Comparing Religions through Law: Judaism and Islam

By Jacob Neusner; Tamara Sonn | Go to book overview
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In the foregoing chapters we have compared the structures of legal systems and given examples of congruent category formations, for example, shared categories of holy books of law and of theological lawyers, characteristic of both religious traditions. What results have we produced up to this point? In general outline, we have shown that that congruence is proportionate as well as topical and in important ways also substantive; to the category formations considered until now each religio-legal system assigns an equivalently formidable corpus of law. Both systems appeal to law as much as to theology to accomplish their goals. Both concur that God has plans for the social order of the faithful. Both agree upon the types of writing that convey those plans. And both put forth religious virtuosi possessed of a common core of qualifications. We might also have identified, as shared category formations, a variety of specific topics of public piety. For example, both Islam and Judaism legislate extensively concerning prayer, ablutions, fasting, and the family. Islam and Judaism agree that betrothal, marriage, inheritance, and divorce form primary concerns of their respective religious law, as does philanthropy, defining as a principal religious obligation ongoing support for the poor. 1 In all of these category formations the two religio-legal systems more or less match, even though, in details, they differ—and are bound to differ.

But the circles of Islam and of Judaism are only partially concentric, and now we turn to two ways in which each religion defines its own categories in its own way, so that comparison and contrast expose disproportions. The first way, set forth here, involves topics common to both religious traditions, in which one tradition assigns importance to a subject treated as routine and of minor consequence by the other.

In dealing with disproportions, the second way entails our identifying comparable categories; that is, finding out what functionally compares on the one side to some other, different category altogether on the other side. That involves a much more subtle exercise in taste and judgment, which we do carry out when we turn to the matter of sacred time in Islam and in Judaism. We here impose our own theoretical category—sacred time—and ask how each religious tradition legislates for an enchanted occasion delineated by the


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