By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for

Prince William is on the final day of his tour of Israel.  This is the first official visit to Israel by a member of the British royal family.

Accompanied by rabbis, William walked up to the Western Wall through a passage formed across the Kotel plaza by plastic police barricades.

With a yarmulkah on his head, Prince William prayed silently at the Kosel and placed a note in the wall.

The question is:  Did he get a mitzvah for doing this?

By Rabbi Yair Hoffman

Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l rules (Igros Moshe Orach Chaim Vol. II #25) that although the Umos HaOlam are not obligated to pray to Hashem, if they do so they get a mitzvah in the form of aino metzuvah v’oseh, a person who performs a mitzvah even though he is not commanded in it.

So, the short answer is yes.

What about the long answer?

The long answer is also most probably yes.

Here is why.  Most poskim are of the opinion that a belief in the Trinity as a three part deity and prayer to the trinity means that they are not praying to Hashem per se. Rav Moshe’s words pertain to when the person is actually praying to Hashem, the One True G-d.

Christian theologians who are fully knowledgeable of their faith have a slightly different conception of G-d than Jews and non-Trinitarian Christians do.* But this only applies to knowledgeable theologians.  Most gentiles DO have a proper concept of Hashem.  These members of mainstream denominations of Christianity do not truly share the theology of their denomination. Their conceptualization of the nature of G-d is, what Rav Elchonon Wasserman describes as intuitive. A good percentage of this country likely falls under this category and many in England as well.

Some poskim believe that modern day practitioners of the religion are just following the ways of their parents (Maaseh avosaihem b’yadeihem), and do not truly believe in the theological underpinnings (See Shulchan Aruch, YD 148:12; Bach ibid; Responsa Yehudah Yaaleh YD #170).

It perhaps can be assumed that Prince William fits into the Rav Elchonon Wasserman “intuitive” types and therefore, his tefilah would be a mitzvah.

Gentiles Have More Latitude in Belief

The Ramah in Orach Chaim 156 cites the view of the Ran (end of first chapter of tractate AZ). He writes that in his time, when a gentile mentions idol-worship, he is really intending the Creator of Heaven and Earth to be the recipient — it is just that he is looking at it as if it was shituf: i.e. both G-d and (l’havdil) the avodah zarah entity who created things.

The Ramah continues, that “gentiles are not commanded against shituf — a belief in both G-d and (l’havdil) the avodah zarah entity.”

The reading of this Ramah is the subject of great controversy. Does he really mean that a gentile is not commanded against a belief in G-d plus avodah zarah? The Ran asserts there is no special prohibition of a gentile swearing to avodah zarah, but not that there is no prohibition in believing that avodah zarah can co-exist with G-d.

Dissenting Views

One might, therefore, be tempted then to read the Ramah as only referring to a gentile taking a business oath. Yet the Ramah elsewhere (Darchei Moshe YD 151) clearly refers to more than just permission to cause them to swear in the name of the Creator. Rabbi Akiva Eiger, in a letter to his son Rav Shlomo (new responsa, end), writes that one may not rely on the lenient view of this Ramah.

Yet, we find that the Chasam Sopher, Rabbi Akiva Eiger’s own son-in-law, writes in his Toras Moshe (parshas VaYishlach) that, in fact, gentiles are not commanded on shituf. There is also a fascinating Rashi on Tehillim 6:11 that finds fault with the gentile nations for making idol-worship central and minimizing the Holy One Blessed be He. Rashi is highlighting that it isn’t “sharing” that is faulty, rather it is removing the Creator as the principal. The Maharatz Chajes (Horios 5) also writes clearly that a gentile is not commanded in shituf.

So, even if Prince William held to the Anglican understanding of theology and not the Rav Elchonon version, his prayer would be a mitzvah according to the Chasam Sopher’s reading of the Ramah, the Rashi on Tehillim and the Maharatz Chajes. According to Rav Yoseph Karo, and Rabbi Akiva Eiger it would still be a problem.

*(The more “kosher” denominations are (1) Christadelphians, (2)Christian Scientists, (3)Dawn Bible Students, (4) Friends General Conference, (5) Iglesia ni Criso, (6) J’s Witnesses, (7) Living Church of G-d, (8) Oneness Pentecostals, (9) Members Church of G-d International, (10) Unitarian Universalist Christians, (11) The Way International, (12) The Church of G-d International and (13) the United Church of G-d.)

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  1. I would leave out the Witnesses from a list of less-treif versions as they constantly call Hashem by an Anglicized version of the Shem Havayah.


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