The Torah’s Prophecy of Jewish-Muslim Reconciliation

At the end of this week’s Torah reading of Ḥayyei Sarah (Genesis 23:1-25:18), Abraham dies and his two eldest sons, Ishmael and Isaac, come together to bury him. By analyzing this scene in light of several other details in the same reading, Jonathan Sacks interprets it is an allegory for a reconciliation between Judaism—represented by the patriarch Isaac—and Islam—represented by Ishmael, who, in both Jewish and Muslim traditions, is the forebear of the Arabs:

Ishmael’s presence at [his father’s] funeral is surprising. After all, he had been sent away into the desert [by Abraham] years before, when Isaac was young. Until now, we have assumed that the two half-brothers have lived in total isolation from one another. Yet the Torah places them together at the funeral without a word of explanation. The sages piece together [this and other] puzzling details to form an enthralling story. . . .

We know that Abraham did not want to send him away; [his wife] Sarah’s demand was “very grievous in Abraham’s sight on account of his son” (Gen. 21:11). Nonetheless, God told Abraham to listen to his wife. There is, however, an extraordinary midrash, in [the rabbinic commentary] Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer, that tells of how Abraham twice visited his son. On the first occasion, Ishmael was not at home. His wife, not knowing Abraham’s identity, refused the stranger bread and water. Ishmael, continues the midrash, divorced her and married a woman named Fatimah. This time, when Abraham visited, again not disclosing his identity, the woman gave him food and drink. The midrash then says: “Abraham stood and prayed before the Holy One, blessed be He, and Ishmael’s house became filled with all good things. When Ishmael returned, his wife told him about it, and Ishmael knew that his father still loved him.” Father and son were reconciled.

The name of Ishmael’s second wife, Fatimah, is highly significant. In the Quran, Fatimah is the daughter of Mohammad. Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer is an 8th-century work, and it is here making an explicit, and positive, reference to Islam.

Beneath the surface of the narrative in Ḥayyei Sarah, the sages read the clues and pieced together a moving story of reconciliation between . . . Isaac and Ishmael. . . . Yes, there was conflict and separation; but that was the beginning, not the end. Between Judaism and Islam there can be friendship and mutual respect. Abraham loved both of his sons, and was laid to rest by both.

Read more at Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

More about: Genesis, Hebrew Bible, Ishmael, Jonathan Sacks, Midrash, Muslim-Jewish relations, Quran, Religion & Holidays

Why Arab Jerusalem Has Stayed Quiet

One of Hamas’s most notable failures since October 7 is that it has not succeeded in inspiring a violent uprising either among the Palestinians of the West Bank or the Arab citizens of Israel. The latter seem horrified by Hamas’s actions and tend to sympathize with their own country. In the former case, quiet has been maintained by the IDF and Shin Bet, which have carried out a steady stream of arrests, raids, and even airstrikes.

But there is a third category of Arab living in Israel, namely the Arabs of Jerusalem, whose intermediate legal status gives them access to Israeli social services and the right to vote in municipal elections. They may also apply for Israeli citizenship if they so desire, although most do not.

On Wednesday, off-duty Israeli soldiers in the Old City of Jerusalem shot at a Palestinian who, it seems, was attempting to attack them. But this incident is a rare exception to the quiet that has prevailed in Arab Jerusalem since the war began. Eytan Laub asked a friend in an Arab neighborhood why:

Listen, he said, we . . . have much to lose. We already fear that any confrontation would have consequences. Making trouble may put our residence rights at risk. Furthermore, he added, not a few in the neighborhood, including his own family, have applied for Israeli citizenship and participating in disturbances would hardly help with that.

Such an attitude reflects a general trend since the end of the second intifada:

In recent years, the numbers of [Arab] Jerusalemites applying for Israeli citizenship has risen, as the social stigma of becoming Israeli has begun to erode and despite an Israeli naturalization process that can take years and result in denial (because of the requirement to show Jerusalem residence or the need to pass a Hebrew language test). The number of east Jerusalemites granted citizenship has also risen, from 827 in 2009 to over 1,600 in 2020.

Oddly enough, Laub goes on to argue, the construction of the West Bank separation fence in the early 2000s, which cuts through the Arab-majority parts of Jerusalem, has helped to encouraged better relations.

Read more at Jerusalem Strategic Tribune

More about: East Jerusalem, Israeli Arabs, Jerusalem