Sephardic Sufism



The purpose of this paper is to expose the collaboration and sharing of divine knowledge between Jews and Muslims in Al-Andalus that produced the great Judeo-Arabic culture.  The term Sephardic means “from Spain” and refers to the descendants of Jews that fled Spain (either in the 12th Century during the Almohad conquest or later in 1492 with the Catholic inquisition and expulsion of the Jews and Muslims) and whom settled in North Africa and Palestine.  Sufism refers to the Prophetic science of Tasawuf, which is the teachings of “Purification of the Heart” and submission to (and thereby through several spiritual stages producing a mystical oneness with) God as taught by all of the Prophets… the Prophets of Israel and the last Prophet, Muhammad ibn Abdullah.  The reason why I have conjoined these 2 words, Sephardic and Sufism, together is the influence of law and mysticism of the Prophets that was shared between these 2 religions, Judaism and Islam, originating from Spain and which continued in North Africa and Safed in the Holy Land.


Examples of exceptional scholarship amongst both Muslims and Jews include Ibn Sina, Al Ghazali, Bahya ibn Paquda, and Solomon ibn Gabirol (11th Century), Ibn Rushd, Yehuda Halevi, and Moses Maimonides (12th Century), his son Abraham Maimonides, Abraham Abulafia, Isaac ben Samuel, Rumi, Ibn Arabi, and Moses ben Shem-Tov (13th Century), Yosef Karo, Moses Cordovero, and Isaac Luria (16th Century), etc…


What is interesting is that in 13th Century Spain, after Ibn Arabi, the influence of Sufism (Prophetic Mysticism) was strong amongst Muslims and Jews.  It was in this environment that Rabbi Moses ben Shem-Tov wrote down the Zohar (translated as Splendor or Radiance), the main text to the Kabbalah.  Jewish Tradition has it that the Zohar was originally revealed by the Prophet Elijah to Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai in the Holy Land in a cave on Mt. Meron near Safed during the 2nd Century.  (It is very similar to the story of the Angel Gabriel revealing the Qur’an to Muhammad in a cave on Mt. Hira). 


By the 15th century, Jews in Spain and Portugal were under two main traditions: the older tradition of Maimonides, whose school of thought is heir to the Talmudic academies of Babylonia via the scholars of North Africa; and the Ashkenazi school of the Tosafot whose tradition is based on independent casuistry (pilpul) methodology that was developed in France and Germany and sought to justify the Minhag or "customs of the country". Traditional "Orthodox" Judaism is defined by the Shulchan Aruch, a codification, or written manual, of halacha (Jewish law), composed by Rabbi Yosef Karo in the 16th century. Together with its commentaries, it is frequently considered the most authoritative compilation of halacha since the Talmud. Yosef Karo (1488 –1575) was from Toledo, Spain and later moved to Safed after the expulsion in 1492. Later, the Shulchan Aruch was modified into a Ashkenazi edition by Rabbi Moses Isserles, known as "The Rema" (1520-1572) who was from Kraków, Poland. The halachic rulings in the Shulchan Aruch usually follow the Sephardic custom. The Rema added his glosses and published them as a comment to the Shulchan Aruch, specifying whenever the Sephardic and Ashkenazic custom differ. These glosses are referred to as the mappah, literally, the 'tablecloth,' to the Shulchan Aruch's 'Set Table.' Almost all published editions of the Shulchan Aruch include this gloss. The importance of the minhag ("prevailing local custom") is also a point of dispute between Karo and Isserles: while Karo held fast to original authorities and material reasons, Isserles considered the minhag as an object of great importance, and not to be omitted in a codex. This point, especially, induced Isserles to write his glosses to the Shulchan Aruch, that the customs (minhagim) of the Ashkenazim might be recognized, and not be set aside through Karo's reputation.   (Source: ).


What is also interesting are the great amount of similarities in exceptional detail between the laws of Islam (mostly derived in Sunni Islam from the 6 collections of Sahih Hadith) and the Halachah of Traditional Judaism as codified in the Shulchan Aruch.  Please read for more on that.  Examples include: to eat with your right hand, sleep on your right side, what colors not to wear, and blessings for everything you do, etc.

More to come... (I just started this page).