Join us next Tuesday, Sept. 26th for Tuesdays at Tantur when Amirit Rosen and I will present the first part in the series of Interreligious Studies 101
Rabbi Ron Kronish presented at Tuesdays at Tantur on his new book: The Other Peace Process- Interreligious Dialogue, A View from Jerusalem
On Monday, June 12th, 2017, four leading experts in interreligious dialogue gathered at the American Jewish Committee to discuss what religions can learn from each other. These distinguished scholars from different traditions shared how their experience of learning from each other, with all the complexities therein, has enriched their spiritual lives and deepened their faith. The speakers included: Didi Sudesh, the European Director of the Brahma Kumaris; Rabbi Dr. David Rosen, the international director of interreligious affairs of the American Jewish Committee; Fr. Dr. David Neuhaus, Patriarchal Vicar for Hebrew speaking Catholics in Jerusalem; and Sheikh Awad, representing the Ahmadiyya community. The evening was moderated by Peta Jones Pellach, education director of the Elijah Interfaith Institute.
Fr. David Neuhaus spoke about how his first friend in Jerusalem was a Muslim and that he had the blessing to go with him and Rabbi David Rosen to visit Pope John Paul II in 1985. Fr. Neuhaus spoke of the touching connection he has seen develop among Jews driven by their faith observance of commandments to stand in prophetic solidarity with asylum seekers in Israel.
Rabbi David Rosen spoke about how he had a theological epiphany which forced him to confront the question of what the existence of other religions means for Judaism. He went from a place believing that everyone else is in varying degrees of darkness to a place of being able to see the light in the other. If we preach the omnipresent and omniscient nature of the Eternal Creator of All and He can relate to us in diverse ways, is it not logical that we can relate to Him in different ways? Logically, other religions are expressions of the Eternal encountering individual human beings created in the Divine Image. Amidst the challenges of our modern time, there has never before been more interreligious dialogue as there is today.
Didi Sudesh spoke about how in education, you teach yourself how to move from a place of fear in asking questions to a place of being in awe that the question can be asked. There is a spiritual meeting space where we can all experience a relationship with the Supreme Soul. This relationship will allow us to forgive ourselves and others.
A New Way of Thinking
You can neither have hope nor peace without justice. Who is justice for? Is it just for Jews or for all? If Palestinians don’t have justice, there can’t be hope for them, or for anyone else in this land. All their hopelessness – not just 50 years back, but 70 years back – compels us to reform our idea of what it means to live here. We cannot resolve the problem in the same condition as it was created. The belief that two peoples on the same land can be divided has caused 70 years of strife, struggle and occupation. To emerge from that, we need to create a new way of thinking, where we can live together in one land recognized as both Israel and Palestine. I hope that in ten years time, a Federal Republic of the Holy Land comprised of the States of Israel and Palestine on the same land becomes a reality. A republic with two different parliaments held together by a senate representing both Palestine and Israel equally.
Telling the Palestinians that they can have only 22 percent of the territory will cause more struggle, more injustice, more resentment and continued lack of peace. Instead, we must be part of a process with the Palestinian people where we address historical grievances and wrongdoings in an authentic manner which incorporates the traditional principles of Sulha and Conflict Transformation. We have to find a new way to solve the problem which teaches us how to live together.
The current situation is not sustainable and it is inevitable that change will take place. But it requires a change in rhetoric and a new model where conflict is transformed into opportunity. Conflict transformation begins on the ground among the masses and works its way up. Education is crucial in order to effectively change mindsets and reach a critical mass of support for nonviolent change. We are not there yet and we will encounter setbacks along the way. But I am convinced that our peoples can be brought together and create a brighter future for all. Better times will come!
To whom does the land belong to? Is living here a natural right of practicing a specific religion or belonging to a group, or must it be earned through merit? In his dvar Torah to Parashat Behar-Bechukotai, rabbinical student Raanan Mallek questions the nature of ownership of the Holy Land, and explores how such can be a force of unity and justice.
In Parashat Behar we learn about an ideal of returning the land to its original owners at the end of a fifty year cycle. As we approach fifty years since the Six Day War, many of us are asking the question of what such an ideal would look like. Intrinsic to answering this is an understanding of who the original owners are in the land. Do we go back fifty years, seventy years or perhaps two thousand years? What establishes “ownership” over the Holy Land?
Leviticus 25:23 says, “And the Land shall not be sold in perpetuity; for the Land is Mine; for you are strangers and temporary residents with Me.” A general principle can be established that the Holy Land is not owned by anyone but the Lord and that we are all but “temporary residents.” What is the halachic definition of a “temporary resident” or a Ger Toshav?
The Babylonian Talmud in Avodah Zara 64b relates Rabbi Meir saying that a Ger Toshav is a non-Jew who takes upon him/herself in the presence of three witnesses not to worship idols. The Sages, on the other hand, declare that a Ger Toshav is a non-Jew who takes upon him/herself the seven Noahide Laws. What relevance does this have for us today? In a different part of the Babylonian Talmud (Arachin 29a), Rabbi Simeon b. Eleazar says that without a Jubilee Year, there can be no status of a Ger Toshav.
I would like to suggest that there is a greater principle coming from the verse in Leviticus. Even the Israelites themselves are but tenants of the Lord; they are also resident aliens when it comes to how the Lord sees Himself alongside us in the Land. Only when we live up to the terms of the covenant do we merit the rights and the responsibilities of living in the Land. The root of the word ‘federal’ is the Latin foedis which means covenant. Federalism is thus a political concept in which a group of members are bound together by a covenant with a governing representative head. Could the idea of a covenant, an idea which belongs to the culture of all peoples of this Land, be the vehicle through which we can reconnect with one another in a time of seeming hopelessness?
The Holy Land is not intended to solely belong to one religion whether that religion is Judaism, Christianity, or Islam. All residents have responsibilities while residing in this Land. These responsibilities call on us to act in a just way so as to bring about a peace at whose core is a vision of equality and justice for all. Shabbat Shalom.
Raanan Mallek, M.Ed., is a third year rabbinical seminary student at the Schechter Rabbinical Seminary focusing on how the halachic status of non-Jews in the State of Israel can contribute to better relations and meaningful interreligious dialogue. Raanan is also the events coordinator for the Tantur Ecumenical Institute where he organizes Praying Together in Jerusalem, Tuesdays at Tantur and other interreligious gatherings. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
On May 4th, 2017, the Archbishop gave a very moving welcoming speech to all in attendance which included Muslims, Christians and Jews of all different denominations. He spoke of how once this type of a gathering can be replicated on a larger scale that it will be helpful to both sides. The ability to unite in celebration of our differences is a spiritual goal for the 21st century. I had the privilege of meeting with the Archbishop of Centerbury Justin Welby. I spoke with him about Praying Together in Jerusalem and he indicated his support for our work. He then recommended that I speak with his Adviser for Reconciliation, Canon Sarah Snyder who told me about the progress of the Cross of Nails Project. The story of the Cross of Nails is one of reconciliation and hope. Following the destruction of Coventry Cathedral in 1940, Provost Dick Howard made a commitment not to seek revenge, but to strive for forgiveness and reconciliation with those responsible. The words “Father Forgive” were inscribed on the wall of the ruined chancel and two charred beams which had fallen in the shape of a cross were bound and placed on an altar of rubble. Three medieval nails were formed into a cross, and the Cross of Nails quickly became a potent sign of friendship and hope in the post war years, especially in new relationships with Germany and the developing links between Coventry and the cities of Kiel, Dresden and Berlin. They now have an initiative called ICONS, International Cross of Nails Schools, which provides a resource for children and young people to creatively explore issues of truth, justice, peace and mercy.
Pictures and an Article on the Interfaith Encounter on Feb 19th - Praying Together for Constructive Conflict in Jerusalem
Approximately 170 people came to participate in the “Praying Together for Constructive Conflict in Jerusalem” at the Tantur Ecumenical Institute with people were arriving from as far afield as Nablus and Tel Aviv as well as all the suburbs and surrounding towns of Jerusalem; the layout of Tantur was not familiar and a little overwhelming – some were looking for bathrooms or coffee, others searching for friends who had arrived earlier; and we were operating in four languages (Hebrew, Arabic, English, French). For many, it was their first interfaith and intercultural event and they were not quite sure what to expect.
Gradually, the foyer emptied, as people made their way to the auditorium for the opening ceremony. Father Russ McDouggall, Rector of Tantur and one of the founders of Praying Together in Jerusalem (PTIJ), welcomed everyone and explained the importance of our gathering together. He was followed by Sheikh Ghassan Manasra of the Abrahamic Reunion, who blessed the gathering in Arabic, Hebrew and English. Speaking about the power of side-by-side prayer, he likened our lives to being in an aeroplane. We are all concerned as we take off and each of us prays that the journey will be safe. If G-d listens to the prayers of just one of us, all of us are saved.
Rabbi Daniel Roth and Nurit Bachrach from Dibbur Hadash explained the context of the event. This was the first of over one hundred events to be held around the country in this week of Constructive Conflict. Although this is not the first year that the first week in Adar has been dedicated to the principles of Dibbur Hadash, which is based on the respectful way in which our sages of the Second Temple period, Hillel and Shamai, engaged in argument, it represents a breakthrough in the number of people involved.
More details can be found on http://www.9adar.org
For the first time, this year the emphasis is on interfaith “constructive conflict.” Religion, which is sometimes seen as the cause of conflict, can be the source of peace and increased understanding, provided that the conversations take place in the spirit of mutual respect and appreciation that difference can be enriching rather than threatening.
Peta Jones Pellach, of the Elijah Interfaith Institute and a co-founder of PTIJ, introduced representatives of the 13 organisations who were involved in the program, including Interfaith Encounter Association, Bar Ilan University’s Centre for Conflict Resolution and Rabbis for Human Rights. It was already time for Muslim afternoon prayers and there was some urgency to move into prayer mode. The chairs were stacked, the prayer carpet rolled out, and the crowd found their way to their respective groups.
Muslims prayed facing Mecca, mainly in silence. Two groups of Jews gathered, one facing Jerusalem and praying the regular Maariv (evening service) and one in a circle, singing a selection of Psalms and other readings dedicated to Peace. Christians recited readings and sang hymns, their beautiful tunes blending with the other voices. A small group chose to meditate rather than pray. There was space for them, too.
As the prayers finished, people made their way to rooms around the beautiful grounds of Tantur to join one of fifteen study circles, led by volunteer facilitators. Before they engaged with texts, participants took the opportunity to get to know one another a little better by sharing their personal experiences of unhealthy disagreement. Some groups operated in more than one language, which enabled Israelis and Palestinians to share their experiences and ideas with each other. The sounds of happy conversation, including laughter, emanated from many of the rooms.
All the facilitators had participated in a training session to familiarize themselves with the selection of texts, one Jewish, one Christian, one Muslim and one from the field of secular conflict resolution. In most cases, they worked in partnership with a co-facilitator from another faith. Under their guidance, participants found a learning partner, in order to employ the traditional Jewish methodology of chevruta, learning in pairs. It was an intense experience of seeing texts through the eyes of another. And it was all too brief.
Praying Together in Jerusalem concludes all its gatherings with a final circle which brings everyone together. In the courtyard, nearly two hundred people joined the circle, where Professor Mohamad Dajani, whose family have been the keepers of Nabi Daud-King David’s Tomb offered his blessings and support that we continue our monthly meetings at David’s Tomb. Eliyahu McLean and Ghassan Manasra led a shared prayer for peace – a powerful moment with everyone chanting together. The formalities ended with two minutes’ silence, with each person reflecting on the power and beauty of the event in which they had participated.
It was already late and people were free to leave – but few did. Enjoying a light meal and the pleasant background music of an oud player, people stayed well into the night, talking with one another. It was beautiful to see the efforts being made for people to find interpreters, so that they could meet new people in a relaxed atmosphere. Event coordinator, Raanan Mallek of Tantur, and volunteer coordinator Allyson Zacharoff could finally relax and look on with satisfaction at the crowd.
The event achieved many things. A coalition of thirteen interfaith and peace organizations worked together, without any sort of rivalry. Participants made new friends and had profound conversations with people whom they would not have an opportunity to meet in their daily lives. Texts were shared that showed both common values and subtle differences between the approach of the three Abrahamic traditions to the question of respectful disagreement. There was increased awareness about the importance of disagreeing in a healthy way – not eliminating diversity of opinion but embracing it.
The event launched a nation-wide week of activities. We were proud to be involved.
PTIJ meets on the last Thursday of every month.
by: Raanan Mallek, PTIJ Project Coordinator, Shalom Crafter Radio Show host
This reflection is compiled from the Shalom Crafters radio show on Microphones for Peace. The interview that took place on Feb. 8th. Rev. Russell McDougall, CSC (Fr. Russ) was ordained a priest of the Holy Cross in 1991. He has been rector of the Tantur Ecumenical Institute since 2014.
The show opened with me asking Fr. Russ to reflect on the time that has passed since our first show two years ago with Dr. Marcie Lenk from the Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. I suggested that we look at what progress has taken place in interfaith activism since that time.
Fr. Russ wanted to clarify that he does not consider himself an activist in the plain sense of the word. He is a Catholic priest and priests in the Christian tradition are supposed to be mediators and reconcilers. “We are challenged and invited to reconcile people to G-d and hopefully to draw people closer to one another. And that has been the heart of my work at Tantur which is an academic theological institute that tries to bring people with very different theological convictions together to understand one another and hopefully to build closer bonds of friendship and communion.”
Fr. Russ explained that Tantur’s mission is principally among Christians but interfaith dialogue has been part of the mission from the very beginning. Were he to consider himself an activist, it would be in the sense of his friend, Dr. Debbie Weissman, the past president of the International Council of Christians and Jews. Debbie Weissman recently wrote in her Memoires of a Hopeful Pessimist (2017) that she is an activist through dialogue.
Instead of progress, Fr. Russ sees a number of different developments. He spoke of this year’s successful Christian Unity Week where for nine evenings, Christians of all different traditions gathered for their evening prayer. There were Roman Catholic, Greek Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Lutherans, Anglicans, Syriac Orthodox, Coptic Orthodox and Ethiopian Orthodox. The experience of going on pilgrimage from Church to Church each evening and standing before G-d together was a very moving experience for all.
The experience of facing G-d together and standing before G-d in prayer is what has been at the heart of Praying Together in Jerusalem. Praying Together in Jerusalem is an interfaith initiative that invites Jews, Christians and Muslims to come together to pray their evening prayer alongside one another. This has been happening on the last Thursday of every month for the past year and a half.
There have been a lot of challenges especially in finding a place where all three faith communities feel comfortable coming to. It has been a shock to Fr. Russ when he realizes how there is so few places in and around the Old City where everybody feels comfortable to pray together. That being said, the places that we have found allowed for relationship building between all the different types of people.
One place where all three religions do feel comfortable is at the Tantur Ecumenical Institute. There have been four large interreligious gatherings which allowed for over a hundred and fifty different types of people from all over the Holy Land to come together for an in depth experience of fellowship and communion while studying texts, praying and eating alongside one another.
We are looking forward to the next interfaith encounter this Sunday evening called Praying Together for Constructive Conflict in Jerusalem. At this encounter, we will explore the values of ‘constructive conflict’, ‘adeb el ikhtilaf’ (ethics of disagreement) and ‘machloket leShem Shamayim’ (disagreement for the sake of Heaven) as described in the different Abrahamic Traditions.
This special event is being held as part of the Dibur Hadash: Week of Constructive Conflict taking place throughout the country and the world between February 19th to the 25th. The event was sponsored by Dibur Hadash, the Elijah Interfaith Institute, the Tantur Ecumenical Institute, the Abrahamic Reunion. The event is supported by the following organizations: Microphones for Peace, Rabbis for Human Rights Interfaith Department, Three Faiths Forum, Kids4Peace, Pardes Center for Judaism & Conflict Resolution, Interfaith Encounter Association and Mosaica.
Shalom Crafters Radio Show on Microphones for Peace: Raanan interviews Fr. Russ McDougall of Tantur and Dr. Miriam Feldman-Kaye of the Three Faiths Forum
On the show we discuss the upcoming interfaith encounter, Praying Together for Constructive Conflict in Jerusalem: https://jerusalemprayingtogether.wordpress.com/2017/01/31/praying-together-for-constructive-conflict-in-jerusalem-at-tantur-sunday-feb-19th-445-8pm/