Abravanel, the Blog

Jewish life and not only in Greece / Εβραϊκή ζωή και όχι μόνο στην Ελλάδα

On Sharia, Halakha and the Secular State

Posted by Abravanel, the Blog στο 01/05/2008

A small piece of news which I found of great importance, (via φιλευθερος and roides):

Greece is the only country in the European Union that allows the implementation of the Sharia, the muslim religious law. This is based on the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne governing the status of the muslim minority of Western Thrace or rather a convenient, (for various reasons both for the Greek State and the Muslim Minority), interpretation of the Treaty. Still recently the Court of First Instance, (Πρωτοδικείο), of Rodopi has overturned a decision by an islamic court stating that :

«the prerogatives of the mufti (…) cannot act towards the direction of violating the personal/civil rights of muslim women«

The case regarded the inheritance that was to be assigned to a daughter and was half of what the son would perceive. It is the first of it’s kind and opens up the way to the abolition of the practice since it directly challenges the decision of the mufti. You can read an article on the greek Sharia by Ios but I’d also recommend reading an interesting dialogue at e-roosters.


With the founding of modern Greece in 1821 the State refrained from issuing specific laws regarding the Jewish Religious Law, (the sum of all jewish law, written and oral, collectively known as Halakha), mainly because the number of jews living in the Kingdom was so small. In practice, internal family affairs were regulated by Jewish Law and the jews lived in a relative autonomy. This situation changed in 1912 when the huge Community of Salonica and smaller others in Epirus, Macedonia and Thrace were incorporated into the Greek State. The need to regulate the Community of Thessaloniki which operated in all spheres of life, combined with the special political conditions of the era led to the Law 2456 of 1920 which is still valid today with small but important modifications.

Τhe Law 2456/1920 governs the functioning of Jewish Communities in Greece and allowed space for Jewish Law on matters pertaining specific cases of Family Law. These included marriage, divorce, alimony and restoration of the dowry in case of a divorce; eventual tutelage of children and similar matters were relegated to the greek Civil Law. Of course there were some distinct phases in the implementation and Beith Dins, (i.e. the rabbinical courts), never really caught on, since the majority of the cases needed the civil courts. In any case the special provisions for jewish religious law were abolished with the introduction of the new Civil Code in 1946 – this meaning that Jewish Religious Law today has no valence in Greece for either jewish greeks or jews of foreign nationality.

Though the Beith Din’s are not officially abolished I have not ever heard of rabbinical courts after 1949; though I’m sure that if there is a opportunity for any Jewish Community to form a committee then -by God- she shall form it! Still, even if one was convoked, the Beith Din would have to limit itself to the matters of granting spiritual dissolution of the marriage (get), and lifting of the husband’s brother’s authority over the wife (halitsa), i.e. strictly spiritual matters. There are some legal questions on whether greek civil courts are held to honor religious law but established practice and the lack of will of the jewish greeks has led to a de facto and contemporary de jure, abolition of religious law.

Personally I think that this is a good thing and despite the personal beliefs of each citizen, it should be clear that we all live in a secular State; the Law, based on the Constitution, is sovereign and religion is not allowed to act as a harness of Civil Rights.

Still there are some regards on the extent we accept multiculturalism and thus we accept ethical values different from ours; should we post limits as to what a secular State can accept, (eg is polygamy allowed? Dowry?). This is a big subject but I feel it addresses more the issues raised by the post-90’s immigration and not the Jewish Community which has waived this prerogative a long time ago and has integrated itself fully to the Institutions of the modern Greek State. Still it’s an interesting subject which often longs for answers not simple to give.

PS. Personally I’d also favor a mix of the current religious laws which would allow me to have more than one muslim wives, keep my jewish wife from touching anyone unless it’s a relative and have my christian wife to declare to obey me for ever. I believe that such a development would meet the appraisal of at least 50% of the greeks and act as a major pillar to Ecumenism. Don’t you agree? :)

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