Jewish respect and admiration for Muslim religiosity

Here is something from last week by Zvi Zohar, Jewish respect and admiration for Muslim religiosity

A full English translation of the original account is here. The original Hebrew article, with extensive footnotes was “An Awesome Event in the City of Damascus” in Tolerance in Religious Traditions (Shlomo Fisher ed., 2008).

Here I consider one such source, found in the writings of Rabbi Yitzhak Farhi of Jerusalem (1782-1853). It tells of a relationship between two outstanding men in late 18th century Damascus: a great Sufi sheikh and the Chief Rabbi of Damascus.
One of the two heroes of Farhi’s tale, the Sufi sheikh, attained great mastery of the Seven Wisdoms, i.e., the body of universal human knowledge. Since a person’s perfection is contingent upon mastery of these wisdoms, the sheikh was more perfect than all the Jews of his generation, with the exception of the rabbi of Damascus, who was his equal and even slightly his superior in the realm of universal wisdom.

But the Seven Wisdoms are of course only one aspect of religious perfection: the highest form of religious accomplishment is the encounter with God and closeness to Him. In this realm, the realm of religious-mystical experience, it emerges quite clearly from Rabbi Farhi’s account that the sheikh was on a higher level than the rabbi. In that account, it was the sheikh who guided the rabbi along the paths of mystical experience, by way of the garden and the pool, until their joint entry into the Holy of Holies to encounter the Divine Reality reflected in the holy name YHVH. The words on the golden tablet they gazed upon were: “I envision YHWH before me always”. This formula is to be found in every synagogue. Yet as related by Farhi, the one who actualised the promise born by this verse, the person who was indeed able to envision in his consciousness “He Who Spoke and the universe was created”, was not the Jewish rabbi but the Muslim sheikh.

At the end of their joint journey, the rabbi shed copious tears, acknowledged the sheikh’s advantage in this crucial realm, and concluded: “It is becoming upon us to do even more than that”.

Rabbi Yitzhak Farhi, addressing his audience in Jerusalem and the Ottoman Empire in the fourth decade of the 19th century, presented the Sufi sheikh as an ideal spiritual figure reaching the greatest heights of awe of God.
And above all else, there are shared elements and a partnership in the mystical experience itself—and in the joint focus of this experience: “He Who Spoke and the universe was created”. Not a Muslim God, and not a Jewish God, but the God of all existence, the Creator of all.

* Zvi Zohar is a professor of Sephardic Law and Ethics at Bar Ilan University, a Senior Research Fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute of Advanced Judaic Studies in Jerusalem. A full translation, analysis and discussion of Rabbi Farhi’s account will soon be published in Jewish Studies Quarterly under the title “The Rabbi and the Sheikh”.
Read Full op-ed Version here.

Update: I received a comment of Islamaphobia with an IP number from the Israel Tel Aviv Ministry-of-finance. Dont they at least tell people not to make such statements from work? Or at least not in English?

2 responses to “Jewish respect and admiration for Muslim religiosity

  1. Next scene:

    The Rabbi’s son or daughter converts or intermarries into Sufism.

    What is the Rabbi’s reaction?

  2. We dont completely know. There was radical conversion to Islam of a large % of Jewish in the Ottomon empire and we dont have widespread concern and protest. We have more anger and rejection then kiruv or demographic concern.
    I have always wondered why this was.
    For a full bibliography fro the Muslim side, see Marc David Baer, Honored by the Glory of Islam (2007). He also has an article on Sufi versus non-Sufi as a medium of conversion.
    On the Jewish side you can start with the notes of Yosef Hacker, and the article of Leah BORNSTEIN-MAKOVETSKY, The Attitude of Jewish Scholars to Jewish Conversion to Islam and Christianity during the Last Century of the Ottoman Empire.
    Someone upload an good article by Klorman about Yemen with a decent literature review.

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