A night to ask difficult questions

Leaders from the Catholic, Muslim, and Anglican faiths were invited to the home of Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner to learn about Passover


An imam, an archbishop, a reverend, and a rabbi went to a Seder. It sounds like the start of a joke but it happened this week at Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner’s annual interfaith Passover meal.

Leaders from the Catholic, Muslim, and Anglican faiths were invited to the home of the Senior Rabbi to Reform Judaism’s home to learn about the festival and ask what she described as “elephant-in-the-room questions”, as a way of building relationships between the communities.

Having explained the Seder plate to her guests, who included Sheikh Khalifa Ezzat, head Imam at the Central London Mosque, Rabbi Janner-Klausner said: “Please don’t hold back. The things you’ve always wanted to ask, the time is now. No question is off limits, too stupid, or controversial, this is an opportunity for us all to learn.”

Kevin McDonald, Catholic Archbishop Emeritus of Southwark, broke the ice with a question to Muslim guest Hassan Hoque about the Koran. “Is it true children as young as 11 memorise it all? How is that possible,” he asked.

Over the matzah and charoset, Mr Hoque explained: “I learnt it by the age of nine and that is not unusual. It is over 114 chapters, and hundreds of thousands of words and any imam is expected to be able to quote you any bit.”

Mr Hoque, who was attending his first Seder, said he was “extremely taken” with the ritual elements that made up the meal. “We don’t have anything like this in Islam” he said. “It is really nice to have a festival where you pray and eat simultaneously.”

Reverend Emma Rothwell, part-time director of practical theology at Cambridge, did not hold back when asking about the role of women in Islam.

Nizam Uddin, trustee of the School of Oriental and African Studies (Soas) in central London, jokingly responded: “Oh, not a difficult one to answer at all then. He continued: “Seriously, I think it is complicated, and it is an issue for our community. It is something I hope will change as younger generations of Muslim women get more opportunities.”

He, too, was attending a Seder for the first time. “What I love most about it is being in a Jewish home.

“It’s not just another tokenistic interfaith activity. Being here makes it feels like how the Seder would be celebrated across the UK. I’m looking forward to my next one.”

Patrick Moriarty, who is combining his day job as JCoSS headteacher with training as a Anglican vicar, was tasked with explaining the role of the four children in the service.

“Using the children as a way of talking about ourselves is a wonderful way of breaking down barriers between faiths and educating about customs at the same time,” he said.

As the final piece of matzah was consumed, Rabbi Janner-Klausner explained why she held the annual event. “It is important that people who come feel they have permission to raise difficult topics. Here, we can skip the usual politeness and be honest with each other.”

l The Council of Christians and Jews has held its own “Freedom Seder” using a specially produced Haggadah to reflect on modern-day slavery.

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