Religion Can Be the Bridge Linking Jews and Muslims

958081777Judaism and Islam are sister religions with many similarities. Nevertheless, the prevailing belief among members of both faiths is that an abyss separates them, and politically, they view one another as a threat.

Yet the overlaps between the religions, coupled with the positive attitudes toward religion in general on both sides, can be transformed into a bridge. Jewish familiarity with Islam and its principles and Muslim familiarity with Judaism, gained in the education system and other avenues, including interfaith dialogue, can build this bridge and turn these religions into a moderating, constructive forces in the ongoing conflict between their believers.

Sukkot, the holiday in which Judaism turns its gaze outward to members of other faiths, is an opportunity to set this as a goal for both Jews and Muslims.

After years of studying Torah and Jewish law in yeshiva, including getting my rabbinic ordination, I began studying and researching Islam. A fascinating world was revealed to me.

Islam, which in the view of the Israeli man on the street begins and ends with jihad, Mecca, Al-Aqsa and the muezzin’s calls, turned out to be a world with wide horizons, rich in wisdom and holiness.

Delving into Islam was an intense intellectual experience, but the most transformative part of my studies was realizing the similarity between Judaism and Islam. I discovered that the sources, sages, principles and details of Islam are astoundingly similar to those I learned in yeshiva – a reminder of human nature is ultimately the same the world over. This experience made me change my attitude toward Islam and its adherents.

FULL ARTICLE FROM HAAERTZ 

 

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Commentary: Judeo-Christian and Islamic values

If we rely on the religious roots of America as a beacon of freedom, shouldn’t the Muslim religious community be offered an equal seat?

For as long as I can remember, I have been intrigued by the use of the term “the Judeo-Christian ethic” to describe the values and the moral, ethical and spiritual teachings that define American exceptionalism and this nation’s understanding of itself and its mission in the world.

That Jews and Judaism, a community that makes up less than three percent of the American population, can be equated with Christianity, a religion to which the majority of Americans adhere, is nothing less than astonishing. But a close look at the historical record belies this concept. Until very recently, no more than 50 or 60 years ago, there was practically no precedent whatsoever for understanding Judaism and Christianity as sharing a common core of beliefs, practices or morals. It was not until 1952, perhaps with an eye toward the devastating effects of the Holocaust that destroyed more than two-thirds of European Jewry, an event whose consequences he personally witnessed, that President Dwight D. Eisenhower made the concept a part of our national religious vocabulary. In connecting the term with the ideals of the Founding Fathers, he stated that ” ‘All men are endowed by their Creator.’ In other words, our form of government has no sense unless it is founded in a deeply felt religious faith, and I don’t care what it is. With us, of course, it is the Judeo-Christian concept, but it must be a religion with all men created equal.

Although the efforts of the National Reform Association never reached beyond the House Judiciary Committee, where it languished for years, and even though it was periodically reintroduced with no success, the “Christian” character of America was self-understood by large parts of our nation.

For American Jews, a Christian America meant quota restrictions to Ivy League universities, as well as to medical and law schools, jobs that were advertised as “Christian only” and a growing national antipathy that revealed a dislike of Jews at the beginning of World War II only exceeded by negative feelings toward Germany and Japan.

Much of that pronounced anti-Semitism disappeared or went underground in the years after 1945. It became “uncool” to be connected to openly anti-Semitic feelings although Jews were systematically excluded from certain exclusive neighborhoods, summer establishments and private clubs well into the 1960s and beyond. Such restrictions were a part of Maine’s history as well.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE PORTLAND PRESS 

Mideast conflict affects all Muslims and Jews: Marmur

At times such as these it’s impossible for Muslims and Jews living outside the Middle East not to be affected by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in their relationship to each other. Those living far from the scene often hold even more extreme views than those in the region. Others believe that they can make peace there by acting here.

Shai Har-El, businessman, scholar and rabbi is among the latter. His book, Where Islam and Judaism Join Together, argues contrary to received wisdom that religion doesn’t fuel the conflict but is potentially “a catalyst for action in the battle for peace in the Middle East.” With this in mind he founded the Middle East Peace Network in 1990 and has since also helped to establish the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Chicago.

In a recent interview Dr. Har-El, who was born in Israel and holds degrees from the universities of Tel Aviv and Chicago, outlined his plan that notwithstanding its political agenda would harness the religious forces that make for unity and tolerance in the service of a lasting peace between Palestinians and Israelis. But despite his seemingly good intentions, his efforts don’t appear to have had much of an impact.

His utopian desire to temper politics with religion isn’t unique. For example, theLevantine Cultural Center in Los Angeles, which was launched more than a decade after the Middle East Peace Network, seems to have a similar agenda. In addition to its religious base it promotes intercultural activities and political discussions that include criticism of Israel and Zionism. As a result, Jewish mainstream organizations have kept their distance and it’s not clear to what extent Islamic groups have embraced it. Again, the effort may be praiseworthy but the results seem meagre.

The proposed House of Prayer and Learning in Berlin aims to be very different. Instead of seeking to solve the conflict in the Middle East, its stated purpose is to establish good relations between Jews and Muslims locally. While respecting religious differences, it stresses the fundamental similarities between the monotheistic faiths. The dialogue it promotes seeks to mirror the multiculturalism of the German capital.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE TORONTO STAR