Thursday, August 6, 2009

Shariah and Halacha

In a recent column by Daniel Pipes, in the Canadian National Post he addresses the question of why he is opposed to legal recognition of Shariah Law, but has no opposition to recognition of Halacha.

There are many differences between Shariah and Halacha, and an argument could be made for legal recognition of one and not the other, for example it is possible that people (particularly women) are coerced into using Shariah courts against their will and receive unfair treatment there. However from a legal perspective I have trouble understanding why Canadian Courts should limit the power of Shariah courts to adjudicate cases between Muslims (or others) who choose this as a court of arbitration, in the same way that a Beit Din is accepted as a court of arbitration for those who voluntarily choose to use it.

I think that the particular examples that Daniel Pipes raises are not good examples of the difference between the way Jews and Muslims treat their religious legal system (I’m only quoting one of the two examples here):

Those of us who argue against Shariah are sometimes asked why Islamic law poses a problem when modern Western societies long ago accommodated Halakha, or Jewish law. In fact, this was one of the main talking points of those who argued that Shariah should become an accepted part of dispute resolution in Ontario in 2005.

The answer is easy: a fundamental difference separates the two. Islam is a missionizing religion, Judaism is not. Islamists aspire to apply Islamic law to everyone, while observant Jews seek only to live by Jewish law themselves.

Two very recent examples from the United Kingdom demonstrate the innate imperialism of Islamic law.

The first concerns Queens Care Centre, an old-age home and day-care provider for the elderly in the coal town of Maltby, 40 miles east of Manchester. At present, according to the Daily Telegraph, not one of its 37 staff or 40 residents is Muslim. Although the home's management asserts a respect for its residents' "religious and cultural beliefs," QCC's owner since 1994, Zulfikar Ali Khan, on his own decided this year to switch the home's meat purchases to a halal butcher.

Queried about his decision, Khan, lamely replied he ordered halal meat for the sake of (nonexistent) Muslim staff. Then he backtracked: "We will be ordering all types of meat" and went so far as to agree that religious beliefs should not be imposed on others. His retreat did not convince one former QCC staffer, who suspected that Khan "intended to serve only halal meat at the home but has had to think again because of the row."


[B]oth Islam and Judaism abominate the flesh of pigs, so this prohibition offers a direct and revealing comparison of the two religions. Simply put, Jews accept that non-Jews eat pork but Muslims take offense and try to impede pork consumption. That, in brief, explains why Western accommodations to Halakha have no relevance for dealing with Shariah. And why Shariah as public policy must be opposed.


I agree with Pipes that forcing Halal meat on non-Muslim residents in a nursing home is a silly decision, although I’m not sure what the legal issue is here – shouldn’t the owner or manager of a nursing home have the right to serve whatever food they think is appropriate?

The problem seems to be the way in which it was done, that there wasn’t discussion or warning before a radical change in diet for the residents (although it seems that the decision was reversed within a week).

Pipes is correct that Halacha does not require non-Jews to eat only kosher food, however there could be several reasons why a Jewish owner of a non-Jewish nursing home could decide to serve only kosher food:

  • He may be trying to attract Jewish clients to expand his business.
  • He may be trying to support local kosher suppliers to help bring down the cost of kosher meat for the Jewish community
  • He may have found a way to reduce costs by brining in Kosher food (e.g., he has access to a wholesale kosher meat distributor)
  • There is a religious prohibition for Jews to Benefit from (not just eat) non-kosher food (specifically meat and milk products cooked together). The owner may feel that if his business (the nursing home) is making a profit based on the non-kosher food offered to clients, he personally is transgressing the prohibition of benefiting from milk-meat products.
  • He may believe (mistakenly) that a kosher diet is more healthy and would benefit all residents, even non-Jews.

To me Khan’s decision (which he later backtracked on) to offer only Halal meat was a bad decision, if he had stuck to the decisions, consumers (residents) would have to decide whether to stay in the nursing home or leave. That’s how the free market works (although I realize that the decision to leave a nursing home is often complex).

However I don’t think that issue would have been different if he had imposed a vegetarian, organic, or any other type of special diet.

If he had been Catholic and decided to put a crucifix in each room, in spite of the fact that were no Catholic residents, would this have been any different?

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