Diversity Macht Frei
May 27, 2017
Accumulative and convincing research has demonstrated that Judaic materials extensively fill the narrative and legal contents of Islam. Since the seminal work of Geiger and the comments of Hurgronje, through the writings of among other scholars Goldziher, Torrey, and Lazarus-Yafeh, no less the trenchant interpretations of Crone and Cook, both the Qur’an and hadith literature have been examined with an eye to their substantive and central biblical and rabbinic elements. Such comparative religious investigation requires knowledge of both Judaic and Islamic works and traditions in order to offer a credible presentation of the similarity of the materials within each religious context.
Illustrative of this point is the textual example of the Qur’anic injunction prohibiting eating swine and carrion (Qur. 5:3) which bears an exact analogy to the Biblical prohibition (Lev. 11:7 and 39-40). Many Qur’anic dicta likewise parallel basic rabbinic legislation of Talmudic authority. For example, Jewish law forbids a divorced woman to remarry before an interval of three months, in order to determine who fathered her next child (Tal. Yevamot 41a), as does the Qur’an (Sura 2:228). Likewise, a man may take up to four women in marriage according to the Qur’an (Siura 4:3), this limitation already appearing earlier in the Talmud (Yevamot 44a). The notion of a mother suckling her baby for twenty-four months is rabbinically discussed (Tal. Ketubot 60a) while Qur’anically sanctioned thereafter (Sura 2:233). Another example of an exact Islamic replication of Judaism concerns a person preparing for prayer who must first wash his hands, but if water is unavailable, then to rub his hands with some earth (Tal. Berakhot 15a and Siura 4:43 and 5:6).
It is interesting that Islamic sources in their own narrative, known as isr’ilyyat, do not necessarily conceal the explicit Jewish source of normative Muslim behavior, as in the initial adoption by Muhammad of the ashura tenth-day fast in mimicry of the Jewish tenth-day fast of atonement in the Hebrew month of Tishrei. Another telling example and one of no little significance was Judaism’s ostensible direct influence on Islam concerning the direction of prayer (qibla) toward Jerusalem. This is a Talmudic notion and a principle of the halakha (Berakhot 30a) well before Muhammad, when promoting the new Islamic faith in Medina, had authorized the practice of facing toward sacred Jerusalem in prayer. After eighteen months, however, the qibla was changed to the Ka’ba in Mecca. This is not the only case where a Jewish feature was initially adopted, though later to be abandoned, by Islam.
But there are other cases where a difference, sometimes slight and often stark, distinguishes Islam from Judaism. The Talmud states that a person knows that the time for the morning Shm’a prayer has arrived, when enough light enables him to differentiate between ‘a blue and white thread’ on the tzitzit fringes of his talit prayer shawl (Bera/diot 9b). The Qur’an uses the same image, but with a change of color, in pointing out that a person knows the day has dawned when he is able to differentiate ‘a white thread from a black one’ (Siura 2:187).
The famous story of Mohammed’s magic night flight also appears to have a rabbinic origin.
Certainly one of the most enigmatic yet famous Qur’anic verses relates to Muhammad’s ‘night journey’ (isra’) from the holy mosque, presumably the masod al-haram in Mecca, to ‘the furthest mosque’ called the masgid al-aksa. This obscure notion of Muhammad’s miraculous night flight from Mecca to Jerusalem, no less his ascension from the Holy Mount to heaven to converse with Moses in particular, evoked a variety of traditional Muslim responses that included, no less, dis- belief and astonishment.
A possible Jewish source for this unusual ‘night journey’ to Jerusalem appears in the Rabbinic translation exegesis in Aramaic of the Bible attributed, though this is questioned, to R. Yonatan Ben Uziel from the Tannaitic period. It is considered that this translation/commentary from the post-Temple period diverges with a powerful midrashic-homilectical inclination from the Hebrew Biblical text.’ This characteristic is evident in the case before us. The relevant narrative in question from the Book of Exodus (Ch. 19:4) recalls what God ‘did to Egypt’ in the course of the Jewish flight to freedom, and how He raised the Children of Israel ‘on wings of eagles’ (al kanfei nesharim) in bringing them close to Him. The Aramaic translation describes how God placed the Israelites on clouds, as if on the wings of birds, and carried them from Pilusin, to be identified with Ramses in Egypt, and brought them to the site of the Beit Mukdasha (Temple) situated in Jerusalem. Thus, as the Yonatan Ben Uziel exegesis continues to explain, the Israelites were brought to the Temple in order to slaughter the Passover sacrifice animal there, that same night returning to Pilusin in Egypt. So the Israelites who were in the desert were brought to Mount Moriah, where the Temple would later stand, and there offered the sacrificial Passover lamb on the altar; thence, they quickly returned that same night to Egypt.
Source: Note on a Possible Jewish Source for Muhammad’s ‘Night Journey’ by (((Mordechai Nisan))), Arabica, T. 47, Fasc. 2 (2000), pp. 274-277