1.1 Fruits and Religions
Comparative studies of cultures, religions or praxis involve much more than applying a method. They are not just about confronting similarities and underlining differences. Behind such projects is the belief that a comparative perspective would provide both a better understanding of the compared systems and contribute knowledge that would not otherwise be attained. Nevertheless, the nature of the ‘additional knowledge,’ and the extent to which such knowledge is a unique outcome of the comparative study, are still to be explained. Furthermore, comparative projects also run the risk of being held hostage to biased paradigms, simplistic preconceptions, preoccupations with self-understanding and even unconscious commitments to a political agenda. A comparativist should be alert to hidden traps along the way and anticipate stumbling across them throughout her study.
A comparativist should also be simultaneously mindful of both the inducements of the project and the comparability[^1] of the subject matters. In the context of comparing legal systems, those problems commence with two inquiries: (1) what curiosities and premises are motivating the comparison; and (2) what type of justifications, preconditions, constraints and limitations apply to such a comparison?A fortiori , if we accept the conventional jurisprudential assumption that the law, as a unique social-political phenomenon, has universal characteristics, then comparing legal systems, either diachronically or synchronically, is like comparing fruits.[^2] The following discussion will address these questions by referring to the foundations of legal reasoning in both Jewish and Islamic jurisprudential thought. Following our study, we will offer some general reflections on the relatedness of Jewish and Islamic legal systems and their comparability.
1.2 Provoked Comparison
The comparison of Jewish and Islamic legal traditions has attracted scholars since the very early stages of Oriental studies in Western academies.[^3] The Jewish-Islamic comparative perspective has also played a major role in various areas of Islamic studies and consequently shaped the leading scholarly paradigms. Nevertheless, only recently have scholars began to demonstrate sensitivity to the methodologies of these comparative studies.
The intellectual motives that have typically guided such comparative projects can be classified into three distinct categories. The first seeks to discover or locate influences; the order of influence, or other consequential exchanges such as the borrowings or adoptions of ideas between the two legal systems. Underlying the exploration of influences, however, are often aspirations to claim originality or to demonstrate how later ideas and praxis were derived from earlier sources. Such a comparative approach, even when undertakenbona fide , is not free of suspicion concerning its objectivity, viz, that it serves agendas that celebrate the originality and thus the superiority of the source over its descendants. In the case of Islamic studies, such a conception has often been adopted by those who view of the formative period of Islam as best understood by reference to Jewish, Christian and other environmental influences upon the Prophet Muhammad and his believers.[^4] Such a conception is explicitly evident in the work that is considered the cornerstone of modern Oriental scholarship – A. Geiger’s (1810-1874)Was hat Mohammed aus dem Judenthume aufgenommen? This pioneering study, and many others like it, illustrates the prevalence of the vocabulary of ‘influence’ and ‘borrowing’ in supporting political and ideological efforts to reinvent the image of Jews and their civic conditions in modern Europe.[^5] However, tracing the influences of the Jewish legal tradition on the Islamic one is not always asymmetrical. Alongside the efforts to situate Islam as a daughter-religion[^6] against the Judeo-Christian backdrop, many studies concerning early medieval Rabbinic literature are motivated by a desire to demonstrate the considerable impact of Islamic law and legal thinking on Jewish legal literature, either Rabbinic or Karaite, of that period.[^7] Generally speaking, the ideological motives for exploring influences and for seeking original sources were obviously related to the 19th century philological zeitgeist, the diachronic focus on historical developments and the endeavor to reconstruct the ‘original’, either the text or the author’s intention.[^8]
A second motive is related to the nostalgic image of the scholastic environment in which Jewish thinkers and jurists jointly collaborated with their Islamic counterparts. Inspired by the historical image of the ‘Golden Age’ in which medieval Jewish learning centers in Iraq, Iran, the Maghreb and Andalusia were highly respected and coexisted peacefully under Islamic regimes, the aim of such a perspective is to reaffirm such dignified historical realities and perhaps even encourage similar visions in the present time.[^9] Pastoral accounts of this type are very common in descriptions of medieval philosophy and mysticism, in which those subjects are portrayed as identity-blinded disciplines with the capacity to transcend divisive elements and religious borders. Affected by the spirit of the European Enlightenment, these disciplines were taken as a common foundation for universal reflections of a higher order and as a means to bridge the particularities of each religion. The extent to which such collaborations truly took place, or rather have been projected by modern scholars, should be examined in relation to each case independently. Against this background, the discussion below indicates that collaborative milieus shared legal, as well as theologico-legal perceptions. As we shall see, alongside the kindred theological principles underlying both legal systems, Jewish and Islamic jurists often felt they were participating in the very same projects. Hence, the distinctive positive contents of the two legal systems did not stop them from developing unified conceptual language and similar self-understanding. However, this perspective implicitly presumes a political vision as well. By highlighting images of collaboration and shared knowledge, the relatedness and common ground between both communities are stressed by ignoring the hierarchical relations as an essential component.[^10]
Contrary to the previous motives, the third aim is to increase sensitivity towards essential differences within the compared legal systems and to underline the peculiarities of each. As such, comparison serves as a methodological tool by which particular features of each legal system are revealed. The comparative perspective makes it easier to observe latent and marginal features. A better understanding of both legal systems is achievable through a conceptual analysis of their notions, institutions and practical solutions. While the previous motives focused on the common ground between the two systems, the current comparative perspective, sometimes described as ‘new comparativism’,[^11] seeks to develop self-understanding and to increase awareness of their essential variations. Such a perspective is indifferent as to whether an actual encounter between the traditions occurred. The comparative method is likely to be an imaginary set-up by which a certain legal system is more clearly reflected. In that respect a comparative perspective might be evaluated as a kind of thought experiment.
In fact, referring to actual encounters and common ground is entirely justified when addressing medieval Jewish and Islamic jurisprudential thought. Moreover, since actual interactions between Jews and Muslims took place on various stages, both deliberately and unconsciously, it would be wrong to avoid descriptions of influence or borrowing. Even a strong commitment to a critical postcolonial approach should nota priori avoid the vocabulary of influence. Such a restriction would artificially limit the investigational scope and thus be unjustified.
Against the above approaches, our following analysis will refer to jurisprudential consciousness as the object of our comparative study and as its source of justification (henceforth: comparative jurisprudence). We will concentrate on the conscious ideas, principles, concepts, beliefs and reasoning that underlie the legal institutions and doctrines. More precisely, we will examine the jurists’ self-understanding and the ways it reflects the relationship between Jewish and Islamic legal systems.[^12]
The comparative jurisprudence approach not only favors jurisprudence as an appropriate lens for comparing legal systems, but also defines jurisprudence with a focus on consciousness – i.e. on the agent’s internal point of view. In contrast with the common conceptions of law, by either naturalists or positivists, it proposes to consider the perceptions of the law as relevant factors. In terms of historical observations of Jewish and Islamic legal traditions, the organizing questions would go beyond influences or borrowing to inquire how the jurists, judges or law-makers understood their engagements with the corresponding legal system.[^13]
1.3 Making Jewish and Islamic Laws Comparable
Many of the comparative studies of Jewish-Islamic legal traditions are largely led by curiosity about influences and borrowings, and are not necessarily troubled by wider questions of comparability. In fact, the comparison of Jewish and Islamic legal systems can be justified on various grounds – historical and jurisprudential on the one hand, and perceptional on the other hand.
Historically, the existence of medieval Jewry under Islamic political and cultural domination provided cultural and intellectual encounters and interactions of scholars of both milieus.[^14] The sharing of a common language, cultural codes and habits naturally served as a vehicle for exchanges of legal doctrines, institutions and perceptions. In that respect, a comparison of both legal systems is anticipated on factual grounds and part of the effort to explore past realities. From a jurisprudential point of view, the comparability of Jewish and Islamic legal systems is justifiable because of similar theological and structural apparatuses. In a way, both legal systems are committed to ‘religious legalism.’ In contrast with antinomian religiosity, often ascribed to the theology of St. Paul, both Jewish and Islamic mainstreams are law-centered religions, i.e. religions that acknowledge the subordination to the law as the most meaningful expressions of religious life.[^15] Hence in both theology was essentially intertwined in legal theory.[^16] Consequently, the implementation of the divine/earthly distinction within a legal system, according to which the law as the articulation of divine imperatives is also subject to human manipulation, invited a dualist conceptualization of the law. Therefore, both systems are structured in various dualistic fashions, either as a dual stratum (vertical dualism) or as a bipolar scheme (horizontal dualism), which provides coherent meaning to the seemingly oxymoronic idea of ‘divine law subject to human reasoning.’
Against the historical and jurisprudential understandings for comparing Jewish and Islamic laws, their comparability could also be reasoned in reference to the self-understanding of the jurists who acted within these legal systems. Indeed, throughout the ninth to the twelfth centuries, Jewish jurists were largely inspired by Islamic jurists, their literature, doctrines and institutions. The extent to which this inspiration was acknowledged or covered by their rhetoric is an interesting question that has much to do with the aim of presenting the Jewish legal legacy as ancient and purely transmitted. But even when the analogies to Islamic law are not emphasized, the Jewish references to a similar legal vocabulary indicate the acknowledgment in a comparative perspective. Therefore, the comparability of Jewish and Islamic law systems also rests on the comparative consciousness of the Jewish jurists when they reflected on their own system.