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Avodah zara in family dwelling

Question:

My wife’s family owns a vacation apartment in a beach town. Most of the year it is unoccupied. Her sister is a follower of eastern religions and currently is devoted to a Vietnamese healer who is treating their mother, who is recuperating from a stroke, in addition to the sister. They think the apartment has ghosts who are exerting negative energies on them, contributing to their ailments. Recently the healer visited the apartment to rid it of the ghosts. He placed a Buddha statue in the living room. My wife is now staying in the apartment with 2 children. She was instructed by her sister not to move or cover up the statue, not even to place a mechitza to block it from view.  They believe the statue is warding away the ghosts and if it is disturbed their health would be jeopardized. This is the main room of the apartment where they eat meals and daven and most other activities. The idol is against a wall on a shelf facing east so they would be davening with it behind them. The other room is the bedroom. So how should they conduct themselves in this idol’s presence? What is the proper attitude they should have?

Answer:

Help! This a very problematic situation, for a number of reasons. The statue is an avoda zara, because it is obviously worshipped since it is being used to heal, and therefore statue is given all the rules of a real avoda zara! As a side point in our society, most of us are accustomed to thinking that we don’t really have avoda zara nowadays. According to what you are relating, we have real avoda zara, one of the three cardinal sins, that one should rather give their life up in order not to worship it, and you have this in your relatives home.

  1. First of all it is prohibited to intentionally look at the avoda zara[1].
  2. We should not be even walking in the 4 amos (6 feet) of the doorway of a church[2], in order to distance ourselves from avoda zara. Obviously we are not allowed to be within its proximity. This is because we are commanded to distance ourselves from avoda zara. As a side point, a person building a house near a church should not make windows[3] facing the church, as it says “AL TIFNU EL ELILIM” don’t turn towards idols, how much more so that we should not enter and dwell in a house that has an avoda zara inside it “protecting” it.
  3. We are not allowed to bend down on the floor in front of an avoda zara, for any reason, because it appears to be worshipping it.[4]
  4. You should not be davening in the same room as an avoda zara, even if you will be facing the other direction. The reasons is because we should not be doing a holy thing, such as davening in a place of tuma. Therefore if it is possible[5] to daven somewhere else, such as in the bedroom or outside the apartment.

Aside from all of this you would be well advised not to use the apartment under such conditions, because in Jewish religion we treat idols with disgust. We should try to distance ourselves from being in their proximity in any way possible, lest we get influenced by its falsehood in any way.

Best wishes

Sources:

 

[1]  Rambam Hilchos Avoda Zara 2-2, Shulchan Aruch Y:D 142-15 Shach 142-33.

[2]  Tractate Avoda Zara 17b Y:D 150-1, Shach Y:D 142-21, 149-1.

[3]  Kneses Hagedola Y:D 150-3, Darcei Teshuva 150-12 from Sefer Chasidim.

[4] Y:D 150-2.

[5]  O:CH 94-9, M:B 29.

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