Interfaith Dialogue: the progressive way forward
By Rabbi Aaron Gol...
October 31, 2012
I am dismayed by so many items that are recorded on our news channels. The notion of an interview seems to have been ditched in favour of interrogation. It is like the ‘yes/no’ game children play when they try to tempt their friend into saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and so lose the game. The interviewer/interrogator tries every angle they and the producer’s voice in their ear can conceive to catch out the interviewee/victim for a juicy slip that is then regurgitated as the news for the next few days. I honestly switch off. It is not news. It is not intelligent. I do not believe that we the listener or viewer gain anything other than cheap entertainment. We might as well be watching Judge Judy or any such like.
Yet there are programmes that I catch on the radio in particular, when a panel of guests present their point of view on an issue and then have a moderated discussion on issues they have raised. I am so disappointed if my journey or diary does not allow me to reach the end of the show. I hear, I have learnt, I develop and move forward because I listen.
This contrast is apparent when we look at how the Jewish Community seems to be engaging with Interfaith Dialogue. I would argue that it generally does not. Rather, in dealing with other Faiths, those bodies that represent the Jewish Community, the Board of Deputies and the Jewish Leadership Council, respond to issues by shouting accusations. This is not interfaith dialogue and is hypocritical. We will always suggest, especially with regards to Israel/Palestine that others need to understand background, nuances and the multi-faceted issue that is being discussed before responding. Do the dialogue first before forming an opinion and responding.
Interfaith dialogue, indeed any dialogue with the intention of moving forward together in greater understanding, is achieved through listening to different points of view. It is not easy but it leads to higher-level comprehension. When Jewish national bodies shout – sometimes aggressively - at Christian national bodies as happened recently regarding concerns for the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI), there is no attempt to hear the other’s point of view. The nuances and internal political minutiae that they may be founded on or moves to foster long-term understanding are lost. They frankly do not achieve anything productive but rather tempt the other to switch off, just as they might do the radio.
Last week the Jewish News carried a photo of faith leaders celebrating the 70th Anniversary of the Council of Christians and Jews. This organisation, especially through its local branches has done so much hard work to further understanding of Jewish issues and thought to Christians and vice versa. It is absurd that in an age when a Jew, Vidal Sassoon, could have Kaddish – the Jewish Memorial Prayer – recited at a celebration of his life in St Paul’s Cathedral, national bodies respond to each other in a manner that seems to illustrate a complete lack of the principles that are the foundation of interfaith dialogue, in fact any dialogue.
The method of our response to Christians at this time is pressing. The need for real dialogue is urgent. We cannot deny that many sections of the Christian Community in the UK, whilst supportive of our local activities are hostile towards Israeli Government policies. Sometimes they are justified and we would not argue with them. At other times we might disagree and wish to present an alternative way of thinking. We cannot deny that amongst the Christians there are those who would seek to delegitimize Israel at every turn, just as there are Jews who undermine slim chances for peace. We should and must be vigilant against them.
However, we should not naively vilify entire national bodies, representatives of a Community just like ours. How will we help Christians to acknowledge the perversity of their over-emphasis with issues of Israel/Palestine when, for example, the fate of Coptic Christians in Egypt or the ancient Christian Community of Aleppo is not mentioned? How can we help those going on the EAPPI programme hear more narratives than they might currently do?
Indeed, how might we all – Christians and Jews - learn more about the lives of Palestinians in the West Bank, Israeli Jews living in Settlements, those in S’derot, Bedouin in the Negev or Druze in the north? Are we so arrogant as to say that we know it all?
Is it too naïve to suggest that Jewish leaders work with Christian leaders to develop programmes endorsed by both, founded on the principles of interfaith dialogue: a quest for high-level understanding and the desire that the vast majority of us yearn for, to live in friendship with each other? Now that would have me switching on.
This article was written for the Jewish News and featured in their edition 25 October 2012 edition
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