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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

BS”D

 

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

BS”D

 

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.

Time for Exams!

BS”D

The finals for this semester are closing in, and it provokes the inevitable question: What am I going to write about in my assignments?

This summer will present me for five finals, which all need a written assignment, one of them being a seminar paper, so there will be a lot of writing, which is fine, I do love to write, but it also takes a lot of extra reading. Nothing to do about that, besides to read.

What is nice about this semester, contrary to the last, is that I have more freedom to choose subjects, so the subjects will be more interesting for me. Anyway, as far as I have decided the subjects I am going to write about are:

The Use of Quranic Verses in Umayyad Architecture: In the course Archaeology and History of Muslim Jerusalem I have been wondering where to put my focus. Since the course mostly focused on the archaeology, and not so much in the history (well, it is part of it), I wondered how to combine it with my study of religion. My decision fell on the use of Quranic verses, which seems to be have very widespread during the Umayyad Caliphate, e.g. in the Dome of the Rock, so I thought that it could be interesting to see how the Quran was used as part of architecture and whether it was meant as some sort of educational tool, as was the case with other expressions of thought, e.g. in mosaics.

Christian Thought on Free Will: In the Early Christianity and Late Antiquity we have dealt most of this semester with studies on Augustine. In one of the classes we dealt with another Christian and contemporary of Augustine, Pelagius, who did provoke some controversy, among other thing on the question of free will and original sin. I found the thought interesting, especially from a theological point of view. Do we really have free will? If not, is God then Just? And if so, is God then All Powerful? It’s going to be interesting to see what these two thinkers thought of it.

Abraham ibn ‘Ezra’s response to Muslim Polemical Arguments: In the Medieval Jewish Exegesis we have dealt with the commentaries and methodology of four great Jewish commentators from the medieval Western Europe, namely Rashi, his grandson Rashbam, Abraham ibn ‘Ezra, and RaMBaN. Since I am mostly focused in the meetings between Islam and Judaism, I have decided to focus on ibn ‘Ezra and possible answers against Muslim attacks on the Jewish faith. I have to admit that I’m not too sure whether he really did deal with it, so I might change focus to his answers to the Karaites instead, in order to keep my focus on the Muslim world.

The Jewish Convert’s Attack on Judaism, and the Jewish Thinker’s Responses: The Battle over the Bible has really been an interesting course, where I’ve learned a lot of new things concerning approaches to the Bible as text and as phenomenon, both concerning Jewish, Christian and Muslim attitudes. Especially one Muslim caught my attention, the 12th century Jewish convert, Samaw’el al-Maghrabi, who wrote a polemical work against the Jewish faith called Ifham al-Yahoud, Silencing the Jew. This work apparently did become rather known, since we see a lot of later responses to it. One who responded rather early is Maimonides, though not on all of the Ifham, and probably not directly on it either. In his Iggeret Teyman, Letter to Yemen, he responds on some of the claims which is being brought forth in the Ifham. It could be interesting to see how the two view the Bible, and how Samaw’el’s approach differ from earlier Muslim approaches to the Bible.

Jewish Influences on Early Islamic Jurisprudence: This is one I’m really looking forward to, and which I have spend a lot of time considering. In the Early Islamic Texts and the Formation of the Muslim Community I have chosen to write my first seminar paper. I did decide from the outset to focus on Islamic law, since I feel that there are a lot of similarities between law in Islam and in Judaism, both in rules but also in methodology and attitudes. It is going to be a challenging subject though, leaving me with four problems to choose between. The first is the obvious comparative study of Jewish and Islamic Jurisprudence, where I wondered about whether there are any Jewish influences in the way early Islamic scholars approached the deduction of laws. One reason why I think so is the contrast in method there existed between the two earliest schools of law in Islam, al-Maliki and al-Hanafi, the former being situated in Medina and Mecca, and traditionally focused on tradition, based on the logic that since the prophet lived there, then he would naturally correct people who did things incorrect as well as showing the people the correct ways, whereas the latter, situated in Iraq, was much more inclined to relate to logical reasoning, something they might have learned from the many great Jewish scholars which had their ancient dwelling there, namely in the old Babylon. It wouldn’t be totally weird for the early Muslims to have relations to the Jewish scholars of Iraq. This doesn’t mean that there was influences or that they were total in so far as there were. The problem is how to relate to the matter, do we choose to make an external or internal study, do we compare the apparent similarities or do we go in and focus on the approach and outlook.

The interest in this particular subject was raised by two articles, one by Judith Romney Wegner, “Islamic and Talmudic Jurisprudence: The Four Roots of Islamic Law and their Talmudic Counterparts,” and one by Joseph E. David, “Legal Comparability and Cultural Identity: The Case of Legal Reasoning in Jewish and Islamic Tradition.”

In Islamic Jurisprudence there are four sources traditionally, two revealed sources, Quran and the Sunnah of the prophet (as it is found in the Hadith-literature), as well as Ijma, which means consensus, as well as Qiyas, which means analogical reasoning. The two first sources are agreed upon a hundred percent by all four schools, where as the two latter sources are subject for discussions.

Wegner, in her article, argues that the four sources are influenced by Jewish sources in the Talmud, the Quran being the Islamic answer on the Written Torah, the Sunnah on Oral Torah (written down in what is called Mishnah, which root is close to the root of sunnah), the consensus of the Ulamah, the learned Islamic scholars, being the Islamic answer on the consensus of the Sages, and Qiyas, legal reasoning being the answer on the Talmudic reasoning, two forms of reasoning which seem pretty similar, at least from an external point of view. And it is here where David comes in with his article, where he deals with different approaches to the comparative study, attempting to present a new approach, “jurisprudential consciousness”, based on the conscious ideas, principles, concepts, beliefs and reasoning of the jurist, which contrary to Wegner’s approach is a much more internal approach, leaving a different impression than the first.

An example is in its place, taken from David’s article. In both the Talmudic reasoning as well as in Islamic reasoning there is an understanding of judicial error, that is, a judge who makes a faulty decision. There are two categories under this subject, those faults which are based on lack of knowledge or understanding of the revealed sources, and those which is caused by flawed legal reasoning. In both Judaism and Islam the former has to be corrected, whereas the latter is accepted. And in both religions the former is based on precisely the same criteria, going against the revealed sources (in Judaism the Written and the Oral Torah, and in Islam the Quran and the Sunnah), where is the criteria differs in the latter case. In the Talmud the flaw based on legal reasoning is based on the wrong choice of two differing opinions, which have never been dealt with. It can be the case of two Tannaim (Mishnaic Sages) or two Amoraim (later Sages from the Gemarrah) who have a disagreement which was never solved. A later judge might then base his decision on one of the two opinions, whereas the general practice follows the other opinion. It is a fault, since he should have followed the normal practice, but it is still accepted. In case of Islamic thought, at least according to Shafi’i, the fault is caused based on flawed legal reasoning based on the principle of qiyas, analogy, not on the judge deciding the wrong of two differing opinions. And here we see a contrast between Jewish and Islamic legal reasoning.

But this is only the first of the four possible problems I might choose among. That is, how much similarity or difference are there between Jewish and Islamic legal thought, and can this be a sign of Jewish influence on early Islamic legal thought? The next problem is to establish connections. Namely, are there any Jewish converts who had influence on early Islamic law? If not, can we then assume that early Muslim legal scholars met with Jewish scholars and discussed with them? That is also an interesting question, a question which demands a different approach, focusing on historic accounts on interfaith meetings between Jews and Muslims within the first centuries of Islamic time.

The third question deals with the reasoning and methods of the “ahl al-ra’y,” the people of reasoning, the early Islamic scholars in Iraq, an important step in understanding the way the resonated in their dealing with legal questions. The reason for the importance of this, is obvious. If Shafi’i, a third century AH Islamic scholar, can be said to be influenced by Jewish thought, whereas the earlier Islamic scholar in Iraq differ strongly, then the question is how much Jewish legal thought influenced Islamic legal thought, and if at all.

The fourth problem is the already mentioned difference in approach found in the Meccan-Medinan legal thought, as expressed by imam al-Maliki, and the Iraqi legal thought, expressed by imam abu Hanifa, and their disciples. There are differences and the root and cause of these differences can be hinting to some Jewish influences on the one of them, so far as we can point to any similarity in the legal thought of the two religions.

My problem is to choose only one of these for problems, not having room or time enough to deal seriously with all of them. And I am in doubt which one of them to focus on.

So, there you are. This is my program for next two months. I’m looking forward to share thoughts and progress with you.

The Five Pillars of Judaism – Pilgrimage

BS”D

You have read Amani’s post on the fifth pillar of Islam, Hajj, right? If not, then hurry, it’s been ready to read already a long time now (witnessing my laziness, not having written on the Jewish response before now).

I think the thought of the Hajj is a beautiful thought, and by limiting the commandment of Hajj to only being performed once, I would certainly encourage all Muslims to go, at least once. The thought of removing any signs of status, level of wealth, or what else can make difference between people, but being on the same level, that is certainly something I would encourage anyone, who could, to experience.

Mecca is central in the Hajj, and so is Jerusalem in the Jewish version, HaShalosh Regalim, literally the “three feet,” hinting at the walking up to Jerusalem, which was the commandment when the Temple still stood. Today, when we are left without the Temple, there are no commandments to do the three pilgrimages, which were performed by the Jews living within the boundaries of Eretz Yisrael, the Land of Israel, in relation to the three festivals, Pessah, Shavu’ot, and Sukkot, each having their own special characteristics, the Pessah focusing on the leaving Egypt, the Shavu’ot of receiving the Torah, and the Sukkot having Jerusalem being full of small huts, where people spend the seven days of Sukkot.

The commandments to these three pilgrimages can be found in the Torah, in Shmot (Exodus) 23:14-17, where it is stated that:

Three times you shall slaughter sacrifices to Me during the year. You shall observe the festival of unleavened bread; for seven days you shall eat unleavened bread as I have commanded you, at the appointed time of the month of springtime, for then you left Egypt, and they shall not appear before Me empty handed. And the festival of the harvest, the first fruits of your labors, which you will sow in the field, and the festival of the ingathering at the departure of the year, when you gather in [the products of] your labors from the field. Three times during the year, all your males shall appear before the Master, the Lord.

Though it isn’t stated that this has to be done in Jerusalem, the fact that sacrifices are ordered, means that it can only be done in Jerusalem. And this was a commandment on all male Jews, as is apparent from the last verse, commanding all males to appear before God, Who had His “resting place” in Jerusalem.

It isn’t clear that Shavu’ot also is included here, since the verses only talk about Pessah (the festival of unleavened bread) and Sukkot (the festival of the harvest), but it is hinted at with the commandment of going to Jerusalem three times during the year.

The next place in the Torah is in Shmot (Exodus) 34:18-23, where is stated that:

The Festival of Unleavened Cakes you shall keep; seven days you shall eat unleavened cakes which I have commanded you, at the appointed meeting time of the month of spring, for in the month of spring you went out of Egypt. All that opens the womb is Mine, and all your livestock [that] bears a male, [by] the emergence of ox or lamb. And a firstborn donkey you shall redeem with a lamb; if you do not redeem it, you shall decapitate it; every firstborn of your sons you shall redeem, and they shall not appear before Me empty handed. Six days you may work, and on the seventh day you shall rest; in plowing and in harvest you shall rest. And you shall make for yourself a Festival of Weeks, the first of the wheat harvest, and the festival of the ingathering, at the turn of the year. Three times during the year shall all your male[s] appear directly before the Master, the Lord, the God of Israel.

 

The mentioning of the Shabbat (six days you may work, and on the seventh day you shall rest) does not mean that the Shabbat was one of the pilgrimages, rather it is a referral to the working on the field, which is not supposed to be done on Shabbat, even if it means that there will be less of harvest to offer to God later on.

Here we see the three times being mentioned again, as well as the appearance of all the males (in the last verse), but this time it talks about Pessah (the festival of the unleavened cakes – it confuses me a little why ‘matzot’ here is translated as ‘cakes,’ normally, as was the case in the previous example, it is translated as ‘unleavened bread’) and Shavu’ot (festival of weeks), while Sukkot is not mentioned here.

The last place in the Torah dealing with the pilgrimages is Devarim (Deuteronomy) 16:1-16, which offers more details on the commandments involved, but especially Devarim 16:16 is interesting in our focus, stating that:

Three times in the year, every one of your males shall appear before the Lord, your God, in the place He will choose: on the Festival of Matzoth and on the Festival of Weeks, and on the Festival of Sukkoth, and he shall not appear before the Lord empty-handed.

Here the commandment of the three pilgrimages are stated explicitly: Three times a year, each male shall appear, in Jerusalem (the place He will choose), during Pessah (festival of Matzoth), during Shavu’ot (festival of weeks), and during Sukkot, bringing sacrifices for each of them.

In later time after the destruction of the Second Temple, Jerusalem became less of a center of pilgrimage, both because of the Temple, but also because of most of the Jews being spread out in the world. The Jews didn’t give up the thought of pilgrimage though, some still going to Jerusalem, but most doing pilgrimages to lesser holy places or tombs of ‘Tzaddiqim,’ righteous Jews and Jewish sages.

This is also the case today, where many Jews in Israel do a “small” pilgrimage to Jerusalem on the three mentioned festivals, but also having many Jews visiting the tombs of the Sages, well-known rabbis, and cities of lesser holiness than Jerusalem, such as Sh’chem (Nablus), Hevron, and Uman.

It is possible that the commandments to do pilgrimage are not in effect in our days, but Jews are certainly still doing pilgrimages.

This ended the series of the Five Pillars of Judaism. I hope you enjoyed it and learned from it. I did.

I would like, as an ending remark, to thank Amani for giving me the idea. I can’t recommend her blog enough, and I hope that you guys (and girls) will give her blog a visit. I also hope that this gave an idea about some of the commonalities Judaism and Islam share.

The Five Pillars of Judaism – Fasting

BS”D

And onwards to the fourth pillar. As we can see from Amani’s walkthrough of the Pillars of Islam, the fourth pillar is fasting, Sawm in Arabic, being a duty upon the Muslim during the month of Ramadan. The Muslim fast is, as is seen, a fast which last a whole month, or maybe rather 29 to 30 days, since the Muslim calendar is based on the moon rather than the sun. The difference is that the months are slightly shorter, also leaving the year shorter than the solar calendar, which is what the West is following. Instead of a year of 365 days, the year is only 356 days, making the Ramadan, and fast, move eleven days a year.

The Jewish calendar is also a lunar calendar, that is, it also follows the moon, but rather than just letting the month move through the solar year, the Jewish calendar once in every second or third year, add an extra month, so the Jewish months will more or less always lie in the same seasons of the year. The reason for the difference between the two calendars, the Muslim and the Jewish, is that Judaism has a great focus on agriculture, making it necessary to keep the various festivals within the seasons, which isn’t the case in Islam (and here we have a difference in Judaism and Islam, though this doesn’t mean that agriculture is without importance in Islam, it just doesn’t put the same great emphasis on agriculture as Judaism does).

Back to the fast. Before I continue I need to point out that fast in Islam is not a constant fast, that is, the fast of Ramadan is “only” from sunrise till sunset, which can be hard enough, especially when it is every day for a month. Furthermore, the things being prohibited are eating, drinking, smoking, and sexual relations. That said I would rather encourage you to check out Amani’s post, since she – as always – explains it much better and in much greater detail than I do.

There are two Hebrew terms for fast, the one being the most used today is “Tzum,” being related to the Arabic Sawm, while the other, which normally is translated as “afflict,” is ‘Unah, meaning “torture,” or ‘Inah, “to torture.” Both words are found in the Hebrew Bible, in overlapping meanings, though with ‘Inah being somewhat more grave in tone than Tzum. That is, where Tzum merely reflects fasting, ‘Inah reflects pain and torture, which also includes fasting. I don’t remember well, so I have to check it out, but as far as I remember the ‘Unah is the fasting lasting from sunset to sunset, while the Tzum is only lasting from sunrise to sunset, having the ‘Unah becoming a torture in the end, while the Tzum is “merely” a shorter time abstaining from pleasures.

As said, the Hebrew word normally used for fast is tzum and is typically observed in context of regretting or boding for sin done, either personal or communal, mourning or in order to receive an answer on troubling questions, such as a weird dream or just general direction, becoming enlightened. There are five fasts in Judaism, the most important and extensive one being the one of Yom Kippur, followed in importance by the fast of Tisha B’Av (the ninth of the month of Av), and then the Fast of Gedalyah, ‘Asara B’Tevet, and Tzum Tammuz. There are other minor fasts, but they are not always followed by the same level of observance as the greater fasts.

Fasts in Judaism always only last one day, but then – in difference from Islam – are absolute. The big fasts, such as the one of Yom Kippur, is observed from before sunset the first day until after sunset the next, that is, at least 25 hours. And it is a “total” fast, which means that no eating or drinking is allowed, as well as smoking, sexual relations, showering, sleeping comfortable, and other things making the time of the fast pleasurable. Most fasts are only lasting from sunrise to sunset though, being as short as five hours, depending on where in the world and what time of year one is fasting. And of course fasts should always be observed with prayers, and – preferable – charity.

I will take the advantage of already having mentioned them to go through the mentioned days of fast, starting with Yom Kippur:

Yom Kippur is the most holy and important day in Judaism, a day that calls for and enjoys observance even from secular people, who normally don’t spend much time thinking about their religion. Synagogues are completely full this day a year, streets being emptied for any traffic normally filling them (at least at places where there is greater Jewish communities). Yom Kippur is mentioned in WaYiqra (Leviticus) 16 and 23:27-32, and especially 16:29-31 and 23:27-32 is important here, since that mention that the people has to “afflict” themselves. The word used here is ‘Initem, reflecting the graveness and seriousness of the day.

The fast of Yom Kippur does not stand alone. It is a day of serious contemplation on one’s sin and asking for forgiveness for them, but this doesn’t only goes for the day itself, the Jew needs to be prepared for this day, a preparation which in fact starts already in the beginning of the previous month, being a time asking friends and other people for forgiveness for all the wrongdoings one may have done. Also charity should be given easily in this period, showing trust in God, and a will to put one’s ego aside. That done and prepared to Yom Kippur itself, the Jew will experience a day not only of intense fasting and abstaining from any pleasure, but also a day of prayer. The day is begun the evening before, with prayers for acceptance of release of all one’s promises given to God, which one didn’t keep to perfection, as well as the normal, though much extended, evening prayer, Ma’ariv. The next day there four more prayers, lasting – depending on the prayer leader/s – all day. The first, as is always the case, Shaharit, the morning prayer, followed by the Mussaf, the additional prayer, then Minhah, the afternoon prayer, and finally the Neilah, which is the prayer for forgiveness and being inscribed in the book of life. Most places there is a break between the Mussaf and the Minhah, but many places either skipping them or making them very short. The day ends with the closing of the ark, the room storing the Torah-scrolls, and after that people are praying the evening prayer for the new day, as well as a Kiddush for the passing from a holy time to a secular time.

When the Temple was still standing there was an extensive sacrificial ceremony, which is being reflected in the prayers, the prayers taking the place of the sacrifices after the destruction (and most like already before in the Diaspora), where two goats were taken for the ritual, the one being sacrificed and its blood put on the other goat, which then was send out in the wilderness, symbolizing the sins of Israel being send away. Since that only could be performed in the Temple, there is today done no such ritual (maybe the Samarians have a like ritual, I’m not sure, but it could be interesting to find out).

The next fast I wanted to explain is the one of Tisha B’Av, but since I already wrote a post, some time ago, I’d rather direct you there.

So skipping the fast of Tisha B’Av I’m hurrying onwards to the Fast of Gedalyah, being observed the day after Rosh HaShanah, the Jewish new year, lasting from sunrise till after sunset. Gedalyah was the governor of Yehudah during the Babylonian reign. Though most Jews were taken captive and brought to Babylon, some still remained, and for these Gedalyah acted as a governor. The Ammonite king wasn’t very satisfied with Gedalyah being governor of Yehudah, so he convinced the Jew Yishma’el ben Netanyah, who was a descendant of King David, to bring some men and kill Gedalyah. Gedalyah, who was warned about Yishma’el ben Netanyah’s plans he refused to believe it, being overtaken and killed by Yishma’el and his men in the city of Mitzpa. The accounts can be read shortly in 2 Kings 25:25-26.

The fast is observed with some additional prayers as well as a Torah-reading.

The fourth fast is the fast of ‘Asarah b’Tevet, the tenth of Tevet, traditionally being related to the Babylonian king’s, Nebuchadnezer II, siege of Jerusalem, which eventually lead to the destruction of the first Temple, which is mentioned in 2 Kings 25:1-4. It is an easy fast, being observed from sunrise till after sunset, including additional prayers and Torah-reading.

The fifth and last is the fast of Shiv’ah ‘Asar b’Tammuz, the seventeenth of Tammuz, which introduces a period until Tisha B’Av, which is considered a period of mourning because of the Romans breaching the walls of Jerusalem, which eventually lead to the destruction of the second Temple. In the three weeks between the two days it is prohibited to shave, having the hair cut, listening to music, marrying and perform other acts of joys, in commemoration of the Roman slaughter of Jews in these three weeks.

It is also considered an easy fast, going from sunrise till after sunset, adding some additional prayers and Torah-reading. This one I also have written a post about, which you can read here.

I have only given few details, covering the most general, all of the fasts having quite many details, which I think is needed to study in order to get a good understanding of the fast in Judaism, but I wanted to keep it somewhat brief introduction to fast in Judaism. Fasts, it has to be said, don’t have to be observed communal, but can also be taken volunteering privately.

The Five Pillars of Judaism – Prayer

BS”D

 

Time for the second pillar. Actually Amani already posted his post on the pillar of Prayer some days ago, but I’ve been caught up in things and Shabbat. And talking about Amani and his post on Prayer in Islam, then I have to say that it’s a really a wonderful and great explanation of ritual, so if you’re looking for a “walkthrough” for prayer in Islam, then take a look at his post.

 

So what about Judaism? Do we share the obligation of prayer? Most surely. It is considered a Biblical commandment to pray daily, based on Devarim (Deuteronomy) 6:13, where we are commanded to serve God (besides also fearing Him and swearing by His Name, though only i certain cases). The Hebrew word for “serve” is “Ta’avod,” to work, and from this the Sages, Z”L, have deduced that we are obligated to pray to Him, since it is stated in Devarim 11:13 that we are to serve Him with the heart (and all our soul), the same word used here, and what is service of the heart? Prayer (Talmud Bavli, Ta’anit 2a). This commandment is seen as one of the 613 commandment of the Torah, also called Taryag HaMitzvot or just Taryag, which is found as commandment number 6 in Maimonides’ Sefer Mitzvot, a list and explanation of the Taryag HaMitzvot, where he explains that the commandment to serve God is not only prayer, but also the study of Torah. Indeed, in studying the Torah you are doing a kind of prayer, since you are studying the Words of God. Furthermore we can learn from 1 Kings 8:29 that we are to pray faced towards Jerusalem.

So now we know that there indeed is a daily requirement to pray, but how many times a day? In the Talmud (Talmud Bavli, B’rachot 26b) the Sages, Z”L, discusses the basis for the three daily prayers, and find that they are instituted by the three Patriarchs, Avraham Avinu, Yitzhaq Avinu, and Ya’aqov Avinu, A”S, instituting the morning prayer (Shaharit, meaning dawn), the afternoon prayer (Minhah, the sacrifice offered after midday) and the evening prayer (Ma’ariv or ‘Aravit, an adjective meaning evening) respectively. The daily prayers were instituted to replace the sacrifice, which happened even before the destruction of the second Temple (for those who couldn’t offer the daily sacrifice) – as is also seen in the Book of Daniel 6:11, where we read of Daniel praying three times daily faced towards Jerusalem – and have remained such since then, based on the Biblical verse found in Hosea 14:3, where it is stated “Forgive all iniquity, and accept that which is good; so will we render for bullocks the offering of our lips.”

The names of the prayers, Shaharit, Minhah, and Ma’ariv/’Aravit, take the names after the daily sacrifices, as explained above. In the Hebrew word for sacrifice, we also find something which is crucial in the understanding of prayer. The “Qorban,” consisting of the root qof, resh, bet, signifies the meaning of getting closer, which is seen many places in the Torah, such as in VaYiqra (Leviticus) 9:7 and Devarim (Deuteronomy) 5:24. But the prayers consist of different elements, and though I don’t want to go through all of them, that would be too extensive, I want to try to explain at least the main parts.

The basic element in all three prayers is the Shmoneh Esrei (the Hebrew word for eighteen), originally consisting of eighteen blessings, giving basis for the name, but today having been added another blessing, making the number of blessing nineteen. That is only for the weekdays though, during the various holydays the number changes, depending on which day. The prayer is also called ‘Amidah, meaning standing, since it is prayed standing with gathered legs.

In the Shaharit and the Ma’ariv/’Aravit the Shma’ (see the first of the pillars) is also recited. This is done every day.

Then there is the ‘Aleynu prayer, finishing the prayer. The ‘Aleinu (Upon us) has two parts, one dealing with the now and Israel’s special status in the world and in relation to God, and the second dealing with the future, where the whole world will participate in this relation, seeing God being the supreme ruler, and awareness and understanding of Him being spread over all the world.

During the Shaharit men are wearing Tefillin, prayer straps, on the arm and the head, holding the words of the Torah, where this is commanded (which is part of the Shma’), as well as Tallit, prayer shawls. The Tefillin is actually meant to be worn all day until the sun set, but in order to prevent unnecessary damages on them, people who do things involving the chance of damaging them, is only obligated to put them on and say the blessing over them, which is done in the Shaharit. The Tallit is also only worn in the morning, except certain cases, while the commandment to wear Tzitzit (the strings), which is found on the corners of the Tallit, is fulfilled by wearing a undershirt with corners, where the Tzitzit are fastened.

Before prayer one should ready oneself to stand in the presence of God, by washing at least the hands. Also mentally preparation is in order, which is done by saying a short blessing, helping one to find the right attitude.

Hence, prayer is also an obligation in Judaism, as it is in Islam, and the Jewish prayer is both service, submitting oneself to God, as it is drawing oneself closer to God, both in love and in awe.

Israel and the Middle East

BS”D

Professor Zachary  Braiterman, who teaches Modern Jewish Thought and Philosophy, is authoring an excellent blog called Jewish Philosophy Place. I recommend you to take a look.

In a post called  Politics & Imagination (Nissim Rejwan: Israel’s Place in the Middle East) he reviews mentioned book by Nissim Rejwan, a review I found interesting enough to consider buying the book myself.

In the review Braiterman talks about Israel’s role in the ME, and attitudes and relation connected to this. I won’t talk so much about the review itself, rather encourage you to visit Braiterman’s blog and read it for yourself, but it did make me think a little about Israel and the ME myself. Well, truth be told, that is a subject I do think a lot about, considering that I live here.

As things are now, we most likely won’t see neither peace nor justice, whether it be for Israelis or Palestinians – or probably more correctly; Jews or Arab Palestinians. Sure, many Israelis, at least the Jewish Israelis (or non-Israeli Zionists even), probably feel okay with the status quo, but here’s why you shouldn’t be satisfied with that. In the south it has become “normal” to experience rockets being fired into Israel. Of course we could attempt to stop that by attacking Gaza, and maybe even re-occupy it, but my guess (and that’s in no way the guess of an expert) would be that the militants (or extremist jihadist fundies, as some like to call them) just continued from Egypt instead. We have already seen this being the case, though only once with rockets (targeted at Eilat) but more seriously several attempts to infiltrate the border, of which at least one attempt has succeeded. That is status quo, and we can’t live with that.
In the north we have Hizbullah pointing several thousand missiles at Israel, and we know from bitter experience that they are able to hit some of the larger cities, such as Haifa, and most likely by now have the capacity to hit even Tel Aviv. Sure, as it seems now the situation seems a little like between the US and the Soviet Union during the Cold War, but – seriously – who like to live with that status quo? The solution, you might ask. I don’t know. Of course, war could be one, but I’m not much for wars if it can be prevented. But having to be honest, I don’t know if a war with Hizbullah can be prevented, I don’t trust them much, and I certainly don’t see them as just freedom fighters as many of my Muslim friends do. I always have a problem with groups demanding and taking authority and power the way Hizbullah has.

And then we have the general Palestinian population, which is a chapter on its own. As it is now we don’t leave them much hope. Honestly. I’m not saying that Israel is solely to blame for this, they also have a bunch of lousy and corrupted leaders (I believe Salam Fayyad is the only example of an actual political leader with visions). Not that the Israeli ditto differ much from the Palestinian leaders (sadly), but at least Israel does hold elections once in a while, though I’m not always sure that it makes much of a difference. Anyway, we need a solution which involves the Palestinian’s acceptance. Of course we could just throw them all on trucks and transfer them to Jordan, as some people would suggest, but come on, let’s be rational here. That simply won’t happen. Let’s say – for the sake of argument – that all the Israeli citizens, every Jew, and the whole world would be totally okay with this (here’s one Jew who won’t), but to take around four million people and move them from their homes, is even more insane to talk about transferring 600,000 Jews from their homes (and here I’m thinking about the settlements), and that’s only from the West Bank (sorry, Yehudah v’Shomron). We probably have to find another solution here also.

I’m not going to mention Iran (well, just did), since I believe that that’s a totally different case, which isn’t only a threat against Israel, and most likely only use the Palestinians as a (bad) excuse, to spread propaganda against Israel. If I was a Palestinian living in the West Bank, I would be as terrified for what the regime in Iran would do, as I would being a Jew in Tel Aviv.

So what to do? Braiterman mentions four points (he does write five, but I see only four) we need to consider:

[1] to place discussions about Jews and Arabs and Israel and Islam in a historical arc that is broader than this 100 year old conflict. [2] to establish commonalities between Jews and Arabs,, [3] to highlight the fungible nature of identity, and [4] shift the argument away from nationalism and other collectivist ideologies towards democracy and shared citizenship.

I agree with these five points, at least to a certain extent.

If we take them from the top:

1: to place discussions about Jews and Arabs and Israel and Islam in a historical arc that is broader than this 100 year old conflict.

Most definitely, and that’s what I’m attempting to do with most of my posts, while not expressed clearly (they are most and foremost part of my studies). Of course, I’m not the person the world, or even a small part of it, refer to, so what do my posts and thoughts matter in this. But still, I – as well as you – am part of a wider discussion, and I do believe that to base the relation between Jews and Arabs, or Jews and Muslims, only on the last hundred years is a, well, bit ignorant. Surely, we can find many bad examples on how Muslims have treated Jews terrible, but so can we with the Christians. We can also find many good examples on Jews being treated better and even saved by Muslims. Especially the Ottoman empire is an example on this, as well as Muslim al-Andalus, with the exception of the Almohads. As the ME historian Bernard Lewis expressed it Jews were “never as bad as in Christendom at its worst, nor ever as good as in Christendom at its best.” It is worthwhile to note here, that what he means about “Christendom as its best,” found its place within the last three hundred years, where we saw a magnificent change of attitudes in the Western world. But even here we still witnessed Russian pogroms, the French Dreyfus affair, and the Holocaust.

2: to establish commonalities between Jews and Arabs

I don’t see Jews and Arabs as being that different, at least not here in Israel. And that is both when we talk in the positive and the negative. I do believe that we have many similar interest, hopes, dreams, and so on. For sure there are corporate projects involving Arabs and Jews, on several levels.

3: to highlight the fungible nature of identity

Identity is something wonderfully confusing, ’cause it changes all the time. When you, the readers of this blog, relate to me and my identity, you surely don’t relate to me the same way my wife, my mother, my friends or the stranger on the street relate to me. Identity changes as we meet other people. And even on the general level. Being a Jew is one thing, but being an Israeli is another. Israel have around 7.2 million citizens. Of them around 2.5 million are not Jews. So does being Israeli mean being a Jew? Most likely not. And what do we talk about when talking about Jews? Israel offer a different definition of who is “Jewish” enough to receive citizenship, than what Judaism does. And what about Arab? When are you Arab? It also depends on terms of definition, having some Muslim scholars (e.g. Imam Shafi’i) stating that he who speak Arabic is an Arab, making Arab-speaking Jews Arab. How do we define?

4: shift the argument away from nationalism and other collectivist ideologies towards democracy and shared citizenship

Here is where I might differ a little, not thinking that the “collectivist ideologies” is a threat in itself. In Israel we already have shared citizenship, as I already stated. You don’t have to be a Jew to be Israeli. I would rather believe that Israel, as a state, needs to embrace its minorities as well as majority – or that is to say, I don’t believe Israel has a majority per ce, since there always are ways to define oneself different from the other: Jew-Arab, Jew-Muslim-Christian-Druze, Religious-Secular, Zionist-non/post-Zionist, and so on.

But changing these things takes will and effort from all players, not only Israeli leaders or Palestinian leaders, also religious leaders, civilians, and Arab Israeli leaders. It is a problem when an Arab-Israeli politician, who is elected by voters to take care of their interest the best way possible, is seen with the enemy (and I mean enemy literally), whether it be visiting Hizbullah or participating in a “peace flotilla.” Most important of these are the religious leaders, I believe. Religion plays a huge role here, and if we look at the rhetoric it isn’t hard to say that some of the elements being presented are based on religious rhetorics, such as Israel being “the Promised Land,” or “Jerusalem is being Judaized” and “the Zionist attempt to destroy al-Aqsa.” Both sides are so steeped in religious self-understanding, that the religion cannot be left out, and both sides feel that the other side attempt to eradicate their religious connection to the land. And I somehow understand it, for both sides. As I have stated in other posts, Islam has played a huge role here in Israel, maybe even more so than Christianity. But so has Judaism, and this is the center of Judaism, there is no place anywhere else, which is so steeped in Judaism as here, maybe besides Babylon (or Iraq, as we call it today).

 

Study Talmud in its Home!

BS”D

 

I began thinking about converting around eight years ago, reading all material that I could put my hands on, but of the central scriptures I only read the TaNaCh with commentaries. At least in the beginning. The Talmud was read through books about it, more than studying it itself, something I only began when I took the decision to go through with my conversion. Nevertheless, the Talmud, or Talmuds, have been part of my focus since, and it is a very interesting piece of literature, whether you’re religious or not (or even Jewish or not). It demands attention, awareness, background knowledge, reflection, and – interestingly – disagreement.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean that you should disagree with or go against what is written in the Talmud, but you shouldn’t be satisfied with what you think is the conclusion either. The Talmud is studied and understood in a dialogue with it, something that is the hole basis for its coming into existence. The Talmud is, in fact, one long discussion, sometimes staying in focus, but for the most not, dealing with all kinds of things, suddenly popping up in the middle of the discussion, for then to return to the subject when the digression has been solved, if at all, for then to find a solution to whatever problem has been found, and not always was that possible.

I find it amusing and challenging to deal with these discussions. But something that always challenged me, at least till I moved to Israel, was the discussions that involved the authors surroundings. For a person living in Denmark, far to the north (at least compared to the ME), it doesn’t make much sense when the Sages talked about the “round of the rising sun” or when the moon is opposite to the sun, in order to establish times for when the night ends and the day begins, or the other way around. But that is what was relevant for them, something I only realized and really notices after I moved here. From where I live I can look east towards Jordan, so when the sun rise in the morning, I can literally see a ball of light on the sky growing and become more light, until the sun rises over the horizon, and at that special time of month, where the moon and the sun will stand opposite of each other, just before the sun sets and the moon begins to rise, I can actually see what the Rabbis saw, and get that better understanding of what they talked about. For me moving here, means that what was theoretic knowledge became real knowledge, what was another person’s experience suddenly became my own.

The same goes for the Bible, it is amazing to sit in places described in the Bible when reading about them, knowing that this is not just some weird story in a book from far away, but that I’m sitting right where it happened. The story becomes alive.

 

I guess this is the case for many scriptures, the Qur’ân as well, reading them where they were created. I can imagine that for the Muslims reading the Qur’ân on the Arabic Peninsula it will give much more sense and meaning to read about themes connected to that area, than it does for a Muslim reading about the same themes in the States. I would even go so far as to say that the serious student should study texts in the area where they were written, in order to get a better understanding and appreciation of them. Of course, I know, not all are able to do that, unfortunately, but should you get the chance and opportunity then do it. For me, to study the Bible and the Talmud here does all the difference, being in their home.