Jewish Israel asked Rabbi Jonathan Blass if Jews are permitted to enter a church, even if it does not contain any icons. We asked this after reading his response posted at Yeshiva.org.il, regarding entering a church which does contain icons.
This is the response we received from Rabbi Blass on June 15, 2011:
On the basis of the halachic definition of idol worship, the poskim expressly forbade entering a church even if the building does not house statues or other icons (Pri HaSadeh II 4; Shut Tzitz Eliezer XIV 91 ;Shu"t Iggrot Moshe Yoreh Deah III 129; Shu"t Yabia Omer VII, Yoreh Deah 12).
Maimonides teaches that the very acceptance of the divinity of any foreign god is in itself idolatry. This definition holds true even without any additional worship of the entity whose divinity was acknowledged (Hilchot Avoda Zara III,4) and even if the acknowledgment was made not in the presence of that entity or of one of its representations (Shu"t Binyan Zion 63) .
It is for this reason that Christianity, whose central tenet is the divinity of a man, is idolatrous by definition - whether or not a particular branch of Christianity includes the worship of statues, of the cross or of any other Christian iconic symbols. Although the Rema (Orach Chayyim 156,1) quotes the opinion that non-Jews who worship other gods together with their worship of the G-d of Israel do not transgress the Noachide prohibition against idol worship, this does not alter the definition of this joint worship as a form of idolatry (Tvuot Shor Yoreh Deah 4; Shu"t Binyan Zion 63). It is permitted to non-Jews according to this opinion only because it would be unreasonable to demand that they adhere to a higher standard (Sh'aylat Yaavetz I 41).
The acceptance by man of the divinity of a created being or even of a limited ideal, most often based on the belief that man cannot achieve a direct connection with the Creator and must seek the intervention of a lesser intermediary (see Hilchot Avoda Zara chapters I and II), humiliates man and denigrates the value of his actions. Because of this, throughout Jewish history churches evoked in Jews – in rabbis and laymen alike - a justified sense of moral and almost physical repulsion.
---- Rabbi Jonathan Blass is the Rabbi of Neve Tzuf and Rosh Kollel "Ratzon Yehuda".