Teaching Judaism in Indonesia

Sept. 19 2019

Last summer, Alan Brill, an American rabbi and professor of Jewish studies, taught a course on comparative mysticism at Indonesia’s Gadja Mada University. He also visited several Islamic colleges, as well as some Christian and Hindu ones, where he lectured on the basics of Judaism. He describes the moderate and tolerant form of Islam that predominates in Indonesia, and comments on the attitudes and perceptions of his erstwhile students and colleagues:

Judaism is no longer officially recognized as a religion since there are not many Jews in Indonesia. They were briefly included at the founding of the state before they emigrated to Australia and the U.S. There is a trend of recent conversions to Judaism clustered in several cities, which deserves its own discussion. There are also Muslim Judeophiles who study Hebrew and Jewish books.

[Most Indonesian Muslims] do not accept the stringent interpretations of theology and shariah that arose in the Middle Ages and afterward. . . . When I asked Muslim graduate students in my classroom, or local Muslims in the city of Jogja (Yogyakarta), how they felt about the anti-Christian, anti-Jewish, or anti-Hindu writings of the medieval theologian and jurist ibn Taymiyyah, or similarly intolerant conservative Islamic thinkers, they answered that these writing have no authoritative status and are followed by Salafist Muslims, but not by themselves.

At each Islamic college, I visited, I began my talk by introducing myself and my religious background as a Jewish American, a rabbi, and a professor. And in each place, I began by recounting how the medieval Fatimid traders who originally brought Islam to Indonesia included Jews among them. We have responsa from the Cairo Genizah permitting wives back home in Egypt to remarry after Indonesian shipwrecks. Indonesians understood these as analogous to the similar fatwas permitting remarriage for the Muslim traders.

I was repeatedly warned to prepare for abrasive questions from the students about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But these questions never came.

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Read more at Book of Doctrines and Opinions

More about: Indonesia, Judaism, Moderate Islam, Muslim-Jewish relations

Why Is Iran Acquiring Property in Venezuela?

In June Tehran and Caracas concluded a major twenty-year cooperation treaty. One of its many provisions—kept secret until recently—was the transfer of 4,000 square miles of Venezuelan land to Iranian control. Although the territory is ostensibly for agricultural use, Lawrence Franklin suspects the Islamic Republic might have other plans:

Hizballah already runs paramilitary training centers in restricted sections of Venezuela’s Margarita Island, a tourist area northeast of the country’s mainland. The terrorist group has considerable support from some of Venezuela’s prominent Lebanese clans such as the Nasr al-Din family, who reportedly facilitated Iran’s penetration of Margarita Island. . . . The Maduro regime has apparently been so welcoming to Iranian intelligence agents that some of Hizballah’s long-established Latin American network at the tri-border nexus of Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay has been overtaken by Hizballah activities on Venezuela’s Margarita Island.

Iran’s alliance with Venezuela most importantly provides Tehran with opportunities to target U.S. interests in Latin America and potentially the southern United States. Iran, along with the Chinese Communist Party, is in the process of strengthening Venezuela’s military against the U.S., for instance by deliveries of military drones, which are also considered a threat by Colombia.

While air and seaborne arms deliveries are high-profile evidence of Iran’s ties with Venezuela, Tehran’s cooperation with Venezuelan intelligence agencies, although less visible, is also intense. The Islamic Republic’s support for Hizballah terrorist operations is pervasive throughout Latin America. Hizballah recruits from Venezuela’s ten-million-strong Lebanese diaspora. Iran and Hizballah cooperate in training of intelligence agents and in developing sources who reside in Venezuela and Colombia, as well as in the tri-border region of Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina.

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Read more at Gatestone

More about: Iran, Latin America, Venezuela