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    14 October

    | 2020 | 17:30

    Urban Planning in the Halacha and in Sharia Law

    • Free
    • In Hebrew
    • Public
    • Online
    • Free
    • In Hebrew
    • Public
    • Online
    Urban Planning in the Halacha and in Sharia Law
    • What were the first buildings that the prophet Muhammad built in Jerusalem?
    • What did King David think about a sustainable urban economy?
    • How does halachic law define the difference between public and private property?
    • And why did the Caliph Al-Mansur decide to move the butchers to the far edges of the market?

    Both Jewish and Muslim religious texts refer extensively to urban development and to planning and building laws and regulations. But while the population of Jerusalem is certainly quite religious, religious ideas are somewhat lacking in discussions of local planning.

    In this event we wished to bring together different strands of thinking, and raise several points for consideration regarding connections between the world of planning and that of the Halacha. Several references to urban planning issues, from both Judaism and Islam, were presented and discussed. We examined whether and to what extent these laws permeated into current planning processes, and wondered if there is room to strengthen such ties in Jerusalem.


    The event was chaired by Yair Assaf-Shapira, a researcher at the Jerusalem Institute for Policy Research.

    Tehila Bigman

    A researcher in the Jerusalem Institute for Policy Research. Lives in Jerusalem. Bigman focuses on Muslim law and on the challenges of Muslim law in modern times. In her lecture she presented similarities between Jewish halachic law and Muslim Sharia law, pertaining to planning and building issues – the all-encompassing principle guiding both religions is that the Land belongs to God, and He, in his grace, has bequeathed it to mankind to look after.

    Dr. Haim Pialkoff

    Urban planner and External Lecturer at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. His main areas of research are regional and social planning, housing policy and urban regeneration. 

    According to Pialkoff, the religious sources in both Halachic and Sharia law do not provide much help in how to put planning methods into practice: How should we sample populations? How should we calculate densities? What are reasonable accessibility distances from public institutions? How can we improve the mobility of vulnerable populations? Nevertheless, the religious texts are valuable for what the ancient Greeks called praxis – the conceptual infrastructure which connects theory and practice: How do planners work? Who are their clients? How can we understand the needs of different populations and bridge between them?

    Urban Planning: Thoughts on the Discipline

    To a great extent, urban planning deals with game theory – different winner and loser situations: when planning a new road, for example, those who live nearby may suffer from noise and pollution, while those who live further away are expected to enjoy better accessibility in the city.

    The word “plan” implies both certainty and doubt. Both aspects express an inbuilt tension in planners’ activities. Urban planning encompasses both notions: the first – trying to set a clear and measurable picture of the desired outcome, and the means to implement it; while the second aspect is the recognition that the professional act of planning is of necessity forward-looking, dealing with a future which in essence is filled with uncertainties. The first requires wisdom, authoritativeness and responsibility, perhaps even hubris – to claim to set out an ideal future for the residents of an entire neighborhood or city. While the second – dealing with uncertainties – requires more caution and a greater degree of modesty. The planner is required to display both characteristics, as stated in Derech Eretz Rabathree things are to be weighed one against each other – wisdom, reverence and humility.

    Thou Shalt and Thou Shalt Not Commandments

    The challenge of urban planning is to do one’s best to improve everyone’s life. Religious concepts can help in weighing up the values and benefits. Thus, for example, in urban renewal initiatives, such as rehousing projects and Tama-38 (strengthening and modernizing older buildings against earthquakes), there are both winners and losers. In many cases, residents living near such projects tend to oppose them, as they see only more crowding or pressure on public infrastructures, as opposed to the improvements and better housing that will be enjoyed by apartment owners who live within the scope of the renewal plan.

    Planning deals with two aspects – Thou shalt and thou shalt not – the Do’s and don’ts. As is written in the Book of Psalms 37:27: “depart from evil, and do good; and dwell for evermore.”

    The Don’ts

    This aspect manifests itself, among other examples, in regulations which set permitted and forbidden land uses, or in defining maximum allowed percentages of built-up areas.

    The Do’s

    The role of positive action precepts in planning is connected to the way that planning outlines and charts the city of the future. As planning has a role in improving the quality of life for local residents, planners must create cities which offer a variety of housing options, with an inclusive and accessible transport system, while supplying a range of public services, alongside places for leisure and recreation. 

    Part of the planning task is the creation of a fair and just city. Such a city provides favorable conditions to vulnerable populations. In cooperating with religious leaders, we can hope to deepen and enrich an understanding of the meaning of living in a just city, and improve the chances of implementing these values in the future. 

    The contribution of religion to urban planning can deepen the understanding of the use of moral values in planning processes. Drawing on the medical field, it could be beneficial for us to formulate “the Planner’s Prayer”, for value-based and professional urban planning.