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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.

Pirqei Avot 1:3 – “What is my reward for this?”


Antigonos of Sokho received from Shimon the Just. He used to say: “Do not be like servants who serve their master on condition of receiving a reward, but be like servants who serve their master not on condition of receiving a reward; and let the fear of Heaven be upon you.”

Some thoughts:

This is the third verse in the first chapter of Pirqei Avot. Do not, in your service of G-D, be like one who expects to get paid for his service, which is not the relation you should establish with G-D. Instead, be like one who act out of love and devotion. If you want to have a “professional” relation to G-D, then what will be your terms? And can you expect to be treated with leniency, when you act immoral?

This quote is one who stuck to me very early, and I’m still thinking about it often, since I find that I have a hard time to do things, without expecting something in return. But when I relate to how I should act, for example in keeping the laws of the country, it is not done so much out of an expectation to receive a reward for it, but because I have a fundamental understanding that this is the best interest for all. But when it comes to the Divine Laws, then I suddenly expect that it is something that I should be rewarded for?

G-D made laws which basically are ethical, and the reward is in doing them, in letting them be the step leading us to a higher ethical behavior and a higher spiritual understanding, and thus the reward lays in keeping the commandments themselves, not in getting something in return. That is an understanding that many of us lack in our daily lives, that when we’re acting right and good, it is not for the sake of getting credit (in some way or another) for it, but for the sake of us selves and our spiritual well-being.

Who are introduced here?

Antigonos of Sokho (אנטיגנוס איש סוכו) was the disciple of Shimon HaTzaddiq, who was mentioned in the previous verse. It is not definitely sure when he lived, as is the case with most people from his time, but it must have been sometime around the third and second century BCE. Louis Ginzberg places him in the first part of the third century BCE[1], while R. Mordechai Judovits places him in the second century BCE[2].

He was one of the earliest Tannaim, who was called a “Sofer” (Scribe), and is credited for formulating one of the earliest opining views expressed against the Sadducees, namely this presented here in the third verse of the Pirqei Avot. It is not just an ethical teaching, but also a declaration of faith, namely that there is an afterlife and that we should not focus on the “payment” for our service of G-D in this world. Furthermore he combines the service out of love, with fear of G-D, pointing out that love – as well as fear – should be the motivator in our service of G-D.[3]

New Terms:


Sofer: The Sofer (סופר) was both a teacher and a scribe. The early Sofrim did not only write and copy Torah-scrolls and other religious texts, but were also those who interpreted and explained the laws for the people. There was a close relation between Sofrim and Pharisees, many of whom had both roles, which is also attested in the Christian writings.

[1] The Jewish Encyclopedia.

[2] “Sages of the Talmud,” Mordechai Judovits, Urim Publications.

[3] For more on this subject, read R. Ephraim Urbach’s “The Sages,” volume I, p. 400-419. Particular p. 402-406 deals with Antigonos.