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Walking by a church
I am five months pregnant and was walking with my in-laws down the street that I always walk from my house to the store to go shopping, and my mother-in-law told me that we need to cross the street, as there is a church on the side of the street and a pregnant woman is not allowed to walk by a church. I never heard of this before, and would like to know if this is true.
While there is no prohibition against walking on the sidewalk of a church that is a distance of at least two cubits from the entrance of the church, nonetheless, it is an age-old custom which was followed by the Rebbe, to not walk by a church and rather cross the street. This custom is not only relevant for pregnant women but for all Jews, young or old, male and female. Although this custom has become lost in recent generations, certainly it is a good thing be careful to abide by it especially when a woman is pregnant.
It states in the Talmud and Poskim that it is a mitzvah to distance oneself four cubits from a road of idolatry. This however only refers to a road that leads to a dead end which is idolatry. However, a road that happens to pass by idolatry, does not contain any prohibition against walking on. Thus, from letter of the law there is no issue with walking down the sidewalk even if there are churches behind it and there is thus no need to tell someone to walk on the other side of the street. [However, if the sidewalk is literally right in front of the church within four cubits of it, then certainly even from the letter of the law one is not to walk by it.] Nonetheless, it is a well-known Jewish custom followed by many to avoid walking on even such a road. To quote from the Rebbi: “In previous years people were careful not to pass by a church and would rather walk a different way in order not to see it and in order not to come across, a cross.” Indeed, many testify that the Rebbe was careful never to walk on the side of the sidewalk of the church on Pres. Street when walking from his house to 770, and he would make sure to cross the street and walk on the other side of the sidewalk. This custom is also known amongst many Ashkenazi Jews. To quote from the Tzitz Eliezer “I remember from when I was young that when we needed a pass by a church, the older men would hurry us up to pass by it as quick as possible”
Sources: See regarding distancing oneself from a road of idolatry: Michaber Y.D. 150:1; 149:1; 142:2 Rama 149:2; Avoda Zara 17a and 18b; Chayeh Halevi 4:63; 7:37-17; Rivivos Efraim 3:496-497; Maros Yechezkal 1:457; Ohel Yaakov 150:2 and 12; See regarding the custom not walk by a church: Likkutei Sichos 18:459; Tzitz Eliezer 14:91; Al Minhagim Umikoroseichem [Bloy] p. 293;