Laws embody the norms by which societies live. They set forth in tangible and concrete form the practical consequences of abstract beliefs. An obvious example makes the point. A social order that deems all human life precious will forbid murder and punish the act without discrimination as to the victim. One that does not will build death factories. When we turn to religion we find the same thing. Religions that aspire to be realized in collective conscience, not only in individual conviction, will frame for themselves public policy through laws that define what is to be done or not done and they will enforce those laws in God’s name. The history of Islamic, Christian and Judaic religious systems alike sets forth ample evidence that characteristic of monotheism from scripture forward is the aspiration to legislate theology and morality. And those religions that identify the entire social order as the setting for serving God will legislate, without differentiating the religious from the secular, norms of behavior for the whole of the society in which they find themselves. In that way theological conviction about God and what God wants of human beings will take the palpable form of rules that regulate conduct. Such rules will extend even to what outsiders deem the most minor and trivial action—a gesture required or forbidden, a bit of nourishing food deemed unclean.
This book takes up two religions of law; that is, religions that aspire to define the character of the social order of the faithful and who legislate in God’s name. The two, Islam and Judaism, concur on much, and here we propose to compare their legal systems to discover the extent of their concurrence and the nature of their differences. In general, seen up close Judaism and Islam as religions of law exhibit significant divergence, but, viewed in the larger context of world religions, they stand side by side in their fundamental convictions about God and the social order. Accordingly, the work at hand compares religions that are sufficiently alike to sustain comparison, but also suitably different so as to yield interesting hypotheses about the character of each religion. The hypothesis set forth here is simple. The purpose of comparing religions is defining the religions that are compared, each in contrast with the other. However much religions have in common, in