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The Religious’ studies of Religion

BS”D

 

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

 

Herdian asked:

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

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

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

Herdian’s following comment is interesting:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Foods Cooked by a non-Jew

Restaurants which employ non-Jewish Cooks

Legumes Cooked by a non-Jew

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

BS”D

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

BS”D

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 Religious Fanatic!

BS”D

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shavu’a Tov!

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.

Studying the Talmud – First Mishnah, First Sugya

BS”D

 

In the last part we dealt with the first mishnah of Tractate B’rachot, being presented for opinions on until when we can recite the Shma’, the context of the Shma’, and so on. In this part we will focus on the first discussion relating to the mishnah, called “sugya,” where the Gemarrah will discuss the issue of the order of the recitals of the Shma’:

 

Keywords:

Building Block Sugya

סוגיה

The text of the Gemarrah is build up by several parts, dealing with different issues. Each of these parts are called “sugya.”
Mishnaic Sage Tanna

תנא

When the Gemarrah talks about the Tanna, then it is referring to the Mishnaic Sage behind the Mishnaic text.
As It Is Written Dichtiv

דכתיב

Whenever the Gemarrah states this term, then it deals with Biblical texts.
If You Want `I Ba’yet

אי בעית

This expression introduces a strengthening analogy.
If This Is So `I Hachi

אי הכי

This expression introduces a challenge to the preceding argument.

 

תנא היכא קאי דקתני מאימתי ותו מאי שנא דתני בערבית ברישא? לתני דשחרית ברישא!

תנא אקרא קאי דכתיב בשכבך ובקומך – והכי קתני זמן קריאת שמע דשכיבה אימת? משעה שהכהנים נכנסין לאכול בתרומתן

ואי בעית אימא יליף מברייתו של עולם דכתיב ויהי ערב ויהי בקר יום אחד

אי הכי סיפא דקתני בשחר מברך שתים לפניה ואחת לאחרית ובערב מברך שתים לפניה ושתים לאחרית לתני דערבית ברישא

תנא פתח בערבית והדר תני בשחרית עד דקאי בשחרית פריש מילי דשחרית והדר פריש מילי דערבית:

To what is the Tanna referring since he teaches ”from when,” and more, why is it that he teaches about the evening first? He should teach about the morning first.
The Tanna refers to the verse ”when you lay down and when you rise[1] – And this is what he is teaching, when is the time of the recital of the Shma’ when laying down? From the time that the Kohanim enters in order to eat their Terumah.
And if you want, [then] say that he learned from the creation of the world, as it is written “and it was evening and it was morning, one day.”[2]
If this is so, [why is it] in the end [of the Mishnah] taught ”In the morning do you bless twice before [the Shma’] and once after [the Shma’], and in the evening do you bless twice before [the Shma’] and twice after”?[3] Teach in the evening first.
The Tanna opened in the evening and then teaches in the morning, [and] while referring to the morning he explains the subjects of the morning and then returns and explains the subjects of the evening.

 

Two questions:

  1. What does the Tanna (of the Mishnah) refer to when he asks “from when”?
  2. Why does he teach about the evening Shma’ before the morning Shma’?

1: The Gemarrah wonders why the Tanna asks the question “from when” in regards to the evening Shma’. As we learned in the last post this is a rather sudden way of introducing the Mishnah. No explanations on what is going on or what we are about to deal with, just a question throwing us directly into the discussion. This isn’t the worry for the Gemarrah though – it is more interested in the source for the Mishnah’s question. “On what do you base this question? Why do you find the need to ask ‘from when’?” The answer is based on the Biblical verse of Devarim (Deuteronomy), which is part of the recital of the Shma’, and which gives us hints at when we should recite it. If we are to recite a Biblical text, shouldn’t it give us answers about itself as well? The Gemarrah answers for the Mishnah as well: when you lay down [to rest] and when you rise. And since the laying down comes first, then it is clear that this is the Shma’ which the Mishnah relates to, the evening Shma’, and evening, that is, when the evening Shma’ of “when you lay down” can be recited from “when the Kohanim enters to eat their Terumah.”

This first answer answers both the two questions asked, namely what is the basis (Devarim 6:7) for the question, and why is the evening Shma’ dealt with before the morning Shma’, namely because of the order of the wordings of “when you lay down” and “when you rise.”

The Gemarrah offers yet an answer, if the first isn’t satisfying, namely that we can establish the order of why the evening Shma’ is dealt with before the morning Shma’ on the order of Creation, namely that evening came before morning, as it is seen in Bereshit (Genesis) 1:5 – “and it was evening and it was morning, one day.”

A third question:

  1. Why is a later mishnah dealing with the subjects of the morning Shma’ before the evening Shma’, if the order of the Biblical verses argues for the opposite?

The argumentation of the order is challenged by the Gemarrah, referring to a later Mishnah (B’rachot 1:4), which in its order deals with the subjects of the morning Shma’ before it deals with the subjects of the evening Shma. If this is the case, the Gemarrah states, then the Tanna should deal with the morning Shma’ first here also, not the evening Shma’.

This, explains the Gemarrah, is no problem since the Tanna begins with the evening Shma’, which should be so based both on the context of the verse commanding the recital of the Shma’ twice a day, as well as the order of the Creation, but only in order to begin the whole discussion, and then continue to the morning Shma’, and while he is dealing with the morning Shma’ then he deals with its subjects as well, for then to return to the evening Shma’ after that.

There are a number of answers given to us here, not all of them being answers to questions asked, but that is also part of the discussion of the Gemarrah. What we learn here is the order of the recital of the Shma’, having it based on two Biblical verses (Bereshit 1:5 and Devarim 6:7), that evening was prior to morning in the Creation, that the Tanna only used the evening Shma’ as an introduction to the discussions on the subjects related to the recital of the Shma’.

 

As we see from this first discussion the Gemarrah doesn’t have a problem conducting a discussion with itself. It raises problems as they come, and deal with them based on quoting sources, the Bible and various Mishnaic material, in order to establish a conclusion, a conclusion the Gemarrah itself isn’t afraid of questioning.

There are three sources for the deducing of rules presented for us here. The first, and most important, is the Biblical Scripture, the Torah, the second is the Oral Tradition, here presented in the form of the Mishnah itself, and the third is the inferring by analogy (called Maqqish or Heqqesh).[4] The last is done by the comparison of two cases, in order to establish a conclusion. Here presented in the comparison between the evening Shma’ being presented before the morning Shma’. The question is why this is so. By comparing to two Biblical sources, Devarim 6:7 and Bereshit 1:5, we can learn that just as the evening Shma’ is mentioned in the Bible, so should it be in the Mishnah, which again follow the order of Creation. By this do we see the red thread between the Written and the Oral Torah. In the mishnah itself, the one dealt with already, we see a fourth source, namely consensus, which was the case of the “the Sages say.”

 

This conclude the first Sugya of the first mishnah.

 


[1] Devarim (Deuteronomy) 6:7.

[2] Bereshit (Genesis) 1:5.

[3] Mishnah B’rachot 1:4.

[4] See TB Zevachim 57a.

Studying the Talmud – Berachot 2a, First Mishnah

Chapter 1, page 1b:

Mishnah (I struggled with the layout, so forgive me for the result, I simply couldn’t get it better):

מאימתי קורין את שמע בערבין (?). משעה שהכהנים נכסים לאכול בתרומתן עד סוף האשמורה הראשונה דברי ר’ אליעזר. וחכמים אומרים עד חצות. רבן גמליאל אומר עד שיעלה עמוד השחר. 

מעשה(:) ובאו בניו מבית המשתה),) אמרו לו (:) לא קרינו את שמע(,) אמר להם(:) אם לא עלה עמוד השחר חייבין אתם לקרות  

ולא זו בלבד אמרו אלא כל מה שאמרו חכמים עד חצות מצותן עד שיעלה עמוד השחר(,) הקטר חלבים ואברים מצותן עד שיעלה עמוד השחר וכל הנאכלים ליום אחד מצותן עד שיעלה עמוד השחר

א”כ למה אמרו חכמים עד חצות(?) כדי להרחיק אדם מן העבירה: 

The recital of the confession of faith Shma’, Qriyat Shma’ שמע
The Qriyat Shma’ is the compilation of three Biblical passages, which is considered the confession of the Jewish people. It is introduced with the sentence “Shma’ Yisrael, HaShem Elohenu, HaShem Ehad,” declaring the belief in the complete unity of God. It is recited twice daily, morning and evening.
The priests of the Kohanic family, being descendents of Aharon, A”S. Kohanim כהנים
During the times of the Temples, the Kohanim was the priestly family which was responsible for performing the sacrifices. They are part of the tribe of Levi, the other Levites working as assistants for the Kohanim, as well as being assigned in teaching the Torah. It is only a Kohen who could become High Priest, and they hold certain privileges, such as having certain sacrifices prescribed them for food, which only could be eaten in a pure state.
The Crop Offering Terumah תרומה
One of the twenty-four Kohanic gifts, which only was to be eaten by the Kohanim, their near family, and their servants, and only in a state of ritual purity. It is the first part of the crop, which was given to the Kohanim. The practice didn’t stop with the destruction of the Temple, but continued years after.
The First Shift HaAshmurah HaRishonah האשמורה הראשונה
The Temple-service was organized in shifts. Rabbi Eli’ezer here states that the time of the reciting of the Shma’ could be done until the end of the first shift.
The Sages achamim חכמים
This term is used to cover the majority of the Sages’ opinions, and the ruling is normally following the majority decision, though few examples on a minority decision can be found. The term doesn’t cover specific persons, but always the majority. Hence one rabbi can in one example be one of the Sages, and in other being talked about on his own.This is an important term in the study of the Talmud, always hinting at what decision to follow.
Halachic Midnight atzot חצות
The halachic midnight is based on how many hours with sun there is during the day, and will such rarely fall precisely on the time of the midnight of the twenty-four hour day. In order to estimate the length of a halachic hour the Sages took the number of hours during the day and divided it with twelve.
Leader of the Sanhedrin Rabban רבן
A title used for the head of the Rabbinical council during the time of the Tannaim.
“If so” Im Ken אכ
Literally “if yes.” Meaning “If this is the case, then why…”

“From when do we recite the Shma’ in the evenings? From the time that the Kohanim enter in order to eat their T’rumah until the end of the first shift, words of R. Eliezer. And the Sages say until midnight. Rabban Gamliel says until the dawn rises.

And it happened: And his sons came from the drinking house, they said to him “We did not recite the Shma’,” he said to them “If the dawn still has not risen, you are obliged to recite.”

And not this alone did they (the Sages) say [until midnight] but in all that the Sages commanded until midnight are we commanded [to perform] until the dawn rises. The incenses, the fats, and the limbs. And (we) are commanded until the dawn rises in all the eating on one day.

If that is so, why did the Sages say until midnight? In order to keep man from the sin.”[1]

 “From when,” does the Talmud start, following the Mishnaic order. We are from the first word presented with a question which leads us directly into a practice still followed today, but nevertheless also involving rituals not possible to follow today, and not even at the time of Yehuda HaNasi, when the Mishnah was written down. “From when do we recite the Shma’?” The question relates to the daily recitation of the Qriyat Shma’, what is considered to be the Jewish declaration of faith per excellence. Here the question is about the recitation of the evening Shma’, asking from when we can begin to recite it. The answer has implications also for the modern Jew, but the answer is already outdated when it was written. “From the time that the Kohanim enter to eat their T’rumah.” The T’rumah is the sacrifice designated for the Kohanim, the Levite family in charge of taking care of the sacrificial rituals at the Temple. But when Yehudah HaNasi wrote the Mishnah, the Temple had been in ruins for around 130 years, leaving the contemporary Jew confused as of when the Kohanim did just that. It doesn’t seem to bother the author though, since he continues to focus on until when we can recite the Shma’, even without stating the question. What is of more importance is the ending times of the Mitzvot, forming the discussion in the rest of the introductory Sugya. We will see later on that this does bother the Amoraim, the Talmudic Sages, spending some time and energy on the question of “why in the evening first?”

But let us start with what is at hand. The mishnah is presenting one asked and one unasked question, one answer to the asked question, and three answers to the unasked: From when? From the Kohanim enter. And until the end of the first shift, until midnight and until the dawn rises.

The first of the three answers are credited to Rabbi Eliezer, but it isn’t clear whether he also states the first question and answers it, or it is only the answer on “until when,” which is credited to him. Nevertheless, the answer on “from when” is accepted as being “from the Kohanim enters,” but in the matter of “until when,” we have the opinions of Rabbi Eliezer (until the end of the first shift), the Sages[2] (until midnight)[3], and Rabban Gamliel (until the dawn rises). As we normally follow the majority opinion, the opinion of “The Sages,” that is understood to be the case here as well. But then we are presented for a story. Rabban Gamliel’s sons come home from the “drinking house.”[4] It is after midnight and they still haven’t recited the Shma’, so they ask their father what to do, and since the dawn still hasn’t started to rise, they are still obligated to recite.

This story leaves me with a slightly different understanding of what Rabban Gamliel had in his thoughts. Maybe he did indeed agree with the Sages, that we should recite before midnight, but if something kept us from it, then we are still obligated until the dawn begin to rise. Clearly the sons have an understanding of the demand to recite the Shma before midnight, otherwise they would not feel the need to ask their dad about whether it is expected of them or not, so I would think that it isn’t too far stretched to believe that it was the practice at their place to recite the Shma’ before midnight. Based on that I believe that we can see Rabban Gamliel being part of the majority here, but that he adds an addition, following both the rationality of the Sages (as we will see be explain), as well as following the limits of the Biblical Commandments.

The mishnah continues. “And not only that, but every time the Sages said until midnight, we are commanded until the dawn starts to rise.” What is going on here? Apparently the Sages tend to restrict the time limit of the Biblical Commandments, which happens not only in this case, but in any case when the Sages say “until midnight.” And then it follows up by telling that we are commanded until the dawn begins to rise in various incidences, but why is that? Wouldn’t it be enough just to say that when the Sages say until midnight, then we are from the Torah commanded until the dawn begins to rise? The thought here seems to be, that the Mishnah wants to teach us something. We will return to this later.

The mishnah concludes by asking why the Sages stated until midnight, when the Torah commands until the dawn starts to rise. Should we not follow the Torah? The question is ‘yes,’ and that is what we can learn from the happening with Rabban Gamliel and his sons, that even if we pass the rabbinical commandment of reciting (or fulfilling any of the other commandments, which is until the dawn begins to rise, but which the Sages have said until midnight), then we are still obliged to fulfill them. The reason, the mishnah explains, is that the limit of midnight is established in order to keep man from sinning, that is, better that he does it early while he is still awake, than delaying himself and then risking falling asleep. The rabbinic commandment, which is called mitzwah d’Rabbanan (commandment from the Rabbis) is a “fence,” placed around the Torah, in order that we don’t do wrong by mistake (the Pirqei Avot talks about this fence in chapter 1:2). The commandment from the Torah, on the other hand, is called mitzwah d’Orayta (commandment from the Source).

This concludes the first mishnah in the Talmud Bavli, Seder Zera’im, Massechet B’rachot.


[1] My translation has been kept very strict to the text, unless where I had no choice but alter it in order to give meaning. I will give a more meaningful translation, as well as insert in the original text additions, which will render it easier to read for a modern reader. There will be made differences between the original text and my own additions.

[2] The Hebrew term is more correctly translated to “The Wise,” but I would believe that “The Sages” gives more sense. It isn’t a fixed group of people, but should be understood as the majority of the Sages, according to which opinions the Halachah (legal decision) normally is set, though there are examples on the opposite. But as a guiding rule, we should see the majority rule as being the Halachah.

[3] It is important to note that we are not necessarily talking about 12 o’clock, as the end/beginning of the 24 hour day, but about the Halachic midnight, being fixed according to the hours of sunlight, which moves the midnight according to the time of the year.

[4] This is the literal translation of “Beyt Mishteh,” but there are various thoughts stating that it should not be understood as a pub or the like. RaMBaM, Z”L, states that when the word is used, it is always understood as being a gathering where there has been focus on the wine (in his commentary to the Mishnah, same place). Likewise the Tosefot Yom Tov explains that whenever the term is used, it is in regards to a wedding.

Studying the Talmud

BS”D

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

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

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

The Mishnah:

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

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

The six Sedarim are as follows:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Gemarrah

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Five Pillars of Judaism – Pilgrimage

BS”D

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.