Is there a value in continued interfaith dialogue with Christian institutions that organize boycotts of Israeli products and divestment from Israel. This seems to be a blatant act to try to deny Israel the right to defend against threats by terrorist organizations that seek Israel’s destruction.
[Administrator's note: This issue seems to have arisen again in recent news (June 2014) with the vote for divestment from companies doing business in Israel by the Presbyterian Church USA.]
Israel’s current President, Shimon Peres, once responded to the question, “how can you talk to so-and-so if they reject Israel’s right to exist?” by saying, “if you refuse to talk to so-and-so, then they will continue to reject Israel’s right to exist.”
The organized boycotts and divestment of certain Christian institutions can certainly be seen as a betrayal of the partnership and support that we have worked to develop. However, the only way to fully convince them that this position is wrong is through continued dialogue.
Nevertheless, while we should support this dialogue, the actions of these institutions should not be ignored and we should not continue with business as usual. There should be some consequences indicating our displeasure and in fact hurt by their actions. So perhaps, certain joint activities should be suspended.
It might help us to remember that even after each and every plague, Moshe spoke to Pharaoh and tried to convince him to let our people go. Dialogue remained a part of the process.
The question of continued interfaith dialogue is an important question to ask. What are the goals of interfaith dialogue? What do we hope to gain from them? In order to properly answer this question, I believe that we need to distance the conversation of interfaith dialogue from anything that has to do with the BDS movement. The BDS movement is problematic to us as Zionists and supporters of the State of Israel. Still, that conversation doesn't belong in a conversation about belief. To converse in interfaith dialogue is to focus on areas of faith, theology, ritual, ethics, morals, and values, instead of views on policies towards Israel. Furthermore, even if we disagree with a person, or an institution, that does not mean we do not sit down at the table and dialogue with them. In fact, it is sometimes even more important for us to dialogue with those that we disagree with.
Traditional Jewish study of sacred text is done chevrutah-style, in which a pair learns together. Each partner in the chevrutah brings his or her own perspective. One gets a true understanding of the text when one is able to study it with someone who sees things differently then he or she does. Thus, having an interfaith dialogue, even if it is with someone who has a distinctly different perspective than our own, allows for us to strengthen our own understanding of our beliefs. Throughout Jewish history, the Jewish people have been excommunicated and ostracized from community after community, nation after nation. We lived in shtetls, forced to keep to ourselves. Now, we have an opportunity to learn from others and teach others. We have the opportunity too know the other and to know the other, is to truly know ourselves.
As Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, of blessed memory, taught in his essay No Religion Is an Island:
"What then is the purpose of interreligious cooperation? It is neither to flatter nor to refute one another but to help one another, to share insight and learning, to cooperate in academic ventures on the highest scholarly level, and, what is even more important, to search in the wilderness for wellsprings of devotion, for treasures of stillness, for the power of love and care for man."
Interfaith dialogue allows for us to accept our differences and understand that, despite these differences, we are all made in the Divine image and can learn together and work together for the betterment of humankind. Therefore, interfaith dialogue shouldn’t be only limited to Jewish-Christian dialogue. It should include dialogue with Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists, Hindus, Mormons, and all those who identify with a faith that may be different than our own. Dialogue, despite disagreements, can lead to coexistence, acceptance, and peace. Regardless of what faith-based tradition one affiliates with, I think we can all agree on peace!
I share your frustration over recent moves to divest from Israel. They betray a serious lack of perspective and naivete.
At the same, I think talking is always a good thing. What is gained by ending dialogue? It forecloses options for at least trying to correct misimpressions and untruths. Dialogue also keeps open the possibilities for progress and allows for relationships to develop that can eventually contribute to important change.
I have good pastor friends whose views have evolved through our conversations, and the more of those we can have, the better for each faith. Sometimes it’s more important to talk with the people you disagree with than those whose support always come freely.
Indeed, the British Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks pointed out that in spite of differing opinions, religious leaders often share a similar language. Reflecting on dialogue with a group of Arab Muslim leaders, Sacks wrote, “We established within minutes a common language, because we take certain things very seriously: we take faith seriously, we take texts seriously. It's a particular language that believers share." Desspite serious difference, it’s not wise tp squander any chance to forge ties that can help create a more peaceful world.
By Evan Moffic, Get Inspired. Make Better Decisions. Live With Fewer Regrets. Get Your Free e-Book from Rabbi Moffic,
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