslims". By contrast, a Muslim who preaches peace, tolerance and understanding towards Christians, Jews and others is a good person — and a bad Muslim. Until Muslims excise the violent, hateful, and supremacist parts of the Koran, Islam should not be viewed as a religion of peace. It should be viewed and treated as a totalitarian cult and denied religious protection under the law.

  12. Ralph says:

    I was taught in school that in WW II Hitler was from Austria and was part if not all Jewish and hated it. When he wanted to take power he had to blame someone for all the bad things that were going on so he blamed the Jews so the people would follow him. Hitler was not a Christian, not all people that say they are Christians are in fact Christians, especially in this day and age. We have Catholic priest who molest children ( boys) they are priest but not Christians and neither are the ones that help cover it up even if they are called pope, elected by men to lead men.
    When G-D called on a man he did not have other men call on that man, he came to that man and told him what G-D wanted him to do. True Christians believe in the same laws that G-D gave the Jews, and yes some Christian leaders have misrepresented or even made up their version of the law for their benefit to get followers. A true Christian loves the Jewish people and Israel because without them the Christian would not have a G-D either. Yeshua or Jesus as most Christians know him was in fact a Jew who prayed in a Synagogue and followed the law.
    Please don’t lump all Christians in one group as Christians should not lump all Jews in one group. G-D knows who each are and will tend to them accordingly.

  13. Morris Ishay says:

    Good and bad are two extremes of the same coin. The truth lies in the
    balance between them and its application to do good deeds.

  14. Aryeh Sax says:

    Ralph, talk about bending history,"Hitler was a Jew" how ridiculous.

  15. Aryeh Sax says:

    Ralph, talk about bending history,"Hitler was a Jew" how ridiculous.

  16. Linda Dudley says:

    Or genocide of indigenous people in America…..

  17. Ralph says:

    Aryeh Sax, did you study German history or the history of Hitler? You might want to research the life of Hitler. Starting in WW I when he was a corporal in the German army under Kizer and then the years following. He went from a corporal to Furer in just a short time. Just because he was from Jewish blood does not make him a believer in the faith, yet the Jewish faith believes that you must come from a Jewish mother to have Jewish blood, yet in all of the writtings only Jewish men are spoken of, Abraham, Issach and Jacob along with King David and Solomon. When we talk to or about our leaders all but Goldie were men.
    What makes Hitler so special that he could not be a Jew that hated Jews and wanted nothing but power. He was not of Arian race, he did not have blond hair nor blue eyes. He was from Austria yet called himself a German, just because your mother was Jewish blood and your father was not does not make you a Jew. How many Jewish people in Israel do not practice the Jewish faith?, yet they are Jews. I lost family to Hitler, yes we were Jude’s and had to ware a yellow Megan David pinned to our clothes. Hitler was a spineless piece of human waste and we wonder why G-D let him rise to power and do what he did, maybe it was to bring us closer to our faith and to G-D. Someday I will see my family again and I will ask G-D why.

  18. Aryeh Sax says:

    Well spoken…………..

  19. Ray Cunningham says:

    I guess I didn’t figure you would post my comments.

  20. Pedro Acosta says:

    Excellent article.

  21. Rambam got it right 800 years ago !

  22. Susan Miller says:

    A Jewish Synagogue is every bit as much if not more my home as any church. I believe in the Jewish Messiah, Yeshua (Jesus) born 2000 years ago. Without the Jews, his ministry means absolutely nothing.

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