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Women, the ultra-Orthodox establishment and the Kotel

BS”D

On thursday the 25th of april a decision was taken by the Jerusalem District Court on whether women will be allowed to or prohibited from praying at the Kotel (the Wailing Wall) in the Old City of Jerusalem, wearing prayer shawls and tefillin, which traditionally has been considered man garb, and thus prohibited for women (though there definitely are a number of varying opinions on this issue).

The court decided that it indeed is allowed for women to pray wearing prayer shawls and Tefillin, and that the recent arrest of a group of women, from the organization “Women of the Wall,” was unjustified, the former since they do not go against the law on praying according to local customs, since that can be interpreted rather broad, and the latter since the women did not cause a public disturbance, which otherwise was the reason behind the arrest.

This ruling is the culmination on a number if incidents, leading to a conflict between the (ultra)-Orthodox establishment and the female activists, as well as to a greater discussion on women’s right to pray as they please at the Kotel, which should be seen both as part of the wider debate on the role of religion in Israel, as well as the debate between the Israeli Orthodox community and its role as authority on Jewish religion in Israel and the American (and in second instance global) non-Orthodox community. Both are discussions concerned with power and freedom of worship, and it is a blow to Orthodox monopoly on defining correct Jewish religious behavior in Israel, which most likely has been struck as a reaction, to what many would consider as being an arrogant Orthodox attitude towards those, who understand and practice Judaism differently than the general orthodox norm.

Also within the Orthodox world, compromising both the ultra-Orthodox, the National-Religious, and other Modern-Orthodox groups, have there been discussions on the subject, with the majority viewing the women as provocateurs, but also as the decision against allowing women to pray as they wish, combined with the behavior of an extremist ultra-Orthodox minority, as being inherently wrong.

This is most likely part of a trend of reacting against the ultra-Orthodox authority on religious matters in Israel, as well as a reaction against their attitude to those not being part of the ultra-Orthodox world, which was also seen during the last Israeli election. The question is how far the ultra-Orthodox leaders will take this conflict, before they accept that they have to either change their practice of governing the religious affairs, or changing their approach to those not being part of their world and world view. This depends both on how much or little support they will have internally from the general ultra-Orthodox Jew (who isn’t as isolated as he has been from the wider Israeli-Jewish community) as well as the degree of stubbornness found among the ultra-Orthodox leaders.

Amira Hass – an obstacle to peace

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Amira Hass, columnist at HaAretz, recently wrote a column where she not only defended rock-throwing Palestinians, but encouraged them to continue it. I know that Hass doesn’t harbor any warm feelings for Israel or the Israeli society, even less for the settlers, which are an expression of colonialism according to her opinion, as well as I know that she sympathizes strongly with the Palestinian cause, so much that she now lives in Ramallah. That I don’t have a problem with, I actually sympathize with the Palestinians as well, though not so much that I hate Israel and the Israeli society (true, there are elements I would love to be without, but no society is perfect).

 

Hass is entitled to her opinions on Israel and the conflict, and I can understand some of them, though agreeing with her in general is hard. When she objects to, and criticizes Israeli violence I agree, and I believe it should be condemned. So, for example, when Israeli soldiers are beating up Palestinian children (how often or not it might happen), or when settlers attack innocent Palestinians, on their way to their fields or just passing by. But her condemnations and criticism just underscore the amazing hypocrisy of hers. How in the world can you on one hand condemn violence and on the other hand encourage it? Particularly after the incidents that have passed lately, where we have seen a three-year old girl surviving only by a miracle, after stone-throwers caused the girl’s mother to crash with a truck!

 

I know what Hass would say; that it’s tragic and unfortunate, but that it’s the parents fault for bringing her there, being in the West Bank is cause of danger for Jews (or should be according to her opinion apparently), and to bring a girl there is the fault of those bringing her. Her flawed logic screams to heaven, here are some reasons why:

 

First, how did the stone-throwers know that there were Jews in the car? True, you can see whether the car is Israeli or Palestinian, based on the color of the number plates, but Palestinians with Israeli citizenship drive in Israeli cars, and as such can also be targeted. If this had been a Palestinian girl, rather than a Jewish, what would her explanation and reaction be? No need to guess, Israel would have been blamed for this, since the stone-throwers only throw stones as a reaction against Israeli occupation, leaving the stone-throwers as beings without any ability to reflect and think independently.

 

Second, that she finds it okay to target Jews, is in itself disgusting. If I can find some reason to justify the means, is it then okay to target Palestinians, women, Buddhist, or whatever I can think of, only based on my dislike towards a certain group, making all members of this group responsible for the actions of the few? Or is it up to Hass to decide when it is moral and when not?

 

Let us turn it around for a moment. Is it really a wise advice she gives the Palestinians? Is it something which will improve their situation? No, not really. Here are some reasons for that:

 

First, we already have enough violence, the last intifada should be proof enough for anyone that violence is not the answer, that violence only hardens the attitude of the Israelis, who need to be part of a stable agreement ending the conflict, making it harder for any Israeli political attempts to improve the situation.

Or let us say, for the sake of argument, that the Israeli politicians don’t want peace. Still, these actions of violence juts gives them excuses for not doing anything to improve the situation. Whether the one or the other, these actions of violence will backfire.

 

Second, the youth (and yes, we are talking mostly about youngsters, who most likely are bored and think that they actually are doing a great deed for the Palestinian cause) are endangering themselves. Make no mistake, some settlers are armed, and very ready to use their weapons in self-defense. Note; self-defense. Hass is encouraging young people to put their life at risk, for her confused sense of justice, knowing very well that stone-throwers most likely won’t make any changes, besides worsen the situation for the Palestinians. How I can know that? You don’t see her with the Palestinians throwing stones, she knows very well the dangers connected to doing this.

 

But here is the worst reason why Hass’ encouragement is despicable. She could be a bridge, she could connect the two sides, be an intermediate partner for peace, taking advantage of her knowledge and status in order to promote actions, where people from both sides could create something together and improve relations. Instead of that she chooses to encourage to violence and by that saw hatred on both side.

 

Hass is not among the “disciples of Aharon”, those striving for peace, ready to put themselves out there, risking themselves, in order to connect striving parties, creating communications and establishing friendship on the two sides, such as for example the late R. Froman, z”l, was. She is rather among the followers of Korach, who rebelled against the establishment of the Jewish people, not in order to promote justice, but in order to gain prestige and honor not deserved.

 

And why a newspaper like HaAretz wants to take part in this, is above me to understand.

Israel, Hamas, and the futileness of discussions

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Most of you probably already know, Israel and Hamas (and helpers) have again engaged in a round of escalated violence. Yet again the escalated attempts at killing each other of will begin, and yet again the discussions about who is to blame, with direct reporting from here and there, and experts sitting in the studio (who often aren’t experts) will tell us all how wrong the one side is, and how much the other side suffers.

I still remember January 2009 and its aftermath. Too many people were killed, and all over Europe there was an outcry for justice, which apparently for some involved the killing of all Jews. It will come again, in the same level, this time though – at least for the aware person – in the background of the killing of more than 30,000 civilians in Syria, without any greater demonstrations taking place.

Yet again we will here blame directed at the Palestinians or at Israel, attempting to portray either of them as terrorists and murderers. Yet again people will be blind to the faults of their own side, only seeing the faults of the other side. I’ve already witnessed it to great extant in less than 24 hours.

 

Last time I took active part in the discussions, this time I most likely won’t. People are dying on both sides, mostly innocent civilians, children. This morning three Israeli civilians died as well as the baby child of a Palestinian journalist. Being a soon-to-be-father I can imagine the pain, just the thought of seeing my own unborn son, has v’halilah, makes me cry. This won’t bring any good with it, just as last time we won’t see this lead to the end of fightings and the killing of people. On the contrary this will expose a lot of hypocrisies, particularly the double standards being exposed in way of criticism.

 

At work I have two colleagues being personally involved in this round of fightings. Well, all of us living here are, all of us have friends or family being within range of fire. But these two have close family in Gaza and Beer Sheva, the one being a Palestinian the other a Jew. When they meet today at work they can talk about the safety of their loved ones, or rather, the chances that they won’t see them again. Who is to blame? Forget about that, just let them be able to meet after this is over and be able to say, Alhamdulillah, my family is in good health.

 

So who is to blame? Let’s just have a couple of words or three about that. And who will benefit from this? The Israeli right wing and the extremist religious fanatics among the Palestinians, they will benefit from this. Some people have expressed thoughts on how curious it is, that this always happens before Israeli elections. I don’t know about “always”, but it does happens, and yes, it is curious. These people present it as a plan from the Israeli right wing, a scheme in order to make them seem strong and protective in the eyes of the Israeli public. Is this true? Yes and no. The Israeli right wing cannot just start a war, just because they want to. It is true that Likud and other right wing parties are gaining much more from this, politically, than the left wing, and that this certainly is a good time (if any) for the escalation of violence. But what these critical people fail to acknowledge (of some reason or another) is that this doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Israel doesn’t just begin to bomb, just to do it. These people are totally ignoring the rockets being shot into Israel for a longer period or trying to excuse it. I’m sorry to say, I don’t accept any excuses for the conscious and deliberate targeting of civilians, no matter what. These critics – who blame Israel for breaking the ceasefire – also ignore the four rockets fired into Israel earlier yesterday before Israel targeted Ahmad Ja’abari, one of the top leaders in Hamas. This is ignoring facts, in order to make your understanding of what is going on fit into your bigger picture of things. And it is dishonest.

But here’s the deal. Even if Israel – per se – is only defending herself after the recent attacks on her civilians – and yes, I do believe that Israel has an obligation to do that, as any government in the world has, rather than killing them – the Israeli government, or Israel at large, does hold responsibility itself. Not necessarily for this particular escalation of violence, but for the overall situation we’re having. For making a mockery of the Palestinian side, though the Palestinian leaders also do that well. For not really wanting to give the Palestinian leadership something to bring their people, some acknowledgement of sort. Mahmoud Abbas lately stated in an interview, that he refused to hold the return of Palestinian refugees to Israel as a holy principle, acknowledging that it wouldn’t happen and Palestinians shouldn’t expect it to happen. For that he received a great deal of criticism among his own, while some Israeli politicians and opinion makers ridiculed him, refusing to take him serious. The same, of sorts, happened to Salem Fayyed when he tried to be productive, both among his own, but also among Israeli leaders. Fayyed is one person among the Palestinian leaders, which Israel really could trust, who was struggling (and still is) for honest and open relations, as well as attempting to fight corruption. He is today a shadow of what he was, after attempts to crush him both from Israelis and Palestinian leaders.

 

But also ordinary people are to blame. When we relate to each other as pure trash or bugs, then no wonder there is hatred and will for war, rather than attempts to create a future coexistence of some sort. Already now I have read statements like “make Gaza into a parking lot”, “bomb the fucking Arabs”, “a good Arab is a dead Arab”, “I won’t cry a single tear for any dead Palestinian, civilian or terrorist, since they all are terrorists”, as well as “Hitler lived for a purpose”, “I long to crush the Jew under my foot”, “a good Jew is a dead Jew”, and so on.

As related to earlier, also the one sided, black and white criticism is a cause for this. Just as critics of Israel is ignoring the faults of Hamas and other extremist groups, so do critics of the Palestinians ignore the faults of Israel, as already mention, but particularly the needs and suffering of the other side. Just as it should be acknowledged that Israeli children have to be near shelters at all times, also in schools, and that they didn’t choose this for themselves, neither did their parents, so it should be acknowledged that the Palestinians in Gaza didn’t accept this existence for themselves. Forget the “they voted for Hamas”. That is just ignorant. They didn’t vote for Hamas, they voted against Fatah and the corruption, and they really didn’t have an alternative.

 

There is a lot to be said, and many things probably will be said. The world will go crazy and fight about who is the sinner here, but the truth is that most of us are, and that the world are only helping to keep this conflict going with the ideologist or material interest there might be here, while refusing to relate pragmatically to what is going on.

In the meantime innocent will suffer and be killed, on both sides. Israelis and Palestinians are not two sides fighting each other, we are one side suffering from the same source. And we will continue to suffer until we realize this and relate to our situation pragmatically.

 

Happy New Year to all my Muslim brothers. I hope this latest escalation may be the last, inshallah, and that this new year will be a more peaceful one for all the children in ash-Sham, as well as in the rest of the world, inshallah.

The Religious’ studies of Religion

BS”D

 

I am presently working on an interesting article by Qadi Iyyad Zahalka on the question and status of Shari’a Courts in Israel, which I look forward to sharing with you, but first I really need to answer a comment by Herdian, to an older post by me.

 

Herdian asked:

“Maybe this is a semantic problem. Perhaps you meant that Jews are forbidden to study other religious texts in the same way that they study the Torah i.e. by pondering it, taking it into heart, and applying it to one’s own life. But scholarly studies of them are fine to certain extents.”

The question relate to the post, where I speculate on the claim that I, as a religious Jew, am not allowed to study the texts of other religions, based on the reading of Mishnah Sanhedrin 10:1, where I related to a number of Talmudic verses in order to nuance the verse and claim in question.

What Herdian states in his question actually is how I understand the reading of the Talmudic verses, that those pre-Mishnah texts, which are very similar to the Holy Jewish Scripture, are not allowed to be read/studied, while other texts after the time of the Mishnah (and the canonization of the TaNaCh) are okay to read, since they would be read as “one reads a letter”, that is, one would know that they are not part of the Holy Texts, and therefor one would’t subscribe them the same value or learn from them in the sense of “holy learning”. That is, studying them is not part of a spiritual process, but rather being a secular affair.

Herdian’s following comment is interesting:

“The age of Enlightenment is an interesting phenomenon. All religions in general will never be the same after passing through that age. It is a change of attitude towards life, which in some ways are in conflict with religious outlooks. And the battle still continues to this day. Religious people sholdn’t ignore what the Enlightenment has to say about religion, although they don’t agree with it. Rather, they should study it seriously, scholarly, intensively, and critically if they want to maintain their (intellectual) integrity.”

Herdian, I agree with you, at least in the general.

I’m not sure that the Enlightenment is of bigger importance than other historical schisms, for example the coming of Christianity and Islam, which – I believe – played a huge role for Judaism, just as the destruction of the two Temples did, as well as Holocaust and the establishment of the modern state of Israel. At least these events are deciding for Judaism and the Jewish people, both in self-awareness and development.

That I relate to a number of great events, and not the Enlightenment alone, probably also is the reason that I don’t see Herdian’s criteria (studying their religion seriously, scholarly, intensively, and critically) in order to maintain integrity. Basically, when I view some Jewish groups and movements who have taken upon themselves to study their religion according to these criteria, I am not so sure about their integrity, but that is just my personal opinion.

That doesn’t mean that I don’t agree with Herdian, indeed, the critical and scholarly study of Judaism, among learned Jews, has been an important element. I just need to mention people like Yehudah HaNasi, Sa’adya Gaon, Maimonides, Ibn ‘Ezra, and in more recent times, R. Soloveitchik and R. Yosef Qappah, to point to the important element of scholarly and critical study in Judaism.

More important, I believe, we should be aware that Religion, as other in other cases, is a product of the reality it exists in. Progress and developments in religions are reactions to what happens around them, and these reactions are left as historical imprints, being viewed and understood as something close to a revelation for the followers afterwards. Let me take one example to illustrate.

In Halachah it is not allowed for Jews to eat the food of non-Jews, since they might intermingle too much and marry their children to the children of the non-Jews. This prohibition is Talmudic, and there are discussions on whether one may eat food cooked by non-Jews, as long as the fire is lit by a Jew. For a more extensive discussion on this, see the following three discussions:

Foods Cooked by a non-Jew

Restaurants which employ non-Jewish Cooks

Legumes Cooked by a non-Jew

From the reasoning in these three discussions, we see the argument being that “[t]here are two reasons for the why our Sages decreed that a Jew may not eat food cooked by a non-Jew: The first is since a Jew may not marry a non-Jew, if Jews are accustomed to eating with non-Jews and mingling with them, this may cause intermarriage between them […] The second reason is because our Sages were concerned that the non-Jew may place non-kosher ingredients in the food and feed it to the Jew.”

See also Talmud Bavli Yevamoth 46a and Avodah Zarah 59a.

The prohibition is clearly based on a reaction to assimilation in Babylon. Based on the fear that the Jews would intermingle and become to friendly with the non-Jews, and from that marry their children with each other, the Talmudic Sages, z”l, saw to it to create boundaries which would make this intermingling difficult.

This is a decision taken, in order to protect the Jewish minority against the non-Jewish majority, and I wonder – had this been in the opposite case – whether they would have made the same decision, if they didn’t see the Jews marrying non-Jews.

Today in Israel – as is witnessed by the three discussions linked to – we are experiencing the aftermath of these rulings, but this time in the opposite situation, now in a state, where the Jews are the majority, and the non-Jews are the minority, as well as the consequences of this change. We see for example, in the discussion on legumes cooked by non-Jews, that there is leniency on canned legumes, since the danger that Jews intermingle with non-Jews does not exist in this case, and therefore there isn’t a problem in eating canned legumes, even when they are cooked by non-Jews, though other authorities do differ on this, relating instead to the chance that there might be non-kosher elements in the food.
And relating to the discussion on restaurants employing non-Jews, we see that as long as the fire is started by a Jew – in case of Ashkenazim – then the food is accepted, even if a non-Jew places the food (making the rationale be that the one starting the fire is the one cooking the food), whereas other – Sfardic – authorities rule that as long as the Jew does not place the food, then it is not kosher (relating the question of who cooks the food to who places the food, rather than who turns on the fire), though having R. Ovadyah Yosef, shelita, establishing the leniency that as long as the restaurant is owned by a Jew, and hence being under halachic authority and having to follow kashrut, then it is enough that a Jew lights the fire.

What this means in practice is, that the decision of R. Ovadyah Yosef, shelita, makes it possible for Jewish restaurant owners to survive in Israel, something which would be harder, had he not adopted this leniency, which again shows development being a reaction to developments in the society the religion exists in. Had we been in a society where the vast majority had been Jews, and only very few workers in a restaurant would have been non-Jews, making it a fact that there always would have been Jews in the restaurant, then I doubt that we would have seen this decision.

This leads us back to Herdian’s criteria. I don’t believe that his criteria alone is enough for integrity. Rather, the religious scholar need also understand the demands of the followers, the situation the religion exists in, as well as relating all his decisions to traditional rulings, as well as relating to Herdian’s criteria. But this has been the historical reality for those Jewish leaders, who managed to gather the Jews and strengthening the acceptance of the Jewish Rabbinical tradition, relating to the incidents and reality of their time, also before the Enlightenment.

That way we see that Ezra, a”s, related to the Jews’ return to Jerusalem, Yehudah HaNasi, z”l, relating to the need of conserving the Oral Tradition, Sa’adya Gaon’s understanding of a number of factors, Maimonides need to help the unlearned Jews having an easier time finding rabbinical rulings (as well as the general need of being an attentive and empathetic leader), and so on.

 

I hope that gave a more full picture of my thoughts on the issue.

The Israeli Millet System

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In an article, “The Israeli Millet System: Examining Legal Pluralism through Lenses of Nation-Building and Human Rights”,[1] Yüksel Sezgin puts a critical focus on the Israeli legal system, arguing for the problematic nature of legal pluralism in the state, and the consequences of it.

Besides the proposal of a conscious Israeli choice of the Ottoman Millet system, used in order to create a unified and single Jewish identity, and being able to make a clear differing between this Jewish identity and Israeli non-Jewish identities, Sezgin points out why legal pluralism can be a problem, at least in the case of Israel.

As mentioned in earlier posts, in Israel authority on matters of family and personal law has been granted religious courts, whether Jewish, Muslim, Christian or Druze.[2] This means that each religious group is only able to be married according to its religious laws, which again means that only those recognized as acceptable can be married. This differs from religion to religion, such as in case of Jews/Judaism is it only possible for Jews to marry Jews, while in case of Muslims/Islam is it possible for Muslim men to marry Jewish or Christian women, but not for Muslim women to marry Jewish or Christian men, and this is considered law of the state. In case of divorce this is also done according to the respective religion and its laws, which means that Jewish and Muslim women basically are placed in a worse situation than ditto men.

Should a Jewish man and Muslim woman fall in love and choose to marry, this is only possible outside Israel, but once married they would have to be divorced according to the laws of Israel, even if divorced outside Israel this divorce not necessarily being accepted by Israeli (religious) authorities.

The problematic nature of this is obvious, particularly considering that freedom of religion is secured in Israeli law, which might mean that one can choose any religion he/she wishes for, at least in theory (in practice it might be harder, depending on religion converting away from and which converting to). Basically what is meant, seen from practice, is that one has freedom of religion, but not freedom from religion. If you want to get married, it can only be through a religious court and according to your respective religion, rendering the choice of “no religion” void.

We are left with two problems already, when it comes to the nature of “freedom of religion”, since we see from the already mentioned that religion is not something you can choose to or from, it is forced on you, you can only choose which religion. And your choice of love is not free from you either, leaving anyone not accepted by your religion in the category of “no-go”.

This is a clear clash of Israeli family law and international human rights, but it doesn’t stop there. In case of divorce do we see the clash between the thought of equality, something Israel is claiming, and religious laws. In Judaism a man can give a declaration of divorce, with or without the acknowledgement of the woman, while the same is not the case does the woman want a divorce. There has been implemented ways of forcing the man to give the divorce, should he object, such as daily bills, loosing of drivers license and work license, and even imprisonment, but it is rarely enforced, since many rabbinical judges sees this as going contrary to Halachah, and such do not use this enforcement.

In case of Muslims a woman is ensured payment for a certain time, but it has been shown that Muslim women receive less than divorced Jewish and Christian women, which is another example of inequality.

This is of course problematic in a state, which calls itself Democratic, at least if we understand the “Democratic” as in securing equality and keeping human rights, rather just than “one man, one vote”.

As I pointed out in my last post, there are difference between the Jewish and the Muslim case, having examples overlapping between the two cases. For example does the Muslim man have more choices of spouse than the Jewish ditto.

Sezgin criticizes Israel’s embracing the Ottoman Millet system, both in terms of nation building, that is, as a tool used in order to create distinct groups, making it easier to control them, as well as in terms of human rights, criticizing the enforced religious rule on family and personal matters.

I see the problematic nature, at least in the latter case (I am not so sure we should be cynical about the choice of the Millet system, considering the challenging situation Israel found herself in at the establishment of the state, though Sezgin does refuse this excuse), but as shown from Hofri’s article in my last post, the religious are getting ground in Israel, and the consequence of the growing secularization of the Israeli legal system – which Sezgin doesn’t seem to acknowledge – does create the need, for the religious, for alternatives, which could end creating a split with the state, and the question is whether the state wants or can handle that challenge. And this is not only in case of Jews, but also the Muslims, where we see an Islamic Movement challenging the Shari’a Courts, something which most likely only will be strengthened, the more secular the state attempts to make law in Israel. We will later see that the Shari’a courts are attempting to remove any secular Israeli influence, in order to answer the challenge from the Islamic Movement, but should we get a pure secular family law in Israel, who will then take the religious marriages, and by that controlling part of the religious rituals?

I hope to be able to give some thoughts on the clash between human rights and religious courts later on, when I get more material covered. For now it will mostly be speculation and guesses, but again, I’m only sharing thoughts.

 

Take care out there.


[1] Brought in Israeli Law Review, Vol. 43, No. 3, pp. 631-654, 2010.

[2] Israel is the only country to acknowledge the Druzes as a distinct group from the Muslim majority group, something Sezgin argues is part of a strategy of dividing groups, in order to control the easier.

Jewish Shari’a in Israel

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Or rather “the State of Halachic Courts in the Jewish State of Israel”.

As part of the curriculum for my studies in Shari’a in Israel, I read Adam Hofri’s “A Plurality of Discontent: Legal Pluralism, Religious Adjudication and the State”, which deals with the question of legal pluralism – i.e. the existence of more than one legal body in one state, as is the case in Israel (the secular legal body of the state, as well as the religious courts), and whether a modern state can “provide its citizens, residents and others subject to its power with a just and stable legal order by referring them to norms associated with their several religions and enforced by state courts”. He deals with the situation of Halachich Courts, i.e., Jewish religious courts, particular nonstate ones, which appear more and more. Basically, he argues by focusing on Israel as a case study, legal pluralism, where the state gives room for religious courts to cover at least some legal fields, most often matters of family and personal law, will only encourage the religious to struggle for more influence and authority.

 

In Israel we have seen the later years a growing rate of Halachic nonstate courts, which offers an alternative to the secular courts on matters of economical disputes, but not so much on matters of family law or personal law, which he explains as being because the latter is already covered by Rabbinical authorities, that is, the Rabbinate supervised by the Haredim (ultra-Orthodox), and as such holding recognition from the group behind the Halachic nonstate courts, the conservative element among the Religious Zionist, the HarDal (Haredim Dati-Leumi). He also explains why criminal cases is not covered, by relating to the most likely aggressive response by the state, should they choose to cover these cases.

 

It is no secret that the religious influence in Israel (as well as other places), have grown within the last decade (or even more). This – of course – also leaves its imprints on the legal system and the relation between the secular state and her religious citizens in regards of legal questions, particularly in context of the Judaic focus on law, so that there will be growing demands for religious alternatives and conflicts between religious and the state (as for example was the case in 2006, when the Supreme Court of Israel ruled, that the Rabbinical courts could not hear private and commercial cases as arbitrators, something the Rabbinical courts has since ignored, though the number of cases brought to them are descending since).

 

Still, it could wonder why Religious Zionists chose to establish nonstate courts, rather than put pressure or force the state to accept a growing religious influence in its courts (which I personally believe is happening), to which Hofri offers six reasons:

 

1: Identification of the State Legal System as a Standard-Bearer for Secularism.

2: Delegitimation of the State Rabbinical Courts’ Practice of Arbitrating Private Law and Commercial Cases.

3: An Increased Supply of Religious Zionist Halachic Experts.

4: The Religious Radicalization of Part of Religious Zionist Society.

5: The Impact of Israel’s 2005 “Disengagement” from the Gaza Strip and Northern Samaria.

6: Hopes that Non-Observant Use of Halachic Adjudication will Encourage the Adoption of Halacha as State Law.

 

That is, the Religious Zionist, or at least the more conservative element among them, see the growing secularism in Israel, or more at least in the Israeli legal system, where the Supreme Court in the recent years mostly have ruled against the Religious Zionists or what they hold as important, such as the settlement activity.

Furthermore they see that the Rabbinical authorities have lost influence and authority on matters, where the Religious Zionists otherwise would have turned to their courts, which leads them to create their own alternatives. It is not without reason that commercial matters is the most covered field in Halachic nonstate courts.

Also the growing number of Religious Zionists being educated in Halachah at Yeshivot, as well as Religious Zionists with a Rabbinical degree receiving even more advanced training in Halachical issue, as well as their feeling with “real life”, something the Haredim are lacking, is a reason for wanting to create more job opportunities.

We see the radicalization of the Religious Zionist right, where some groups even are calling to struggle against the (secular) state of Israel, as a protection of Jewish values and homeland, thinking in terms of wanting to establish a Jewish religious alternative to the secular courts. Where some Religious Zionists are becoming more “secular”, wearing their religion “lightly” and taking more part in the secular society, others are becoming more “haredized”, turning closer to the strict understanding of Halachic law and principles.

The disengagement from Gaza and some settlements in 2005 made the Religious Zionists feel let down by the state, even betrayed, which created a split between them and the state. They don’t trust the state now as they did before, and are more ready to confront and challenge the state on principles, which they hold as important, such as the implementation of Halachah.

And finally, some Religious Zionist halachic thinkers are hoping that by creating a cheaper and more effective legal alternative to the secular courts, they can make the less religious or even non-observant public realize the ethical principles of Halachah, and by that making it easier to implement Halachah into Israeli law.

 

This is of course mostly related to Jewish religious law in Israel, but I believe that we can see some of the same factors in the Muslim case. First and foremost, Israeli Palestinian Muslims have never felt close to the state of obvious reasons, so relating to a state institution might seem hard already. We also do experience a radicalization of Muslim youth, both in the territories and in Israel proper, where the Islamic Movement has gain ground within the last two decades and publicly is challenging the Shari’a courts and their qadis.

But where I see a big difference is in the attitude of religious judges in the Jewish courts to the nonstate courts, compared to the Muslim ditto to the Islamic Movement’s call on nonstate Shari’a courts. Where the former is positive, the latter is negative. How this is portrayed and why, is something I’m going to look into later on.

Shari’a in Israel

BS”D

First, let me send thoughts to all the victims from Sandy, whether in the States or elsewhere. If any of you readers felt the impact, then let me express my relief that you are able to read this post by now. I sincerely hope that you weren’t affected too much of the storm.

 

Back to the title.

Yes, you read correct.

Israel is – or at least claims to be – a secular Jewish democracy, but yet is religious law part of Israeli law. One might not be so surprised that Jewish religious law, Halachah, is influencial on Israeli secular law, Mishpat Ivrit, but some might wonder why and how Shari’a can be influential on Israeli law.

There’s a good explanation. Israeli law is to a certain extent based on the model of Ottoman law, which was taken over by the British during the mandate period, and now in Israeli law. To be more precisely, based on Ottoman law Israel recognize a number of religious groups, which are governing themselves according to their respective religious law, in matters related to family law and privacy law. It is clearest expressed in matters of marriage and divorce, but also guardianship is falling under the religious courts, but whereas Israeli secular law rarely relates to the two first, the latter is more a focus of controversy, as well as cases involving the question of equality (as is the case for most conflicts between Israeli secular law and religious law in Israel). More about that in another post.

Israel has eight regional Shari’a courts, in Bir al-Sabi’, Jerusalem, Yaffo, Taybe, Baqa al-Gharbiya, Hayfa, Nazareth, and Acco, as well as the Shari’a court of Appeals, sitting in Jerusalem, which works as the court of appeals (hence the name). The Shari’a Court of Appeals plays a crucial role in the development of Shari’ah in Israel, since it is this institution which takes the most confrontations with the Israeli legal system, as well as being able to overrule rulings from the regional courts. It is headed by Qadi Ahmad Natour, and besides him has Qadi Farouk Zoebi and Qadi Zachi Madlaj, all elected in 1994 on permanent status (first time that happened).

The Shari’a Court of Appeal is challenged from three sides; the Israeli Supreme Court of Justice, on matters where Israeli secular law and the rulings of the Shari’ah Court of Appeals conflict, from the Islamic Movement(s), which questions and challenges the authority of the Court, and from feminist groups, challenging the lack of sensibility to the status of women and human rights.

 

There are a number of scholars dealing with the subject, mostly Israelis (Jewish and Palestinians), but three of them stand out in particular, Aharon Layish, who have written indepth on a number of subject connected to Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh) within Israel (both in case of the Shari’a courts and conflicts between the courts and the litigants) and historically. Moussa Abu Ramadan, who has written very indepth on the rulings and practices of the Shari’ah courts, particularly the Shari’ah Court of Appeals. And Alisa Rubin Peled, who has written about the debates and attitudes to the Shari’ah courts.

It is these three that I will base most of my study of Israeli Shari’ah upon, but still relate to others as well.

 

This post is a little introduction to my study of Shari’ah in Israel, and I hope there will come many more posts. From what I have read so far it really seems like an interesting subject, not only because it’s about Isreal and Shari’ah (in context of each other), but also because it raises some interesting thoughts on the relation between religion and a/the secular society it exists within. What is the role of religion in a modern society? Where should the borders go, if there should be any at all? Is it possible to implement religious law into secular law? And so on.

 

Enough for this time. Take care out there.

The Religious Fanatic!

BS”D

First off, sorry. Forgive me for my laziness these days (or should I rather write weeks), but studies, searching for work, being (attempting to be) a good husband, and so on just takes all my time and “creative” energy.

That aside, I need to write – at least once in a while – and today is yet another one of those time.

I will ask you, my dear readers, here in the beginning of the post, to imagine a Muslim woman bringing in a non-Muslim boyfriend/lover/very dear friend into the house of her parents or, let’s say, the local mosque. Now, we can probably all imagine how provocative that would be, at least if it was known that he was a non-Muslim, but let’s imagine that one of the Muslim worshipers present (or close family members of the house) would be so provoked that he would get up, take a knife (or maybe even a spear, any kind of weapon really) and in one cut kill both the Muslim girl and her boyfriend. How would we react? Well, obviously many of us probably would condemn the action and call it religious fanaticism. Yet, this was what one of the Israelites, called Pinhas, did in the Torah portion of last week (in Parashat Balaq), and – to make matters worse – he was praised for it, being the cause of the removal of the wrath of God, something he is being praised for also in this week’s Torah portion.

I’m not going to defend or explain it, only mention that the Torah itself mention that this was what saved the Israelites from God’s anger, after acting, well, rather wrong.

So why am I mentioning this? Well, I want to do a little commercial. Not for religious fanaticism, but rather for a web-page helping boys becoming Bar Mitzvah to prepare for their Bar Mitzvah. You see the connection? No, that comes here:

See, the coming Saturday, Shabbat, is my Hebrew birthday, kaf-gimmel b’Tammuz, and in Judaism your Bar Mitzvah falls on your 13 year birthday. Now, I am clearly being a little older than that, but when you become Bar Mitzvah you become responsible, and that is often shown publicly by reading either all the Torah portion or at least a part of it in front of the community. That can be rather terrifying, and some might wish that some religious nutnik would pierce either themselves or someone else with a spear, just not to have to do it. But alas, we are long past the days when religious zeal would be praised (at least in some parts of the world), and I would much prefer to listen to a nervous boy reciting the Torah with his puberty voice, than to see someone being pierced in the middle of the congregation, but maybe that’s just me.

Back on track. As you might have guessed – if not, then let me point it out – since my Hebrew birthday is in this week, this week’s Parashah – the Hebrew word for ‘portion’, relating to the Torah portion being read that week – is “my” Parashah. Parashat Pinhas. Yes, my Parashah begins with the appraise of a religious zealot, a group I have some problems with today, but which I nevertheless find some pride in having as my portion (if only I ever get the chance to PIERCE the Jew bringing a tjikse into the congregation! Maybe if I was in the States).

Anyway, keep on the track. When reciting the Torah a tune is normally used. Sometimes, for example when I am reciting the Torah, the tune sounds rather odd and not very melodious, but recited by a person with a good voice, and particularly a person trained in reciting, the recital can be very beautiful. There are various tunes, depending on the tradition, such as the Ashkenazi (the typical North-European/Western tradition), the Sfaradi (the more oriental), the Moroccan (gives itself), the Yerushalmi (also oriental and close to the Sfaradi), the Yemenite (guess who uses that one), and so on.

My favorite is the Moroccan, being the – in my ears – most melodious and various of them, and that is also the one I “trained” my recital in, though it certainly is hard to hear when I recite. This tune – from my own experiences – was most beautiful expressed in a synagogue in Tel Aviv, which I attended some years ago, lead by R. Zerbib, sh’litah, a very warm and intelligent rabbi, doing a great job bringing Torah to the “simple Jews” in what is considered the secular capital of Israel (party’s going on non-stop). I am normally not that much of a emotional person, but hearing this reciter (I never got his name) did bring tears in my eyes. It was simply beautiful. Anyway, should you ever get to Tel Aviv and want to attend at an open and welcoming synagogue, then I can recommend this one, Habayim Yesharesh, found on 10 Nathan HaHacham St., a side-street to Ben Yehudah. The community is mostly French and Moroccan Jews, but English is spoken, so don’t hesitate to give them a visit.

That was the first commercial I wanted to make. The second is for a Bar Mitzvah page, called – surprisingly – Bar Mitzvah, which offers help, advice and training for boys becoming Bar Mitzvah, as well as a lot of other things for the rest of us. Part of what can be found is a trainer in recital with the Ashkenazi, the Moroccan, and the Sfardi tune, found in the lower menu (you will see it when you enter the page) under “blessings and readings”. Check it out, also if you’re not practicing for Bar Mitzvah, it’s definitely a look worth.

Shavu’a Tov!

It’s been some time

BS”H

It’s been more than a week since my last post. I’m sorry, but I simply have been too preoccupied with things connected to my studies and private life. I’m still alive though, B”H.

Anyway. After this Shabbat I could turn on the computer to two news which made me feel a little, well, confused in feelings.

The first one, and I choose on purpose to talk about the negative one first, rather want to end in the positive, is about a group of racist Jews feeling that it’s their right to let our their frustrations on others, who are attempting to build something constructive. In Israel, between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv-Jaffo, there’s a small village called Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salâm, which has as its mission to encourage coexistence, and it indeed has a mixed population of Arabs and Jews.

The night to Friday some idiots decided to let out their frustration of what is going on with Ulpana (an illegal settlement decided to be removed) on these people, who have nothing whatsoever to do with that decision. Not that that worries these idiots much, they are controlled by hatred to anything which is seen as being opposed to their goals. They present the worst of Israel, showing contempt for innocent, for positive attitudes, for the dreams and hopes of people, only considering what they feel is “right.” They don’t like you if you’re not a Jew, and they don’t like you even if you’re a Jew and you’re not a hundred and ten percent on their side.

It pisses me off. All this “price tag”-shtuyot is, well, shtuyot (bullshit, sorry), only intended to destroy everything for people who are seen as “enemies,” whether they have anything to do with these people or not. They are going after the innocent. And it pisses me off. That people who are claiming to be righteous in their approach to thing, can act so unjustly, and then claiming Judaism as the morality for acting such, is despicable, and these people doing this are simple criminals.

On the other hand I could also open the computer to a story about Israeli doctors treating wounded and sick Syrian civilians on the Turkish-Syrian border, knowing that they probably won’t be shown any gratitude for this act, knowing that most of the people they are treating them, probably hate them. But yet they do it. Not to gain from it, but only to give.

This is Israel. Hatred and caring, destroying and sacrificing. And it sometimes leaves me confused.

Studying the Talmud

BS”D

Something I have been thinking about for a long time, and which I have promised to per video but simply never can make myself get around, is to do a study of the Talmud, if not all the Talmud (that is going to take some time, maybe also too much time), then at least some. And not only in order to study it or to talk about it, but also to study the reasoning of the Talmud, especially the different ways of discussions in the Mishnah and the Gemarrah.

But before we get there an introduction is in its place.

First off, there are two Talmuds: The Talmud Bavli and the Talmud Yerushalmi. Why there are two and which one I will be relating to will be explained a little later. The structure of the two Talmuds are very alike, they consist of a textual body with commentaries being written around them, elucidating the text. The textual body consist of two parts, the mishnaic text, which is the foundation, and the text of the Gemarrah, which takes the most space by far. The reason for this is that the mishnaic text is the actual body being commented on by the Gemarrah.

The Mishnah:

In Judaism (that is, Rabbinic Judaism, which from now on in this context simply will be called Judaism for convenience) there are two bodies of holy Scriptures, the Bible (called TaNaCh) and the Mishnah. The Bible is structured in three parts, the Torah, the Nevi’im (Prophetical Books), and the Ketuvim (the Scriptures), thereby forming the word T-N-K (pronounced TaNaCh). The Torah, which is the five Books of Moshe Rabenu, A”S, is the Holy Book in Judaism, being the foundation for every commandment and principle deduced by the Sages. It is known by other names as well, describing its nature in comparison with the other Jewish Scriptures, namely Torah she’bichtiv, the Written Torah, and Humash, the name being based on the number of books (the number five in Hebrew is hemesh). That the Torah, the Humash, is written is important in relation to that part of the Torah, which is believed to have been given Oral, namely the Oral Tradition or Torah she’be’al-Peh (the Torah which is in the mouth), which has been transferred orally from generation to generation, from Moshe Rabenu, A”S, until R. Yehuda HaNasi, Z”L, who saw the need to write down the Oral Tradition in the beginning of the third century CE.

The Mishnah is organized in six “Sedarim,” from the word ‘seder,’ which means ‘order.’ These Sedarim are organized in massechot, tractates, which each has a number of chapters, which each has a number of ‘mishnayot.’ The term “mishnah” with a small ‘m’ is the decisions brought down through the ages, though not all are going back to Sinai. In differing between the Mishnah in its total and the single mishnah, I will write it with capital m and without.

The six Sedarim are as follows:

Seder Zera’im, which deals with agriculture, though the first tractate, Massechet B’rachot, which we will be dealing with in the beginning, is concerned with prayers and blessings. It has eleven tractates in it.

Seder  Mo’ed, which deals with the festivals, and which has twelve tractates.

Seder Nashim, which deals with issues concerning women, such as the various forms of marriage, divorce, female impurity and so on. It has seven tractates.

Seder Nezikin, which deals with civil law and the structure of the courts, as well as punishments, idol worship and witnesses. Here we also find the ethical tractate, Pirqei Avot. It has ten tractates, though the three first, Bava Kamma, Bava Metzia, and Bava Batra, originally was one tractate.

Seder Qodashim, which deals with issues related to holiness. It has eleven tractates.

Seder Tehorot, which deals with purities. It has twelve tractates.

There are other mishnaic materials besides the Mishnah. When R. Yehudah HaNasi, Z”L, had organized the Mishnah there was still mishnaic material left. This material was collected by his disciples in a work called Tosefta, which means ‘addition,’ a work which is being referred to by various rabbis in the discussions of the Gemarrah as proof-text, in their attempts to strengthen or attack a position. But in comparison to the mishniyot of the Mishnah they have lesser authority.

The Mishnah is written in what is called “mishnaic Hebrew,” a form of Hebrew being slightly simpler than the Biblical Hebrew, showing its traces of being a spoken more than a written language. It has some differences from Modern Hebrew, such as the suffixes in the plural, but any Hebrew speaker should be able to read and understand the mishnaic text without any noteworthy troubles.

The Gemarrah

Not long after the death of R. Yehudah HaNasi, Z”L, the compilation of the Mishnah, and the gathering of the Tosefta, the need to explain the mishniyot in the Mishnah appeared, both because the Jews found themselves under new situation as well as the Mishnah being presented in a very straightforward language, which leaves many details unexplained, something I believe will appear from the beginning of our study.

Therefore the rabbis of the religious centers, found in two geographical areas, namely in Eretz Yisrael, what constitutes the Galilee, Judea, and surroundings, and Babylon, began to comment on the Mishnah.  Their comments, which were written in the spoken language of their time, Aramaic, show proof of their geographical background, such as local features being used in their examples and discussions. There are other differences as well, such as the type of Aramaic, the Babylonian Gemarrah being written in Eastern Aramaic, and the Palestinian Gemarrah in Western Aramaic. Also the elements differ, the Babylonian having a lot of Persian and Babylonian mythical elements incorporated.

The Babylonian Gemarrah is the most extensive of the two, having a century more to be edited and worked upon, finished most likely around 550 CE, though there has been proved later editing, conducted by the anonymous group of rabbis called Savoraim.

The Palestinian Gemarrah was never finished, being disrupted around 425 CE caused by anti-Jewish pogroms by the Christian emperor Theodosius II, and therefore lack a lot of material as well as organization. It does hold material which the Babylonian Gemarrah doesn’t cover, especially in context of agriculture, since that issue was important for the Jews in Eretz Yisrael, while not for the Jews in Babylon, having the commandments only being connected to the Land of Israel. Therefore the Babylonian Gemarrah is considered the more authoritative of the two, except on issues where it doesn’t mention anything.

From this we find one Mishnah and two Gemarrot, one Babylonian Gemarrah, which together with the Mishnah is called the Babylonian Talmud or Talmud Bavli, and one Palestinian Gemarrah, which together with the Mishnah is called the Palestinian Talmud or Talmud Yerushalmi.

Mentioning the Mishnah in this context one thing has to be pointed out, namely that there are some smaller differences on the mishnaic text in the two Talmuds. I have dealt with this issue in some earlier posts, which you can read here, here and here. This might have been caused by the Mishnah being transferred orally in the Land of Israel even at the time of the disruption of the Palestinian Gemarrah, causing the changes in language as will always appear through time, while the mishnaic text most likely was considered holy in its written form from the beginning in Babylon.

Regarding the Sages. We will see that a lot of Sages will be mentioned by names, and I will try to explain when and where they lived. But sometimes the Gemarrah talks about ‘Tanna.’ This is the title for the Sages living in the Mishnaic times, that is, from the time before the compilation of the Mishnah. The Sages of the Gemarrah are called Amoraim.

With this said (or written) I feel that we are ready to begin the study of the Talmud.