chapter  7
Orientalist triangulations
Jewish scholarship on Islam as a response to Christian Europe
BySusannah Heschel
Pages 21

Even as the East was reading the West, the East within the West developed its own counter-hegemonic, Jewish identification with Islam. Central European Jews, who spent the course of the nineteenth century struggling for political emancipation and social integration, were designated “Orientals” in Europe. The Jewish response was twofold: embracing the designation by building synagogues in Moorish architecture and combatting the designation by insisting on Judaism as a religion of rational ethical monotheism. The two responses merged as Jewish scholars in Europe founded the field of Islamic Studies and created an image of Islam as derived from Judaism and sharing its key principles of monotheism, religious law, tolerance, openness to science, and rejection of anthropomorphism. Uniting Islam with Judaism was an effort to undermine the denigrations of European Orientalism as well as polemicize against Christian hegemony in the West. Viewed from Islam and Judaism, Christianity was the nonrational, intolerant, and clearly inferior religion.