A Jewish Voice

Home » Posts tagged 'Rabbinical'

Tag Archives: Rabbinical

What does it mean?


It seems that the use of a certain term in my last post caused some confusion, though the term itself wasn’t what was in focus (nor should have been). I have been wondering whether I was to imprecise in my use, but given that I didn’t mean anything by the use, maybe nor even agreeing in the term itself, I find it somehow difficult to agree on that one. The term was ‘Islamism,’ a term used about certain radical Muslim elements today, such as Sayyid Qutb and Wassim al-Banna, who are called ‘Islamist.’ The term though hasn’t always been used in that sense, originally being termed about Islam and Muslims, the latter who were also called ‘Muhammadans,’ based on a false belief that they worship Muhammad, as Christians are worshiping Jesus. The confusion is understandable, at least for people who don’t know much about other religions, but is still flawed.

Islamism is used about the expression of ‘political Islam.’ That is, about the idea that Islam is the political system, which exist on the same level as other political ‘isms, such as Communism, Socialism, Liberalism, and so on. Of course, for the Muslims Islam is the ‘political’ solution, seeing that the religion offers a structure in which the society can exist. But there still is a difference here, the Islamist sees Islam in a different shade than the Muslim believer (one of which he certainly can be himself, I’m not trying to question people’s faith or belief). That is, the Islamist is more of a political revolutionary than a religious believer, in his expression of his concepts of the world. That is what is inherent in the term of ‘Islamism,’ at least today. Whether I agree in it or not is another matter, but at times I do use it, especially since it is a normal term used within academic circles, dealing with Islamic radicalism.

Now, the truth is that when we read articles, posts, books, whatever, using various terms, expressing some set of idea or concept, we can end up being confused, especially since not all are holding to the same terms or understandings. Some of the terms do remind to much about each other, which can give a good portion of confusion as well. Take for example ‘Islamist’ and ‘Islamic,’ or the terms ‘fundamentalism’ and ‘radicalism.’ As you might have noted I didn’t talk about Islamic ‘fundamentalism,’ but rather about Islamic ‘radicalism.’ I personally see a big difference int he two.

And it isn’t only in relation to Islam or the study of Islam, but with religions in general. Let’s look at some of the term used in context of Judaism, being ‘Mosaic,’ ‘Judaic,’ ‘Jew,’ ‘Jewish,’ and so on. For example, when one is ‘Jewish,’ one is not necessarily a Jew, while you perfectly can be a Jew without being particular ‘Jewish’ (I know a lot of those guys). ‘Jewish’ here is an adjective about something that appears to be, well, Jewish, that is, something that would give you the idea that it is connected to the culture or faith of the Jews. Judaism as well is a confusing term at times, not always relating what exactly we are talking about. Therefore we today, at least in the study of Judaism, talk about ‘Rabbinical Judaism,’ ‘Karaite Judaism,’ ‘Post-Temple Judaism,’ and so on. Judaism is simply to broad a term to use, in order to render any clear meaning of it, unless you are aware of the context you are reading it in. By that I mean, if you are reading a book on Judaism written by a rabbi, then you can be fairly sure that what he means when he writes ‘Judaism,’ that is what is called ‘Rabbinical Judaism,’ the part of Judaism based on the Rabbinical writings (Mishnah, Talmud, Midrashim, etc.) and Rabbinical teachings. Reading an academic article on some subject related to the study of Judaism, the author normally tends to be more precise, and at least explain what his focus is, as well of which group he is talking about.

The two terms ‘Mosaic’ and ‘Judaic’ basically hold the same meaning, and this can also be the case, that we are dealing with terms meaning the same, but we think that they have differing meanings. Mosaic is an old term used about Judaism and things related to Judaism, such as the ‘Mosaic Law,’ that is, the Law of Moses. ‘Judaic’ today is most often seen in context of ‘Judaica,’ jewelry or other like things which express something ‘Jewish.’

And so the list goes on. I can easily add a number of terms which can be used in different meanings, and leave people confused or not quite get what is being talked about. Nation, People, ethnicity, race, you name it. Especially when we have people who are not native English speakers, confusing the terms with terms in their own language, or when we have terms which are based on terms in other languages (take Peoplehood, from Volksschlag in German), but might have an original meaning which is slightly different.

So in conclusion I want to apologize for any misunderstanding that I might cause. I can’t prevent it to happen, and when I define a word I might not necessarily agree with it, but I can’t put my own ideas into terms, at least not if we are to have a relative normal level of understanding each other, so once in a while I do use terms which I might disagree with, but I use them nevertheless.


Ps. In order to clarify my use of ‘Islamism’ in my last post, then my sole focus was to say that Islamism is Islamism, not that Muslims are Islamist, that there are no political thought in Islam, or something else. There most certainly is a political thought in Islam, as there is in Judaism and Christianity as well. But as said, my focus was to react against the calling all kinds of ‘isms by the name of other ‘isms.

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.