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December 2003

About the Resource Paper Series

The Resource Papers are published by IEB-Nasimco as part of an ongoing effort to empower madrasah teachers and to facilitate their classroom preparation. The Resource Papers follow the framework and/or guidelines formulated in the “Curriculum Development Process: First Steps in the Implementation of The Target Profile of a Madrasah Graduate.” The intent of a Resource Paper is to address a void in the available resources on themes that flow out of the conceptual frameworks for core madrasah courses, and to present them in a contemporary style and language that is both informative and stimulating. Such a paper will not only be a very valuable resource for the madrasah teachers, but also motivate parents to learn more about those topics. You can help and make a difference by undertaking to write a paper on a topic that resonates with you. IEB will be glad to help by providing general guidance, and reviewing, publishing and distributing your paper. For more details about the Resource Papers, please contact

Dr. Liyakatali Takim: Sadik Alloo:

To Make a Difference in the Quality of Our Madrasah and Our Children's Islamic Identity

Resource Paper

Comparative Religions


By: Dr. Liyakatali N. Takim

Say: "O people of the book! Come to a common word between us and you, that we shall worship Allah only and that we shall not associate anyone with Him; and we shall not take lords and patrons from among ourselves apart from Allah; If they then turn back, then say bear witness that we have submitted ourselves to Him only. Quran (3:64)

"Islam is to obey God and to be kind to His creation". The Prophet Muhammad SAW

Table of Contents

Framework For Studying Judaism_______ 5

Objectives of the Unit: ___________________ 6

1. The Torah and Biblical Prophets ___ 7

Analysis: _____________________________________15

2. The Classical Period and Rabbinical Judaism: _________________________________ 16

Analysis: _____________________________________18

3. Exegesis And The Composition Of The Talmud ___________________________________ 20

Analysis: _____________________________________21

4. Jewish Festivals ______________________ 22

Analysis: _____________________________________25 Short and Long Term Impact: ________________25 Evaluation:___________________________________26 Selected References ________________________28

Multiple Choice Questions:______________ 29

Comprehension Questions ______________ 32

Comparative Religions


Framework For Studying Judaism

The Jewish faith is centered in the belief in one God called Yahweh. The Old Testaments mentions the historical lives of Prophets like Ibrahim, Ya‘qub, Yusuf, Musa, Dawud, and Sulaiman (A.S.). Their lives are recounted and re-affirmed in the Qur’an although, as we shall see, with significant differences. The study of the lives of the Prophets before our last Prophet (S.A.W.) will enable us to discern how these Prophets undertook the Qur’anic challenge of establishing a just and equitable society in their own milieu. An analytical study of the lives of the Prophets can further furnish us with important ethical and moral principles that could be applied in contemporary times. The comparative nature of this paper allows us to juxtapose Qur’anic and Biblical depiction of the lives of the Prophets and examine whether the Qur’anic account of these Prophets resonates with or differs from the Jewish portrayal.

The paper will also examine the historical experience of the Jewish community after the era of the Prophets and contrast the role of religious figures (the rabbis and ‘ulama’) in the systematization and elaboration of the law. The discussion on modern Jewry and the challenges of acculturation and assimilation that the Jews in the West encountered will provide a platform for examining some the challenges currently confronting the Muslim community as it tries to maintain its distinct identity in the context of American social pluralism. It is within this broad framework that this paper is set.

Objectives of the Unit:

The object of this unit is to familiarize senior students of the madrasah with the history, beliefs, practices, and contemporary challenges of Judaism. Since most of our students interact with students of other faith groups, they should be exposed to and familiarized with the beliefs and practices of the Judeo-Christian community. Thus they will be able to respond to questions raised by their peers. The unit will describe and analyze Jewish history and beliefs as the Jews portray them. The paper will then compare these beliefs with their Islamic equivalent. It will further examine some of the challenges confronting the Jews in their encounter with the West. It should be noted from the outset that due to the brief scope of this paper, it will examine the lives of only some of the Prophets. The study of Judaism will be divided into the following sections:

  1. The Torah and Biblical Prophets
  2. The Classical Period and Rabbinical Judaism
  3. Exegesis and the Composition of the Talmud
  4. Jewish Festivals and Practices

1. The Torah and Biblical Prophets

Description: The Old Testament begins with the story of creation and ends with the last biblical Prophet, Malachi. Hence there is no mention of Prophet ‘Isa (A.S) in the Old Testament. The story of the birth, life, and ministry of Prophet ‘Isa (A.S) is covered in the New Testament. The term ‘Torah’ (meaning divine instruction and guidance) covers the five main books in the Old Testament i.e., the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. These five books are also called the Pentateuch. Besides these five books, there are other books that are included in the Old Testament. These include the book of Prophets

(e.g. Joshua, Samuel, Jeremiah, and Malachi) and the book of Writings (Psalms, Proverbs, Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, Daniel, etc.). Generally speaking, the term Bible refers to both the Old and the New Testament.

The first book in the Old Testament (the book of Genesis) initially narrates the story of creation and of Prophet Adam and Bibi Hawa (Eve). A comparison between the Biblical accounts of the story of Prophet Adam (A.S) with the Qur’anic counterpart indicates major differences. The Qur’an does not accept the myth of the serpent nor does it state that Eve was responsible for the downfall of Adam. Thus the Qur’an does not endorse the view that women are the cause of the downfall of men. On the contrary, the Qur’an states that Shaytan tempted both Adam and Hawa (7:20). It is important to note that the Qur’an exalts Prophet Adam (A.S) to the extent that angels and jinns were required to bow down to him (7:10). Such exalted and elevated statures of the Prophets are missing in the Old Testament.

The book of Genesis further highlights the obstinate nature of human beings, who often reject divine guidance and foul up the earth. Chapter six of this book relates the story of Prophet Nuh (A.S.) and how his people rejected him. This resulted in a deluge that flooded the earth. Prophet Nuh’s encounter with his people is also recounted in the Qur’an where the story of the flood is retold. (7:59, 11:25) The Qur’anic story further confirms the belief that Allah saves those who are pious and faithful to their covenant and punishes those who break their promises.

The next major Prophet to be considered is Ibrahim (A.S.) who lived around 1850 BC. Chapter twelve of the book of Genesis describes God’s covenant with Prophet Ibrahim

(A.S) i.e., that in return for Prophet Ibrahim’s (A.S.) servitude to the one God, God would make him the father of a great nation. The story is also recounted in the Qur’an (2:124). To freely worship the one God, Prophet Ibrahim (A.S.) had to migrate from Ur (in Mesopotamia, Iraq) to Canaan in the West Bank. The story of Prophet Ibrahim’s (A.S.) migration to Mecca and his building and purification of the Ka’ba with Isma‘il (22:26), and the sacrifice of Isma‘il

(37:102) are interspersed in different passages of the Qur’an. Chapter fourteen in the Qur’an entitled the sura of Ibrahim is a good reference point. The Old Testament does not directly mention Prophet Ibrahim’s (A.S.) migration to Mecca or the building of the Ka’ba.

The Qur’an states categorically that Prophet Ibrahim (A.S.) was neither a Jew nor a Christian, rather he was an upright monotheist (hanif -3:67), whom Allah took as a friend (4:125). These are attributes of Prophet Ibrahim (A.S.) that are missing in the Biblical depiction of Ibrahim (A.S.).

Whereas the Jews and Christians believe that Ishaq (A.S.) was to be sacrificed, Muslims believe that Isma‘il (A.S.) was going to be sacrificed as an act of fulfillment of Allah’s command, demonstrating Prophet Ibrahim’s (A.S.) complete servitude to his creator. The Qur’anic story of the sacrifice indicates that this was a great trial both for the Ibrahim and Isma‘il (A.S.), a test which both overcame due to their great faith in Allah. (37:102).

It is to be remembered that at this time, sacrifice was seen as an act of worship, embodying the worshipper’s bond to God. It was only after the final destruction of the temple in Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 C.E. that Judaism omitted animal sacrifice as an essential component in worship.

Prophet Ibrahim (A.S.) had two sons, Ishaaq and Isma’il. Prophet Ishaaq’s (A.S.) son Ya‘qub (Jacob) (A.S.) was also called Isra‘il (hence the term Banu Isra’il in the Qur’an). His twelve sons preserved the covenant that had been given to Ibrahim (A.S.). Each of these sons became the head of a tribe of the children of Israel.

The next major Prophet to be considered is Prophet Yusuf (A.S.). The story of his traveling to Egypt is covered in chapter 12 (called sura Yusuf). According to the Old Testament, Prophet Yusuf (A.S.) and his brothers migrated to Egypt during a famine that had ravaged their land. This formed the second migration in history. The story of Prophet Yusuf (A.S.) in the Qur’an also accentuates his role as a paradigmatic model of resistance to temptation. His moral uprightness is highlighted in the Qur’an where he is reported to have said, “being imprisoned is better than what they (the women) are inviting me towards” (12:33). Such positive remarks in the Qur’an highlight an important difference between the Qur’anic and Biblical portrayal of the Prophets. In contrast to the Bible, the Qur’an maintains that Prophets are sinless, people of great piety and moral rectitude. The Qur’an further asserts that the Prophets were prepared to undergo through much pain and oppression but would not compromise on the unity of the one God.

The story of Prophet Musa (A.S.) is told in the second book of the Old Testament, the book of Exodus. He lived in 1280 BC, during the time of Ramses II, the Pharaoh. As the story of Prophet Musa (A.S.) is interspersed in different parts of the Qur’an, teachers should consult a Qur’anic index when narrating his story. Sura 18 (al-Kahf) in the Qur’an has a detailed discussion on Prophet Musa (A.S.) and his encounter with Khidr. Prophet Musa (A.S.) was asked by God to deliver the Israelites from slavery in Egypt and was given divine assistance (like the parting of the Red Sea) at crucial points.

Both the Qur’an and the Old Testament emphasize the victory of Prophet Musa’s miracle over the magicians of the Pharaoh. The encounter between magic and miracle means that an important contrast between the two should be stressed and taught. Whereas magic distorts the truth a miracle comes from and leads back to the truth. Magic often hides the truth, a miracle reveals it.

The third major migration in history occurred when Prophet Musa (A.S.) led the Banu Isra‘il out of Egypt. A study of the Ten Commandments (mentioned in the book of Exodus and Deuteronomy) received by Prophet Musa (A.S.) at Mount Sinai indicates that the ethical precepts revealed in it are reinforced in various passages of the Qur’an. The Ten Commandments are kept in the Ark of the Covenant, a wooden chest. The Ark is stored in a special place in the synagogue and is carried by priests. The Old Testament then discusses the story of the Israelites in the Sinai Peninsula until they entered the promised land in Canaan. Joshua led the Jews after Prophet Musa (A.S).

Around the year 1000 BC, a kingdom was established amongst the Jews. This was the time of Prophet Dawud (David) (A.S.) who was also a great warrior, a point that is confirmed by the Qur’an (2:251). In the Old Testament, Prophet Dawud (A.S.) is known for his conquest of Jerusalem rather than for being a Prophet of God. He defeated the Philistines who had attacked the Israelites. Prophet Dawud (A.S.) also killed King Saul. Besides mentioning his military feats, the Qur’an also stresses that Prophet Dawud (A.S.) was granted the kingdom so that he could implement the Qur’anic ideal of a just social order (38:26). A comparison of the Qur’an and the Bible on this story indicates that whereas the Qur’an portrays Prophet Dawud (A.S.) as a morally upright and infallible Prophet who was given the signs of God, the Bible indicates that Prophet Dawud (A.S.) was guilty of many religious and moral transgressions. According to the Old Testament, Prophet Dawud (A.S.) had committed adultery with Bathsheba. The story of Prophet Dawud further highlights the difference between the Qur’anic and Biblical portrayal of Prophets. Whereas the Bible mentions Prophet Dawud’s moral failings, the Qur’an emphasizes his morally upright character.

Prophet Sulaiman (A.S.) is known in the Old Testament for his great wisdom and for building the temple in Jerusalem. Under him, the Israelites attained political and economic ascendancy. However, he is also depicted as immoral in his personal behavior and as burdening his citizens with excessive taxes. The Qur’anic story of Prophet Sulaiman (A.S.) is found mainly in chapter 27 (sura al-Naml) where he is depicted not only as a great and morally upright Prophet but also as an ambassador of Islam. The Old Testament does not present the Prophets as infallible (masum) or ideal personages. This is in stark contrast to the Qur’anic depiction of the saintly lives of the Prophets.

Due to internal feuds, the kingdom of Prophet Sulaiman (A.S.) was split into two after his death in 922 BC. The northern part of the kingdom, composing of ten Jewish tribes, was called Israel. The southern section, composing of the remaining two tribes came to be called Judah. According to the Bible, even after the partition of the states, different Prophets were sent to the peoples. Thus Isaiah was reportedly sent to the northern tribes while Amos was sent to the south. Apart from preaching the belief in one God, the Prophets also preached socio-economic justice and equality.

In 722 BC, the kingdom of Israel was destroyed when Assyrian soldiers conquered the ten tribes living in the north. These tribes were completely assimilated by their conquerors. There is no documentation as to what happened to them, hence they are referred to as the ten lost tribes of Israel. It should be further noted that according to Joseph Smith, a founding father of the Mormon Church, the ten tribes had migrated to America.

The two remaining tribes living in the south were conquered in 587 BC by the Babylonians. During their excursion into Judah, the Babylonians destroyed the temple in Jerusalem. The Jewish community was living in diaspora, having been exiled in Babylon. According to the Old Testament, Biblical prophets like the second Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel were sent to the Jews even though they were living in exile. They tried to provide rational explanations as to why the Jews continued to suffer.

In 537 BC, Babylon was itself captured by a Persian King, Cyrus the Great. Although King Cyrus allowed the Jews to return to their homeland, many chose to live in exile as they had settled there. The final Prophet mentioned in the Old Testament is Malachi.

There is no doctrine to which all Jews subscribe. Jewish beliefs are intertwined with and expressed in Jewish history. Jews believe that the one God expressed His will and guided the community through the Prophets at various points in history. They also believe that due to the covenant, Jews are the chosen people of God, carrying the responsibility of guiding the rest of humanity. Orthodox Jews further believe that the Torah is the infallible word of God and that the covenant requires them to observe the Jewish law (to be discussed below) minutely. Unlike the Qur’an, the Old Testament has very little to say about the after-life. Hence Jewish conception regarding the hereafter is very vague. Many Jewish scholars believe the after life is a spiritual rather than physical state. Others do not talk of the after life at all.


The significance of the brief historical account cited above needs to be properly comprehended. According to the Bible, God reveals His will to His chosen slaves, the Prophets. God also draws a covenant with His Prophets who are required to uphold and proclaim His law. The covenant that was initially contracted with Prophet Ibrahim (A.S.) was renewed with Prophet Musa (A.S.) at Mount Sinai. For the Jews, God’s continuous revelation is an affirmation of His love to His chosen people even when they are exiled. The historical narrative cited above also indicates that God protects the righteous ones and that when a nation shirks from its moral and religious responsibility, then God withholds His favors from that nation.

Unlike Judaism, Islam does not accept the idea that God’s guidance was restricted to a particular community. The Prophet Muhammad’s (S.A.W) message was universal, a fact that was proven by the rapid expansion and spread of Islam in the past and in present times.

2. The Classical Period and Rabbinical Judaism:

Description: Before the coming of Prophet ‘Isa (A.S.), the Jews were divided into three main groups. The Essences were a mystical group that believed that Jerusalem was corrupt since Pompey, the Roman governor, had invaded and captured it in 63 BC. The Essences sought purification from the material world by awaiting the appearance of a messianic figure. Since they abandoned Jerusalem and settled near the Dead Sea, their writings are called the Dead Sea scrolls. The scrolls are important for modern historians as they depict the situation of Jerusalem before the coming of Prophet ‘Isa (A.S.).

The Sadducees lived in Jerusalem. Conservative in their views, they believed in a literal interpretation of the Bible and allowed no flexibility in the application of the law. They are equivalent to a contemporary fundamentalist movement. They rejected the prophetic writings and accepted only the first five books of the Bible. The third and most important group was the Pharisees. They believed in a liberal interpretation of Mosaic law. For them, the law must be interpreted in view of changing circumstances and the needs of the times. These three Jewish groups were expecting the appearance of a divinely appointed Messiah at that time.

However, they were disappointed with Prophet ‘Isa (A.S.) as he had not fulfilled their expectations. He was not the Messiah they were expecting for he did not establish the kingdom of God on earth. He did not destroy all evil nor did the ‘lion lay down with the lamb’ after his appearance. For these reasons, the Jews rejected Jesus. For a long time, Christians believed (many still do believe) that the Jews had betrayed Jesus and had handed him over to the Romans to be executed. The Qur’an, on the other hand, does not present Prophet ‘Isa (A.S.) as the final Prophet or as an eschatological leader who had failed to live up to the expectations of his people. The Qur’an depicts ‘Isa (A.S.) as an important link in the chain of Prophets sent by Allah.

The political environment in Jerusalem deteriorated for the Jews in 70 CE. Living under Roman rule in Jerusalem, the Jews found the Roman regime to be oppressive. The Jews attacked Roman soldiers resulting in the Romans killing many Jews and destroying the temple in Jerusalem for the final time. According to the Jews, the temple will only be rebuilt when the Messiah reappears. Only the Western Wall of the temple (the wailing wall) remains standing. This period is called the classical period of Jewish history. There were no more Prophets and their place of worship had been destroyed.

To fill the void, learned teachers (called Rabbis) took over the position of leadership of the community. The Rabbis compiled and interpreted the Torah, making it more applicable to their own times. They filled the gap created by the destruction of the temple by establishing local places of worship. An academy of learning (called the yeshiva) was founded to train future Rabbis. Due to the role played by the Rabbis, the era is also known as Rabbinical Judaism. The most famous of the early Rabbis was Hillel. He found his school of Rabbis in the first century. Many laws in contemporary Judaism are the result of the intellectual efforts of the Rabbis in the classical period. Gradually, the authority of the Rabbis increased over the religious lives of the Jews since they were perceived as the guardians and guides of the community.


The significance of this era becomes more evident only when viewed within the wider context of the processes of systematization and codification of the law. The termination of the era of the Biblical Prophets had left a significant vacuum in the leadership of the community. In addition, the Roman invasion and subsequent destruction of the temple had demoralized the Jewish community living in Jerusalem. Furthermore, the community was fragmented with the coming of the Prophet ‘Isa (A.S) as some Jews had seceded by responding to his call. Indeed, it is correct to state that most of the early Christians were Jews who had accepted the new religion. The only issue that differentiated the early Christians from the Jews was their belief in the messianic vision of Jesus.

Hence the role played by the Rabbis became pivotal. They not only filled the role of leadership within the community but also counteracted the threat posed by the early Christian community. In addition, Mosaic law was, up to that time, in a rudimentary and oral form. The interpretive efforts of the Rabbis ensured that Jewish law did not stagnate in the annals of history. The Rabbis fulfilled the function of interpreting and, at times, adding to the texts (through the Talmud). The Rabbis, in their role as the leaders of the Jewish community, were expressing Jewish beliefs and practices. In the process, they were neutralising the arguments of their opponents.

3. Exegesis And The Composition Of The Talmud

Description: The Rabbis also saw the need to codify and interpret texts. Hence they started to produce a commentary on the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament). The Rabbis examined the text of the Torah and provided the historical context of the verses. This exegesis and commentary on the Torah is called the midrash.

The Jews also claimed that they had inherited the law of Moses that was orally transmitted. This oral law is called the mishnah. The interpretation and commentary on the mishnah that the Rabbis provided were called the Talmud. By the year 90 C.E., the canon of the Jewish Bible had been assembled. It included the Torah (the five books enumerated above), the book of Writings and of the Prophets.

The Rabbis also saw the need to elucidate the law. For example, in the book of Exodus, Jews are forbidden to seethe a kid in its mother’s milk (Exodus 23:19, Deuteronomy 14:21). Although it is not explicitly stated, the Rabbis interpreted this injunction to mean that milk and meat shall not be eaten in the same meal. They extended the prohibition to cooking, eating, or deriving benefit from such a mixture. The process of interpretation and systematization of Jewish law (called halakhah) resulted in the creation of 613 mitzvah (rulings). One of the most famous mitzvah (called the Bar mitzvah) is celebrated when a child reaches the age of puberty. A single individual could not possibly observe the 613 mitzvah that the Rabbis had deduced. However, the community could collectively observe it.

There are many parallels between the halakha (Jewish law) and the shari‘a. Both are sciences of jurisprudence that delineate ritual observances and explicate minute details of the law. The role played by the ‘ulama’ resonates, to some degree, with the functions of the Rabbis. Especially in the post-ghayba period, Shi‘i jurists filled the vacuum in the leadership of the community engendered by the occultation of the twelfth Imam (A.S.). The jurists also sought to elaborate, explicate and interpret the law based on textual sources.


The commentary that the Rabbis provided on both the Torah and the transmitted law of Moses resulted in the codification of Jewish law and formalization of Jewish practices. This function also accentuated the Rabbis’ authority over the laity. The priests who previously served in the temple had sacrificed animals and presided over religious functions. However, the functions performed by the Rabbis increased their authority so that the community was largely dependent on their interpretation and explication of the scriptures. Orthodox Jews consider the halakhah (Jewish law) to be absolutely binding since it is seen as God’s definitive law. However, reformed Jews reject its absolute binding force.

4. Jewish Festivals

Description: History plays a very important role in Judaism. Hence Jewish festivals and holidays frequently coincide with decisive moments in Jewish history. In fact Jewish religious practices are intertwined with the festivals. The importance of these festivals lies in the fact that they connect contemporary Jews with the past, reliving past sacrifices and historical events that have led to the survival of the Jewish community. The following are some of the main Jewish holidays and festivals:

Passover: Passover signifies the event of the exodus when Prophet Musa (A.S.) led Banu Isra’il to the West Bank from the clutches of the Pharaoh. The event is significant for it marks the transition from bondage and slavery to freedom. It also indicates the triumph of freedom over oppression. It further indicates the prominent role that God plays in human history. Far from being an impersonal and passive deity, God actively intervenes in history. The Passover meal, based on the passage in Exodus 12, is celebrated in the spring. During each meal, the story of deliverance from Egypt is recited and explained so that each new generation is incorporated into the covenant people whom God had delivered. The ‘sacred’ meal is called the Seder.

During the Passover meals, Jews eat unleavened bread called matzah. Since Prophet Musa and his followers had to leave Egypt in great haste, they were not able to bake bread. Eating unleavened bread in modern times encourages contemporary Jews to connect with the past and recounts the difficulties endured by the community as they escaped oppression.

Hanukkah: The event is significant in Jewish history as marks the triumph of good over evil. In 133 BC, a Jewish community had revolted against the Syrian infiltration of Hellenistic (Greek) ideas and practices in the Jewish community. These included the prohibitions to possess the Torah or to observe the Sabbath. Idols were placed in the temple in Jerusalem, rededicating the temple to the Greek god, Zeus. Hanukkah marks the revolt by a small Jewish community against these pr actices. The revolt (called the Maccabean revolt after the community that had rebelled) is interpreted to mean the power of faith over physical might. Although faced with overwhelming odds, the Maccabees emerged victorious against their adversaries. After the victory, the Jews removed all idols from the temple in Jerusalem.

Jews believe that Hanukkah is also a celebration of a miracle since a container of consecrated oil that was sufficient to light the lamps for only one day lasted for eight days.

Rosh Hashanah: This signifies the Jewish new year. Rosh Hashanah celebrates God’s creation of the world. The festivals, which last for a total of ten days, encapsulate a period of repentance (teshuba). The festivals culminate on the tenth day called Yom Kippur. For Jews, this is the day of atonement. Jews fast for 24 hours on this day and spend their time in reflection and seeking repentance. Jews spend much of their time on Yom Kippur either standing or kneeling in the congregation. Rosh Hashanah is celebrated in the Fall.

Sabbath: The Bible mentions that God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh. It also mentions that Jews are to rest the day of the Sabbath, i.e., Saturday. The Sabbath begins on Friday at sunset. Jews normally celebrate the Sabbath by having a family dinner on Friday evening and attending services on Saturday morning. Orthodox Jews will not perform any manual work on Sabbath. Thus they will not engage in commercial activities, drive cars, cook, make telephone calls, or even use elevators. Many reformed Jews do not observe the Sabbath rituals.


The study of Jewish holidays and festivals is an important indication of the role of history in a religious tradition. History is important not only because it connects us with the past, but also because it instils a sense of identity within us i.e., it indicates who we are and whom we identify ourselves with. By celebrating significant historical events, we bring the past into the present, reliving the past and sharing in the emotions and sacrifices of those who gave their lives so that we could live ours. The Jewish act of eating unleavened bread, for example, is a reminder of the traumas experienced by the Banu Isra’il who had to abandon their possessions and leave in great haste in order to save their lives. Celebrating important historical events perpetuates the heritage of the community, instils a sense of belonging and identity to the younger generation. Without ‘reliving’ history, a community can be alienated from its past and lose touch with its founding fathers.

Short and Long Term Impact:

According to Judaism, the message of the Biblical Prophets was transmitted and later canonised by the Rabbis. The contribution of the Rabbis had both short and long term impact. In the short run, they were able to provide religious guidance to the Jews of their own times and to disseminate Jewish teachings. They were also able to defeat the arguments of their adversaries hence establishing a standard of normative beliefs and practices. Gradually, their functions within the community increased so that they could dictate the religious and social lives of its members. Through their literary, juridical and polemical activities, the Rabbis transmitted the religious tradition that would shape the beliefs and ritual practices of later generations.

In the long run, the commentaries they wrote and their responses to questions formed the basis of later understanding of Jewish law and practices. Without the contribution of the Rabbis, much of the earlier scriptures and beliefs may have been lost. In the absence of the Prophets, it was the Rabbis who filled the important position of the leadership of the community.


Those who lecture on Judaism should teach history on a comparative basis, drawing parallels between Qur’anic and the Biblical accounts. Teachers should emphasize the Qur’anic insistence on the upright character of the Prophets and contrast this with the depiction of the Prophets in the Bible. Students should be made aware of historical and ritual similarities and differences between the religions.

The rigidity of Jewish law (the halakhah) proved to be an important factor in the division within Judaism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Many felt that Jewish law could not cope with the demands of modernity. Modern encounter with the West precipitated the fragmentation of the Jewish community. In 1845, reformers like Samuel Holdheim maintained that a significant part of Jewish law must be changed to accommodate the needs of modernity. He said that Jewish dietary laws must be abandoned and that the Sabbath should be celebrated on Sundays to coincide with the Christian day of rest. He also believed that services in the synagogue should be conducted in the vernacular and he solemnised Christian-Jewish marriages.

Although most of Holdheim’s views were rejected as extreme, he is credited in some circles as being the father of the modern Jewish reform movement. Subsequent discussions and tensions within the Jewish community especially after the Jews migrated to Europe and America led to a series of reforms in Judaism that culminated the establishment of a reform movement within Judaism in the nineteenth century. The reformed Jews are often secular in their outlook. Many do not observe the Jewish dietary laws closely (although they do not consume pork). Some reformed Jews do not observe the Sabbath nor do they see the Old Testament as the infallible word of God. Many have fully assimilated themselves with Western lifestyles and values.

It has been argued that Muslims residing in the West are confronted with challenges similar to those encountered by the Jewish community when it migrated here in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Just like the early American Jews, American Muslims have to deal with issues of acculturation (encountering and adjusting to an alien culture), assimilation, identity preservation, and a suitable mode of interaction with the ‘other’. As Islam becomes an integral part of the religious landscape of the West and Muslims become a visible and vocal part of the fabric of American society the familiar categorization of ‘Islam and the West’ should be reformulated to read ‘Islam in the West.’ It is important for Muslims living in the West that they maintain their religious and moral values and that they are not assimilated to American culture. Muslims must also be aware of the impingement of secular culture in their societies.

Selected References

  1. Armstrong, K., A History of God, (Knopf, 1994)
  2. Oxtoby W. (ed.) World Religions: Western Religions, (Oxford Univ. Press, 1996)
  3. Trepp Leo, A History of The Jewish Experience, (Behrman, 1973)

Multiple Choice Questions:

1. The first migration in Judaism was

The migration of Moses from Egypt
Abraham’s migration to Canaan
Joseph’s moving to Egypt
The Jew’s migration to Babylon
None of the above

2. According to the covenant between God and Abraham

God would make Abraham the father of a great nation
God would protect and bless the nation of Abraham
Abraham would worship one God only
All of the above
None of the above

3. The book of Deuteronomy contains

The farewell sermon of Moses
The ten commandments
The story of creation
A, b and c
A and b only

4. After the death of Solomon, the kingdom of Israel

Was formed in the north
Was captured by the Assyrians in 722 BCE
Was composed of ten tribes
All of the above
None of the above

5. The sadducees

Were flexible in their interpretation of the torah
Rejected the world and settled near the dead sea
Were waiting for jesus
All of the above
None of the above

6. Under rabbinical judaism

The interpretation of the rabbis became normative
The law was discarded
The essences dominated the synagogues
Animals were sacrificed in the temples
None of the above

7. The term talmud refers to

Interpretation of the bible
Commentary of the mishnah
The first five books of the bible
Jewish law
None of the above

8. The term midrash refers to

The time for prayer
The law of moses
Liberation of the jews from slavery
The five books of the old testament
None of the above

Comprehension Questions

1) Define Rabbinical Judaism and examine its historical development. Discuss the importance of Rabbinical Judaism to Jewish history.

2) Examine the main Jewish rituals and festivals. What role do they play in the lives of the believers?

3) Discuss and compare the lives of the following Prophets as mentioned in the Qur’an and the Old Testament: Prophets Ibrahim, Musa, Daud and Sulaiman.

About the Author

Dr. Liyakatali Takim was educated in religious studies in Qum, Iran and earned his doctorate at the University of London School of Oriental and African Studies. Dr. Takim is an assistant professor in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Denver. He has also taught at Vanderbilt, University of Miami, University of Toronto, McMaster and Queen's University in Kingston, Canada. Prior to his academic appointments, he was the Religious Director of Jafferi Islamic Center in Toronto, and has served as the Chairman of Islamic Education Board of Nasimco since 1996. Dr. Takim has lectured widely in many Islamic centers and published several papers.






Dr. Liyakat Takim
Sharjah Chair in Global Islam
McMaster University, Religious Studies
University Hall, Room 116
1280 Main Street West
Hamilton, Ontario
Canada, L8S 4K1

Telephone: 905-525-9140 ext 20521
Fax: (905) 525-8161