Teaching Judaism in Indonesia

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.

Read more at Book of Doctrines and Opinions

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

Why Egypt Fears an Israeli Victory in Gaza

While the current Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, has never been friendly to Hamas, his government has objected strenuously to the Israeli campaign in the southernmost part of the Gaza Strip. Haisam Hassanein explains why:

Cairo has long been playing a double game, holding Hamas terrorists near while simultaneously trying to appear helpful to the United States and Israel. Israel taking control of Rafah threatens Egypt’s ability to exploit the chaos in Gaza, both to generate profits for regime insiders and so Cairo can pose as an indispensable mediator and preserve access to U.S. money and arms.

Egyptian security officials have looked the other way while Hamas and other Palestinian militants dug tunnels on the Egyptian-Gaza border. That gave Cairo the ability to use the situation in Gaza as a tool for regional influence and to ensure Egypt’s role in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict would not be eclipsed by regional competitors such as Qatar and Turkey.

Some elements close to the Sisi regime have benefited from Hamas control over Gaza and the Rafah crossing. Media reports indicate an Egyptian company run by one of Sisi’s close allies is making hundreds of millions of dollars by taxing Gazans fleeing the current conflict.

Moreover, writes Judith Miller, the Gaza war has been a godsend to the entire Egyptian economy, which was in dire straits last fall. Since October 7, the International Monetary Fund has given the country a much-needed injection of cash, since the U.S. and other Western countries believe it is a necessary intermediary and stabilizing force. Cairo therefore sees the continuation of the war, rather than an Israeli victory, as most desirable. Hassanein concludes:

Adding to its financial incentive, the Sisi regime views the Rafah crossing as a crucial card in preserving Cairo’s regional standing. Holding it increases Egypt’s relevance to countries that want to send aid to the Palestinians and ensures Washington stays quiet about Egypt’s gross human-rights violations so it can maintain a stable flow of U.S. assistance and weaponry. . . . No serious effort to turn the page on Hamas will yield the desired results without cutting this umbilical cord between the Sisi regime and Hamas.

Read more at Washington Examiner

More about: Egypt, Gaza War 2023, U.S. Foreign policy