The Need for Dialogue
There has long been debate as to who posses the “Truth” of religious doctrine. Wars have been fought over it, genocides have occurred and various groups have been oppressed. These disputes stem for the idea that the LORD has chosen a single group of people as his own and has formed an intimate relationship of truth with that single group. This ideology stands in the way of progress, for the initiation of dialogue is dependent upon the acknowledgment of the validity of the others religious interpretations and traditions. This acknowledgment is unappealing because it requires people to consider perspective outside of what they consider to be the “Truth” and in turn puts the validity of their own faith into question. Judaism has a long history of struggle when it comes to engaging in interfaith dialogue. There is a tendency in Judaism to detach from the world an ignore relationships with major religions such as Islam and Christianity. In my paper I am going to prove that the Mosaic covenant of the Old Testament calls for interfaith dialog between Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and that this covenant ensures the validity of each religion in such a way that they can co-exist in our modern pluralistic world.
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The book of Exodus is the source of many of the monumental bonds formed between the LORD and his people. In this book, we encounter the greatest prophet of the Hebrew Bible. Moses was chosen by GOD to do great things. He freed his people from Egypt, lead them to the promise land and was the only person to physically see GOD and his glory. Along with the accomplishment of these amazing feats, Moses worked to bring structure to the Israelites’ way of life. In chapter twelve of the book of Exodus, we are presented with The Passover Ritual which has become a pillar of Judaism. This chapter of Exodus consists of a combination of P and E sources that reflect the intention of establishing a manner of worship that sets the people of Israel apart from the other religions of the time. The chapter begins with The LORD saying “This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you. Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family a lamb for each household… the lamb shall be divided in proportion to the number of people who eat it” (Exodus 12:2-4). This command from the LORD brings centralization to the way of worship by the people of Israel. They are to slaughter a lamb and follow a very specific set of rules that GOD states. The LORD will Pass through Egypt and will strike the first born of those who do not follow his commands. The repercussions to not following GODs’ command all but forces the people of Israel to do this will and in turn sets them apart from all other religions of the time. This recurring characteristic of centralized worship through a set of rules that sets the nation of Israel apart form all other groups is indicative of the P source and is seen throughout the book of Exodus.
In chapter twenty of The Book of Exodus, we are presented with a set of apodictic legal text that serves to further distinguish the people of Israel from everyone else. The Decalogue is another set of rules that applies to the nation of Israel and that sets the standard for the relationships between God and his people and the relationships amongst the people of Israel. These commandments lay out the way in which the nation of Israel can find favor in the eyes of the LORD. The keeping of these commandments will result in blessings from the Lord for the people of Israel and their decedents. The Lord states “I am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generations of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments” (Exodus 5-6). The way in which the nation of Israel can show their love for the LORD is though the fulfillment of his commandments. These commandments are given during a difficult time for the nation of Israel. They have grown impatient after leaving the relatively good life in Egypt for the harsh conditions of the desert. They serve the function of bringing some order to the Israelites during a time of Chaos and do the trick. After hearing the thunder and seeing the lighting at the top of the mountain, the Israelites tell Moses to not allow the LORD to speak to them. Moses tells them “do not be afraid; for God has come only to test you and to put the fear of him upon you so that you do not sin” (Exodus 20: 20). These commandments were intended to instil the fear of the LORD in the nation of Israel. They not only instilled fear in the Israelites, they also honored the Israelites as GODs’ chosen people.
Rabbinic commentary on the subject of the formation of the Mosaic Covenant and its impact on modern Judaism is rich and plentiful. A leading expert on the topic, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, devotes a chapter of his book to Heal a Fractured World to the analysis of the relationship between the LORD and his people in the book of Exodus. Rabbi Sacks argues that it is the responsibility of the Jew to be a decent human being and to take control of the relationship he or she shares with GOD. He notes the recurring theme of impatience of the nation of Israel through out the entirety of the mosaic books. This impatience results in the destruction of the tablets that contain the Decalogue, but ultimately gives rise to a fruitful relationship between Moses and the LORD. Much of the Pentateuch is interpreted as the LORDs’ people waiting for some form of divine intervention that will save them from a difficult situation, but Rabbi Sacks argues that “there is a movement in the bible, traceable along many axes, from a divine endeavor, from a supernatural to the natural, from the controlling to an empowering presence of God” (Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, 149). He claims that his rite de passage occurs after the crossing of the Red Sea. After this event, the nation of Israel learns to “act with, rather than merely rely on God” (151). This transition is critical for the modern form of Judaism to thrive. A form in which the interpretation of religious text is welcomed and needed for adaptations to the modern world. The call for an active relationship with God entails a responsibility to enhance the lives of the less fortunate. It is the responsibility of the Jewish community to act and not wait for divine intervention to change the course of history. Human initiative is crucial. God has held the Israelites hands and helped his nation grow into a numerous people, but it is there turn to take the initiative to make the world a better place.
An area with much potential for making the world a much better place is the area of inter-faith dialogue. In his article One God: Many Faiths, A Jewish Theology of Covenantal Pluralism, Rabbi Eugene Korn makes a case for the ability of Judaism to co-exist with other major world religions. He states that both Judaism and Christianity see themselves as the chosen people in the eyes of the LORD. In a pluralistic world, this becomes a problem and leads Rabbi Korn to ask if we “can sense God when when we behold the other, or is the other a threat to the validity of our covenant?” (Rabbi Eugene Korn). The acknowledgment of the others’ religion as equally valid means that no single religion posses the “Truth”, rather there are multiple truths. This Ideology has lead to much tension between the two group and has stood in the way of an ever important dialogue between the two groups. This ideology is still present in modern Judaism due to the intimate relationship formed between the LORD and his people. A relationship that is often represented by the metaphor of marriage which is meant to be exclusive and to be comprised of no more than two parties, GOD and his people. This type or relationship forms an insider-outsider divide in which Jews are welcomed, but other religions are cast aside. It is impossible to sustain such a relationship is a world in which we are connected to an ever growing number of cultures and religious groups. Both Christianity and Judaism hold their beliefs to be the “Truth”, so the question is “can a person of deep religious commitment coexist with an even value someone outside his faith?” (Rabbi Eugene Korn).
Rabbi Korn states that religious communities have responded to these questions with two basic strategies to resolve this tension. The first strategy is, one that is frequent in Judaism, to withdraw from the world. This comes at a great spiritual cost due to the inability to interact with and share your message with people who are not members of your religion. The second response has been the urge to universalize and to work to for a single universal religion. Modern Judaism’s response to this is that “there is one universal God, but no universal religion” (Rabbi Eugene Korn). They believe in a universal covenant, The Noahide Covenant, that only requires that Noahites believe that “God Is”, but there are no rules as to how to worship him. This allows for pluralism to coexist with religion. Rabbi Korn shares an interpretation of the account of the Jewish prophet Micah. “It is a vison of pluralistic harmony, where each people calls God by its own name, worships in its own way, relates to God with its own covenant, and understands God with its own particular religious’ insight” (Rabbi Eugene Korn). This vison is more one that the worlds major religions must work towards and connects to the way in which Rabbi Korn ends his article. He writes, “Lastly, legitimizing different theological conceptions multiplies the possibilities for discovering God in our lives… When we grant religious validity to all moral faiths, we can find the Image of God in all religiously sincere people. Pluralism maximizes the potential for religious blessing in our experience with all people, for they are all His beloved children” (Rabbi Eugene Korn). Pluralism maximizes our chance of encountering God. When we extend religious validity beyond the members of our faith, we open the door to blessings.
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The questioning then turns to what is modern Judaism’s’ take on pluralism and what is their relationship to other major religions like? Alan Brill has dedicated his life to Jewish and Christian studies and wrote a brilliant book titled Judaism and World Religions in which he gets at the core of Judaism’s interfaith relationships. Brill states that there is a need for openness in the Jewish community. He argues that “one needs to actually meet someone of another faith and place oneself in a situation in a situation where you may learn… If not, one may still be projecting one’s own prejudice onto the other side” (Alan Brill). The Jewish community continues to struggle in relationships with other faiths. The recurring thought of extending validity to other religious groups puts Judaism at risk and prevents dialogue from occurring. This prevents the Mosaic covenant made in the old testament from functioning in a modern society that continues to progress towards pluralism and the validity of all faiths.
Brill then goes on to talk about the signing of the “first Alexandria declaration of the religious leaders of the Holy Land: 2001” is a step in the direction of unity. This declaration states that “In the Name of God who is Almighty, Merciful and Compassionate, we who have gathered as religious leaders from the Muslim, Christian and Jewish communities… According to our faith traditions, killing innocents in the name of God is a desecration of his holy name.” Muslims, Christians and Jews were able to agree that the killing of innocents in unacceptable in the name of God. This uncovers ground that is shared by the worlds major religions and can serve as a foundation for further interfaith dialogue. If we continue to build upon similarities and to work to establish doctrines that are accepted by multiple religions, we will eventually reach a point where the similarities will out weigh the differences and we will realize that God truly is present across many religions and that there is no singular recipient of his love.
Modern Judaism has taken a step in the right direction. There has been a movement from withdraw from the world, out of fear of loss of validity, to a desire for human initiative and interaction with the other religions of the world. I can personally attest to the beauty of an experience in which Christianity and Judaism come together and acknowledge the beauty of each religion and their shared history. During a pilgrimage to New York and Washington in 2006, my group was housed at a synagogue. They let us celebrate the Eucharist in the synagogue on Saturday and gave us an amazing breakfast on Sunday before we left. It is small interactions like this that will build and will prove that the Mosaic covenant can thrive in our modern pluralistic world. There is a need for Jewish, Christian and Muslim communities to engage in a dialogue that will bring the religions closer and that will benefit all of their members. It is estimated that the three Abrahamic religions consist of 3.6 billion followers. Theses three groups have a lot if power and influence across the world, if they came together and engaged in moral and ethic debates, they could quickly influence the world.
- Sacks, Jonathan “Divine Initiative, Human Initiative”. To Heal a Fractured World: The Ethics of Responsibility. Schocken Books , 2013, pp. 148–161
- Korn, Eugene. “One God: Many Faiths, A Jewish Theology of Covenantal Pluralism. Boston College, 2003.
- Brill, Alan. Judaism and World Religions: Encountering Christianity, Islam, and Eastern Traditions. Palgrave Macmillan, 2015.