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On thursday the 25th of april a decision was taken by the Jerusalem District Court on whether women will be allowed to or prohibited from praying at the Kotel (the Wailing Wall) in the Old City of Jerusalem, wearing prayer shawls and tefillin, which traditionally has been considered man garb, and thus prohibited for women (though there definitely are a number of varying opinions on this issue).
The court decided that it indeed is allowed for women to pray wearing prayer shawls and Tefillin, and that the recent arrest of a group of women, from the organization “Women of the Wall,” was unjustified, the former since they do not go against the law on praying according to local customs, since that can be interpreted rather broad, and the latter since the women did not cause a public disturbance, which otherwise was the reason behind the arrest.
This ruling is the culmination on a number if incidents, leading to a conflict between the (ultra)-Orthodox establishment and the female activists, as well as to a greater discussion on women’s right to pray as they please at the Kotel, which should be seen both as part of the wider debate on the role of religion in Israel, as well as the debate between the Israeli Orthodox community and its role as authority on Jewish religion in Israel and the American (and in second instance global) non-Orthodox community. Both are discussions concerned with power and freedom of worship, and it is a blow to Orthodox monopoly on defining correct Jewish religious behavior in Israel, which most likely has been struck as a reaction, to what many would consider as being an arrogant Orthodox attitude towards those, who understand and practice Judaism differently than the general orthodox norm.
Also within the Orthodox world, compromising both the ultra-Orthodox, the National-Religious, and other Modern-Orthodox groups, have there been discussions on the subject, with the majority viewing the women as provocateurs, but also as the decision against allowing women to pray as they wish, combined with the behavior of an extremist ultra-Orthodox minority, as being inherently wrong.
This is most likely part of a trend of reacting against the ultra-Orthodox authority on religious matters in Israel, as well as a reaction against their attitude to those not being part of the ultra-Orthodox world, which was also seen during the last Israeli election. The question is how far the ultra-Orthodox leaders will take this conflict, before they accept that they have to either change their practice of governing the religious affairs, or changing their approach to those not being part of their world and world view. This depends both on how much or little support they will have internally from the general ultra-Orthodox Jew (who isn’t as isolated as he has been from the wider Israeli-Jewish community) as well as the degree of stubbornness found among the ultra-Orthodox leaders.
Amira Hass, columnist at HaAretz, recently wrote a column where she not only defended rock-throwing Palestinians, but encouraged them to continue it. I know that Hass doesn’t harbor any warm feelings for Israel or the Israeli society, even less for the settlers, which are an expression of colonialism according to her opinion, as well as I know that she sympathizes strongly with the Palestinian cause, so much that she now lives in Ramallah. That I don’t have a problem with, I actually sympathize with the Palestinians as well, though not so much that I hate Israel and the Israeli society (true, there are elements I would love to be without, but no society is perfect).
Hass is entitled to her opinions on Israel and the conflict, and I can understand some of them, though agreeing with her in general is hard. When she objects to, and criticizes Israeli violence I agree, and I believe it should be condemned. So, for example, when Israeli soldiers are beating up Palestinian children (how often or not it might happen), or when settlers attack innocent Palestinians, on their way to their fields or just passing by. But her condemnations and criticism just underscore the amazing hypocrisy of hers. How in the world can you on one hand condemn violence and on the other hand encourage it? Particularly after the incidents that have passed lately, where we have seen a three-year old girl surviving only by a miracle, after stone-throwers caused the girl’s mother to crash with a truck!
I know what Hass would say; that it’s tragic and unfortunate, but that it’s the parents fault for bringing her there, being in the West Bank is cause of danger for Jews (or should be according to her opinion apparently), and to bring a girl there is the fault of those bringing her. Her flawed logic screams to heaven, here are some reasons why:
First, how did the stone-throwers know that there were Jews in the car? True, you can see whether the car is Israeli or Palestinian, based on the color of the number plates, but Palestinians with Israeli citizenship drive in Israeli cars, and as such can also be targeted. If this had been a Palestinian girl, rather than a Jewish, what would her explanation and reaction be? No need to guess, Israel would have been blamed for this, since the stone-throwers only throw stones as a reaction against Israeli occupation, leaving the stone-throwers as beings without any ability to reflect and think independently.
Second, that she finds it okay to target Jews, is in itself disgusting. If I can find some reason to justify the means, is it then okay to target Palestinians, women, Buddhist, or whatever I can think of, only based on my dislike towards a certain group, making all members of this group responsible for the actions of the few? Or is it up to Hass to decide when it is moral and when not?
Let us turn it around for a moment. Is it really a wise advice she gives the Palestinians? Is it something which will improve their situation? No, not really. Here are some reasons for that:
First, we already have enough violence, the last intifada should be proof enough for anyone that violence is not the answer, that violence only hardens the attitude of the Israelis, who need to be part of a stable agreement ending the conflict, making it harder for any Israeli political attempts to improve the situation.
Or let us say, for the sake of argument, that the Israeli politicians don’t want peace. Still, these actions of violence juts gives them excuses for not doing anything to improve the situation. Whether the one or the other, these actions of violence will backfire.
Second, the youth (and yes, we are talking mostly about youngsters, who most likely are bored and think that they actually are doing a great deed for the Palestinian cause) are endangering themselves. Make no mistake, some settlers are armed, and very ready to use their weapons in self-defense. Note; self-defense. Hass is encouraging young people to put their life at risk, for her confused sense of justice, knowing very well that stone-throwers most likely won’t make any changes, besides worsen the situation for the Palestinians. How I can know that? You don’t see her with the Palestinians throwing stones, she knows very well the dangers connected to doing this.
But here is the worst reason why Hass’ encouragement is despicable. She could be a bridge, she could connect the two sides, be an intermediate partner for peace, taking advantage of her knowledge and status in order to promote actions, where people from both sides could create something together and improve relations. Instead of that she chooses to encourage to violence and by that saw hatred on both side.
Hass is not among the “disciples of Aharon”, those striving for peace, ready to put themselves out there, risking themselves, in order to connect striving parties, creating communications and establishing friendship on the two sides, such as for example the late R. Froman, z”l, was. She is rather among the followers of Korach, who rebelled against the establishment of the Jewish people, not in order to promote justice, but in order to gain prestige and honor not deserved.
And why a newspaper like HaAretz wants to take part in this, is above me to understand.
Most of you probably already know, Israel and Hamas (and helpers) have again engaged in a round of escalated violence. Yet again the escalated attempts at killing each other of will begin, and yet again the discussions about who is to blame, with direct reporting from here and there, and experts sitting in the studio (who often aren’t experts) will tell us all how wrong the one side is, and how much the other side suffers.
I still remember January 2009 and its aftermath. Too many people were killed, and all over Europe there was an outcry for justice, which apparently for some involved the killing of all Jews. It will come again, in the same level, this time though – at least for the aware person – in the background of the killing of more than 30,000 civilians in Syria, without any greater demonstrations taking place.
Yet again we will here blame directed at the Palestinians or at Israel, attempting to portray either of them as terrorists and murderers. Yet again people will be blind to the faults of their own side, only seeing the faults of the other side. I’ve already witnessed it to great extant in less than 24 hours.
Last time I took active part in the discussions, this time I most likely won’t. People are dying on both sides, mostly innocent civilians, children. This morning three Israeli civilians died as well as the baby child of a Palestinian journalist. Being a soon-to-be-father I can imagine the pain, just the thought of seeing my own unborn son, has v’halilah, makes me cry. This won’t bring any good with it, just as last time we won’t see this lead to the end of fightings and the killing of people. On the contrary this will expose a lot of hypocrisies, particularly the double standards being exposed in way of criticism.
At work I have two colleagues being personally involved in this round of fightings. Well, all of us living here are, all of us have friends or family being within range of fire. But these two have close family in Gaza and Beer Sheva, the one being a Palestinian the other a Jew. When they meet today at work they can talk about the safety of their loved ones, or rather, the chances that they won’t see them again. Who is to blame? Forget about that, just let them be able to meet after this is over and be able to say, Alhamdulillah, my family is in good health.
So who is to blame? Let’s just have a couple of words or three about that. And who will benefit from this? The Israeli right wing and the extremist religious fanatics among the Palestinians, they will benefit from this. Some people have expressed thoughts on how curious it is, that this always happens before Israeli elections. I don’t know about “always”, but it does happens, and yes, it is curious. These people present it as a plan from the Israeli right wing, a scheme in order to make them seem strong and protective in the eyes of the Israeli public. Is this true? Yes and no. The Israeli right wing cannot just start a war, just because they want to. It is true that Likud and other right wing parties are gaining much more from this, politically, than the left wing, and that this certainly is a good time (if any) for the escalation of violence. But what these critical people fail to acknowledge (of some reason or another) is that this doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Israel doesn’t just begin to bomb, just to do it. These people are totally ignoring the rockets being shot into Israel for a longer period or trying to excuse it. I’m sorry to say, I don’t accept any excuses for the conscious and deliberate targeting of civilians, no matter what. These critics – who blame Israel for breaking the ceasefire – also ignore the four rockets fired into Israel earlier yesterday before Israel targeted Ahmad Ja’abari, one of the top leaders in Hamas. This is ignoring facts, in order to make your understanding of what is going on fit into your bigger picture of things. And it is dishonest.
But here’s the deal. Even if Israel – per se – is only defending herself after the recent attacks on her civilians – and yes, I do believe that Israel has an obligation to do that, as any government in the world has, rather than killing them – the Israeli government, or Israel at large, does hold responsibility itself. Not necessarily for this particular escalation of violence, but for the overall situation we’re having. For making a mockery of the Palestinian side, though the Palestinian leaders also do that well. For not really wanting to give the Palestinian leadership something to bring their people, some acknowledgement of sort. Mahmoud Abbas lately stated in an interview, that he refused to hold the return of Palestinian refugees to Israel as a holy principle, acknowledging that it wouldn’t happen and Palestinians shouldn’t expect it to happen. For that he received a great deal of criticism among his own, while some Israeli politicians and opinion makers ridiculed him, refusing to take him serious. The same, of sorts, happened to Salem Fayyed when he tried to be productive, both among his own, but also among Israeli leaders. Fayyed is one person among the Palestinian leaders, which Israel really could trust, who was struggling (and still is) for honest and open relations, as well as attempting to fight corruption. He is today a shadow of what he was, after attempts to crush him both from Israelis and Palestinian leaders.
But also ordinary people are to blame. When we relate to each other as pure trash or bugs, then no wonder there is hatred and will for war, rather than attempts to create a future coexistence of some sort. Already now I have read statements like “make Gaza into a parking lot”, “bomb the fucking Arabs”, “a good Arab is a dead Arab”, “I won’t cry a single tear for any dead Palestinian, civilian or terrorist, since they all are terrorists”, as well as “Hitler lived for a purpose”, “I long to crush the Jew under my foot”, “a good Jew is a dead Jew”, and so on.
As related to earlier, also the one sided, black and white criticism is a cause for this. Just as critics of Israel is ignoring the faults of Hamas and other extremist groups, so do critics of the Palestinians ignore the faults of Israel, as already mention, but particularly the needs and suffering of the other side. Just as it should be acknowledged that Israeli children have to be near shelters at all times, also in schools, and that they didn’t choose this for themselves, neither did their parents, so it should be acknowledged that the Palestinians in Gaza didn’t accept this existence for themselves. Forget the “they voted for Hamas”. That is just ignorant. They didn’t vote for Hamas, they voted against Fatah and the corruption, and they really didn’t have an alternative.
There is a lot to be said, and many things probably will be said. The world will go crazy and fight about who is the sinner here, but the truth is that most of us are, and that the world are only helping to keep this conflict going with the ideologist or material interest there might be here, while refusing to relate pragmatically to what is going on.
In the meantime innocent will suffer and be killed, on both sides. Israelis and Palestinians are not two sides fighting each other, we are one side suffering from the same source. And we will continue to suffer until we realize this and relate to our situation pragmatically.
Happy New Year to all my Muslim brothers. I hope this latest escalation may be the last, inshallah, and that this new year will be a more peaceful one for all the children in ash-Sham, as well as in the rest of the world, inshallah.
In an article, “The Israeli Millet System: Examining Legal Pluralism through Lenses of Nation-Building and Human Rights”, Yüksel Sezgin puts a critical focus on the Israeli legal system, arguing for the problematic nature of legal pluralism in the state, and the consequences of it.
Besides the proposal of a conscious Israeli choice of the Ottoman Millet system, used in order to create a unified and single Jewish identity, and being able to make a clear differing between this Jewish identity and Israeli non-Jewish identities, Sezgin points out why legal pluralism can be a problem, at least in the case of Israel.
As mentioned in earlier posts, in Israel authority on matters of family and personal law has been granted religious courts, whether Jewish, Muslim, Christian or Druze. This means that each religious group is only able to be married according to its religious laws, which again means that only those recognized as acceptable can be married. This differs from religion to religion, such as in case of Jews/Judaism is it only possible for Jews to marry Jews, while in case of Muslims/Islam is it possible for Muslim men to marry Jewish or Christian women, but not for Muslim women to marry Jewish or Christian men, and this is considered law of the state. In case of divorce this is also done according to the respective religion and its laws, which means that Jewish and Muslim women basically are placed in a worse situation than ditto men.
Should a Jewish man and Muslim woman fall in love and choose to marry, this is only possible outside Israel, but once married they would have to be divorced according to the laws of Israel, even if divorced outside Israel this divorce not necessarily being accepted by Israeli (religious) authorities.
The problematic nature of this is obvious, particularly considering that freedom of religion is secured in Israeli law, which might mean that one can choose any religion he/she wishes for, at least in theory (in practice it might be harder, depending on religion converting away from and which converting to). Basically what is meant, seen from practice, is that one has freedom of religion, but not freedom from religion. If you want to get married, it can only be through a religious court and according to your respective religion, rendering the choice of “no religion” void.
We are left with two problems already, when it comes to the nature of “freedom of religion”, since we see from the already mentioned that religion is not something you can choose to or from, it is forced on you, you can only choose which religion. And your choice of love is not free from you either, leaving anyone not accepted by your religion in the category of “no-go”.
This is a clear clash of Israeli family law and international human rights, but it doesn’t stop there. In case of divorce do we see the clash between the thought of equality, something Israel is claiming, and religious laws. In Judaism a man can give a declaration of divorce, with or without the acknowledgement of the woman, while the same is not the case does the woman want a divorce. There has been implemented ways of forcing the man to give the divorce, should he object, such as daily bills, loosing of drivers license and work license, and even imprisonment, but it is rarely enforced, since many rabbinical judges sees this as going contrary to Halachah, and such do not use this enforcement.
In case of Muslims a woman is ensured payment for a certain time, but it has been shown that Muslim women receive less than divorced Jewish and Christian women, which is another example of inequality.
This is of course problematic in a state, which calls itself Democratic, at least if we understand the “Democratic” as in securing equality and keeping human rights, rather just than “one man, one vote”.
As I pointed out in my last post, there are difference between the Jewish and the Muslim case, having examples overlapping between the two cases. For example does the Muslim man have more choices of spouse than the Jewish ditto.
Sezgin criticizes Israel’s embracing the Ottoman Millet system, both in terms of nation building, that is, as a tool used in order to create distinct groups, making it easier to control them, as well as in terms of human rights, criticizing the enforced religious rule on family and personal matters.
I see the problematic nature, at least in the latter case (I am not so sure we should be cynical about the choice of the Millet system, considering the challenging situation Israel found herself in at the establishment of the state, though Sezgin does refuse this excuse), but as shown from Hofri’s article in my last post, the religious are getting ground in Israel, and the consequence of the growing secularization of the Israeli legal system – which Sezgin doesn’t seem to acknowledge – does create the need, for the religious, for alternatives, which could end creating a split with the state, and the question is whether the state wants or can handle that challenge. And this is not only in case of Jews, but also the Muslims, where we see an Islamic Movement challenging the Shari’a Courts, something which most likely only will be strengthened, the more secular the state attempts to make law in Israel. We will later see that the Shari’a courts are attempting to remove any secular Israeli influence, in order to answer the challenge from the Islamic Movement, but should we get a pure secular family law in Israel, who will then take the religious marriages, and by that controlling part of the religious rituals?
I hope to be able to give some thoughts on the clash between human rights and religious courts later on, when I get more material covered. For now it will mostly be speculation and guesses, but again, I’m only sharing thoughts.
Take care out there.
First, let me send thoughts to all the victims from Sandy, whether in the States or elsewhere. If any of you readers felt the impact, then let me express my relief that you are able to read this post by now. I sincerely hope that you weren’t affected too much of the storm.
Back to the title.
Yes, you read correct.
Israel is – or at least claims to be – a secular Jewish democracy, but yet is religious law part of Israeli law. One might not be so surprised that Jewish religious law, Halachah, is influencial on Israeli secular law, Mishpat Ivrit, but some might wonder why and how Shari’a can be influential on Israeli law.
There’s a good explanation. Israeli law is to a certain extent based on the model of Ottoman law, which was taken over by the British during the mandate period, and now in Israeli law. To be more precisely, based on Ottoman law Israel recognize a number of religious groups, which are governing themselves according to their respective religious law, in matters related to family law and privacy law. It is clearest expressed in matters of marriage and divorce, but also guardianship is falling under the religious courts, but whereas Israeli secular law rarely relates to the two first, the latter is more a focus of controversy, as well as cases involving the question of equality (as is the case for most conflicts between Israeli secular law and religious law in Israel). More about that in another post.
Israel has eight regional Shari’a courts, in Bir al-Sabi’, Jerusalem, Yaffo, Taybe, Baqa al-Gharbiya, Hayfa, Nazareth, and Acco, as well as the Shari’a court of Appeals, sitting in Jerusalem, which works as the court of appeals (hence the name). The Shari’a Court of Appeals plays a crucial role in the development of Shari’ah in Israel, since it is this institution which takes the most confrontations with the Israeli legal system, as well as being able to overrule rulings from the regional courts. It is headed by Qadi Ahmad Natour, and besides him has Qadi Farouk Zoebi and Qadi Zachi Madlaj, all elected in 1994 on permanent status (first time that happened).
The Shari’a Court of Appeal is challenged from three sides; the Israeli Supreme Court of Justice, on matters where Israeli secular law and the rulings of the Shari’ah Court of Appeals conflict, from the Islamic Movement(s), which questions and challenges the authority of the Court, and from feminist groups, challenging the lack of sensibility to the status of women and human rights.
There are a number of scholars dealing with the subject, mostly Israelis (Jewish and Palestinians), but three of them stand out in particular, Aharon Layish, who have written indepth on a number of subject connected to Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh) within Israel (both in case of the Shari’a courts and conflicts between the courts and the litigants) and historically. Moussa Abu Ramadan, who has written very indepth on the rulings and practices of the Shari’ah courts, particularly the Shari’ah Court of Appeals. And Alisa Rubin Peled, who has written about the debates and attitudes to the Shari’ah courts.
It is these three that I will base most of my study of Israeli Shari’ah upon, but still relate to others as well.
This post is a little introduction to my study of Shari’ah in Israel, and I hope there will come many more posts. From what I have read so far it really seems like an interesting subject, not only because it’s about Isreal and Shari’ah (in context of each other), but also because it raises some interesting thoughts on the relation between religion and a/the secular society it exists within. What is the role of religion in a modern society? Where should the borders go, if there should be any at all? Is it possible to implement religious law into secular law? And so on.
Enough for this time. Take care out there.
It’s been more than a week since my last post. I’m sorry, but I simply have been too preoccupied with things connected to my studies and private life. I’m still alive though, B”H.
Anyway. After this Shabbat I could turn on the computer to two news which made me feel a little, well, confused in feelings.
The first one, and I choose on purpose to talk about the negative one first, rather want to end in the positive, is about a group of racist Jews feeling that it’s their right to let our their frustrations on others, who are attempting to build something constructive. In Israel, between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv-Jaffo, there’s a small village called Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salâm, which has as its mission to encourage coexistence, and it indeed has a mixed population of Arabs and Jews.
The night to Friday some idiots decided to let out their frustration of what is going on with Ulpana (an illegal settlement decided to be removed) on these people, who have nothing whatsoever to do with that decision. Not that that worries these idiots much, they are controlled by hatred to anything which is seen as being opposed to their goals. They present the worst of Israel, showing contempt for innocent, for positive attitudes, for the dreams and hopes of people, only considering what they feel is “right.” They don’t like you if you’re not a Jew, and they don’t like you even if you’re a Jew and you’re not a hundred and ten percent on their side.
It pisses me off. All this “price tag”-shtuyot is, well, shtuyot (bullshit, sorry), only intended to destroy everything for people who are seen as “enemies,” whether they have anything to do with these people or not. They are going after the innocent. And it pisses me off. That people who are claiming to be righteous in their approach to thing, can act so unjustly, and then claiming Judaism as the morality for acting such, is despicable, and these people doing this are simple criminals.
On the other hand I could also open the computer to a story about Israeli doctors treating wounded and sick Syrian civilians on the Turkish-Syrian border, knowing that they probably won’t be shown any gratitude for this act, knowing that most of the people they are treating them, probably hate them. But yet they do it. Not to gain from it, but only to give.
This is Israel. Hatred and caring, destroying and sacrificing. And it sometimes leaves me confused.
Okay, I thought I wanted to try something new, making my blog a little more relevant for those who don’t find the nerdy studies of religion interesting. I still want to keep the Jewish twist, as well as the focus on religion, so I was thinking about making a news-update on what’s going on in the Jewish religious world. The first post though is not so connected to religion, as it is to the political changes around in the world. Just needed to write a little about it.
Changes are happening around the world, not only in the Arab world but certainly also in Europe. These changes probably don’t come as any news for most, considering that we are talking about Tunesia, Greek, and Hungary, or at least these are the countries that will be focused upon a little here.
Greek is in tumult, something it has been almost since the financial crisis broke out some years ago. The country is moving towards an election, and not all parties are equally democratic and embracing in their world view. Take for example the party “Golden Dawn,” considered neo-Nazi and has such wonderful points on their charter as the exclusion of “non-Aryans” from their party. The lack of democratic thought in this should be obvious, it doesn’t matter whether you agree in their views or not, you’re simply excluded alone based on an outdated belief in human races.
In Hungary a political party called Jobbik, which is anti-Jewish and anti-Gypsy, entered the Hungarian parliament already two years ago. And having the country being in a situation where people want scapegoats, the party certainly is doing its best to point out who they believe is the cause of the bad financial situation. Yes, you guessed it, the Jews.
Tunisia is a different chapter, having gone through its changes not based on the finance crisis, but rather, well, the Arab world’s crisis of dictators. And as such the picture is also different, but still rather unsure when it comes to the Jews. The around 1,000 Jews who are living in Tunisia seem positive, though cautious, believing and hoping that the changes will be for the best. The Tunisian tourist minister, Elyes Fakhfakh, has done his to make the Jews feel at least a little more secure, appearing to the feast which is part of the Lag Ba’Omer, showing his positive attitude to the Jews’ role in Tunisia. But yet some recent incidents have done theirs to put emphasis on the unsure position of the Jews, as the vandalizing of Christian and Jewish cemeteries some time ago, as well s the thought of Islamists running the country doesn’t make the Jews feel any more secure.
Jews around the world are worried, not only in the mentioned countries. Though some people, of obscure reasons, attempt to deny the extent of the problem, the Jews in Malmo are leaving. On the other side of Øresund, the strait between Denmark and Sweden, the Jews of Copenhagen also feels the growing radical tendencies. I could mention a lot of places in Europe, having Jews being singled out not only on the streets, but also in other places such as university campuses.
I do want to be positive, but I don’t think the situation will change for the better, at least not before it has become worse. It is natural that crises strengthen radicalism, that we have seen time and time again through history. Apparently it is also very natural that that has to come out through hatred directed against minorities, especially Jews and Gypsies (in Europe), nothing new there. When it comes to Europe I certainly am pessimistic.
When it comes to the Arab world, on the other hand, I might not be outright optimistic, but I’m certainly more curious as to what will be. Europe does have a long history of antisemitism, while the Arab world might have presented the world for harsh degrees on Jews, but nothing like European antisemitism. I’m wondering what will happen within the next ten to twenty years, hopefully a better and more wise world will appear. But I fear what will be in the meantime.
A couple of articles on the subject:
And this is actually positive news. No, I haven’t suddenly turned extremist, what I’m referring to is a friendly match between settlers from Beit Aryah and Palestinian residents from the neighboring city of al-Laban, who celebrated a new soccer field with a friendly match. Here’s the good news: the settlers beat the Palestinians 11 to 0! Yeah! No, as one of the Palestinians said, “this is for fun, for sport and for friendship,” and that is good news.
Sure, the conflict is still on, the situation hasn’t suddenly changed 180 degrees, people in Israel still have to fear terror and Palestinians are still living under occupation, but that settlers and Palestinians are showing more and more signs on wanting to exist together, is definitely something that points in the right direction. So for me, at least, this is great news and it is yet one of those positive stories, which also takes place down here.
Read more here.
I have earlier talked a little about why I chose to study religion, but the other day I was asked why I chose to focus on law in religion. What is it about law, which triggers me, makes me aware, makes me want to understand the finesses and theories, which by others would be considered way too boring or abstract to even begin considering it? Well, it’s a little complicated to explain, but I will give a try anyway. But first I need to correct something I wrote in the before mentioned post on why I chose to study Comparative Religion. There I wrote that I would be focusing on the role of the woman in Israel, something which has changed. Or actually, I returned to my first focus though I at the time wasn’t so sure that that was my focus. What I want to say is that my focus is going to be on the mutual attitudes between Jews and Muslims, especially in the context of religion in Israel.
But there’s more to it than that. During my under-graduate studies I took my minor in cultural studies, where identity and the thought on identity preoccupied my quite a lot. It still does. The whole question of how we identify ourselves and what influences this really talks to me, I find it fascinating. Not only that, how do we relate to each other based on that, is also something which, I think, is of crucial importance.
Law and religion is two very strong identity markers, each in its own way. Religion as deciding on identity is obvious, people normally identify themselves according to what they believe, in some cases according to what they think they believe, as well as relating themselves to those who share their beliefs. Law is different; law is more of a deciding factor in how you are identified by those deciding the law. Law doesn’t care much about feelings, only facts (true, those deciding the laws might pay attention to feelings, but they will still have to establish a structured defining system, otherwise making the law too vague to decide anything). But law can also be influenced by those following it or relating to it, by whether they accept it at all (or have to be forced to it) or choose to relate to another system of laws instead. And what will happen in that case?
I’ve downloaded the introduction to a book called “Law and Identity in Mandate Palestine,” written by Assaf Likhovski, which deals a lot with what I’m focusing on, though not so much from the perspective of religion. Likhovski writes about his book that it “is a book about the role of law in defining the self and the collective, in balancing tradition and modernity, Western and non-Western norms. Every non-Western culture confronts this problem, which also constitutes one of the main issues in the momentous conflict between Islam and the West that is now unfolding before our eyes. In this battle, law plays an important role. It serves as a banner under which combatants fight, a weapon for overcoming enemies, a middle ground for meeting them. Law also defines the nature of the participants in the conflict.”
Law is definitely defining for identity, especially in relation to who is among “us” and who isn’t. Everyone the law grants rights and citizenship is per definition one of “us,” everybody isn’t granted this is not. And law is used in this perspective as a weapon, everybody with just the faintest knowledge of the right of return here in Israel, should be aware about that.
Likhovski later relates to the status of the whole matter of identity in then Palestine, and how it was without any clear form:
“Another singular aspect of the country was the unstable identity of its inhabitants. Many twentieth-century societies witnessed a process of identity transformation— the rejection of traditional identities based on religious or tribal loyalty and their replacement by modern national identities. But in mandate Palestine, the process of identity transformation was especially evident. Here Muslim and Christian politicians were engaged in constructing a new Arab identity following the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire after World War I. Zionist Jews were busy creating a novel “Hebrew” self, purged of the marks of the Jewish exile. Even British rulers were occupied with reexamining the foundations of their imperialism in response to the challenges posed by the interwar era.”
I believe we still struggle with the problem down here even today. I can point to a couple of examples on the struggle between identities, for example Israeli vs. Jewish, Palestinian vs. Israeli, Arab vs. Palestinian, all being dealt with in extensive discussions. For example, according to the law on Right of Return every Jew, descendant of a Jew, or spouse of a Jew, has the right of return to Israel, becoming a “Oleh Hadash.” There are some exceptions and details influencing the final decision on whether one is allowed in or not, but all in all the law is rather clear. Or actually it isn’t. The problem is who is a “Jew,” a question which has been discussed for millennia (just see the Biblical account on the ‘Yehudim’ vs. the Samarians in the Book of Ezra and Nehamyah), and today is the cause of great fights between various Jewish groups, particular between the Reform movement in the States and Orthodox Rabbinate in Israel. Here a secular law is suddenly being caught up in the discussion of a religious law and how it should be deciding in favor to or against a defined group of participants. The problem is not so much on those descendants from Jews, being for sure Jews, but rather those who convert within the Reform movement and as such will not be recognized as Jews by the Orthodox Rabbinate.
Another example, to stay here in Israel, is the one of being Palestinian and/or Israeli. How are Palestinians defining themselves here in Israel? The vast majority of them do define themselves as Palestinian, though some refuse to define themselves this way, but rather prefer to describe themselves as Israeli Arabs. Some define themselves as Israeli Palestinians, but still, most define themselves as Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, or so it is my experience. But it doesn’t stop there, this is only a question of nationality and belonging to either or both nationalities (Palestinian and Israeli), another question appears when we deal with religion, having most Palestinians in Israel being Muslim, but a large majority being Christian, and the religious definition is important, and can be of crucial matter, also in comparison on whether one first define him or herself as Muslim or Palestinian. This is a matter which can cause conflict between the Islamic movements and the nationalist movements. Take an example as Hizb ut-Tahrir, which calls for a Caliphate, not a Palestinian state (since that would be a national state based on Western ideas and as such against Islam), and how their expectations would clash with the nationalist expectations of the more secular Palestinian movements (or maybe even other Islamist movements not sharing the same expectations).
In the meeting between religion and the secular society, especially in the question of law, insights and understandings of how identity is defined, as well as the flexibility and demands of the religion is extremely important. Does the religion demand total loyalty, denying any acceptance of other authorities besides its own authority? How does it allow to rule on behalf of it? How are we dealing with conflicting identities and definitions of identities? Those questions are among the questions I hope to deal with, because in a country like Israel these questions are important to answer, in order to understand the relations and mutual attitudes between Jews and Muslims of today. And that is why I’m focusing on law in the two religions. Among some other reason as well.