Board of Deputies: 'Time to link up with Sikhs and Buddhists'

Jews in Britain should expand interfaith contacts beyond Christians and Muslims to include members of other religions, according to a new report.

While 71 per cent of interfaith events involving Jews included Christians, and 52 per cent Muslims, only 10 per cent involved Hindus and nine per cent Sikhs.

“There is considerable scope to expand the contacts with Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Baha’is and other religions in interfaith activities,” writes Dr Keith Kahn-Harris in Communities in Conversation.

The report was published by the Board of Deputies on Tuesday and is sponsored by the Department of Communities and Local Government.

More than three-quarters of synagogues surveyed do some interfaith work — 73 per cent Orthodox, 84 per cent Progressive — with a quarter involved in activities at least once a month.

But the term “interfaith” can be off-putting to some, in particular Orthodox Jews, and alternative terms like “intercommunal, intercultural or interreligious” might be preferable, the report recommends.

One “positive development”, Mr Kahn-Harris says, has been inviting members of other faiths to take part in social action projects such as the annual Mitzvah Day.

While the findings suggest widespread support across the Jewish community for contact with other faiths, some Orthodox rabbis have reservations, particularly over Jewish children learning about other faiths.

One United Synagogue rabbi is quoted in the report as saying: “The sense of the Beth Din, as regards interfaith in schools, is that whereas it’s ok for us to represent Jews and Judaism to other people, there’s an extreme reluctance to have the children learn about other faiths in anything that is a remotely engaged fashion.

“They will only countenance awareness of other faiths in terms of civic responsibility and awareness of other faiths’ sensitivities, rather than actually learning about these other faiths in a way that might enthuse them.”

    Last updated: 4:17pm, May 21 2009