Islam and Noahite Law

From Wikinoah English
Revision as of 13:42, 13 March 2007 by HaNoahide (talk | contribs) (Rishonim)

Jump to: navigation, search

There has been much less halachic literature written about Islam compared to Christianity. It has been suggested that this is due, in part, to the fact there has not been in the way of substantial polemics directed at Islam.[1]

Islam and the halakhah

According to Jewish Law, both Jews and non-Jews were forbidden to worship idols, a category which also includes certain forms of polytheism. This prohibition is required as part of the Seven Laws of Noah. Once the doctrine of the Trinity became known to the Rabbis, it was generally regarded as polytheism, although with some exceptions.[2] In the last few hundred years with the Christian reformation, the emergance of non-trinitarian movements, and appearance for the first time of "Noahides" has inspired a great deal of responsa in this matter. Partly this is to a closer examination of theological issues, and partly this had to do with dealing with the diversity of thought that had sprung up within Christian and former Christian groups. Under the laws of avodah zara, idolaters are potentially subject to the death penalty. The general concensus of halacha was that while Christianity was similar to avodah zara, it was something less and never qualified for capital punishment.[3]


Early authorities characterized Islam as idolatrous, based on early rulings concerning Christianity and whatever information was available concerning of the emerging faith. There was a widespread perception that an idol was to be found in the Kaaba. For example Midrash Lekah Tov regarded Mecca as the name of the Islamic [4] Based on this this R. Menahem Meiri, R. Abraham Sofer (son of the Hatam Sofer) and Sefer ha-Eshkol rule that it was forbidden to drink or even obtain benefit from wine handled by a Muslim. According to them, there was no difference in the halakhic status of wine handled by a Muslim or an idolater.[5] See also Simhah Assaf,[6] rules that wine handled by a Muslim is forbidden for use as if it was touched by a Christian. However, from the reason given in this responsum, one cannot conclude that a Muslim was viewed as an idolater. Nahmanides made a distinction between Muslim wine and Jewish wine which was touched by a Muslim. Some achronim like the Birkei Yosef[7] and She'elot u-Teshuvot Tashbez[8] ruled that the practice was not to receive any benefit from wine handled by a Muslim. In the ninth century, R. Zemah Gaon disagreed and ruled that a Jew was permitted to obtain benefit from wine with which a Muslim came into contact.


Most of the rishonim held that Islam was not idolatry, however they bring another factor into play. Due to the need to prevent socialization with the Muslims - apparently even non-idolatrous Muslims - is given by the Talmud as a further reason to forbid consumption of their wine,[9] Based on this R. Zemah Gaon ruled that even though one could benefit from Muslim wine, it was still unfit to be drunk by a Jew.[10] Similar rulings were also made by Geonim Kohen Zedek,[11] Sar Shalom,[12] Nahshon,[13] and other important rabbonim.[14] However, R' Yizhak Rafael in his Sefer ha-Manhig, ruled that such wine was permissible for drinking.[15] He says that "perhaps it is permissible" to drink Muslim wine in a setting not conducive to socializing. See also the sources quoted by R. Joseph Messas, Mayim Hayyim (Jerusalem, 1985), Vol. 2, Yoreh Deah, no. 66, where it is explained why certain authorities disregard the Geonic view that permits one only to obtain benefit from this wine but does not allow one to drink it. See esp. p. 159: "There is no unity [of G-d] like the unity found in Islam; therefore, one who forbids [drinking] wine which they have handled turns holy into profane by regarding worshippers of G-d as worshippers of idols, G-d forbid." On the other hand kabbalists like R. Joseph Hayyim, tried to show that Islamic monotheism was far removed from the monotheism of Judaism[16]

The basis for these rulings was the concensus of halachic opinion by the Gaonim that Islam as a religion was not to be regarded as idolaty. However, since all of these Geonim were concerned with a specific halachic issue, they did not rule on any of the larger questions which deal with the relation of Judaism to Islam. Althought the Geonic responsa in general which show great regard for Islamic civil law[17]


Maimonides strongly put forth the view that Muslims were not idolaters. Although, to be sure, Islam was heresy,[18] this did not stop Maimonides from expressing a positive view about Islam - or even about Christianity, which he considered to be idolatry.[19] He ruled that although Islam and Christianity are both in error, they still have some value in that they prepare the world eventually to accept the true religion, namely Judaism.[20]

In Maimonides' system there was one point on which Christianity, although idolatrous, actually stood above Islam. The Talmud states that it is forbidden to teach Torah to Gentiles, and this interdiction is clasified as halacha by Maimonides. However, he makes an exception for Christians, because they believe in the same text of the Bible as the Jews and it is thus possible that, after having studied, they will recognize the error of their ways. For Muslims, however, because they do not accept that the five books of Moses are Divine, such a possibility is not to be considered. It is, therefore, forbidden to teach them Torah.[21]

However from this ruling, one can conclude nothing about the basic worth of Christianity vis-a-vis Islam. The prohibition to teach Torah to Muslims was due to the specific reason cited, and did not speak to any of the broader issues involved in evaluating their religion. In appears that it is Islam that was more favorable in Maimonides' eyes. As we have seen, according to him, both Christianity and Islam have a positive role to play in the world. However, with regard to Islam, despite certain critical comments regarding Muhammed,[22] the fact that Islam is not idolatry creates a crucial distinction between it and Christianity and leads to numerous consequences, both in law and theology. David Novak argues that this explains Malmonides' belief that Muslims, as sons of Ishmael, are required to circumcize their sons.[23] Maimonides rules that although a Jew may not obtain benefit from wine handled by a Christian, that is not the case with regard to a Muslim. However, Maimonides does agree with the view of the Geonim that it is still not permissible to drink this wine. According to Maimonides, this ruling was supported by "all the Geonim"[24] According to R. Asher of Montanzon (14th century), Sefer ha-Pardes (Jerusalem, 1985), p. 6, Maimonides saw the works of "all the Geonim." The Radbaz was of the same opinion [25] However, it is not clear as the the meaning of this as there were Geonim who do not agree with this position[26], Nahmanides says that "some Geonim" agree with the law as codified by Maimonides.[27] and, as we have already noted, this stringency had nothing to do with Islam per se but was to prevent socialization with non-Jews generally.

It was Maimonides' son, R. Abraham, who took his father's view to its logical conclusion when he argued that, although Islamic religious practices should not be imitated, strictly speaking they do not fall under the Biblical prohibition of following the ways of the Gentiles. This is so simply because "Muslims are monotheists who abhor idolatry."[28]

Remnants of the Jewish-Islamic relationship

There are still indications that something like that was going on, that the early Muslims looked to the Jews for approval and authority, "to settle doubts and disputes":

فَإِن كُنتَ فِي شَكٍّ مِّمَّا أَنزَلْنَا إِلَيْكَ فَاسْأَلِ الَّذِينَ يَقْرَؤُونَ الْكِتَابَ مِن قَبْلِكَ لَقَدْ جَاءكَ الْحَقُّ مِن رَّبِّكَ فَلاَ تَكُونَنَّ مِنَ الْمُمْتَرِينَ

Yunus 10:94 But if you are in doubt as to what We have revealed to you, ask those [the Jews] who read the Scriptures before you [the Muslims]. Certainly the truth has come to you from your Lord, therefore you should not be of the disputers.

Another example

Sunan Abu Dawud, Book 38 (Kitab al Hudud, ie. Prescribed Punishments), Number 4434: Narrated Abdullah Ibn Umar: A group of Jews came and invited the Apostle of Allah (peace_be_upon_him) to Quff. So he visited them in their school. They said: Abu Qasim, one of our men has committed fornication with a woman; so pronounce judgment upon them. They placed a cushion for the Apostle of Allah (peace_be_upon_him) who sat on it and said: Bring the Torah. It was then brought. He then withdrew the cushion from beneath him and placed the Torah on it saying: I believed in thee and in Him Who revealed thee. He then said: Bring me one who is learned among you. Then a young Rabbi was brought..."

Islam as a Noahide Faith?

Some have speculated that the Mesani refer to the Seven Laws of Noah, but this is impossible to prove.

15.87 And We have bestowed upon thee the Seven Oft-repeated (verses) and the Grand Qur'an.

17:22 — Prohibition of Idolatry #1

17:23 — Prohibition of Blasphemy #2

17:32 — Prohibition of Sexual Immorality #4

17:33 — Prohibition of Homicide #3

17:34 — Prohibition of Theft #5

17:35 — Imperative of Legal System #7

17:36 — Prohibition of Limb of a Living Creature #6??? (although prohibition of blood specifically mentioned by the 2:173; 5:3)

39.23 Allah has revealed the most beautiful Message in the form of a Book, consistent with the Oft-repeated (verses).

71:1 We sent Noah to his People: "Do thou warn thy People before there comes to them a grievous Penalty."

Sheikh Palazzi's Speech at the Conference on Noahide Council

Earlier in the day, several speakers addressed issues surrounding the B'nai Noah movement as part of a conference on the establishment of the B'nai Noah Council.

Sheikh Abdul Hadi Palazzi, a leader of the Italian Muslim Assembly, addressed the assembly, speaking about B'nai Noah in Islam: "Islamic law holds within it the seven laws of Noah and can be taught correctly to the Muslims of the world... I remember reading that a new Sanhedrin was created in Jerusalem [and] my impression was very positive - I thought maybe something new had been created to allow the Jewish people to project moral and legal clarity to counterbalance the lack of it in our world."

Palazzi added that the project of creating a council of Noahide teachers would hopefully counter the negative educational effect of the Gaza withdrawal, "which taught the opposite to my people - it convinced many that only terrorism works."


  • Judaism: A Quarterly Journal of Jewish Life and Thought, 6/22/1993, Author: Shapiro, Marc B.
  • Moshe Perlmann, "The Medieval Polemics Between Islam and Judaism," in S.D. Goitein, ed., Religion in a Religious Age (Cambridge, Mass., 1974), pp. 121-122, 126. and
  • M. Steinschneider, Polemische und apologetische Literatur in arabischer Sprache, zwischen Muslimen, Christen und Juden (Leipzig, 1877).
  • Ronald Kiener, "The Image of Islam in the Zohar," Mehkerei Yerushalayim be-Mahshevet Yisrael 9 (1989): 43-65 (English section)
  • Abraham Schreiber, "Yahas Hakhmei Yisrael le-Istam," in Itamar Warhaftig, ed., Minhah le-Ish (Jerusalem, 1991), pp. 276-292.
  • Regarding Karaite attitudes, see Haggai Ben-shammai, "The Attitude of Some Early Karaites Towards Islam," in Isadore Twersky, ed., Studies in Medieval Jewish History and Literature (Cambridge, Mass., 1984), Vol. 2, pp. 1-40.
  • Regarding Islamic influence on Jewish practice, Naphtali Wieder, Hashpa'ot Islamiyyot al ha-Pulhan ha-Yehudi (Oxford, 1947).

See Also


  1. Much of this article is based on 'Islam and the halakha in Judaism: A Quarterly Journal of Jewish Life and Thought, 6/22/1993, Author: Shapiro, Marc B.
  2. See Jacob Katz, Halakhah ve-Kabbalah (Jerusalem, 1986), pp. 291-310.
  3. For a recent discussion, see Louis Jacobs, "Attitudes Toward Christianity in the Halakhah," in Ze'ev W. Falk, ed., Gevuroth Haromah (Jerusalem, 1987), pp. xvii-xxxi. The standard treatment of Jewish attitudes towards Christianity remains Jacob Katz, Exclusiveness and Tolerance (Oxford, 1961).
  4. Midrash Lekah Tov (Jerusalem, 1960), Vol. 2, p. 250
  5. See R. Menahem Meiri, Bet ha-Behirah: Avodah Zarah, Abraham Sofer, ed. (Jerusalem, 1964), p. 214 (quoting R. Joseph ibn Migash), and Sefer ha-Eshkol, Z.B. Auerbach, ed. (Halberstadt, 1865), section 3, p. 150. (It should be noted that some scholars question the authenticity of this edition of Sefer ha-Eshkol.)
  6. Simhah Assaf, ed., Teshuvot ha-Geonim (Jerusalem, 1929), no. 266,
  7. R. Hayyim Joseph David Azulai, Birkei Yosef: Shiyure Berakhah (Jerusalem, no date), Yoreh Deah 122: 1.
  8. R. Simeon ben Zemah Duran, She'elot u-Teshuvot Tashbez (Lemberg, 1891), vol. 2, no. 48
  9. need source
  10. Hemdah Genuzah (Jerusalem, 1863), no. 114.
  11. Joel Muller, ed., Halakhot Pesukot min ha- Geonim (Cracow, 1893), no. 25.
  12. David Casell, ed., Teshuvot Geonim Kadmonim (Bnei Brak, 1986), no. 46.
  13. Simha Hasida, ed., Shibbolei ha-Leket (Jerusalem, 1988), Vol. 2, p. 20.
  14. See the sources quoted by Hanokh Albeck in the notes to his edition of Sefer ha-Eshkol (Jerusalem, 1938), pp. 77-78.
  15. See Yizhak Rafael, ed., Sefer ha-Manhig (Jerusalem, 1978), Vol. 2, p. 660, and Albeck, loc. cit. Rabbenu Nissim, She'elot u-Teshuvot R. Nissim ben Gerondi, ed. Kleon Feldman (Jerusalem, 1984), p. 45
  16. See, e.g., R. Joseph Hayyim, Da'at u-Tevunah (Jerusalem, 1965), pp. 25b-26a.
  17. see H.Z. Hirschberg, "Arkhaot shel Goyim Biyemei ha-Geonim," in S.J. Zevin and Zerab Warhaftig, eds., Mazkeret (Jerusalem, 1962), pp. 493-506.
  18. See Hilchot Teshuvah 3:8 (uncensored version).
  19. Regarding Christianity, see the uncensored versions of his commentary to Mishnah Avodah Zarah 1:3 and Hilkhot Akum 9:4.
  20. Hilkhot Melakhim 11:4 (uncensored version): All those words of Jesus of Nazareth and of this Ishmaelite [i.e., Muhammed] who arose after him are only to make straight the path for the messianic king and to prepare the whole world to serve the Lord together. As it is said: "For then I will change the speech of the peoples to a pure speech so that all of them shall call on the name of the Lord and serve him with one accord" (Zephaniah 3:9)
  21. Teshuvot ha-Rambam, ed., Joshua Blau (Jerusalem, 1989), no. 149.
  22. A.S. Halkin, ed., Moses Maimonides' Epistle to Yemen (New York, 1952), pp. 14, 36. Maimonides also refers to Muhammad as "the unfit one" (pasul), see Ibid., p. 38. See also Yehuda Shamir, "Allusions to Muhammed in Maimonides' Theory of Prophecy in his Guide," Jewish Quarterly Review 54 (1974): 212-224, and George F. Hourani, "Maimonides and Islam," in William M. Brinner and Stephen D. Ricks, eds., Studies in Islamic and Judaic Traditions (Atlanta, 1986), pp. 153-158; Netanel b. Isaiah, Maor ha-Afelah, ed., Joseph Kafah (Jerusalem, 1957), p. 121; Hayyim Vital as quoted in Saul Cohen, Lehem ha-Bikkurim [reprinted Bnei Brak, 1981], appendix, p. 14.
  23. Hilkhot Melakhim 10:8; David Novak, "The Treatment of Islam and Muslims in the Legal Writings of Maimonides," in Brinner and Ricks, Op. cit., pp. 240ff.
  24. Hilkhot Ma'akhalot Asurot 11:7; Teshuvot ha- Rambam, no. 269
  25. R. David ibn Zimra (1479-1573), She'elot u- Teshuvot Radbaz (New York, no date), no. 281, and Azulai, Birkei Yosef, Yoreh Deah 16:3.
  26. Cf. Tur, Yoreh Deah, 124
  27. Nahmanides, Hiddushei ha-Ramban to Avodah Zarah, ed., M. Hershler jerusalem, 1970), column 237
  28. See S. Eppenstein, Abraham Maimuni, Sain Leben und Seine Schriften (Berlin, 1914), p. 17, note 1; Gerson D. Cohen, "The Soteriology of R. Abraham Maimuni," Proceedings of the American Academy of Jewish Research 35 (1967), pp. 85-86.