J.J. Goldberg

First They Came for the Sharia Court. Then They Came for the Bet Din

By J.J. Goldberg

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Andy Silow-Carroll, the inestimable editor of the New Jersey Jewish News, offers a devastating dissection of the Sharia-phobia, as he calls it, that is invading our public and, via a certain cable channel, our living rooms as well.

The news lede for his column is a recent ruling by a New Jersey court, dismissing a Muslim woman’s request for a restraining order against her ex-husband, whom she accused of sexual abuse while they were married. Judge Joseph Charles “ruled that her ex-husband did not have ‘criminal desire to or intent to sexually assault’ her. Rather, he was exercising his prerogatives as the man understood them under Islamic law, or Sharia.”

The story appeared on the Fox News website under the headline, “Advocates of Anti-Shariah Measures Alarmed by Judge’s Ruling.” Carroll notes that the article only quoted one anti-Sharia advocate, but that the Web is rife with blog posts on the case, with titles like “New Jersey: the new hotspot of Sharia” and “Sharia judge in NJ gets lifetime appointment.” He continues:

The idea that America is this close to having the Constitution replaced by the Koran used to be a fringe notion, but has inched closer to the mainstream thanks to “Islamist watchdog” bloggers like Daniel Pipes and Pamela Geller and was given a huge boost by Newt Gingrich. “The fight against shariah and the maddrassas and mosques which teach hatred and fanaticism is the heart of the enemy movement from which the terrorists spring forth,” Gingrich told the American Enterprise Institute, where he is a senior fellow. “One of the things I am going to suggest today is a federal law which says no court anywhere in the United States under any circumstance is allowed to consider shariah as a replacement for American law.”

Conservative think-tanker Frank Gaffney declares that “Americans across this country are struggling to understand the true nature of the threat we face from shariah. They are entitled to straight talk about the extent to which it is being insinuated, promoted, and legitimated not only in mosques but by banks, academic institutions, and government agencies.”

Charles’ ruling seems like the very kind of thing Gingrich and Gaffney are worried about. But there are two things worth considering here, especially if you are a member of a religious group whose special interests often collide with American jurisprudence — a group like, I don’t know, the Jews.

As David Kopel, a contributor to the conservative National Review, has pointed out, “American courts are governed by American law, but American law has long provided that parties to contracts can provide for alternative dispute resolution mechanisms (such as arbitration).”

Among those alternative mechanisms is the beit din, or rabbinic law court. Every day Jews go before batei din to arbitrate real estate deals, nasty divorces, and business disputes. In fact, according to the Beth Din of America, Jewish law does not allow a Jew to be a plaintiff in a secular court without first obtaining permission from a Jewish court.

Permitting people to settle their disputes in their own religious courts is not a “replacement” of American law, but a time-honored expression of religious freedom and accommodation.

And here’s the kicker:

But let’s say there is some cohesive network or organization of Muslims intent on transforming our legal system and reducing the rest of us to second-class status. How are they going to pull it off? As Lee Smith put it in an important article in Tablet last week, “When Gingrich argues that ‘radical Islamists want to impose Shariah on all of us,’ I can’t imagine how he sees that happening, short of the largest land invasion in human history of foreign Muslim soldiers, administrators, and religious scholars with the connivance of millions of Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, and pagan American collaborators.”

But don’t listen to me. Read the whole thing.


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