Jewish and Christian Ethics/Part II/Chapter II

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Chapter II

Worship and Ethics

The examination we have made of the Mohammedan faith has met our expectations. The result has but more and more demonstrated that Pharisaical origin which we strongly suspected from the first. A new study now presents itself, viz: The religious practice and worship of Islam. This, as we have said, includes four divisions: prayer, fasting, alms and pilgrimage to Mecca. Let us commence with prayer, but as this must be preceded by purifications, let us first say a word as to these. They are of two kinds: 1st, total purification, called, ghosl, that is, ablution of the whole body, corresponding to the Hebrew tebila; 2d, purification of the face, hands and feet, done after a set fashion, the wodon.

Here is a distinction corresponding exactly to the most ordinary practices of the Pharisees. Let us see if the mode of performance in Islamism be less simple. After sexual intercourse the whole body is to be purified by immersion; likewise, those who have been near the dead, and women who have been confined or have had their courses. These four cases are anticipated by Moses; but what best proves the Pharisaical derivation is the first ablution, which, though clearly enjoined by the Mosaic text, acquired its general signification and importance only from Ezra and the Rabbinical institutions. In short, the face, hands and feet are purified before prayer. It is true that[18] this particular intention and special object did not enter into the Rabbinical prescriptions; but the daily occurrence of the practice, and the general ideas of not approaching holy things without this purification leave no room to doubt that the same spirit presided in both cases regarding the object of these ablutions.

Still more,--the Pharisees, when water cannot be had, fulfill this obligation by using fine sand or dust, and to the same expedient, in a similar lack, has the Koran recourse.

Although the Koran does not order circumcision, the custom is too well known and too old among the Arabs to need mention. But what we should notice is that the Arabs say circumcision is as old as Adam, to whom it was taught by the angel Gabriel. Now, is not this, in another guise, the assertion of the Rabbis, that not alone was Adam created perfect; but many other Patriarchs after him were born circumcised.

Is this the only bodily preparation which the Arabs think indispensable to worship and prayer? The attitude of the body during prayer is no less necessary to render it acceptable. To turn towards the holy place is an indispensable duty, and all can see how the thought of Mahomet, and the ancient usage of Israel (practised by Daniel himself at Babylon) curiously coincide. How then, if we knew, for instance, that, according to the oldest injunction of Mahomet, it was towards Jerusalem one should face during prayer? But this fact is well established. Ever, even since Mecca has taken the place of Jerusalem, do Mussulmen and Jews at the hour of prayer, turn their eyes and bodies to their sacred cities.

Alms, the second precept of Islamism, is of two kinds, viz: legal and voluntary. The first is determined by law, regard being had to both the quantity and quality of the gifts; the other is left to the disposition of each, which is more similar to the Judaic institutions? In the latter also, we have tenths of all kinds, the corners of the fields, the small grapes or the forgotten corn-ears that belong in full right to the poor, to strangers, widows and orphans; and there is also the alms proper which each gives according to his means or generosity. The analogy appears already in this general distinction, and it is no less visible as to the time most suitable for the exercise of this duty. The Koran, as do the Rabbis, recommends the giving of alms at prayer-time, that it may intercede with God for us. We seem to hear and see Rabbi Eliezer, who always gave alms before prayer, recalling the verse from the Psalms: "I shall see thy face through charity."[1] Mussulman humanity extends to animals. Has it surpassed the sensibility and goodness of the[19] Pharisees? Long before societies for the protection of animals were thought of, those Pharisees, so little known, declared that to give an animal pain is a sin against the law of God; and had Malebranche been a Jew he would not have given his dog that famous kick, saying: "She has no feeling." "The sophistry" of these Pharisees could discover in the most revered passages of the Pentateuch, the obligation to provide for the wants of animals before sitting to table, and one of these heartless, stupid Pharisees could eat nothing before ordering his oxen to be fed.[2]

The law of Mahomet prescribes nothing as to the quantity of alms. A new homage, as all can see, to the Pharisaic origin. Ordinary alms is generally confined to the fortieth part. This was the maximum which the Rabbis appointed for the Terouma, or tax for the sacrifices. On extraordinary occasions, after gaining a battle or lucky speculation, very liberal alms should be given. What limit did Islamism prescribe? The very same as did the Doctors assembled at Ouscha to check the inconsiderate impulse of Hebrew charity--viz, a fifth.[3]

As to the third article of the faith, viz, fasting, Mahomet has exaggerated its value far beyond that given it by the Rabbis; perhaps because it appeared to him more meritorious in a people still subjected to the appetites of the flesh. Mahomet, however, seems to have taken one idea from the Rabbis when he says: "The breath of the faster is more pleasant to God than the odor of musk." Substituting the odor of sacrifices for that of musk, we have an imitation of the Talmud,[4] and especially of the Cabalists. How do Mussulmen keep the ordained fast, and what are the self-imposed privations? The Bible speaks but of the "affliction of the spirit," or rather of the mortification of the senses. But the Pharisaical definition gives us exactly the manner in which the Arabs keep the fast. To eat, drink, wash, annoint the body, or have sexual intercourse, are all forbidden by Jewish tradition during the great fast. And these acts the Koran likewise prohibits, from day-break to sun-set. If not abstained from, the fast is considered void. Day-break is the commencement of the Mussulman fast; but the Koran brings us still more closely than by this point to prove Pharisaism when it says that the fast commences as soon as a white thread can be distinguished from a black one in the light of dawn. This is what the Mischna lays down as to the reading of the Schema in the morning, viz, as soon as blue can be discerned from white. Mahomet designates the tenth of the month Moharram as the most appropriate day for fast. Does he but sanction a custom already in force among the Arabs, as Al-Ghazali thinks? We think it much more likely that[20] he has imitated the great Jewish fast on the 10th of the 7th month, especially as he too calls his fast aschour after the Mosaic assor, held on the day of Atonement.

As to the pilgrimage to Mecca, although Mahomet preserved a custom already in vogue among the Arabs, he has but followed the example of Moses, who enjoins on all Isrealites to visit the temple of God three times a year. If Mahomet has not been so exacting, and commands the performance of this duty once only in life, it is because his religion, like Christianity, was destined to spread itself wherever the sword or proselytizing opened a way, because it is much more a cosmical than a national worship, and because three annual visits to the temple at Mecca would have been almost impossible for the inhabitants of most countries. In giving precepts to the Arabs, Mahomet did not confine himself to purely positive ones, such as those we have mentioned. He forbid many things, of which we shall mention but two, where the imitation from the Jews is incontestable, viz: the use of certain meats, and usury. If the flesh of swine was rejected by the Arabs before Mahomet's day, as is pretended, no doubt that Mahomet himself forbid many other meats. Not only is pork forbidden by the Koran, but also blood, as well as all animals that die naturally, or that have been strangled, or slain by other animals; although all such are allowed under the pressure of imperious necessity, from want of food, or in extreme danger. Are not these purely Hebrew importations, both the precepts and restrictions?

Let us now take a rapid glance at the civil institutions of Mohammedism. Here it is that the Pharisaical influence shows itself in all its strength. Let us begin with marriage. The Koran allows polygamy. Is it as arbitrary and unconditional as some authors think? Far from it; the Koran is precise thereupon: no one can have more than four wives, the exact number appointed by the Rabbis. The same causes that authorize, in Judaism,[5] a woman to demand a divorce, are equally admissible in the Mahomedan law, viz: bad treatment, neglect to maintain, impotence, or any other lack of conjugal duty. In both religions, a widow or repudiated wife, must wait three months before re-marrying; if she suckles a child, she must wait two years reckoning from its birth.[6]

Adultery in both religions is punished by stoning. To prove the crime four witnesses are required by Mahomet, two by Moses; and what deserves attention is the imprecation which the former imposes on a woman accused three times by her husband of adultery, obliging her, if she wishes to be acquitted to invoke the ven-[21]

geance of God on her head, if she is guilty. Is not this the imprecation accompanying the test of the bitter waters found in the book of Numbers?

The law of Moses does not allow human life to be estimated at a price. Murder must be punished, but not by a fine. Mahomet has greater flexibility. A compensation paid the family, the redemption of a captive Mussulman, will acquit the homicide, provided always the nearest relative of the slain is satisfied; otherwise, the criminal is given up to him to suffer any death such relative choses to inflict: a new lapse from the law of Moses, in which Mahomet falls into an excess of severity, as he just before erred by an excessive indulgence. Never did the law of Moses place the life of a man at the disposition of another; and if certain expressions seem to justify doubts on this point, it is because the nearest relative played, in Jewish society, the part of public accuser, and because putting the killer into the hands of goel haddam, means simply, surrendering him to his fate, public justice never foregoing its judgment or the execution of the criminal. Some would have it that the banishment of an unintentional homicide, ordered by Moses, was to save him from the anger of the nearest relative of the slain, and some have talked of the spirit of vengeance common to both Arabs and Jews, which originated the severe punishment in vogue with both. The Mosaic text in no wise justifies this interpretation, for the law as to involuntary homicide has all the marks of a public penalty, far more than those of a provision to defeat the revenge of relatives; and especially because an involuntary sin, such as the eating of blood or tallow, equally requires an expiation, and that by a sacrifice. But all suppositions of this kind crumble before Pharisaical tradition, which, far from extending this law, as the text might imply, to all involuntary killing, limits its action strictly to a homicide who kills through culpable negligence, and declares all others free to come and go without having to fear reprisals of any sort from the relatives.

The law of retaliation is sanctioned by the Koran as well as by the law of Moses; but what completely justifies the Pharisaical interpretation of this law is the Mussulman practice and interpretation of it. The Pharisees, as we know, assert that Moses' "eye for eye, tooth for tooth," etc., means only that their value shall be paid by fine. See how these "slaves of the letter" can foil an unjust and barbarous usage,--and see the services that Pharisaism has rendered humanity! Is it by a felicitous faithlessness to the Mosaic thought that they evaded the consequences of the literal interpretation, or have they taken liberties with the true spirit that dictated this law? One might think so, taking only the words of Exodus. But besides the significant phrase in Leviticus (Chap, xxiv: 18), one the most[22] favorable for the Pharisaical exposition, the example of Islam is very noteworthy. Retaliation is there sanctioned in the same terms and with the same force as in the Pentateuch, and yet, strange to say! this law gets specifically the same interpretation as does the Mosaic one at the hands of the Pharisees. No doubt whatever; and seldom or never is the practical application diverse.

War upon infidels is one of the most sacred duties recommended by Islamism. The greatness of the reward promised to him devoting his time, fortune and life to this work, is equaled only by the punishment in store for those who refuse it their properties or persons, and for runaways and deserters. With Islam the sword is the key of heaven and hell, and those wars being religious could have no limits but those of the world swayed by the Koran. What were the holy wars for Christianity but religious wars? Is there anything similar in Judaism? Remarkable fact! Judaism, nation, state, government though it was, took good care not to enlist the state, the nation, in the service of its dogmas; through fear of raising a religious war, it condemned itself to wage no war, that is,--to be forever politically inferior; it forbid itself all aggrandizement, all conquests except what God had previously determined, and those in very modest measure. What a difference between the two doctrines! The sword, for Islamism, is the key to heaven and hell. But for the Pharisees, it is not merely no ornament, but an impure object that defiles the touch like a dead body.[7] Is this the spectacle with which the two religious offshoots of Judaism present us? In these no state, no nationality, no country--in short, no excuse--that might make a war more necessary, more lawful. They could have claimed, at less expense than could Judaism, merit for moderation, for love of peace. But nothing of the kind. In both cases, the infidel was the true enemy; what the word barbarian signified for paganism, what the political enemy was for Judaism, the infidel was for the Christian Church and for Islam, that is, their natural and proper enemy, the only enemy with whom they might have truce, but never a definite peace as long as he continued in his errors. No need for these sects to repeat the priests harangue to the people before battle,[8] or the words of Maimonides inspiring every Hebrew citizen[9] with courage for battle. There will ever be between a Hebrew war and a Christian or Mohammedan one, the difference we have named,--one as great as between the religions themselves--that abyss in short which men have made between them. The first one will never be more than a defensive war, or at most a political one; the other two are but and can be only wars of religion.


  1. Chap, xvii, 15--Talmud Baba Bathra, fol. 10.
  2. Talmud Berachoth, fol. 40.
  3. Ib. Kethubotb, fol. 50.
  4. Ib. Berachoth, fol. 17.
  5. Talmud Kethuboth, Ch. V--Shoulchan Arouch, Vol. iii, Ch. xiii.
  6. Maimondes Hitchouth Ishouth, xix.
  7. Talmud Shabbath, fol. 63.
  8. Deut. xx; 2.
  9. Maimon. Hilchouth Melachim, Ch. vii.