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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.

Samaw’el and his arguments for the prophethood of Jesus and Muhammad

BS”D

Time for the next part of Samaw’el’s arguments against the Jews. In the last part we saw how he attempted to argue for the existence of abrogation both in the Jewish Bible and in the Jewish tradition, leaving it possible that the whole Bible itself has been abrogated for the Qur’ân.

In this post we will see how he attempts to argue for the prophethood of Jesus and Muhammad, and how the transmission of the two is stronger than that of Moses.

The next premise is that as far a person is reasonable he will not refuse to believe a prophet, whose teachings is generally acknowledges, and then believe in another, so far that he hasn’t seen either of them.

 

If a Jew would be asked, Samaw’el argues, about whether he has seen Moses and witnessed the miracles performed by him, the Jew has to admit that that is not the case. The question to follow will be how the Jew then know about the prophet hood of Moses something the Jew most likely will explain is known from the transmission from father to son and so on. This transmission in Arabic is called ‘tawâtur.

 

Samaw’el then points out that such transmission also goes for Jesus and Muḥammad, so if the question is only about transmission, then one might believe in Jesus and Muḥammad as well, and not only Moses.

To this the Jew can answer that “the testimony of my father about the prophethood of Moses is reason for my affirmation of his prophethood.” But why would the father of the Jew be right in this and without criticism, Samaw’el asks. As well as the Jew can point to his father, who is teaching their traditions and transmissions, so can the gentiles, infidels as they are described by Samaw’el, who are teaching what is considered false belief by the Jews, and this – he continues – is not necessarily based on truth, but rather out of loyalty to ones community and traditions, and the resistance to leave the community and one’s people. If the Jew really holds his fathers to be correct and the unbelievers in error, then he needs to prove his claim, since the focus now changes from being following a religion or faith out of mere tradition, to be a matter of claim of truth.

Maybe the Jew will claim that his fathers are on a higher level that the fathers of other peoples in matter of knowledge and reliability, but that would oblige the Jews to prove that. And if he would claim this, Samaw’el maintains, he would be in error since it is obvious that other peoples have produced  more than the Jews could even dream about, not to talk about that the Jews are not even mentioned among the other people. Especially compared with the Muslims the Jews fade away, considering all the numerous works, which the Muslims have produced in any one science thinkable.

So far as the Jews admit that their fathers are on level with the fathers of other people, then they are only left with the transmission about Moses, and if that is the case they also have to accept the transmission of Jesus and Muḥammad.

 

Samaw’el’s next attempt is then to convince the Jews about Jesus’ prophethood. He does so by relating to a messianic verse in the Bible, Bereshit 49:10, which states that the “scepter shall not depart from Judah… until Shiloh comes…” It is agreed and understood among Jews, that this verse indeed relates to the Messiah. Samaw’el attempts to coin this verse with Jesus, by pointing out – he believes – that the Jews had a kingdom until the advent of Jesus, after which the Romans ruled the Jews and Jerusalem, leading to the dispersal of the Jews. Based on this the Jews should acknowledge that Jesus was the one they were waiting for.

He then introduces the next part, staying focused on Jesus, asking what the Jews are saying about him. The response is in the negative, he explains that Jesus was the son of Joseph by fornication, that he learned the Name of God and with its help forced his will on many things. Samaw’el then asks if it isn’t the case that Moses was taught the Divine Name by God, which was composed by 42 letters, and by this Name Moses parted the sea and performed miracles. This, he claims, they can’t deny, and since that is so, since both Moses and Jesus performed miracles by the use of God’s Names, why do the Jews reject Jesus while accepting Moses? Of course the Jews have an answer to that, namely that whereas Moses learned the Name by divination, receiving it through prophecy, Jesus learned the Names from the walls in the Temple. Samaw’el retaliates by asking that since one who is not selected by God can take advantage of His Names in order to make miracles, why then do the Jews trust that Moses indeed was selected by God, to which the Jews, again, will answer that he received the Names from God Himself. And Samaw’el wanted to get to here, since then he could ask how they knew that that was so, the answer being that it was by chain of transmission to their ancestors.

He doesn’t stop there, asking the question why they accept the prophethood of Moses. The answer, according to Samaw’el, will be based on the miracles Moses performed. The question is then whether they have seen those miracles, to which they of course have to answer in the negative, which isn’t neither a way to authenticate the prophets, Samaw’el explains, since if we should establish the verification of a prophet’s prophethood on miracles, then they would have to be maintained even after the death of the prophet, for each generation to see. So the miracles themselves are not a proof, rather the transmission – again – is what establish the authority, and both Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad are equals in this respect. The conclusion from this, he explains, is that the transmission of evidence for Moses is weaker than that of Jesus and Muhammad, since in case of Muhammad and Jesus, both have a chain of transmission, while their followers’ believe in Moses is only based on the texts they believe in, not in his chain of transmission, which is only found among the Jews.

Then he puts a short note on the Quran, stating that its miraculous character is evident for all with “a taste of eloquence.” It is interesting to see here, how he uses a non-rational argument, while attempting to prove his points by reason.

He does feel though, that he needs to reflect a little more on the chain of transmission. What if the Jews should state that since all the nations, or at least both Jews, Christians, and Muslims, are attesting to the prophethood of Moses, then this would show a strong chain of transmission, stronger than that of Jesus and Muhammad? To this does he would need to ask whether the Jews would say that the consensus of the nations on this matter is correct, and as far as the Jews would say yes, he would ask them how they would respond, when he points out that the nations also has a consensus on the Jews being in error. If they then would deny the consensus of the nations, then he would say that they also have to do that in the former case, and only being left with the weak transmission of their own small community, being the smallest in number, and therefore the weakest of the transmissions.

Based on this, he argues, Jews have to accept that the prophethood of Jesus and Muhammad is true.

 

Samaw’el and his proofs for the abrogation of the Bible

Let us take a look at Samaw’el’s polemical arguments in his Ifḥam al-Yahûd.

 

The work is organized in nineteen ‘chapters,’ but they can again be organized into overlaying themes of arguments, which is indeed what Perlmann has done in his translation of the Ifḥam. The themes as we find them are:

  1. Opening
  2. Abrogation
  3. Transmission
  4. A return to abrogation
  5. Jesus and Muḥammad
  6. The claim to being the chosen people
  7. The Bible
  8. Composition of the Bible
  9. Jews on Islam
  10. Objectionable aspects of Jewish law; levirate, segregation
  11. Rabbanites & Karaites
  12. Epilogue: Sins and follies of the Jews

 

What Samaw’el attempts to do is to prove that in the Jewish tradition there is found examples on abrogation, and by forcing the Jews to accept that he (feels he) proves that the Torah might have been abrogated.

With that established he argues for the status of Jesus and Muḥammad, then for why the Jews are not chosen, for then to focus on the Bible and its composition, Jewish reflection on Islam, a discussion on Halachah (Jewish religious law) and issues within the law, moving on to the particulars of the Rabbanites and the Karaites, for then finishing off with the sins and wrongdoings of the Jews as a whole.

 

I will be presenting one part on its own, not going through all of the arguments, since that probably will be rather overwhelming in just one post. When I am done with the presentation of his arguments I will attempt to present you for the various Jewish responses, and then finally try to give some responses myself, some of his arguments being rather time-bound and having lost their actuality today.

 

The first focus is on his arguments for abrogation.

 

Samaw’el first introduces us for his base of arguments, which – he claims – is meant to convince the Jews of the principle of naskh, abrogation, based on their own scriptures and methods.

His way of arguing is based on a proposal, which then can either be accepted or denied. Here it is the question on whether there was a divine law before the giving of the Torah or not.

If they, the Jews, deny this, then they will also deny – according to Samaw’el – that God gave Noah a commandment, namely the one against murder (Genesis 9:6). Besides this point, he also points out the commandment to Abraham to circumcise the male children at the eight day.

Should the Jew admit that, yes, God did give divine commandments before the giving of the Torah, then he will ask them, whether it didn’t add something to those earlier precepts. In case the Jews answer that it (the Torah) didn’t add anything then it is meaningless, since it does not contain anything besides the already given legislation, and thus it cannot be of divine origin. But, he states, that would be the same as to not believe.

In case the Jews says that, yes, it did add something new, then – Samaw’el asks – does this new addition not prohibit what has was allowed before? In case they deny this, then they are found in fault, since the Torah added the prohibition against working on Shabbat, something which before the giving of the Torah was permitted. And furthermore, all addition in law has as its purpose to either allow what was prohibited before or prohibit what before was allowed. These examples, he states, are clear examples on Naskh, abrogation.

One could argue, he maintains, that one does not first forbid something, in order for later to allow it, since that would be like allowing the same thing that one forbids, and that would go against the nature of God (described as “the wise one”). But since He is commanding two things at two different points of time, this will not be a problem, only if it happened at the same time.

Then the case might be forwarded that the Torah forbade what had been forbidden, but not the other way around. That is, it is true that there was a law before, and that law prohibited murder, but murder had not since been allowed (relating to his two examples), but earlier it had been allowed to work on Shabbat, but after the giving of the Torah that became prohibited.

The obvious problem for Samaw’el here, because he does accept that this is a legitimate claim, is that if one holds that that is the case, then the Quran can only prohibit what earlier was allowed, but not allow what earlier was prohibited. This is based on the rationale that one who abstains from what is permitted is not per ce a violator, but one who does what he has been forbidden certainly is a violator, and since the Quran allow working on Shabbat, then that would be an encouragement to violate a commandment.

Samaw’el attempts to answer this by pointing out that something does not necessarily need to be prohibited for good. Rather, he explains, since working on Shabbat had been permitted for Abraham and other before him, and then prohibited, then it certainly is possible that it again would be allowed.

The reasoning behind Samaw’el’s argument here is that either a law is imposed for all times, having God being displeased with it in total, or it is not imposed for all time, and God only displeased for a certain amount of time,[1] and since working on Shabbat was not prohibited for all time, then it holds that it is possible that it can be changed later.

Of course Samaw’el concludes from this that if a divine messenger, Muḥammad, would bring miracles and prove to be a prophet, then it would be possible that he would change what before was deemed illegal. Especially when – according to Samaw’el – a man brings clear proof that he is a prophet, then one should heed his message, which would be of reason, contrary the precept found in Judaism, such as cleansing impurities with ashes of the heifer, which in turn also would make the Kohen burning the heifer unclean (Numbers 19).

Since God is above any imperfection and criticism, and his messenger necessarily may speak a true message, then it stands for God to be able to change what He earlier has commanded, and Muḥammad, who is send by God, should be heeded, if one will not deviate from the truth.

Having dealt with the first approach to proving that abrogation also is part of the Jewish tradition, Samaw’el now continues with the next, relating to the matter of the red heifer, the cow having to be burned in order to use its ashes for purification, a process which would leave the one performing the burning impure himself. The problem, according to Samaw’el, is that since that process is needed in order to purify a person who has been in contact with a corpse, it is still not needed in order to allow the person to pray or carry holy texts, according to the Rabbinic tradition.

If this is explained with the fact that the ritual of the heifer cannot be done today, from the lack of the Temple, then Samaw’el’s answer – again in form of a new question – is whether the inability to perform the act also dispense it. Here, again, two answers are possible, either that yes, it does dispense it, which, he maintains, proves abrogation by reason of present circumstances, and thus proves his point, that laws and rules can be abrogated. In case that they answer in the negative, they basically admit that they are in a continuous state of impurity, so far as they have been in contact with a corpse, a tomb or the like. This is a build up for his coming point, being triggered by the strictness surrounding the menstruation of the woman, leading to a period on approximately two weeks, having the consequences that a man cannot touch her in that period, not even her husband, who has to sleep separate from her. The answer to this might be that it is a commandment from the Torah, which means that it has to be interpreted in its most strict sense, but if that is the case, then the case of a man having been in contact with a corpse has to be even more strict, since it demands the sacrifice and burning of an animal in order to purify him. And furthermore, should a non-Jewish woman being menstruating she won’t be considered impure, her touch not being shunned on the same level of that of a menstruating Jewish woman, even though nothing is mentioned about this in the Torah. And this leads to yet another example on abrogation.

The Jews might argue in return, that this is not based on the Scriptural text alone, but on the system of laws which constitutes the Oral Tradition. This, Samaw’el explains, is leading to the question of the Jewish sages, whether they are reaching their conclusions on human reasoning or whether they are divine tradition. As is the case, it would be stated that this is surely tradition going all the way back to Moses, which then will lead to Samaw’el asking how the sages then can reach different conclusions, since that would leave with a tradition which each of the disagrees will claim goes back to Sinai. This is contradictory in the eyes of Samaw’el, being an example on the Jews baseness, crediting God with contradictory commandments.

Samaw’el is aware that there is a principle of following the majority, when it comes to halachic decisions in Judaism, though he considers this to be the giving up of one of the sages’ tradition, or at least as consider the possibility of an error in his tradition, which would lead to the conclusion that he (the sage in question) cannot be trusted anymore, or – as a last consort – that the sages have agreed that one decision abrogates the other. And since there are many examples on sages being the minority in some cases, they are the majority and followed in others, this would have to lead to the acceptance of abrogation yet again.

 

His third argument over abrogation is focused on the Jewish prayers. This is introduced with the question on prayers and fasts, whether the prayers that the Jews are praying at his time (Samaw’el) are the same as those of Moses.

He presents us for a number of examples from the ‘Amidah, the main prayer prayed thrice daily, asking if any of these examples were prayed by Moses and the Jews of his time. The examples mentioned by Samaw’el of course cannot be said by Moses, since they mention the ingathering from the exile from the four corners of the earth, and the rebuilding of Jerusalem. Besides those two examples he also mentions the fast of Gedalyah, the fast of Tisha b’Av and others examples, which only can have been established long after Moses lived. If these examples still leave the Jews denying that there are talk about any abrogation, he will point to Deuteronomy 13:1 “Everything I command you that you shall be careful to do it. You shall neither add to it, nor subtract from it.”

 

His final argument on abrogation regards the first-born, who according to Exodus 13:2 is sanctified for God, but – Samaw’el points out – it was later changed so the Levites took the place of the first-borns of Israel, since they joined Moses when he came down from Mount Sinai and witnessed the worshiping of the gold-calf.

Based on all his arguments presented here, he conclude that the Jews cannot deny these arguments, leaving them only with admitting either that the Torah has been altered or that these are indeed proofs of abrogation.

 


[1] It is the same reasoning that can be found in medieval argument for God’s eternity. Nothing can be eternal if it has a beginning or an end.