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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.

Between Kamza and Bar Kamza – Part II



The next part of the account on Kamtza and Bar Kamtza we are going to deal with, is from the Talmud Bavli, namely in Gitin 55b-56a.

As is the case with the Midrash, also here we have two overarching parts, the one about the banquet, and the one of Bar Kamza’s revenge.


On account of Kamza and Bar Kamza was Jerusalem destroyed.

אקמצא ובר קמצא חרוב ירושלים.

There was a man whose friend was Kamza, and whose enemy was Bar Kamza. He made a banquet, and said to his servant, “God and bring me Kamza.”

דההוא גברא דרחמיה קמצא ובעיל דבביה בר קמצא עבד סעודתא. אמר ליה לשמעיה: זיל אייתי לי קמצא.

He went and brought him Bar Kamza.

אזל אייתי ליה בר קמצא.

He came and saw him sitting there, and said to him:

אתא, אשכחיה דהוה יתיב, אמר ליה:

”Since you are my enemy, what are you looking for here? Get out!

מכדי ההוא גברא בעיל דבביה דההוא גברא הוא, מאי בעית הכא? קום פוק!

He said to him, ”Since I am already here, let me alone, and I will pay you for what I eat and drink.”

אמר ליה: הואיל ואתאי, שיבקן, ויבנא לך דמי דאכילנא ושתינא.

He said to him: ”No.”

אמר ליה: לא.

He said to him: ”I will pay you half the cost of the banquet.”

אמר ליה: יהיבנא לך דמי פלגא דסעודתיך.

He said to him: ”No.”

אמר ליה: לא.

He said to him: ”I will pay you the entire cost of the banquet.”

אמר ליה: יהיבנא לך דמי כולא סעודתיך.

He said to him: ”No.”

אמר ליה: לא.

He picked him up and threw him out.

נקטיה בידיה ואפקיה.


He said: ”Since those Rabbis were sitting there and did not protest, I will go and slander them.

אמר: הואיל והוו יתבי רבנן ולא מחו ביה, איזיל איכול בהו קורצא בי מלכא.

He went and said to the king, ”The Jews have revolted against you!”

אזל, אמר ליה לקיסר: מרדו בך יהודאי!

He said to him, ”How can this be proven?”

אמר ליה: מי יימר?

He said to him, ”Send them a sacrifice, and see if they will offer it.”

אמר ליה: שדר להו קורבנא, חזית אי מקרבי ליה.

He sent with him a three-year calf.

אזל שדר בידיה עגלא תלתא.


As he went, he placed a blemish on the lip (some say, the eyelid) – a place which is a blemish for us, but not for them.

בהדי דקאתי, שדא ביה מומא בניב שפתים (ואמרי לה: בדוקין שבעין) – דוכתא דלדידן מומא, ולדידהו לאו מומא.

The Rabbis considered offering it as a sacrifice for the peace of the kingdom.

סבור רבנן לקרוביה משום שלום מלכות.

R. Zechariah b. Avqulos said to them, ”They will say, ’Blemished animals are (permitted) to be offered on the altar’!”

אמר להו ר’ זכריה בן אבקולס: יאמרו, בעלי מומין קרבין לגבי מזבח.

They considered killing him[1], so he would not go and tell

סבור למיקטליה דלא ליזיל ולימא.

R. Zechariah b. Avqulos said to them, ”They will say, ’He who puts a blemish on a sacrificial animal deserves the death penalty’!”

אמר להו ר’ זכריה בן אבקולס: יאמרו: מטיל מום בקדשים יהרג.


R. Yohanan said, ”The timidity of R. Zechariah b. Avqulos destroyed our house, burned our Temple, and exiled us from our land.”

אמר ר’ יוחנן: ענוותנותו של ר’ זכריה בן אבקולס החריבה את ביתנו ושרפה את היכלנו והגליתנו מארצנו.



What is going on?


A man, who has a friend, Kamza, and an enemy, Bar Kamza, decides to hold a banquet, and wishes to invite his friend, Kamza. His servants misunderstands and thinks that he asks for Bar Kamza, and brings him instead. When the man hosting the banquet sees Bar Kamza, he wonders why his enemy is there. In order to mock him maybe? He then tells him to leave, something Bar Kamza attempts to convince him is not needed, first by stating that he will pay for his meal, then for half the banquet, and then for all the banquet, but the man hosting the banquet is adamant.

Upon being thrown out, Bar Kamza feels let down by the Rabbis, who are apparently taking part in the banquet, not objecting on the man hosting the banquet being obstinate, so he goes to the “king” (the Aramaic text has Qaisar, how to precisely translate this term I am not so sure) and accuses “the Jews” for having revolted, something he wants to prove by bringing a sacrifice, which he will make sure will be rejected.

Being faced with the blemished sacrifice, and the obvious threat against peace in refusing to bring the sacrifice, the Rabbis discuss whether they should offer it anyway “for the peace of the kingdom.” R. Zechariah jumps in an disagree, stating that that would make people think that blemished animals are permitted for sacrifice,” an argument the Rabbis apparently accept, for then to discuss whether they should kill Bar Kamza, again having R. Zechariah objecting, stating that that would make people think that there is a death penalty on putting blemishes on animals.

The text ends with R. Yohanan stating that the timidity of R. Zechariah was the cause of the destruction of “their house,”[2] the Temple, as well as the exile, though the introducing verse states that it is because of the confusion of Kamza and Bar Kamza.


[1] Bar Kamza.

[2] I am not sure what is meant by ”our house” here, since the Temple is mentioned also, but I’m thinking that it might be a reference to the Sanhedrin, the religious high court, which was situated at the Temple.

Pirqei Avot 1:2 – What Is The Basis?


Shimon the Just was one of the last survivors of the Great Assembly. He used to say: On three things the world stands: on the Torah, on the Service of G-D, and on acts of merciful benevolence.



Some thoughts:

In the just quoted part of Pirqei Avot 1:2, Shim’on HaTzaddiq (the Righteous) is quoted as saying that the world stands on three thing, namely on Torah, on the Service of G-D (‘Avodah), and on merciful benevolence (G’milut Hasadim). The verse furthermore tells us that he was one of the last survivors of the Great Assembly, mentioned in the first paragraph of Pirqei Avot.

What does this mean? Is there no world without Torah, without “Service of G-D”, and without merciful benevolence?

An interesting thing, when it comes to law, is that if anything has to be “just”, then we would certainly suffer from the strictness of law. If one was to do something to another, even unintentionally, and then have to pay the price for that, we would daily experience many punishments. Surely, we as human beings cannot exist without mercy, and that is what we can learn from this quote. An interesting addition here is that if we look to the Torah, we can learn exactly that.

In the Torah several Names are used for G-D, each having its own significance. According to haRaMBaM, Z”L, there are seven Names, each connoting its own meaning (Mishneh Torah, Hil. Yesodei HaTorah 6:2). The Name Eloqim signify strict justice, and interesting enough that is the Name, which is used about G-D in the first chapter. Commentaries have noted this and commented on it, stating that when G-D created the world, it would be created on strict justice, but seeing that humans wouldn’t not be able to survive this, He added mercy in judgement, which can be seen from chapter two, where the Name of G-D is added (Y-HV) to Eloqim. That Name is signifying mercy, namely G-D’s mercy for us, but not just any mercy, but a mercy we basically don’t deserve, hesed. This is the understanding of “hesed”, namely something that is not deserved (then it would be based on justice, not mercy), given out of love. G’milut Hasadim is merciful benevolence, and without this, the world wouldn’t stand, we would be destroyed by strict justice.

But how is this put into the world? We don’t always understand this concept, even the greatest Hassidim can make error in this matter, we are only humans. The knowledge and understanding by this is based on our Service for G-D, which is prayer. By praying to G-D, by giving us selves to Him, and understand our own smallness compared to His Greatness, can we understand how undeserving we are, and thus understand that sometimes other people next to us are to be given something we might believe that they don’t deserve, in order to make the general rule in the world be based on merciful benevolence, instead of strict justice.

What is the basis of all this? Where do we find this knowledge? In Torah. Torah itself is said to be an action of mercy from G-D, in order to bring us closer to Him by living our lives in a more divine way.


Who are introduced here?

Shim’on HaTzaddiq (שמעון הצדיק) was one the Tannaim, but also a Kohen HaGadol, which means that he lived during the time of the Second Temple. According to this verse in Pirqei Avot, he was one of the last men from the Great Assembly.

Exactly when he lived and who he was identified as, is not sure, but most likely he was either Shimon ben Honiyya, which makes him the grandson of Yadu’a, the Kohen HaGadol, who is mentioned in the Book of Nehamyah (12:11,12), and that would mean that he lived in the period of 310-273 BCE (not all the period). Or he is Shimon ben Honiyyah ben Shimon, which would mean that he lived in 219-199 BCE.

He is mentioned and quoted various places, both in the Mishnah, as is just shown, as well as in “Wisdom of Sirah,” “first book of Maccabee,” and by Josephus.

The Talmud gives the account about him (as does Josephus) that he was the Kohen HaGadol, when Alexander the Great conquered the ME. When Alexander came to Jerusalem, Shimon HaTzaddiq dressed in his priestly robes, and went out to greet Alexander the Great. On seeing Shimon HaTzaddiq, Alexander the Great went off from his chariot and approached Shimon HaTzaddiq, bowing when he reached him. When criticized for doing that, Alexander the Great explained that he had dreamt about Shimon HaTzaddiq, declaring that he, Alexander the Great, would be victorious.


New Terms:

Hassid: Hassidim (חסיד in singular, חסידים in plural) were a term used for righteous Jews, who went even beyond what was demanded and expected from them. The term is derived from “hesed” (חסד), meaning “loving kindness,” that is, doing more than expected from you. The term shouldn’t be confused with “tzaddiq” (צדיק), a righteous person, who fulfilled his obligations, though the terms have been used interchangeably in later ages.

Kohen: A Kohen (כוהן) is a member of the Aharonite family, within the Levite tribe, being the priests who took care of the sacrifices in the Temple. The High Priest is termed “Kohen HaGadol” (כהן הגדול), meaning “The biggest priest.” He had the responsibility for leading the prayers of the Hagim, as well as going to the Holiest of the Holy on Yom Kippur, being the only one who was allowed to do so.