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Comparative study on the law schools and overall structure of Islam and Judaism – Defining the Schisms



Considering finding the comparison of the evolution of the Jewish maḍhab, I think there are some things that need to be in place, before we can begin the comparison. First off, one of the reasons the various maḍâhib appeared was the internal split as well as the geographical distance between the centers. People became more focused on their local center than on the overall center. When do we see the same in Judaism? Another thing which needs to be in place, is the acknowledgment of the same basic sources. When talking about Islam the split in the legal sources is the Sunnah and the Imams, where the Shi’as don’t acknowledge the Sunni compilations of Hadith, so the Sunnis don’t acknowledge the Shi’a ditto as well as the status of the Imams. Within the Sunni maḍâhib the basic sources where agreed upon, as they were, I believe, in the case of the Shi’a maḍâhib.

So we have two levels of comparison here. One is in the schism of disagreement on basic sources, that is, the sources considered holy and thus basic for further understanding of Allah’s will, the other the schisms within the major movements, where it is a question more about different principles in the interpretation of these sources, than the sources themselves.

When I think of examples on the first schism in Judaism, I find many and from various periods of time. During the Biblical times the obvious example is that of the Samarians and the Judeans. During the time of the Second Temple there are the schisms between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, the Essenes and the other Jewish groups (in regards to the status of the Temple as well as the priesthood of the Essenes), and later on between the Rabbinic Jews and the Karaites. Today we might even talk about the schism between the Orthodox on the one hand and the Reform on the other (with the Conservative movement somewhere in between). What is worthwhile to notice here is that we are talking about schisms, which emphasis the struggle on who are the right ones to define what “true Judaism” is, that is, where do we put the limits. That is also the case in the Islamic schism between the Sunnis and the Shi’as. Of course, which I dare say is obvious, it doesn’t mean that the two parts in each schism, whether Jewish or Muslim, denies the other side’s right to leave an imprint on the religion, as well as the case can be that sometimes the one part denies the other side’s right, while the other side acknowledge the right of the first side.

The schisms which I believe cannot be placed within this category of schisms, let’s call it the Schism of Who is Right, are those of the Ashkenazim and Sfaradim, and that of the Talmuds Yerushalmi and Bavli, simply because we have two sides, in both cases, agreeing on the basic sources.

This leaves me though with maybe even more work. First off, which groups should I focus on? It is clear that I need to decide on whether I focus on the Rabbinical Jews, the Sadducees, the Reform, the Sunni, or the Shi’as, for the sake of focus. Second off, I also need to establish whether we can find examples on the maḍâhib in all cases. Maybe I find it among the, let’s say, Karaites, but it doesn’t mean that it exists in the case of the Sadducees. I need to define my approach, my focus, and be able to explain why I chose that focus.


Some recommended reading:


“Studies in Usul al-Fiqh,” Iyad Hilal, can be found at www.islamic-truth.fsnet.co.uk

“Principles of Islamic Jurisprudence,” M. H. Kamali, can easily be found by search on Google.

“Hadith : Muhammad’s Legacy in the Medieval and Modern World,” Jonathan A. C. Brown. Oneworld Publication, 2009.

“The Most Learned of the Shi’a: The Institution of the Marja’ Taqlid,” edited by Linda S. Walbridge. Oxford University Press, 2001.

“Introduction to Islamic Theology and Law,” Ignaz Goldziher (translated by Andras and Ruth Hamori). Princeton University Press, 1981.

“Halakha in the Making: The Development of Jewish Law from Qumran to the Rabbis,” Aharon Shemesh. University of California Press, 2009.

“The Talmud: A Selection,” Edited by Norman Solomon. Penguin Books Ltd, 2009.

“Who Owns Judaism? Public Religion and Private Faith in America and Israel,” edited by Eli Lederhendler. Oxford University Press, 2001.

“For the Love of God and People: A Philosophy on Jewish Law,” Elliot N. Dorff. The Jewish Publication Society, 2007.

“An Introduction to the History and Sources of Jewish Law,” edited by N. S. Hecht, B. S. Jackson, S. M. Passamaneck, D. Piatelli, and A. M. Rabello. Oxford University Press, 1996.

“The Sages,” R. Ephraim Urbach. The Magnes Press, 1987.

“The Halakhah: Its Sources and Development,” R. Ephraim Urbach. Modan Ltd, 1996.

Who is an “Orthodox”?


I became inspired to write this post from another blog post I read recently, “Stop the Presses! Reform Jews can’t be called ‘observant’?”, as well as from an article in “The Orthodox Forum,” by B. Barry Levy, “The State and Directions of Orthodox Bible Study.”[1]

The post, “Stop the Presses! Reform Jews can’t be called ‘observant’?”, at The Grand Scheme, is mostly dealing with the question of whether a Reform Jew can be called “observant” or not. Relating to another post on another blog, author Eileen Flynn wonders about whether it is right to object against the term “objective” being used about Reform Jews. Personally, as I also wrote in a comment to the post, I don’t see the big problem, as long as the person in question really is observant. It is not the “observance” I differ on, but what to be “observed.”

 In his article, “The State and Directions of Orthodox Bible Study,” Barry Levy primarily talks about how to approach and create a consistent understanding within the Orthodox world, on what it means to conduct Bible studies in acceptance to Orthodox values. He does devote a part of the article on what “Orthodox” means, and that is, as well as Flynn’s post, what I will relate to in this post.

First and foremost, in the Jewish world today, we have four general movements, namely the Orthodox, the Conservative, the Reform, and the Reconstructionist movements. I’m not going to spend time explaining the principles of these four movements, but more focus on the meaning of “Orthodox,” and when one can be called so.

Levy introduces the second part of his article with the question “Who or what is Orthodox,” and relates to the earliest uses of the term, namely around the year 1800 (1795 to be precise), limiting the scope of identifying “Orthodox” within the last two centuries. Of course, his article is mostly focused on the scholarship within Bible study, but I did get some good input out of it, namely that the Orthodox Jews seem to accept a certain group of literature. Levy defines it this way:

“Orthodoxy identifies with all of the vast and varied pre-Orthodox rabbinic tradition and theoretically takes seriously its range of ideological positions (and is the only contemporary Jewish religious movement to do so)….”[2]

What I find interesting here, is the use of “identifying,” theoretically,” and “range of ideological positions.” Basically, what Levy here states is that the Orthodox Jew identifies, at least on the theoretical plane, with the vast and varied pre-Orthodox Rabbinic tradition and its range of ideological positions. This Orthodox Jew doesn’t need to be observant, practicing, or the like, in order to fall within this definition, though I would believe that it would take at least a minimum of observance, in order to fully relate to the ideological positions of the Rabbinic tradition, one of which is the duty to indulge in the study of Torah.

This leads me to Flynn’s post about being “observant.” Often I see the term “observant” being used interchangeably with “Orthodox,” as well as with “frum,” as if these three terms share the exact same meaning. I don’t believe so. As I also wrote in my comment to Flynn’s post, the level of observance is not the same as what one observes. Take for example a person who is on a diet. He/she will most likely be very observant when it comes to eat the right food at the right times. He/she doesn’t need to be Orthodox though. Let’s – for the sake of argument – further delve into this example. A person on a diet will observe what this person believes has to be observed, while the Orthodox Jew also will observe his/her diet, but with a whole different scope, namely a more “spiritual” scope, choosing not to eat things which the person on a diet would eat, and the other way around. Both persons can be more or less observant with their diet, though the diets differ. Hence, I would believe, a Reform Jew can also be observant, though what he/she (and I have to admit that it is my experience that it’s mostly “she,” when it comes to the Reform Jews, shame on the men) observes are different from what an Orthodox Jew would observe.

Based on this, my understanding of who is or isn’t “Orthodox,” is based on approach and identification, more than it is on “observance.”

All the best.

[1] From “Modern Scholarship in the Study of Torah,” from The Modern Orthodox Forum, the fourth conference 1991, edited by Shalom Carmy.

[2] Ibid. page 43.