December 26, 2010
No Comparison: Shariah and Jewish Religious CourtsBy Rabbi Aryeh Spero
Many stealth jihadists pushing to have Shariah law instead of American civil law govern American Islamic communities are making the preposterous claim that Shariah Courts are similar to Jewish religious courts that observant Jews often use to adjudicate intra-community disputes. This is entirely inaccurate given that Shariah has as its goal the replacement of American law with Shariah, whereas Beit Din, Jewish religious court, limits its purview and has no intent or desire to flout American law.
Over 1800 years ago, the Talmudic Rabbi Samuel set the tone of how Jews were to interact with the laws of Babylonia, which had become the primary residence of the Jewish People after its exile from Israel. His statement and decision has guided the Jewish community throughout their dwellings in new lands: "The law of the land is the law." Rabbi Samuel understood, as did all subsequent rabbinic figures, that dwelling in a land and being a good citizen meant living by its laws and standards.
Naturally, many aspects of Jewish religious life differed from that of the host culture, such as the requirement to eat kosher food, observe the Sabbath and abstain from bread on Passover, and Rabbi Samuel would have been the first to reject any attempt by the State to prohibit our core religious observances. In the spirit of Render unto Caesar that which is his and unto God that which is His, Rabbi Samuel demarcated between religious law and civil law. His intellectual honesty lay in not allowing the subterfuge of categorizing civil law as "religious" law, which would have effectively nullified the whole concept of "The law of the land is the law".
Rabbi Samuel certainly wished to preserve Jewish culture and ethnicity. Nonetheless,
the Head of Babylon's Jewish community imbibed a deep respect and loyalty to his new country and would not allow zealots and separatists to lurch into a mode of cultural supremacy by erecting autonomous communities within the nation, which is accomplished when the purview of religious law is inflated to include that which is essentially civil and criminal law, something to be decided by the general public.
Eight hundred years later, as the center of Jewish life shifted westward to Europe, Rabbi Gershom of Germany expanded on the theme of "The Law of the land is the law." He declared that because something is permitted in religious law does not mean a Jew should exercise that religious right if it is contrary to a fundamental standard and custom of the country where he now resides. So that even though the ancient Bible did not limit a man to one wife, henceforth Jewish men living in Europe could not marry as was done in biblical days, since European/Christian mores had rejected the simultaneous taking of multiple wives. Though polygamy was already centuries earlier culturally taboo among western Jews, Rabbi Gershom took the opportunity to prohibit it officially and legally to underscore the point that no particular ethnic community stands above and beyond deep-rooted national moral and ethical mores and standards.
Contrast this philosophy with that of shariah compliance where, for example, in certain European countries Islamic clerics are asking that the State welfare system subsidize the multiple wives of a Pakistani-born Muslim, or that of New Jersey where a lower court judge agreed not to hold a man liable for raping his wife, "reasoning" that his culture permits a man to force himself on his wife even though she vehemently protests her subjugation. Or the case of an 18 year old Columbus, Ohio girl whose wish to convert to Christianity is causing a risk to her life from her parents who claim that shariah does not allow her to become Christian. Jewish law intrinsically deplores what shariah here espouses, and no Beit Din would kow-tow to such rejection of civilized American societal norms.
The three cases mentioned above, some even criminal, stand foursquare against our American principle that women and children are not simply a man's property. This isn't simply a legalism but fundamental to our identity and to who we are as a people and nation. Having two sets of laws, one of which extends to Muslims the right to do that which is forbidden to all other Americans is a breach of the bedrock principle of Due Process, wherein our laws are applied equally to all, be it our rights or our prohibitions. Should we suddenly make one group of citizens more privileged than all others? That is not American, nor western. Equality under the law must transcend fashionable and often silly notions of multi-culturalism. Too much multi-culturalism leads to no culture at all, a society denuded of standards.
It has always been understood here that no one can claim a religious exception to civil and criminal rules that govern all. Religious freedom does not mean freedom from living by the civilized laws that constitute us as a people. That is exactly what Rabbi Samuel had in mind 1800 years ago when warning against those who would abrogate their fealty to civil and criminal law by claiming a special dispensation under religious law.
There are two areas where from time-to-time a Jew invites a Beit Din into his life. One is marriage and divorce. But here the Beit Din does not supersede routine civil law, rather it embellishes these events with certain required rituals, none of which offend deep-rooted social morality nor contradict existing civil law. After the divorced couple arranges their divorce settlement -- finances, child custody questions etc. -- the Beit Din's scribe quilts on parchment a divorce document according to an ancient Hebrew text. Marriage is similarly preceded by written documents and blessings. These additions do not abrogate any civil laws, rather fall under the rubric of rituals that adorn and enrich each particular group within humanity.
The second is the arbitration process where two Jewish litigants decide to forgo the expenses of lawyers and protracted civil court proceedings and opt to have the Beit Din arbitrate and decide their business or monetary conflict. Courts are often pleased by this choice since it relieves them of yet another case on their heavy dockets. But even here, the Beit Din cannot pull out of left field some wild form of insular reasoning whose logic could not stand up in secular court. Nor would it ever arbitrate on criminal matters.
And herein lays an essential difference between those advocating shariah for Islamic communities as opposed to Beit Din in highly observant Jewish communities. Whereas, a Jew finds himself at a Beit Din once or twice in life, and for many never at all, shariah will dominate the individual within the community. He will live under shariah. Shariah is comprehensive, and coercive. It is the ultimate balkanization, wherein a mini nation lives within a broader nation. It is a seceding from the Union - yet with all the privileges of being in that union.
For stealth jihadists, shariah is the most effective way to Islamize a country. Through its imposition, it telegraphs that a nation has no unique and binding set of laws, mores and standards. That's why radical multiculturalists love it. It helps brings down America.
Islamic shariah has a completely different aspiration than Jewish law. Jewish law has no world-wide ambitions. We don't even seek converts. There's one Jewish state, and a small one at that. Islam's stated goal is to have the world live under shariah. It yearns for a world-wide caliphate, bringing all under Islam, individuals and nations.
Shariah announces that Islam is above and beyond the law. It is above country. Once allowed and implemented in Islamic neighborhoods, it reaches beyond and extends to ever growing areas where its adherents migrate, so that neighborhoods once under American law now must forfeit their American way of life if they wish to do business or be shielded from harassment. Shariah does not believe in Live and let Live, which has been the sweet anthem that has guided America. It demands changes in our schools, work places, swimming pools, and every facet of public and commercial life.
In England , for example, whole school districts now forbid pork in school cafeterias where Christian children still constitute the majority, and some districts won't even teach the Holocaust because it "offends" anti-Semitic Muslims. Liberals call this sensitivity and accommodation. But it is capitulation; capitulation by emasculated multi-culturalists who feel that the only way to validate our western culture is by forfeiting it and submitting to those who wish to destroy it. Any ideology whose demands and stranglehold on civic and public life are so extensive and unyielding is theocratic in nature and thus incompatible with and dangerous to western life.
At one time, North Africa was not Islamic. Neither was Turkey, southern Asia, Indonesia, Central Africa, Persia, nor most of Iraq and Lebanon; nor were vast lands west, east and north of India. Nor were the Balkans. They are now mostly Islamic. Some fell to the sword of Islam. Others decided to be "nice guys" and allow shariah law in their countries for those few who demanded it. Now, tens of millions of them and their children must live under shariah law. Their heritage is gone