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Some Experiences of JCM Dialogue
The Standing Conference of Jews Christians and Muslims in Europe:
It is significant that the beginnings of the Standing Conference emerged out of efforts at reconciliation between Jews and Germans in the Sixties. English Synagogues and German Lutheran Churches organised interchange programmes. Muslim communities were already becoming established in Europe and tensions were manifesting themselves in European cities; The conflict in the Middle East also had its influence. The importance of getting to know each other and to build up trust and friendship resulted in a first conference being arranged at Wansee towards the end of 1967. After other European conferences in England, Holland and Germany, the Standing Conference was established. Local branches were set up in various countries. Development has been varied and certainly not easy. However there have been continual European meetings at the Hedwig Dransfeld Haus in Germany, organised jointly from London and Bendorf. The following reports describe this progress:
The Hedwig-Dransfeld Haus in Germany
Bendorf is an unimportant little town in Germany, only a few kilometers north of Koblenz. But for many people involved in inter-faith dialogue, Bendorf has become a very important place in their lives. For 25 years now the Hedwig Dransfeld Haus has hosted Jewish-Christian Bible weeks and for over 20 years Jewish-Christian-Muslim weeks have been held there.
The house was founded by a large German Catholic women's organisation and it still belongs to this group. In the late sixties some rabbis from England were visiting there and together with the directress of the time, Anneliese Debray, the idea was born of having an annual week of Bible study with Jews and Christians. Less than 25 years after the end of the war, this was not something that could be taken for granted. But the idea became a reality and has continued and developed further to this day. Now, there are three interfaith weeks a year in Bendorf and week-ends besides, and the encounter is not only between Jews and Christians, but also includes Muslims.
Every spring, Jewish, Christian and Muslim men and women meet to study topics pertaining to their life in present-day European society. Over the past few years, the overall theme has been the challenges of dialogue. Such challenges included various aspects such as stereotypes, language, etc. In the fall, Jewish, Christian and Muslim women meet. Their themes have had to do with their roles as women in their faith group and in society. Both these conferences are sponsored by the Standing Conference of Jews, Christians and Muslims in Europe.
Every summer, Jews and Christians study the Bible together. They started with the Book of Genesis, and in the meantime they are getting to know the prophet Jeremiah. They have been reading the Bible consecutively, even if they have not been able to look at everything. Some participants say that when the whole Bible has been studied, we should go back to the beginning and start all over again - but those who began the Bible Weeks will presumably no longer be coming to them by then!
The interfaith weeks in Bendorf are, in the opinion of most participants something very special - and they have a similar effect to a virus: once someone starts going he/she wants to go again and again. Consequently, these weeks have become times for meeting friends again whom one has not seen for a year or more. For these weeks are not only interfaith but also international. For many participants it is the first time they have come to Germany, and for Jewish people in particular this adds another dimension to the encounter.
Because many men and women have been coming for quite a number of years, these interfaith weeks are now marked by a trust that has had time to grow. And this is very important for the conferences. It is possible to do and to say things which can only be said and done when there is real trust. This trust is thus one element out of several which make the interfaith weeks in Bendorf so unique.
Several aspects make these weeks unique. The trust that has been able to grow over the years is basic. There is also the fact that the main emphasis is never on the input of certain speakers. Rather encounter between all the participants at the week is the main goal. Thus, group work is of great importance and more time is given to it than to formal lectures. This work in groups does not just take the form of verbal communication. Over the past years various other forms of encounter have become an integral part of the Bendorf weeks such as art, music, corporal expression, dance etc. And because trust has grown, it has become possible to spend one afternoon per faith group studying a text of that faith. Even if the topic of the week is not specifically religious (as in the Jewish-Christian- Muslim weeks) or if the conference is on texts of the Hebrew Bible, time will be spent studying a text from Rabbinic tradition, from the New Testament or the Koran.
But not only study makes the Bendorf conferences unique. These weeks are times when people from different faith communities can encounter one another by living together and sharing important moments. Thus Friday, Saturday and Sunday are highlights and form a real climax to the week as each faith community celebrates its own liturgy and invites the participants who wish to come and share to the extent to which they feel able to do so. On Friday at midday participants are invited to Muslim prayer and can hear the sermon which belongs to Muslim life on this day. Friday evening Shabbat is welcomed and celebrated in prayer and Oneg Shabbat and this celebration is continued on Saturday night up to in the evening. Sunday then is focused around a Christian service, either Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Anglican etc. according to the denominations present.
Free time also contributes greatly to Bendorf weeks. Several hours between lunch and the afternoon program allow for walks or for contributions from individual participants in so- called speakers' corners. And in the evenings many sit and chat until the wee hours. One afternoon during the week is reserved for an outing to places of interest, and often these have some connection with one or more of the faith communities present at Bendorf. Such times give ample opportunity to get to know others or to deepen acquaintances. In such encounters one can realise more deeply that dialogue cannot be separated from encounter with individual people and that the faith in which they are at home is far more than what can be read in books or defined easily. It is a way of life and as many-faceted as life itself.
At the end of a week at Bendorf participants can look back on a time of great enrichment, of intense encounter and both joyful and painful discovery - of the other and of oneself. What is true of all interfaith dialogue is true in an even more intense way of the Bendorf weeks. One goes away changed, and there is no return to life as it was before. To the extent to which a person is prepared to undertake this journey, one is changed. One's understanding of the other grows with one's knowledge, and with it one's own sense of identity changes and grows. God becomes greater and it becomes less and less possible to define life. A week in Bendorf leaves people with more questions than answers - but that is also to say that life becomes bigger and richer and ever more worth living
Katherine E. Wolff, nds
(Dr. K.E. Wolff is a Sister of Our Lady of Sion. She has worked for many years in the Jewish-Christian Dialogue in Germany. She now lives in Rome and is a member of the General Council of the Sisters of Sion).
The Women's Conference
A Living Experience at Bendorf
The idea of a JCM Women's Conference was conceived on a walk through the forest surrounding the Centre about fourteen1 years ago, during a JCM Theology Student Conference. Anneliese Debray, then director of the House, felt that more women should come to these conferences, that the participants were mainly men and that women could bring a different approach to the dialogue. Her vision was to invite women from the Middle East, from all camps, who in their normal environment would not be able to meet, and to ask also Protestant and Catholic women from Northern Ireland. She wanted to bring them all to Bendorf for a week together with Jewish, Christian and Muslim women from Europe, so that we could begin to share some of our experiences, anxieties, hopes and aspirations for peace and overcome the barriers that keep us apart. And so it was set up.
In October the following year, the first JCM Women's Conference took place. Jewish and Palestinian women came from Israel, Christian and Muslim women from the Lebanon and from Egypt. Jewish, Christian and Muslim women came from Germany, England, France, Czechoslovakia, Switzerland and the Netherlands. Anneliese was unable to persuade Catholic or Protestant women to come from Northern Ireland, as they saw no hope in dialogue at that time. The atmosphere was filled with apprehension, anxiety and anticipation. But as we moved towards the end of the week, after much sharing of anger, pain, tears and hope, new friendships were created, friendships between Palestinians and Jewish Israelis, between Jews, Christians and Muslims from different countries that were to last for many years and nurtured many attempts at peace work which some of the women were undertaking single-handedly in Israel. The Women's Conference became a regular event at Bendorf... Religious Services
One of the high spots of the JCM Conference is the celebration of our services. It was precisely in this area that many women felt it impossible to experiment and explore the possibility of creating their own, equally valid services without a priest being called in to conduct the Mass. Even today the Christian service is for many a problematic part of the programme, not only because of the absence of a priest who would be doing the "real" thing but also for other reasons. Should we, for example, have two Christian services, a Protestant one and a Catholic one, or is it possible to participate fully in an ecumenical one, created by women for women? These explorations led to many confrontations and insecurities but are now beginning to be addressed. Women have begun to free themselves from the restrictions of tradition and male authority and take responsibility and power upon themselves to create their own form of worship. It was clear that this issue reflected not only a generation gap. It is the nature of all religions to restrict the role of women.
This was not an area of concern for Christian participants only. Rashida Sharif spoke in her lecture on "Women in Islam", about how the recommendations and instructions in the Qur'an about the behaviour of women originally had the intention not of restricting the liberty of women but protecting them in a non-Islamic environment. However, "these verses were given religious authority and sanctions and were used to reinforce the narrowing of the scope of women's mobility and duties to the role of a simple domestic, uneducated and dependent, psychologically, economically and socially, on the males of their households", (European Judaism '87,1). She was astonished to see so many Jewish heads nodding in sympathy and agreement. Breaking out of traditional boundaries often marginalises women even more and the Muslim women, in their search for a new role within Islam, found very little support from their own community. The support they experienced during these conferences from women of other faiths was invaluable and encouraging. Overcoming Prejudice
Yet the interreligious dialogue also creates an alertness to the need to examine our own religious teachings and reveals the way in which stereotypes and prejudicial views of other religions influence our understanding of each other. In exploring feminist concerns within Christianity, we had to confront certain views of Judaism that reflected old, unexamined Christian anti-Jewish prejudices. The issues raised here go not only to the heart of Jewish-Christian relations but also to some major problems within the religious feminist movement. Feeling ourselves constantly embattled and pushed to the margin, critique from other women becomes even more painful and feels like a betrayal. It is, however, a necessary process in the creation of a new self understanding of women in the religious world and the common search for truth and religious integrity.
One of the concerns on the agenda over several years was the issue of racism. In the aftermath of recent history in Germany this is a very difficult and painful subject to tackle. The shadow of the Holocaust often hinders us from seeing what is really going on. Many long discussion groups ground to a halt because of the pain Jews felt at being in Germany, often for the first time, and facing Germans of a particular generation; and, because of the inability of many German women to acknowledge and/or bear the guilt and look at the horror of the past. In those situations of helplessness, the few Muslim women present often felt left out or angry at being "scape-goated", when the fear of being overcome by the "ever-increasing world power of Islam" was thrown at them. At those moments dialogue, listening-hearing responding seemed almost impossible. Yet, at times, some steps towards reconciliation were possible, if only by the recognition of the pain of the other. Political Conflict
Out of this situation another issue needed to be confronted. The increasingly difficult political situation in Israel and the Lebanon stood more and more in the way of a meeting between Jews and Muslims. Unexpressed suspicion, anger and unease floated in the air and needed finally to be voiced. Cautious attempts were made in ad hoc meetings between Jews and Muslims to look at the way the situation in the Middle East affects us as Muslims, Jews and Christians living in Europe and in the dialogue with each other.
This issue is a sensitive and emotionally difficult one and has not been dealt with officially on the programme. But it is an issue we Jews, who live in the Diaspora, also have to examine, carefully and urgently, for ourselves and in relation to Muslims and Christians. I think it is our task as Diaspora Jews to build bridges where we can. Maybe remembering our shared experience as women could help us break down the barriers the political situation has created and bring us a tiny step forward in recognising the shadow-side of our own power as Jews.
Friday lunchtime marks a change in the pace of the conference week. From the communal Muslim Friday prayer, which is followed by a study session or an informal story-time, we move with lighting the Shabbat candles into the more restful time of Shabbat and a rhythm of services, study sessions, ending with the Christian service on Sunday. Although the discussion-groups and other activities continue, one can perceive a different mood. Partly because of the different atmosphere during the days of celebration, partly also because the week is nearing its end and we need to wind up and begin the process of separation and taking leave. Sunday evening sees the farewell party and Monday is occupied with packing, travel arrangements, evaluation and forward planning. Many a tear is shed or held back during the final farewell and then the bus finally takes us back to the unreal atmosphere of airports and airplanes, returning exhausted, but filled with food for thought and change to our own individual realities.
(abridged from "The Taut Steps to Peace", Manna, Summer 1989, and is printed here with kind permission).
Dorothea Magonet was born in Germany and now lives in Muswell Hill, London, where she practises as a teacher of the Alexander Technique. She is married and has two children
The Community of St. Egidio and Interreligious Dialogue
The Community of St. Egidio which began as a student group under the influence of the Second Vatican Council is this year celebrating its Silver Jubilee. During the years some of its original motives and ideas have become stable characteristics of the community:
The centrality of the Word of God
The prime importance of the Liturgy in the life of Christians who regard themselves as ordinary people like everybody else.
The choice of that form of Church life which looks on all peoples as friends and brothers. Openness and a deep desire to meet Christians of other Confessions and believers of other faiths at those deeply human and religious levels which find their expression in ever expanding work for ecumenical and interreligious dialogue.
With the years this work for dialogue has developed, and at the meeting in Assisi it opened up an exceptionally far-reaching vista for the future. The main religions, by rediscovering their own potential have played a part in the international scene. They have not remained passive when confronted with the problems of human liberty, peace and justice. This part played by the different religions is not ended and I do not believe that it has yet developed in its full potential.
Since 1987 the Community has sought ways of taking up the challenge of Assisi as outlined by the Pope in his closing speech. To this end it has promoted annual meetings between representatives of the Christian Churches and of the chief World Religions so as to continue working together in the same spirit. Such initiatives have their place in the dialogue already begun between believers. They entail visits, meetings, exchanges, conventions involving men and women of different religious traditions from over 70 countries. Annual Interfaith Meetings
As the Community of St. Egidio we have, with the help of many men and women of different religious faiths, organised the annual meeting of the International Groups of People and Religions. In October '87, the year after Assisi, many religious representatives met in an atmosphere of growing friendship.During this meeting the question of the connection between religion and war was raised; from the discussion emerged a directive ratified by the final appeal of the '87 meeting: to disassociate religious traditions from all expressions that intensify confrontation and conflict. This directive was reinforced in successive meetings by clarifying the role of religious people, who, no matter where they have worked, prayed, preached, must, by educating and striving for reconciliation, become seekers after peace. Warsaw
The Warsaw meeting of 1 September 1989 took place in a new and still uncertain international situation. It was like a pilgrimage in memory of the second world war and from its heart arose the plea: "Never again war!" During the silent pilgrimage to the extermination camps of Auschwitz-Birkenau in memory of the victims of Nazi fascism the duty of men and religions to press forward more radically towards peace and mutual solidarity became clear. We are certainly not insensitive to the neglected rights of those who are suffering discrimination and exile nor to the countless painful situations that we bear in our hearts. Nevertheless we know that war only adds new wrongs, sufferings and sorrows to those already existing. We implore all people, particularly those who have political responsibilities, those who are able to bring about new developments of justice and peace to make themselves aware of this, so that war, as a solution to conflict, may be banned from international relations and that communication between peoples may be developed. To attain these ends we offer, in the spirit of Assisi which seeks for peace and interreligious dialogue, our sincere collaboration and the human and religious resonances of our heritage. Bari - Malta - Brussels
This journey continued at Bari (1990), Malta (1991), Brussels (1992) and is at present directed to the meeting at Milan 19-22 September 1993.
From the atmosphere of friendship in these meetings begun solely to pray for peace there has evolved a human solidarity, at once spontaneous and religious, whose results have exceeded all expectations. From these sincere meetings between believers have emerged new ways of involvement in the work for peace, particularly in Malta where the Chief Rabbi of Haifa, Shear Jasuv Cohen, the Grand Mufti of Cairo, Tantawy, and eminent members of the Christian Churches in the East signed a common appeal for peace in the Holy Land.
These meetings have introduced new ideas for dialogue between eminent representatives of different religions. Friendship with the Jewish Community
Our contact with the Jewish community stems from a deep relationship with the Chief Rabbi of Rome, Prof. Elio Toaff and with Prof. Tullia Zevi, President of the Jewish Community of Italy. Here we must mention the trilateral Mediterranean Colloquium "Peace between Religions and Peace in Society" held in Rome on 29 April 1991 on the Campidoglio. It was the first encounter between the great Abrahamic religions since the Gulf War. The noteworthy presence of Prof. Shlomo Goren, former Chief Rabbi of Israel, together with important Muslim and Christian representatives stressed the importance of the event, rich in references biblical, historical and personal.
Numerous conferences organised by us in various parts of Italy have brought about a clearer mutual understanding and a new sensitivity. We would like to recall here the valuable conferences of Prof. Jacob Neusner of the University of S. Florida and of Rabbi Leon Klenicki, Director of the Department for Interreligious Affairs of the A.D.L. of New York, who spoke in several Italian cities on "Jewish Spirituality after Auschwitz".
Our relations with the A.D.L. have, moreover, deepened during these years, thanks to the friend- ship and close collaboration with Rabbi David Rosen of Jerusalem and with Lisa Palmieri, Italian representative of the A.D.L.
The sole aim of our work is to promote encounter, understanding and friendship. During these years in various parts of the world there has gradually developed an interest in these meetings and initiatives, and a sense of expectation. For us this is both a confirmation that we are on the right road and an encouragement to continue.
The world has become smaller: where people of different religions and cultures were once isolated they now live side by side; this is perhaps a sign of the understanding and unity to which God has called all people from the beginning of time. Unfortunately in recent years we have witnessed manifestations of resurgent racism and antisemitism, but we nevertheless believe that the reality of this close relationship, at once new and old, in a renewed and common task of believers may become the opportunity of developing a strong and sincere consciousness of human destiny.
Israel and the Administered Territories
The Inter-Religious Co-ordinating Council in Israel is a root-body that brings together some forty organisations and institutions involved in Inter-Religious Relations in Israel. Those involved in these organizations and institutions are overwhelmingly from western backgrounds and represent something of an import of pluralistic culture and dialogue that is not typical of the local region. Emphasizing this point even more is the minuscule presence of Muslims in these fora. Nevertheless it would be totally misleading to see this as representing the whole picture.
The directory of organizations involved in the promotion of Jewish-Arab relations in Israel, produced by the Abraham Fund, lists over two hundred and fifty bodies which bring Jews together with Muslims and Christians to promote mutual understanding, responsibility and cooperation! The majority of these organizations for Jewish-Arab cooperation are located in the geographical centers of the Israeli Arab population and reflect the Jewish-Arab relations that have been able to develop in Israel since 1948, relatively unvitiated by the political conflict. Even if this list includes many small and limited organizations, it is nevertheless an impressive reflection of the extensive and variegated activity in this field.
One might note however that involvement from both the Jewish and Arab communities only infrequently comes from the most religiously committed quarters, as these all too often tend to be exclusively concerned with the strengthening of their own communities' religious identity, especially in the socio-political context of the Middle East.
Nevertheless there are a number of significant educational frameworks and institutions, such as Ulpan Akiva near Netanya, where Jews, Muslims, Christians and Druze, not only encounter members of the other religious communities and many of their leading religious representatives, but also learn about their religious culture and practice.
Very different of course is the situation in the West Bank and Gaza where any inter-religious contacts are inevitably caught up in the political context and national conflict. While it has nevertheless been possible to establish certain on-going albeit limited frameworks for religious dialogue between Israeli Jews and Palestinian Christians, such has not been possible between the former and Palestinian Muslims except on a private individual basis. Indeed, for Muslim representatives in the administered territories to openly dialogue with Israeli Jews, is to risk the often violent opprobrium of more extremist neighbours. A very important role in reaching out to the Muslim community in those areas therefore, is played by Israeli human rights organisations and as far as religious bodies in this regard are concerned, special mention should be made of the Rabbinical Association for Human Rights. This organisation comprising some one hundred Rabbis from the different streams of Judaism has held in the course of its manifold activities, a number of meetings with Muslim religious leaders. Yet again, such gatherings are sporadic and not without danger.
Invariably for those who seek to promote Jewish-Muslim relations in the Middle East as a whole, perceiving it both as a political necessity as well as a religious imperative, the various international meetings between representatives and scholars from the different faiths play a very important role. Notable in this regard has been the work of the S. Egidio community centred in Rome.
Such meetings help break down negative stereotypes and prejudices and serve as essential testimony to the possibilities of inter-religious harmony, mutual respect and understanding in the region. Indeed it is often the case that Palestinian religious leaders only feel able to participate in dialogue with Jews and especially Israelis, outside the Middle East itself. Such international gatherings have even facilitated certain historic visits of Muslim/Arab leaders to Israel and the territories.
There can be no doubt that the current peace process in the Middle East has galvanised increased activity in its field. While inter-religious relations are unlikely to produce political breakthrough in themselves, nevertheless they provide the essential spiritual and psychological cement to enable the peace process to stand fast on firm foundations.
Rabbi David Rosen
Rabbis for Human Rights: Guardians of Justice
In the name of Rabbinic Tradition and motivated by the biblical commandment "love the stranger" (Lev.19:33) one hundred and fifty rabbis from all the religious communities in Judaism have joined forces to promote the sacredness and dignity of every human life. "Rabbis for Human Rights" intervene with the Israeli authorities whenever those authorities appear to violate elementary and inviolable rights of the human person in their encounter with Palestinians.
Whether Orthodox or Progressive, born in Israel or coming from abroad, whatever their attitude to Jewish Law, they are all convinced that as religious leaders they must raise a voice of dissent, in order to arouse awareness of authentic Jewish tradition, according to Rabbi Ehud Bandel, secretary of the Association. He draws lessons for today from Jewish history: "We have been persecuted throughout history; as a people we were born from slavery and that is why Torah commands us not to oppress the stranger living in our midst". For Rabbi Max Warschawski, former Chief Rabbi of Strasbourg, it is a question of "Credo": "This land, Eretz Israel, was promised to our Fathers, but on certain conditions; one of them stipulates that we must be humane, living a human life and allowing our neighbour to do the same". To be Truly Jewish?
The Association came into being at the end of 1988. In the territories the Intifada was entering its second year; in the Knesset a number of seats were held by the "religious" parties. A persistent question surfaced and was discussed in newspaper columns: "Who is a Jew?"...important in a State where the Law of Return reigns, but masking another question which is equally important for certain rabbis: "What is a Jew?" - or "What is a genuinely Jewish attitude?" This resulted in fifteen rabbis appealing to their colleagues who were concerned about the moral issues posed by the Intifada - a matter that the authorities of the country, both civil and military, did not seem inclined to consider.
"When the religious authorities reacted against the rise of the Intifada", declared Ehud Bandel, "we found that it was in a nationalistic, chauvinist, narrow fashion, as well as limited to questions of ritual, whereas the moral dimension of Torah was neglected". About eighty joined the group of "Rabbi Founders". The Rabbis and Christmas
This group, whose aim is "to pursue moral and religious goals" without any political aims, began by sending study missions into the occupied territories to see the situation for themselves. "We were concerned about the profanation of holy places, by collective punishments like curfews, and individual punishments: arrests, internments, destruction of houses, etc..." These visits led to reports being sent to the authorities and to the press. In December 1991, in order that the Christians of Ramallah (15 km. north of Jerusalem) could prepare and celebrate Christmas, the Rabbis for Human Rights intervened with the Ministry of Defence to obtain the lifting of the curfew imposed after the assassination of a Jewish settler from a neighbouring town. Receiving no reply, they sent a petition co-signed by representatives of Jewish, Christian and Muslim clergy to the High Court of Justice. Finally they won their case. As Ehud Bandel emphasized: "It was the first time that Rabbis had intervened to enable Christians to celebrate Christmas". There is no triumphalism on his part, simply a hope for the future, should the situation be reversed, and perhaps a touch of regret that at the time when the Jews were oppressed, few voices were raised to support them.
In recent weeks the Rabbis have taken action on behalf of the four hundred and fifteen Palestinians expelled to South Lebanon. Rabbi Isaac Newmann, President of the Association, belongs to the ad hoc committee formed by the group "to bring these men back and see that they are judged if they are guilty". For the moment, the letter sent to the Prime Minister to denounce this measure contrary to human rights, has not borne fruit. "We Must Free Ourselves from Fear"
The Association is enrolled in the Peace Clan. According to Ehud Bandel, "the great majority of the population of Israel want peace". For that, they would be willing to give back land and accept the creation of a Palestinian state, provided the security of Israel is assured. That is the crux of the matter. For historical reasons Israelis are afraid. They suffer "the trauma of a persecuted people who fifty years ago were in the gas chambers of Auschwitz" . In face of accusations of paranoia, he replies "Even paranoid people sometimes have enemies". Today in Israel the Rabbis for Human Rights, like all peace movements are reliving the myth of Sisyphus. After each stabbing in the streets of Jerusalem or Tel Aviv, they must start again from zero on the rough and perilous road of mutual confidence. "Each stabbing ruins the efforts we have made to establish confidence between our two peoples", acknowledged Ehud Bandel. Between Insult and Official Recognition
The Group has lost count of the number of insulting letters accusing them of "taking the part of assassins and butchers who want to rid the country of all Jews"; anonymous telephone calls treat them as collaborators; and there are acts of reprisal: the former President of the Association has had the four tyres of his car slashed with a knife. And yet Max Warschowski persists in believing that their supporters "are more numerous than you think". The silent majority always makes less noise and fewer victims than the small groups who howl.
Some weeks ago the Rabbis received a sign of support as unexpected as it was official; the Prize of the Secretary of the Knesset. Rabbi Isaac Newmann did not hide his astonishment at this award which arrived "when two months earlier we had strongly criticized the expulsion of the Palestinians". Among other things he sees in it the sign of the "democratic health of a state, some of whose representatives are showing concern for human rights". Neither Naive nor Pacifist
Involved in the struggle for the respect of the rights of the Palestinians, the Rabbis are neither naive nor pacifists. Even though he knows that the sacredness of human life does not come first with "the other side", Ehud Bandel thinks that as a Jew he cannot take Saddam Hussein as his standard of morality. It is not a question of falling into line with the conduct of others, but of "living according to our own moral standards, those of the Torah". Torah demands respect for human life and the rights of the human person. For Rabbi Isaac Newmann these rights "are not a reward for good conduct any more than is the right to a fair trial". They are absolute norms which in extreme situations could lead to defending an enemy. This is how the Rabbis read the expulsion of the four hundred and fifteen Palestinians accused of being members of Hamas. Max Warschawski adds: "We know that Hamas wants to destroy us. They do not represent the whole population, but we know that if they come to power we can expect nothing good. But for the moment we are in occupation and we are stronger, so we should behave in accordance with the moral principles of Judaism. Those who do not take these into account are not worthy of trust". We are Patriots
To accusations of collaboration with the enemy, the Rabbis respond: "We are patriots. We believe that the future of the Jewish people depends on our survival in this country". But what will become of the country, what will become of its in- habitants if they continue to let themselves be corrupted by the occupation? ask the Rabbis. If they are right, the majority of the population is beginning to measure the danger that the occupation brings upon the occupiers: "We Jews have the Parliament, the Government, the Police, the Army, we have strength... We must end the injustices that are crying out for redress". The message of the Prophets is heard in the words of Isaac Newmann.
It is more urgent than ever to find a solution which would allow the Palestinians to live in their own state, and not as second class citizens without civil or political rights. Where these are lacking, extremists have free rein to summon up all sorts of holy wars in the name of a common father, Abraham, while Isaac Newmann's wish for his fifteen year old grandson will remain a dream: "I hope that in three years he will not be obliged to serve in an army of occupation".
Edith Castel, nds
Neve Shalom - Wahat Al-Salam Oasis of Peace
An example of the Jewish-Christian-Muslim relationship, which is probably unique, is found at Neve Shalom. Bruno Hussar, a Dominican Friar, dreamed of seeing God's promise to Zion - "My People will live in an oasis of Peace" (Is.32:18) - become a reality in Israel. He set about it on a site of a hundred acres leased from the monastery of Latrun on a hillside overlooking the Vale of Ayalon. The territory has been a war zone from early times right until 1948 when it was designated "no man's land". Now it is truly becoming an Oasis of Peace. It is a rare example of Jews and Arabs (both Muslim and Christian) living and working in harmony. Neve Shalom is a beacon of light and a source of encouragement to all who want to foster the Jewish-Christian-Muslim relationship, as well as to those striving for peace in the Middle East.
The achievements of these first years are remarkable. The foundation of all of them is the 'home community' made up of Jews and Palestinians of Israeli citizenship in equal proportions. By 1991 there were forty adults and forty children. The eventual goal of fifty families is dependent on funds becoming available for further building. There is a waiting list of applicants! By their life together independent of any form of outside control or political affiliation, the members of this community are demonstrating that their two peoples can dwell in peace, given the will to do so. Their lives are positive proof that enmity between Jew and Arab - often caused through unjustified fears or inborn prejudices passed down from parent to child - can be eradicated once the problems are understood. The School for Peace
A natural evolution of this life together was the creation of the School for Peace in 1978. This is a project for those who reside outside Neve Shalom. The school organises workshops, seminars and summer camps for youth and adults. It has developed its own method to enable Jews and Arabs to meet to experience the "other" and to arrive at respect, trust and often friendship. All activities are graded in age groups and always comprise an equal number of Jews and Arabs. Over the years the School for Peace has become increasingly recognised as a force in Israel. It co-operates with other educational groups in the country and with peace organisations working in the field of Arab/Jewish relations. In ten years more than fifteen thousand teenagers and a thousand adults (Jews and Arabs in a fifty-fifty ratio) have participated in the School's Educational Programme. Doumia
The motifying force bonding the community of Neve Shalom is the commitment to peace, belief in humanity, the power of love and the conviction that Jew and Arab can live together in harmony and creatively in the same land. Some members identify themselves religiously, others do not. Each family lives in its own home where it keeps its individual observances and customs. But everyone shares in the enjoyment of their neighbours' festivities and holy days.
Though originally a house of prayer was envisaged in the plans for Neve Shalom, the experience of living with true respect for the "other" who is different, has led to a preference for "a space of silence", that Doumia (in Hebrew) in which God communicated with Elijah at Horeb (1 Kings 19:12). The Doumia is now also a building, a shining white globe, where one can reflect, pray or worship in that silence which knows no frontiers. Studying the Scriptures Together
In these years of life together at Neve Shalom a question has slowly surfaced in the Community: "How is it possible that in this Holy Land, where three monotheistic religions took root, the 'pious' hate each other, fight each other, claim their rights over/against the rights of others, while invoking the God common to all three and justifying their actions in the name of their Scriptures? " Little by little the realisation dawned of the great responsibility that lies with those who teach the Scriptures. They are part of the common cultural and spiritual heritage and are taught at all levels of education, religious and secular. It is urgently necessary to read them in a context of education for peace, so that they elicit love and promote life.
From this conviction the study of the three Scriptures - the Bible, the New Testament and the Qu'ran - has begun at Neve Shalom. In April 1990 about thirty people (Jews, Christians and Muslims) came to a first meeting. The subject chosen was "The Place and Importance of the Scriptures in Education" and was addressed by Ye-heskel, an Orthodox Jew, Secretary of the Orthodox Religious Movement for Peace; Miriam, an Israeli Christian, psychologist and professor of Holy Scripture; and Mohammed, a believing Muslim, who teaches in a College for the training of teachers. Each threw out a different challenge.
For Yeheskel and the Jewish tradition the Torah has "seventy different faces". Judaism is fundamentally pluralist. Dogmatism and Absolutism are strangers to it. Dialectic is its authentic position. "Thus says God" is a dangerous statement for the education of our children and for our life. Scripture must be interpreted.
Miriam affirmed the necessity to respect the integrity of Scripture. Some marvelous texts teach respect and love of neighbour but others, when divorced from their context, can be deformed in a terrible fashion and call forth contempt, hate, war, as history shows. All depends on our relationship with the Scriptures. The word of God cannot be used selectively. It has authority over us. We cannot reject it, ignore it, but must deepen our reading of it so that we seize its absolute value.
Mohammed cited the verse from the Qu'ran "Come, people of the Book and speak of the things that are common, which confirm that we all believe in the one only God and that you do good and guard yourself from evil". Many Muslims find that this text affirms that Mohammed calls them to meet with other believers. He described three positions in Islam: the fundamentalist, the nationalist and the academic. The last named is not accepted by official Islam but it can counteract fundamentalism. Many believing Muslims, while not adopting this approach in their way of life, rely on it for their intellectual work.
Until 1948 Islam had power in the institutions of the area but with the foundation of the State of Israel Muslims, little by little, became the minority and the teaching of the Scriptures suffered. A great change came about after 1967 due to the influx from the oriental world which weighed heavy on the institutions and exercised a greater influence on education. Since 1986 Muslim religious teaching has again resumed its place in the Arab schools in Israel.
A lively discussion followed and many different views were expressed. However all agreed on the importance of the Scriptures for life and in the education of the children. They must become instruments of peace.
A second meeting took place on 30 June. An Israeli non-religious Jew, Arie Simon, spoke on "Humanism and the Scriptures". According to humanist thought as it is expressed in the great ancient civilisations right up to our times, the measure of everything is man as man. But in the Bible the commandments of love and justice coexist with acts of violence and of war ordered in the name of God. This raises grave problems for the interpretation of texts and their teaching. In Orthodox Jewish religious education Holy Scripture is the "word of the living God" and should be accepted literally. Non-religious teaching faces a great dilemma. Will it run away from this situation which appears unacceptable or will it dare to exercise a moral judgment on it? What will be its criteria for choosing between contradictory values when radical orthodox teaching is centuries old? The fundamental answer comes from Rabbi Akiva (2nd century): "You must love your neighbour as yourself: this is the essential of the Law". As a result of this meeting the subject chosen for next year is "Human Universal Values as they appear in our Scriptures".
A third meeting focussed on "Justice in the New Testament". Fr. Bruno examined those who are called "Just" in the Gospels and the meaning of Justice in certain passages: Mt.20:1-6 The Labourers in the Vineyard; Lk.16:1-9 The Unjust Steward and the admonition to "Turn the other cheek" (Mt.5:38-39). Justice in the rest of the New Testament was treated by Rev. Samuel Fanous, Anglican Arab priest of Ramallah. The language of these texts is dogmatic and was strange for many in the meeting. The concrete problems faced by his community at Ramallah in the context of the military occupation were raised.
This short account gives a taste of the study taking place at Neve Shalom among Jews, Christians and Muslims. May this kind of activity become more and more common among the inter-faith communities now living together all over the world so that our Scriptures become "an education for Peace".
Address of Neve Shalom:
99766 Doar-Na Shimshon
Israel - tel (Secretariat) 02.912222 - fax: 02.912098
The United States of America
Trilateral dialogues between Jews, Christians and Muslims are for any number of reasons not a common phenomenon in the United States. The most common reason would be demographic. That is to say, there are many places in the United States where there are few or no Muslims or Jews. This is by no means meant to imply that there is no dialogue going on or that there is no contact between the three groups. In fact, there is a great deal of dialogue and contact between the members of the "Abrahamic Faiths". However, it does not frequently take the form of a trilateral dialogue or what is often unhappily referred to - a "trialogue".
Throughout the United States Jews, Christians and Muslims meet bilaterally in dialogue on a regular basis. For Roman Catholics the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs (SEIA) of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB) has been conducting a National Roman Catholic-Muslim Dialogue for the past several years. The same office has maintained a National Roman Catholic-Jewish Dialogue for an even longer period of time. On the local level many dioceses where the demography allows it - engage in bilateral dialogues with Jews and Muslims.
The National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA (NCCCUSA) has for several years staffed offices for Christian-Jewish and Christian-Muslim relations. Although the NCCCUSA has been undergoing sometimes radical structural changes in the past several years, its commitment to Christian-Jewish and Christian-Muslim Dialogue is firm and clear. In recent restructuring the NCCCUSA is attempting more closely to coordinate what is at present its bilateral dialogues with Jews and Muslims.
Although not on a trilateral basis, there is increasing encounter between Jews, Christians and Muslims in the United States within the overall framework of the interreligious movement. Observations such as World AIDS Day, the anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are often accompanied by prayer services in which Jews, Christians and Muslims are involved with members of the other great religious traditions of the world. Interfaith endeavors such as the Interfaith Council of Southern California, the Buffalo Area Metropolitan Ministries, Wichita Interfaith Ministries, Thanksgiving Square (Dallas, Texas) are multiplied throughout the United States in forms which differ according to needs and circumstances. These endeavors provide Jews, Christians and Muslims an opportunity to interact with each other as well as with members of other religious traditions. The very varied religious tapestry of the United States indicates to this writer that such multilateral structures provide a more adequate response to the actual religious situation of the USA than do merely trilateral structures. I believe that multilateral structures, whether they be Interreligious Councils, ministerial organizations, etc. will probably increase in number in the future.
This is not to imply, however, that there is absolutely no situation in the USA where trilateral dialogues are going on. Dialogue and co-operation between Jews, Christians and Muslims occur on an on-going basis, for example in New York City. There, under the auspices of the National Conference of Christians and Jews, Jews, Muslims and Christians (of all denominations and varieties) meet monthly to discuss topics of local, regional, global and religious concern. This particular "Trialogue" has been in existence for several years and evidences a great deal of enthusiasm and commitment on the part of the participants.
In Detroit, Michigan, the Greater Detroit Interfaith Round Table (N. C. C. J.) sponsors a series of dialogues involving members of the Jewish, Christian and Muslim communities. There is a trialogue for clergy, for theologians and for laity in all three traditions. Once a year the Round Table sponsors a major conference in which Jewish, Christian and Muslim scholars discuss a specific topic. The topic for 1992, for example, was "Jews, Christians and Muslims in pre 1492 Spain". The Round Table has also been involved in experimental projects dealing with text books used in local schools.
The religious landscape of the United' States is changing rapidly and Christians and Jews are increasingly finding themselves in contact with Muslims, Buddhists, Baha'is, Sikhs, Hindus, etc. This extraordinarily rich and complex situation does not lend itself in many instances to strictly trilateral endeavors between Jews, Christians and Muslims. Nonetheless, such trilateral endeavors do exist in several places, even though the major point of contact between religions is either on a bilateral or multilateral level. This is not necessarily unfortunate, however, since a multilateral religious ambiance can provide new horizons which a trilateral dialogue might overlook. In any case, relations between Jews, Christians and Muslims (as well as members of other faiths) is alive and well in the USA.
Elias D. Mallon, SA,
Graymoor Ecumenical Interreligious Institute,
New York, NY
An Experience of Christian-Jewish-Muslim Dialogue on the local level:
In the modern perception education should be painless, entertaining and virtually instantaneous. Efforts at adult education must include awareness of these realities or people will not join in the venture. How can a program draw a large general audience from the local churches, mosques and synagogues to enable people of disparate background to learn together? The work in a suburban community in New Jersey may interest those wanting to develop a program.
Temple Emmanuel of Oakland, NJ is a large Conservative synagogue led by Rabbi Jon Konheim with an active Adult Education Chairperson, Mrs. Joy Levitt. In 1989 she devised a program of interfaith education which was also intended to foster better relations in the community, which now includes a sizable Muslim component. "Legacy of the Peoples of the Book" was planned so that Catholics, Jews, Muslims and Protestants could explore together how the Sacred Scriptures function in the religious traditions which hold them to be authoritative. Through contacts in the neighborhood, Mrs. Levitt invited eight Christian and Muslim institutions to develop the project. With Rabbi Konheim as moderator, the four panelists met informally to plan a series of three 90- minute sessions for the general public and a 60 television taping, using the facilities of a nearby college. Attendance varied between 60 and 120. Discussion was lively and continued informally as refreshments were served.
The first session explored each community's definition of its sacred texts and how these relate to the Hebrew Bible (TeNaK). The Sabbath and its development in the various traditions provided an example of relationship between the Jewish Scriptures and the subsequent use of an ancient teaching. Many of the participants were surprised to learn that the Hebrew Bible does not play a significant role in Islam, nor do Muslims have a concept of rest associated with Friday as a day of public prayer.
During the second meeting, the panelists discussed what each community does when theological tenets have an impact in the social-political sphere of community life. Points discussed included abortion, prayer in public schools, the State of Israel and its decisions, and the case of Salman Rushdie. All of these issues were prominent in the news during the autumn of 1989.
The plan to tape a video for a local television station involved submission of written questions by representatives of the four communities for the moderator to organize into a coherent program. Two problems arose; there was not enough time for all the questions and some of those used were rewritten, so the participant was asked to express the question in a new way. Thus, the final session in the synagogue was devoted to these written questions, which in general indicated both lack of understanding about and a certain hostility toward another tradition. After grappling with the questions mediated by the moderator, panelists presented their views of "a just and peaceful world". The panelists and the questionnaire distributed at this session also sought to plan for the future.
The ground-work being laid, Mrs. Levitt and Rabbi Konheim planned a second program. A set of 15 case studies (based on personal experience and media stories) were compiled to focus the discussion on specific human needs as well as theological positions of the communities; this increased interest among the audience. Because the cases were complicated, a written outline was prepared so that the audience could have them at hand in order to stimulate questions.
The sessions focused on the following topics:
1. Questions of life and death; 2. Religion and Politics; 3. The good and religiously acceptable in a tradition other than one's own. In two sessions the panel and audience participation was so extensive that some of the prepared questions were not reached in the course of the evening.
Among the panelists the Muslim speaker often required more time to explain the perspective of his heritage. Most participants did not understand even the basics of Islamic belief and practices. This might suggest that advance reading or an introductory course on the "new partner" in the dialogue should precede such sessions. Such a lecture series about Islam was very successful in another New Jersey Synagogue. However, that may not be realistic for most Christians and Jews, so plunging into specific topics may be the only way to expand the educational process in a given community.
The Muslim panelist was enthusiastic about developing "Legacy" as a program for other communities. He noted the importance of meetings among the speakers before the session so that difficult issues could be faced creatively. He appreciated the way in which the moderator diffused tensions when the view of a given community were diametrically opposed to that of another.
The "Legacy" program received a Solomon Schechter award from the Conservative Movement in the "unique programs category".
The programs have continued in subsequent years, with discussion of medical ethics and issues relating to women in the various communities. Rabbi Konheim prepared a video on the meaning and future of the Temple Mount within Jewish communities which has been shown in mosques as a basis for discussion of a difficult topic for the two communities.
Lawrence E. Frizzell,
using the reports of Rabbi Jon Konheim and Mrs. Joy Levitt.
An example of Jewish-Christian-Muslim Dialogue on the Academic Level
International Scholars Annual Trialogue (ASAT)
ISAT is a long-term Jewish-Christian-Muslim scholarly dialogue which held its first conference in the Spring of 1989 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. ISAT is composed of nine scholars from each of the three religious traditions, Judaism, Christianity, Islam. The scholars came (originally) from the United States, England, Israel, Germany, Yugoslavia, Greece, Austria, Morocco, Pakistan, France, Algeria, Spain, Tunisia, Egypt, Tanzania, Turkey. The sponsoring bodies of ISAT are The journal of Ecumenical Studies and The National Conference of Christians and Jews.
ISAT's meetings have been held in Philadelphia, Atlanta, Orlando and in 1993 in Graz (Austria). Plans are being made to publish the four papers from this meeting in an English and German version. Initially the conferences discussed prepared papers from the three traditions, which allowed participants the opportunity to get to know each other. Other topics included 'The Understanding of Revelation in the Three Traditions', 'The Dilemmas of Human Dignity and Tradition', Exegesis of Torah, the New Testament and Qur'an, 'The Absolutes of each of the Three Traditions', 'How to Conceive and Implement the Good' and 'Towards a Universal Declaration of a Global Ethic'. The topics for 1994 are "Women in the Three Traditions" and a continuation of the issue of a Global Ethic
(Abstracted from a report prepared by Leonard Swidler, Editor Director of Graduate Religious Studies, Professor of Catholic Thought and Interreligious Dialogue, Temple University, Philadelphia).