Assimilation for Muslims and Jews?

by Reza Aslan and Aaron J. Hahn Tapper
Palgrave Macmillan, 2011

As I write, twenty states are considering laws that would prohibit courts from considering any “foreign law” in their deliberations. Tennessee, Louisiana, and Arizona have already passed such statutes.  In January 2012, these attempts suffered a setback as a federal court found one such Oklahoma law unconstitutional. It remains to be seen what the future of such laws will be.

These laws—some of which explicitly mention Islamic Sharia law, and others of which hide their anti-Muslim intentions behind a more innocuous ban on “foreign law”—raise the specter of fundamentalist Muslims turning the United States into an Islamic theocracy.

There is no question that this perceived threat is absurd. And while Muslims currently bear the brunt of this fear-mongering, other groups’ religious practices may also soon fall under the scrutiny of these new laws. The new attention to the role of foreign law in American courts brings to light, for example, the seams in the supposedly flawless integration of Judaism and American life.

American courts today consider religious law in a limited set of cases: business contracts in which the parties have agreed that arbitrations should be carried out by religious judges; marriages in which certain stipulations follow religious law; and cases that touch on religious freedoms, such as the right of prisoners to practice their faith. In cases in which a defendant claims religious motives for murder or other criminal behavior, courts have routinely refused to consider such defenses.

Jews, like other religious minorities, have long taken for granted the right for parties to a contract to turn to a religious body such as a beit din (rabbinical court) for arbitration. In a number of cases, civil courts have upheld agreements made in Jewish and other religious prenuptial agreements. Therefore the Jewish community waxes poetic about the unprecedented religious freedom that Jews enjoy in America.

Most Jews—especially those of us in the liberal camp—assume that there is no conflict between Jewish values and American values. ...

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Rabbi Jill Jacobs is the executive director of T'ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights. Her most recent book is Where Justice Dwells: A Hands-On Guide to Doing Social Justice in Your Jewish Community (Jewish Light, 2011).

Source Citation

Jacobs, Jill. 2012. "Assimilation for Muslims and Jews?" Tikkun 27(2): 52.

tags: Books, Islam, Judaism, Reviews   
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