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Stoning in Judaism and Islam and what the comparison of the two can tell us


First off I want to relate you to an amazing and informative post by Jessica on askanislamicist, where she writes about Schacht and Hallaq, two Islamicists, who are important to know and understand in order to get the discussion at hand, and in the academic study of Islamic law in general. So please take a little time reading her post before reading the following.

Did you read it? Good, let’s get to it.

As you without a doubt read in my two last posts, I am telling a little about my assignments, having the last post being about my assignment on the Quranic view on Biblical texts. In this post I will deal with my seminar paper on the comparative study of stoning in Judaism and Islam. But first, why stoning? What is it that makes a sane guy (as far as I am sane, I’m doubting that sometimes, and I know my wife wasn’t too sure after having witnessed me going in depth with the issue) focus on stoning, maybe one of the most cruel capital punishments the human mind can think of? Well, let me tell you this; as part of this study I also read about other capital punishments, and there are methods of killing out there WAY worse than stoning. As a matter of fact, if I should choose between all the methods of being killed (and no, please don’t take this as an encouragement, I do like to live), stoning definitely comes on my top5 list. Just think about the Chinese way of cutting of pieces of the body, flesh first, then limbs, until you die. Or the Persian method of – well- feeding you with milk and honey until you – as a consequence – have certain natural urges, but then trap you in a hollow tree or two boats put together, place you in the desert, and let bugs be your only company, until you die from one of several causes. Detailed enough I think, and I do apologize. But this study was a lot about details, and how they did not fit together.

When one says “stoning,” many might think of “Muslim barbarians” stoning innocent women in Africa or wherever you find these kinds of guys. Well,  breaking illusions, as it is portrayed these cases of stoning is actually going against Islamic law, and is more telling about people basing their judgment on lack of knowledge, than actually relating to Islamic law. Of course, the women being stoned (because it is interestingly enough mostly women, though Islam also prescribes stoning for men) probably don’t care much, but when we relate to Islam and the matter of stoning, this is of extreme importance. The equitant being that some Americans groups killed people randomly with gas, and then establish that this was telling of the States in general, since gassing is one of the ways of killing criminals convicted to death (and any innocent who ends up there, based on a error of judgment).

That aside, Islam is not the only religion having stoning as a death sentence, as well as stoning is not the only way of killing. There is also crucifixion and beheading, depending on what the crime is. Stoning in Islam is given for adultery, but not all people committing adultery are judged to stoning. One has to be “muhsan,” that is, married, free, Muslim, adult, and of sane mind. A slave, for example, cannot be judged to stoning, but “only” lashes, and only half of what the free non-muhsan Muslim would receive. So the punishment is to a lesser degree dependent on what is done, as to who has done it, except in case of sodomy, which also leads to stoning, no matter the status of the person doing the crime.

In Judaism it is a little different. Here it is not so much the status of the person who did the crime that matters, as the crime being done. For example, if you have sex with a married woman you would receive a different punishment than if you had sex with a betrothed woman, who was a virgin, or if you had sex with your daughter in law or your father’s wife. Also, in Judaism stoning is not only related to adultery, but also to certain rebellious attitudes, for example he who curses his parents, as well as idolatry.

Another difference, which I put particular interest in, is the concept of stoning, that is, how it is done. In the Bible, the Torah, we find stoning mentioned with two terms, s’qilah (סקילה), and regimah (רגימה). It is not clear what the difference between the two is, when reading the Torah itself, but relating to various dictionaries, such as Gesenius’, we can learn that the term s’qilah is related to something heavy, probably being related to the Arab word shaql (شقل), while the term regimah is related to the sense of something being thrown as a missile, piling up. This is interesting, since the Arabic word for stoning is rajm (), which is basically the Arab form of the Hebrew regimah, consisting of the same root (resh/ra, gimel/gjim, mem/mim), and they both carry the same basic meaning.
What is even more interesting is that when we read the Mishnah on stoning, in Seder Neziqin, Massechet Sanhedrin, we see that stoning is described in relation to s’qilah, namely via a heavy stone thrown on the sentenced in order to crush him (after having been pushed down from a height of two men – maybe an influence from Roman law, though not of interest here). If he does not die from this, a second heavy stone is thrown at him by the witnesses, and then – if he should survive that as well, he is to be pelted by “Israel,” that is, the people witnessing the stoning. The word used in order of the heavy stones is s’qilah, while the term used for the people pelting him is regimah. Here we clearly see the difference between the two terms, the one relating to crushing with a heavy stone, where as the other is relating to stones thrown/pelted at somebody. For the Hebrew speakers it might be interesting to read the verses in the Torah with that knowledge in mind, and see what meaning the verses give you now – and please write in a comment what you got out of it, could be interesting to hear.

Stoning in Islam is solely described with the term rajm, that is, the Arabic version of regimah. The understanding is the same, pointing at a shared Semitic origin. Also, if we read ancient Semitic laws, such as Hammurabi and the Eshnunna, we will see that the term regimah/rajm is also used, so there is a pre-Judaic/Islamic origin of the regimah/rajm.

Considering these details, and many more which I also describe, it is hard to reach the conclusion that the stoning of Islam is influenced or even borrowed from the Jewish ditto. Rather it seems like they share a common origin, but Judaism developed the concept of stoning, maybe influenced by some non-Semitic sources. It seems more that the Islamic concept of stoning is of a pre-Islamic Arabic and maybe even Semitic origin, going back to early Aramaic-Arabic relations, long before Islam.

This was the first part I dealt with in the paper. The second part is relating to the Schacht-Hallaq impasse (!!), and their claims. Schacht believes that stoning is a later Islamic concept, most likely borrowed from Judaism, and from Iraqi-Jewish sources (such as the Talmud and the early Geonim). Schacht sees the Iraqi Muslim scholars and jurist as the definers of Islamic law, particularly Shafi’î, who is considered one of the greatest and earliest Islamic legal minds, and the founding father of the four roots of Usul al-Fiqh (Quran, Sunnah, Ijma, and Qiyas). Hallaq on the other hand sees the Hijaz as the legal forming center, and refuses Schacht’s critical attitude to the hadiths. Hallaq sees a lot of pre-Islamic Arabic legal practice as the base for later Islamic law, or at least sees Islamic law as being founded in a shared Semitic origin, rather as mere borrowing from Jewish or Roman law (the latter is something Schacht believes strongly being the source of much of Islamic law).

But relating this to stoning. Since Schacht believes that stoning only entered Islamic law some centuries after Muhammad’s death, and that it is based on Jewish traditions, while Hallaq sees the opposite, what can my study say about this? I think it’s obvious. The Islamic concept of stoning does not seem to be much influenced by the Jewish concept. If indeed Islam “borrowed” the Jewish stoning as a punishment, and this is based on Iraqi Muslim scholars’ meeting with Jewish ditto, why then use the term rajm, and not for example shaql, based on the Hebrew s’qilah, or a derivation thereof? Why do we not see more similarities, or rather any similarities? Why is one judge enough to judge in Islam, when twenty-three (or more) is needed in Judaism? Why are four witnesses needed in Islam, when two is enough in Judaism? Why is Islam more focused on the status of the person, when Judaism is more focused on the crime being done? And so on. It seems a little weird to claim that the Jewish concept of stoning should be the base for the Islamic ditto, when so little is similar between. And Roman law is totally out of the question – as far as I know – since stoning is not used as a capital punishment.

I would rather believe that the roots of Islamic stoning is found in a Semitic environment not being too exposed to non-Semitic cultural encounters, and of all places I can think of the Arabian Peninsula is the only place that could be, which would mean that stoning in Islam most likely is based on pre-Islamic Arabic practices. And if that is the case, then this is definitely going in Hallaq’s favour.

Of course, stoning could be based on Sassanian law (pre-Islamic Persian dynasty), but my knowledge about Sassanian law is close to non-existent. So if anyone out there can enlighten me on that subject I would be grateful.

Some notes here in the end I probably need to share, which is obvious from the paper itself, but not from what I have written here: The Quran says nothing about stoning as a punishment. On the contrary, the Quran prescribes lashes as punishment for adultery. I related only to Sunni-Fiqh, not Shi’a, and I based the paper on the Maliki al-Muwatta, though many of the hadiths I related to also are found both in Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Muslim. I also only related to the Mishnah, not so much to the Gemarrah, since the Mishnah lays the foundation and the Gemarrah only relates to the broadening of details. Furthermore I spent some space in the paper on discussing the hadith about the two Jews being brought to Muhammad, and the problematic nature of ‘Abdullah ibn Salâm’s involvement, considering that he should have been a learned rabbi, in comparison to the details being presented in the hadith.

With that said I think it’s time to stop. Thanks for your time.

All the best.

The Quran and the Biblical Texts


Warning: This post might be somewhat offending to some Muslims, since it deals in part with the Quran outside the Islamic traditional understanding of it and its message.

As I explained in my last post I did four assignments, and one of them was about how the Quran views and understands the Biblical scriptures. I am not going into detail or post the whole assignments here, that would be a little too much, but there were some aspects which I found rather interesting.

First off, I based the assignments on the findings of Gabriel Said Reynolds (which can be found in his “The Qur’ân and its Biblical Subtext”), who argues that the Quran, as far is it being studied by academics and on its own, should be studied in light of the Biblical texts, which – for him – gives more sense than reading it in light of tafsirs (Islamic commentaries), since that would mean that one would study the Quran through an afterthought, rather than relating to what might be the basis for the Quranic thought, which according to Reynolds are the Biblical texts, and I understand why he thinks so.

Though Reynolds’ book in itself is very interesting I won’t deal so much with its details here – though I might in another post – but more relate to his overall concept.

The second scholar I related to is Mondher Sfar and his “In Search of the Original Koran: The True Story of the Revealed Text” (translated by Emilia Lanier). This book is most likely to offend quite a lot of Muslim minds, since it basically attempts to challenge the Islamic traditional understanding of the Quran as revealed text and how it is revealed. Nevertheless I found it being somewhat in line with Reynolds’ book, and since I did want to challenge the normal understanding of how the Quran viewed the Biblical texts, I related to these two books.

Besides that I related to a etymological inquiry into certain terms, which normally are considered to be related to the Biblical texts, such as Tawrat (Torah, the Five Books of Moses), Zabur (the Psalms of David), and the Injil (the Gospel, relating more to the revelation Jesus got according to the Quran, rather than the four gospels and the New Testament as a whole). I also delved into the usage of suhuf, meaning scrolls or parchment, as well as kitab, meaning book. The two last terms seemed to be rather general, so I did not spend so much time on them. Here I related heavily on Jastrow’s dictionary, as well as the six translations of Pickthall, Yusuf Ali, Sahih International, Muhsin Khan, and Dr. Ghali (all as found at Quran.com – I can highly recommend the website).

What is interesting is not so much that the Quran views itself as being from the same source (God), or that carries the same significance – that it is sent in order to guide in the right direction, as a law from God. What is interesting is that it hints several places that the details of this divine law is not the same as it is presented in the Tawrat, Injil and in the Quran itself. It does hint at the Tawrat being specifically for the Jews, the Injil specifically for the Christians, and the Quran specifically for the Arabs/Muslims. We see it particularly in the fifth Surah (chapter), where Muhammad deals with the question of law and judgment.

What I was especially surprised about was the zabur, which traditionally has been interpreted and understood as being the Psalms of David. This is understandable, considering that David is connected with a revelation called “zabur,” but the term is also used in other contexts. In the following I will quote what I wrote in the assignment:

Zabûr (زَبُور )

Zabur, which root (ز ب ر ) appears 11 times in the Quran, in the forms zubar (زُبَر – 18:96), zubur (زُبُر – 3:184, 16:44, 23:53, 26:196, 35:25, 54:43, 54:52), and zabur (زَبُور – 4:163, 17:55, 21:105), is normally understood as the Psalms given to David, though it is not clear whether it is the collections of psalms as they appear in the Bible (תהילים ).

In Lane’s dictionary he relates to Ibn Barî saying that the ”zibur” (الزبر ) means ”the Book of the Law revealed to Moses and the Gospel and the Kur-an [together]” (Lane, ”Arabic-English Lexicon”, on زبر, pp. 1211). I do not see the sense in relating this root to any other than the one hinted at by Ibn Barî, though he does not mention David in this relation, which is related to the zabûr in the Quran.

21:105 vs. 54:52 – 21:105 speaks of it being told that the righteous will inherit the land, while 54:52 speaks about recording deeds of the criminals. It could be understood from this, that the Zabur is something holding records of people deeds (?). But is it all people, and if so, all in the same “zabur”, or is it only the criminals as it might appear from 54:52 (in this case relate to Pickthall’s translation of zubur to “books of dark prophecies”).

When we relate to the use of the term, we see that it is used with different though related meanings. From a number of verses do we learn that zabur is something sent to more messengers (Quran 3:184, 16:44, 26:196, 35:25 – all expressed in the plural). There does seem to be a contrast between zabur, used in singular, and other messages sent to prophets, where the messages in general is sent to a number of messengers, but the zabur, with the definite article, is related to David only (Quran 4:163, 17:55). These are two of the only times zabur in singular definite form is mentioned in the Quran, the third being in relation to a statement about the righteous and their destiny as being the inheritants of “the land” (Quran 21:105), a statement which reflects Isaiah 60:21 – a possible connection – which could tell of an understanding which covers more than only the Psalms of the Bible. This could hint at the real understanding subscribed to the term, zabûr, to cover those part of the Bible (the TaNaCh part), which includes the Prophetical books as well as the Scriptures (the “NaCh” part, if not all, then at least in the overall meaning). This would also seem to confirm Reynolds’ approach, confirming the link and connection to the Biblical texts. If we relate to the Jewish traditional organization of the Bible, the prophets are gathered under one, “Nevi’im”, and it would seem that this could be the relation between the zabûr and the Biblical texts, except though in the case of the linking of the zabûr to David. Why zabûr is connected, if at all, to the Psalms though these are not normally considered prophetical by the Jewish tradition, can be related to how the Christian tradition views them, indeed as being prophetical, and considering how often the Psalms are connected to being prophecies about Jesus, in some way or another, it is no wonder if the Quran would view the Psalms as being part of the Divine revelations.

Based on this I believe that it would be correct to only understand zabûr as the Book of Psalms in the two cases when it is prescribed to David, if we should understand it in this relation at all, while in any other case, when the Quran talks about az-zubur and az-zabûr (in 21:105) as covering the Bible, except the Torah. It would also seem weird that the Quran did not have any concept of the rest of the books in the Bible, if we only understand zabûr either in context of the Book of Psalms or as covering all Scriptures in general, an understanding I believe we rather should find in the usage of kitâb.”

And with that I will stop here. Please comment and ask if there should be any questions.

All the best

The Five Pillars of Judaism – Fasting


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 – Charity


Okay, I’m way overdue with this one. My last post on the five pillars of Judaism, where I promised to follow Amani’s explanations of the Five Pillars of Islam, was posted on the first of April, more than a month ago. And even though I wanted to let Amani post before me, I certainly cannot blame her for my great delay. I’m terribly sorry for that.

Anyway, the last pillar was prayer, in Hebrew Tefillah. The next pillar, the third one, is alms-giving or, in Arabic, Zakât. Amani has already written a wonderful post on Zakât, which I really want to encourage you to check out. In general Amani is a writer, who knows what she is writing about, a great source for those, who want to have an easy introduction into Islamic themes, so please, take a little time and check her posts out.

Back to Judaism. As in Islam we also have a pillar focused on charity or alms-giving. The interesting thing though, is that we use the Hebrew term ‘Tzedaqah,’ a term which is also found in Arabic, namely ‘Sadaqah,’ but where Zakât is obligatory, Sadaqah is voluntary but still recommended.

The interesting thing is that when we look up the term in the TaNaCh, the Jewish Bible, the word always is used as ‘righteousness,’ as something being either correct or corrected. The root, TZaDaQ, implies being right or doing the right thing, showing justice and integrity. That is also the idea in Tzedaqah, being more of a Mitzwah, that is, a commandment, than a volunteering act. When one gives Tzedaqah, he does what is correct of him, what is expected of him. As said, the term tzedaqah, and its other form, Tzedeq, appear in the Bible in context of doing the right thing. For example we see in WaYiqra (Leviticus) 19:36 that the word tzedeq is used four times, about applying just or correct weights, balances, ephah, and hin (measures used in business transactions). But the Bible itself doesn’t coin the term to charity.

Only later, during the rabbinic times, did the idea of Tzedaqah become connected with charity, mostly with the Biblical commandment of not reaping the corners of the fields, in order that some may be left for the poor, as it is stated in WaYiqra (Leviticus) 19:9. In context of that verse we see a discussion in the Mishnah, tractate Peah 5:6, it being said that “one who prevents the poor to gather, or allows one but not another, or helps one of them, is deemed to be a robber of the poor.” The same was reflected in a discussion between R. Papa and R. Idi ben Abin, Z”L, about the same matter, where the latter reacted to the former’s reciting of things belonging to the Levites. What is reflected in these examples, is that giving the poor what is due for them is Tzedaqah, righteousness, and in that way Tzedaqah came to reflect charity, a charity that the poor actually have the right for, more than it is a deed of goodwill from the giver.

In later times other rabbis expanded on the rules, evolving an ethical system, which both should relieve the poor receiving the Tzedaqah for embarrassment, as well as securing that the giver gave out of love for Heaven. This we can see, among other examples in RaMBaM’s (Maimonides), Z”L, Mishneh Torah, his Halachich work, in the Hilchot Matanot ‘Aniyim, where he lists eight principles in the giving of Tzedaqah:

The first way of helping is by giving either a loan, making the needy a business partner, give him a job or help him find a job, all leading to the case that the needy no more will have to rely on others. This is the most praiseworthy form of Tzedaqah, since the needy will retain pride and be dependent on himself, and maybe even ending in a situation where he himself can help others.

The second way of helping is to give the money to a middleman, who is knowledgeable enough to know what to do with the money, helping others without the giver knowing who. This will make sure that neither the giver, nor the receiver, is aware that they were part of the action, should they meet each other. The receiver will be spared the humility to the giver, and the giver won’t risk feeling inclined to be arrogant towards the receiver. They will meet on equal terms.

The third way is to tell a middleman to give the Tzedaqah to a specific person. The person himself still doesn’t know who did it, but the giver does know who received.

The fourth way is to give to an unknown person publicly and directly. Though they don’t know each other, they both know who gave and received, and the receiver won’t be spared the feeling of humility.

The fifth way is to give before being asked. Though that will spare the needy the humility having to ask, it will still reveal an attitude with the giver, seeing the receiver as being below himself.

The sixth way is to give after being asked, and give what is needed.

The seventh way is to give with an open attitude, but not give enough.

The eighth way is to give with a sad attitude, not being happy about giving. The most likely way of understanding this, according to what is explained, is that one gives because the receiver is in need and in a bad state, not because one rejoice in fulfilling a positive commandment, imitating the three Patriarchs, Avraham Avinu, Yitzhaq Avinu, and Ya’aqov Avinu, A”S, who gave gladly and always had their homes open for visitors.

Today the most normal thing is to either give through an organization or to put money in a so-called Tzedaqah-box. These boxes can be found, if not in any Jewish shop, then at least by far the most Jewish shops. Some places they are even put various places, such as by bus-stops, so nobody at all will know who the giver is, so far he or she chooses to wait until the stops are abandoned.

Giving Tzedaqah is certainly considered a great Mitzwah, and it is encouraged to give Tzedaqah, when one has to atone for one’s sins, before praying for forgiveness. And it is not only through money, but comes in many ways, giving clothes or food. In fact, during Pessah one should open one’s house to poor people, and make sure to give them plenty of food, as well as one should give two abundant meals the day before Purim. Before oneself takes joy of the joyous seasons, one should make sure that the poor of the land also can find joy.

Learn Arabic With Maha


Some time ago I wrote some thoughts on the being pro- or anti-something. Often when we are dealing with various conflicts people are either found pro- the one side or anti- the other side. We see it in the debate in Europe about Islam and Muslims, where people are either taking the side for or against, mostly. Not very many are attempting to stay nuanced and balanced in their approach to European Muslims or Islam in Europe. The schism is focused around the meeting between Western Culture on the one hand, and Islamic Civilization (as I’ve seen it expressed) on the other hand. In this meeting the contrasts are very outspoken, for example in issues such as freedom of speech vs. not making blasphemous and hurtful comments, as well as the way of dressing, dressing sexual provocative vs. covering up in hijab and the like. Another good example is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, where people are often either for Israel or for Palestine. Or that is how it appears. I’m inclined to think that there are a lot of people who are pro-Israel/anti-Palestine, as well as a lot of people who are anti-Israel, without necessarily being pro-Palestine. Why? Well, when the whole focus is on how bad Israel is, without thinking in wider terms of circumstances of the Palestinians, such as in Lebanon, Syria and other countries, while the whole focus is on how evil Israel is, then people don’t come out as pro-Palestinian to me, but rather anti-Israel. Their focus is Israel, not Palestinians, and only in the negative. For example, why don’t you see these people promote Palestinian culture? Or struggling for the rights of Palestinians in for example Lebanon? Because their focus is against Israel, not for Palestinians. The only reason they are “for Palestinians” is mostly because the Palestinian is used as the opposition to Israel. Sadly.

Okay, why am I stating all this, and what does that have to do with my title? Well, once in a while I do come across a true pro-Palestinian person or approach. I admire the few who take this approach, wanting to represent the Palestinians for their best. Maha, who has a Youtube-channel, where she teaches Arabic (as well as Italian and Hebrew once in a while), is one of these persons. I believe that we would come a long way, if only more people would take her approach, attempting to show the best, especially if it happened on both “sides.” We don’t need haters, we need lovers. Not necessarily lovers of both sides, but at least people who love their own side, without having to succumb to hatred for the other side.

I have to point out, and apologize to Maha in advance if it is going to be the case, that she hasn’t herself expressed any of the above views, those views and thoughts are mine or based on how I understand and experience things. I don’t want to catch her in a political fight, I’m not aware of her political views, the sole reason for promoting her, is that she – for me – come out as a positive example, that more people should strive to become like. She might hate Israel and Israelis from all of her heart (I don’t think so), but if so she has chosen not to let that be what defines her, rather her love for the Arabic language, Palestine and Palestinian culture. Whether I agree with her or not, I truly do respect that.

So, all of you out there reading this, please check her channel out, especially if you want to learn Arabic and how Palestinians also can express themselves. It’s definitely a visit worth.

The process of interpretation when translating


Most people have read a translated text of some sort, whether it be a novel, official text, religious scriptures or something else. There’s nothing weird in that, it happens more often than we are aware of. But there’s another thing we might not be so aware of, or even if we are, we don’t offer it much thought. When reading a translated text, we read an interpretation of a text – that is, when we read a text, which is translated from one language to another, the chance that the translator had to interpret the original text is great. Sure, in some cases the two languages are so close, that a direct translation can be done, for example with Danish and Norwegian, but for the most the case is that the translation involves two languages which are not that similar.

In my situation, studying religious text, this is most certainly the case, having sometimes to deal with text which do not only belong to different families (all languages belong to certain families, where they share some similarities with the other members of the family, often making it possible to either understand parts of written text in between the languages, or at least find a larger number of words they share), but also belonging to different times. For example, when I read the Talmud, I deal with a language belonging to the Semitic family of languages, which also covers Hebrew, Arabic, Amharic and so on, while myself speaking a language belonging to the Germanic family. The way of expression is very different in some cases.

Therefore it isn’t weird that we need a portion of interpretation when translating from the one language to the other, at least if we wish for the translation to give sense. I would like to present you for an example on this, showing you how many different ways a somehow simple text can be translated. The text is the first verse in the Torah, talking about the beginning of creation. The Hebrew text goes like this:

בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ

Now, it would actually be pretty simple to translate this text, simply taking it word for word, ending with a result like this: “In beginning created God the heavens and the earth.” The only thing that would come out a little odd would be the lack of ‘the’ in the start of the sentence, between ‘in’ and ‘beginning.’ That is in the text, but implicit. But even in my attempt to make a very simple translation of a very simple text did I make an interpretation, namely of the word אֱלֹהִים, which I translated to ’God.’ The word ‘elohim’ (as it is written in English) is a plural form of the word ‘eloah,’ meaning god. That is, what I should have written, had I made the precise translation, would be “in beginning created gods the heaven and the earth.” So why didn’t I do that? Well, the answer lies in the word preceding the word for ‘gods,’ ‘bara.’ This word is a verb, meaning ‘to create,’ which is being expressed in 3rd person singular, not plural. Of course one could suggest that ‘beginning’ is the subject creating ‘gods,’ but not only would that not give any sense (beginning created gods), it would also be wrong, since Biblical Hebrew is a VSO-language, that is, the verb precedes the subject. To explain, in Biblical Hebrew you would say “eat I the food,” not “I eat the food,” as is the case in English. So from this alone, the fact that we are dealing with a verb being expressed in the singular, while the subject is being presented in the plural, can we see that an interpretation is needed for the translation.

Having said that I want to present you for four different translations of the word, being found in the most used Jewish English translations, namely those of JPS, Artscroll, Soncino, and Judaica Press:

JPS 1985/1999 Artscroll Soncino Judaica Press
When God began to create heaven and earth In the beginning of God’s creating the heavens and the earth In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth In the beginning of God’s creation of the heavens and the earth

The most noteworthy differences is in the first part of the sentence (Bereshit bara Elohim), but we also see one example in differing interpretations in the second part, namely with heaven/s, having JPS and Soncino interpreting it in the singular, while Artscroll and Judaica Press interpret it in the plural. The reason for the two differences is found in the fact that heaven in Hebrew is a plural word (as is for example ‘money’ in English). The question is how we understand it when we read the word, as a ‘name’ or as something expressing plurality of existence (this is also the case with elohim, is it one of God’s Names, or is it an expression of plurality)? JPS and Soncino interpret it as the former, Artscroll and Judaica Press as the latter.

When we look at the first part we see a more interesting differing between the translations, having JPS state that “When God began to create,” while Artscroll and Judaica Press both talk about the beginning of God’s action, though differing on whether it is ‘creating’ or ‘creation’ we are talking about, while Soncino agrees with the two that we indeed find ourselves “in the beginning.”

It is not without significant importance to deal with this interpretation, since it is a crucial question of ‘when.’ When are we finding ourselves here? In the beginning of time or in the beginning of creation? As we see, JPS wants to tell us that we are at a moment of time, where God began to create (heaven and earth), which is reflected in Artscroll’s translation, expressing the same idea in a different way, attempting to be more true to the Hebrew text. Judaica Press tells us that we find ourselves “in the beginning of God’s creation,” which alone would give us a sense that where we are (in time) is actually after God indeed did create, while Soncino leaves us with the question of “in the beginning” of what, though this is seemingly the most true translation.

So why not just leave it at that? Why not translate it as it says? Well, because that isn’t what the text says. The problematic word is ‘reshit,’ relating to something coming before something else, or rather, the start of something, not just “in the beginning.” The problem here is that ‘reshit’ has to be connected, telling something about the thing it is connected to, which here would be the ‘created’ and the object of ‘created,’ that is, what the verse actually says is “first God created heaven and earth,” which leaves us with the question “and then what?” It doesn’t deal so much with the matter of time, as it does with the order of creation. The word ‘reshit’ is also used in understandings as ‘source,’ ‘first fruit,’ and ‘origin.’ This is indeed what Artscroll and Judaica Press attempt to reflect in their translations, while JPS tries to express a sentence which give most sense for Western (or English speaking) readers, while Soncino attempts to follow the most ‘correct’ translations.

So what am I trying to tell with all this? Well, first and foremost I’m trying to share some thoughts with you on a subject I find interesting. I have written a little about this in another post, but with a somewhat different approach. Second off, I think it is important to be aware of this fact, when reading translations, especially when reading religious texts, where translations can be of crucial importance for the believer and his/her understanding of what the text wants to say. For example, when I read the first verse here in the Torah, I don’t read a text that is interested with the question of time whatsoever, but rather a text which is very interested in the order of creation. But for the Western reader, the question of time – when we talk about creation – is crucial, which also is why the question often pops up in various polemics. Basically, how I understand the text is rather as ‘God created heaven and earth as the source [of what follows],” not as “in the beginning of everything God created heaven and earth.” That doesn’t mean that my reading is correct, or that I would express that interpretation in my translation, should I translate it, but I would still attempt to translate the text as close to the Hebrew text, while still expressing what I believe the Hebrew text wants to tell us. And that is what every translator does, and that is also what we – as readers of translated texts – need to be aware of, when we read translations. Especially if we take part in polemics, studies of religions, or other forms of dialogue or discussions, which involves the use of translations and doctrines being expressed and searched in them.

A Jewish Collection of Hadiths


Something that I found rather interesting, when I’m trying to make some comparison between Islam and Judaism, is the thought of Hadiths (or rather Ahadith, since it’s plural). Mostly since I often try to explain the relation between Written and Oral Torah in Judaism, as the relation between Qur’ân and Hadith, though it would be more correct to describe it as the relation between Qur’ân and Sunnah. Well, that is the correct comparison. The Mishnah though is to Judaism what the compilations of Ahadith is to Islam.

But we actually do have a collection of Ahadith in Judaism too. Well, we have something which is structured the same way as Ahadith, that is, it consists of the same composition.

For those who don’t know how a Hadith is composed (or what it is at all), then let me explain. A Hadith is an account prescribed Muhammad or one of those close to him. It consists of the chain, linking the teller of the Hadith back to the person ascribed the Hadith. This is called the Isnad, chain. The message in the Hadith is called Matn.

An example on a Hadith is as follow:

Yahya related to me from Malik from Thawr ibn Zayd ad-Dili from ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Abbas that the messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, once mentioned Ramadan and said, “Do not start the fast or break it until you see the new moon. If the new moon is obscured from you, then complete a full thirty days.” (Al-Muwatta of Imam Malik ibn Anas)

The first part, mentioning the names, is the Isnad, the chain, leading the message of the Hadith, the Matn, back to Muhammad, and what he said is the Matn, the message.

Now, here’s something interesting. Another example could be:

Moshe received the Torah at Sinai and handed it to Yehoshu’a, Yehoshu’a to the Elders, the Elders to the Prophets, and the Prophets handed it on to the men of the Great Assembly. They said three things: Be careful in judgment, raise up many disciples, and make a fence for the Torah (Pirqei Avot, 1:1)

Here again we see the Hadith consisting of the Isnad, chaining the message to Moshe Rabenu, A”S, and then presenting the Matn, the message. There is a difference though, here beginning from the source, and then working itself onward until those who narrated the message. But where the compilations of Ahadith typical have each Hadith standing alone, the Pirqei Avot, Ethics of the Fathers, presents one long continuance of Matn, without presenting the whole Isnad, just adding new links on the Isnad for each new Matn presented. For example as we see in the next two verses in the Pirqei Avot:

2 – Shim’on the Just was one of the last survivors of the Great Assembly. He used to say: On three things the world stands: on the Torah, on Divine Worship, and on acts of loving-kindness.

3 – Antigonos from Socho received from Shim’on the Just. He used to say: Do not be like servants who serve their master on condition of receiving a reward, but be like servants who serve their master not on condition of receiving a reward, and let the fear of Heaven be upon you. (Pirqei Avot, 1:2-3)

Shim’on the Just is the continuance of the Isnad given in the first verse, which would make the Isnad go: Moshe Rabenu, A”S, Yehoshu’a, the Elders, the Prophets, the Great Assembly, Shim’on the Just, thus chaining Shim’on the Just to Moshe Rabenu, A”S, and thus trustworthy. In the next verse Antigonos from Socho is added to the Isnad, making trustworthy as well. The interesting thing is that where the trustworthiness of a Hadith in Islam is searched backwards, in Judaism it is related onward.

Nevertheless, the verses in the Pirqei Avot, which is found in the Mishnah, is consisting of the same elements as the Hadith, of Isnad and Matn, chain and message. I find that interesting.

Israel and the Middle East


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).


Two recommendations



Once in a while I try to find new interesting blogs, and sometimes I am lucky. Today I feel myself really lucky, having found two blogs, one called The Talmud Blog, publishing mainly articles on the study of the Talmud, and another called The Immanent Frame, publishing articles on the interdisciplinary perspectives on secularism, religion, and the public sphere. I highly recommend any with interest in the subjects to visit either or both, they are seriously goldmines.

Especially one writer, Lena Salaymah, who writes on The Immanent Frame, wrote an article for The Talmud Blog, where she explains her motives for and thoughts on studying and researching Near Eastern Legal Culture. For my readers it will come as no surprise that exactly that is my focus.

The article is interesting and well-written, explaining and putting words on many thoughts I have myself, but which I haven’t been able to express as well as Salaymah does it. Especially when she writes about “proto-Semitic” that “as a metaphor, “proto-Semitic” offers a useful heuristic for thinking through how we approach the study of Jewish and Islamic law.  If you imagine scholars of Jewish law articulating their ideas in Hebrew and Aramaic, while scholars of Islamic law articulate their ideas in Arabic, then my objective is to converse with both groups of scholars in a meta-language (proto-Semitic) that engages both legal traditions.  Just as “proto-Semitic” is the common ancestor of the Semitic language family, Near Eastern legal culture is the shared antecedent of Jewish and Islamic legal systems,” do I feel that she puts the finger precisely on my own thoughts.

After I wrote my assignment on Ibrahim as an early Monotheist (which I will publish later on), did I feel too that we are dealing with a common Middle Eastern – or maybe rather Near Eastern – expression, more than we are talking about a “Jewish” on the one hand and a “Muslim” on the other. Of course, I’m not attempting to say that the two religions are basically the same, though there are many similarities to be find, they are not only products of their original geographical homes, and even so there would have been differences, but they are also that, products of their original geographical homes, and therefore – of course – have many similar expressions and thoughts.

I am looking forward to see what results she must create from her coming works, and I hope that you also will find it interesting, at least some of you.

Anyway, take a look of the blogs, I can highly recommend it.

The Talmud Blog

Thoughts on Near Eastern Legal Culture – Guest blog by Lena Salaymah on The Talmud Blog

The Immanent Frame

The Five Pillars of Judaism



Amani over at “americanmuslimconvert” are writing on the five pillars of Islam, introducing us for the first of them, the Shahâdah, the confirmation of believe in Allah and His messenger, Muhammad, being expressed in the statement “Lâ ilâha ilâllâh, w’Muhammadan Rasûlullah” – “There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah!”

I found it interesting, and I’m thinking that I’m going to follow his posts on the subject, but doing it with a twist, which I hope he can forgive me for. I am going to read and reflect on his posts, but at the same time I will try to find a Jewish answer to the pillars, that is, find how and where the same things are being expressed in Judaism, if at all. I think that it could be pretty interesting to see how my studies of Islam can be reflected in my studies of my own religion, and as such learn about them both, as well as doing a comparative study at the same time as well.


Anyway, the first pillar of Islam is, as stated already, the Shahâdah, the declaration of faith, and the most obvious answer in Judaism is the Shma’ or Qriat Shma’, which is so called by the first name in the declaration, which goes “Shma’ Yisrael, A-onay Eloqenu, A-onay Ehad!”[1] It is found in Devarim (Deuteronomy) 6:4, introducing the first part of the actual Shma’, which consists of three parts, found in Devarim 6:4-9, commanding the Jew to love God of all his heart, his soul, and his heart, as well as keep the commandments in mind, teach them to his children, always talk and ponder on them, whether sitting at home or walking on the street, when he lays down in the evening and gets up in the morning, that he shall bind them as signs on his arm and between his eyes, write them on his doorposts and the city gates (the visitor in Jerusalem will see that there are cylinders at the entrances to the old city, those are what we call ‘Mezuzot,’ the words of the Torah, fulfilling this commandment).

The second part, which can be found in Devarim 11:13-21, talks about the rewards and consequences of keeping or not keeping the commandments, which is solely connected to the Land of Israel, making sure of good seasons and good times, so far as the Jews stays observant, or bad times, or even being expelled from the land, as far as they don’t.

The third and last part, found in BaMidbar (Numbers) 15:37-41, commands the Jews to wear the Tzitzit, the fringes, which is a sign for reminding the Jews about the commandments, as well as commanding the Jews to remember the exodus from Egypt.


The first part of the Shahâdah is called “Tawhîd,” the Unity of Allah, and that is found expressed in the first part of the Shma’ as well, in stating that God is One (Ehad). We see this expressed other places as well, for example in Exodus 20:3, “You shall have no other gods before me,” so I would say that Muslims and Jews at least share the first part of the Shahâdah. The second part though is more tricky. On two levels even. First off, Jews don’t recognize Muhammad as their prophet. Most Jews probably don’t even acknowledge him as a prophet, while some would say that he most likely could have been a prophet, though only sent to the Arabs, not to the Jews, acknowledging the praiseworthy mission of spreading the Tawhîd. But it isn’t only in regard to the “lack” of acceptance of Muhammad, there isn’t an equal for Moshe Rabenu, A”S, to be found in the Torah, at least not expressed in statements like with the unity of God. There are many incidents though where his prophethood is stated and emphasized, making it rather clear that his prophethood is to be accepted. Only later does it become part of a list of clear doctrines to be accepted as part of Jewish faith, namely in Maimonides thirteen principles of faith, all being introduced with the statement “I believe with perfect faith that…” It is the seventh declaration, after declaring that all the words of the prophets were true, stating that the prophecy of Moshe Rabenu, A”S, is true and that he is the “father” of the prophets, meaning the greatest of all the prophets, both those before and after.

So in conclusion I would believe that it’s possible to say that Muslims and Jews share some foundational similar expressions on God’s Unity, as well as reverence for those they consider the greatest prophet respectively, though there are some difference, the Jews not have a single expression, as is the case with the Muslims. On the other hand the Jews have a – I would dare to say – much longer and more detailed expression of faith than that of the Muslims.

[1] Please forgive me for not spelling these two expressions of His Name, but I am, after all, still a religious Jew, respecting my God. I am sure that if you really do need to see the two expressions spelled out, then there are lots of places to see that, just make a search on “Shma.”