Comparing Religions through Law: Judaism and Islam

By Jacob Neusner; Tamara Sonn | Go to book overview
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The unique category

One of the difficulties in one religion’s understanding of the other emerges in this chapter, where we deal with ideas and experiences in the one religion that have no counterpart in the other. Lacking an interior analogy upon which to draw in making sense of the other, each religion finds itself baffled by matters critical to the world construction of its counterpart. We do not point to the unique categories as insuperable obstacles in the nurture of reasonable discourse between the two faiths, for in the great age of Islamic and Judaic philosophy and theology, in the Middle Ages, Islam and Judaism found themselves quite able to conduct civil and reasonable debate. But we do find in these categories consequential examples of why interfaith dialogue may yield only confusion.

That is because we come now to Islam’s and Judaism’s indicative categories of law. These turn out to be unique, each without parallel in the category formation of the other. These unique categories tell us what is distinctive about each religion. In previous chapters we have shown significant congruence between Judaic and Islamic law in structure and procedures. We have also discussed areas of relative incongruity, where each tradition treats the same subjects as the other, but presents them in different ways or with varying degrees of emphasis. Thus each religion offers to the other categories that are comparable to those of the other, and the one may understand the other, if not in detail, then at least in general terms: this is not exactly like that, but it is sufficiently similar to make sense in the context of the counterpart party to dialogue. We may, for instance, find ideas or practices that function, each in its own structure, in a manner similar to those of the other. At the point at which each religious tradition speaks of unique matters, however, the one tradition proves utterly inconsistent with the other.

What are some of these unique categories? For Judaism, one such category without a counterpart in Islam speaks of the relations of a specific, limited community in the model of God’s relation with Moses; another involves the formation of the Israelite man in the image and likeness of God as revealed to


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