Magazine article Tikkun

Assimilation for Muslims and Jews?

Magazine article Tikkun

Assimilation for Muslims and Jews?

Article excerpt

ASSIMILATION FOR MUSLIMS AND JEWS?

MUSLIMS AND JEWS IN AMERICA: COMMONALITIES, CONTENTIONS, AND COMPLEXITIES by Reza Asian and Aaron J. Hahn Tapper Palgrave Macmillan, 2011

Review by JM Jacobs

AS I WRITE, TWENTY STATES are considering laws that would prohibit courts from considering any "foreign law" in their deliberations. Tennessee, Louisiana, and Arizona have already passed such statutes. In January 2012, these attempts suffered a setback as a federal court found one such Oklahoma law unconstitutional. It remains to be seen what the future of such laws will be.

These laws- some of which explicitly mention Islamic Sharia law, and others of which hide their anti-Muslim intentions behind a more innocuous ban on "foreign law"- raise the specter of fundamentalist Muslims turning the United States into an Islamic theocracy.

There is no question that this perceived threat is absurd. And while Muslims currently bear the brunt of this fear-mongering, other groups' religious practices may also soon fall under the scrutiny of these new laws. The new attention to the role of foreign law in American courts brings to light, for example, the seams in the supposedly flawless integration of Judaism and American life.

American courts today consider religious law in a limited set of cases: business contracts in which the parties have agreed that arbitrations should be carried out by religious judges; marriages in which certain stipulations follow religious law; and cases that touch on religious freedoms, such as the right of prisoners to practice their faith. In cases in which a defendant claims religious motives for murder or other criminal behavior, courts have routinely refused to consider such defenses.

Jews, like other religious minorities, have long taken for granted the right for parties to a contract to turn to a religious body such as a beit din (rabbinical court) for arbitration. In a number of cases, civil courts have upheld agreements made in Jewish and other religious prenuptial agreements. Therefore the Jewish community waxes poetic about the unprecedented religious freedom that Jews enjoy in America.

Most Jews- especially those of us in the liberal camp- assume that there is no conflict between Jewish values and American values. We take for granted our right to practice Judaism as we wish, our right to marry and divorce according to Jewish law (however we may interpret such law), and our right not to be coerced into any other practice. But the legislative assault on foreign law- coming in the same year as a failed attempt to ban circumcision in San Francisco- forces us to ask whether Jews really are just like all other Americans.

I thought of this bubbling tension often as I read Reza Asian and Aaron J. Hahn Tapper's excellent new anthology, Muslims and Jews in America: Commonalities, Contentions, and Complexities. This collection brings together a fascinating group of voices, including rabbis and imams, those enriched by interfaith dialogue and those burned by it, professors of theology and leaders of Jewish and Muslim communal organizations.

Over and over, the authors of the essays collected here consider whether and how the assimilation of Jews into America should and could be a model for the integration of Muslims into America. As I read, I wondered whether the questions about what it means to be an American Muslim might also inform conversations about what it means to be an American Jew.

In one piece, Rabbi Amy Eilberg describes a planning meeting for an interfaith Passover seder in which Jewish and Christian members of the team jump into an animated debate about how to understand God's violent actions in the Exodus story. Finally, a Muslim participant jumps in with a complaint: "You are talking about criticizing your sacred text! I do not feel comfortable with this."

As a liberal and feminist Jew myself, I sympathize with the Jews and Christians in this story who ask why the biblical God sees it necessary to murder Egyptians in order to bring about the liberation of the Israelites. …

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