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.




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.


The Triumph of Abrahamic Monotheism?

monotheismBy Paul V.M. Flesher

Just a couple years ago, the world’s population reached 7 billion. This took place through a centuries-long process of growth and migration — the same process that formed the distribution of the world’s religions as we now know them today. The current result of that process is somewhat surprising in that more than half of the world’s people follow one of just two religions: Christianity and Islam. These two monotheistic religions comprise the two largest religions in the world.

Christianity and Islam both trace their origins back to the Jewish Patriarch Abraham. The biblical book of Genesis tells how, during the second millennium B.C., Abraham and his household of 80 people followed a god known as Yahweh. Abraham’s family grew into the People of Israel, who formed Judaism, the earliest monotheistic religion, and worshipped Yahweh only. Later, in the first millennium A.D., both Christianity and Islam drew upon Judaism to create new religions worshipping this same God.

Christianity migrated as it expanded. After its origins in the first century in Palestine, it became the religion of the Roman Empire. That established Christianity in the lands around the Mediterranean Sea and then brought it into Europe. When the European nations began colonizing other continents in the mid-second millennium A.D., they carried their religion with them, with the result that the population of three continents became almost entirely Christian: North America, South America and Australia. Christianity also has become the largest religion in the southern half of Africa.

After its origins near the coast of the Red Sea in the seventh century, Islam quickly moved into the Middle East and the northern half of Africa. From there it went east, colonizing the Indian sub-continent and moving farther east into Malaysia and Indonesia, which today constitutes the most populous Muslim nation.


Thousands of Christians in Israel hold protest rally outside burned Galilee church

church-of-the-multiplicationThousands of Christians have held a protest rally in the Galilee, near the historic church in northern Israel that was seriously damaged after a suspected arson attack which included anti-Christian sentiment scrawled in Hebrew on a wall.

The Church of the Multiplication in Tabgha was set on fire early on June 17 and the suspected hate crime drew fierce condemnation from Israeli leaders from major political parties, The Times of Israel reported.

Inside the church former Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Michel Sabbah and Bishop Giacinto-Boulos Marcuzzo, auxiliary of the Latin Patriarchate, celebrated a Sunday Mass attended by hundreds of young people on June 18.

Many carried crosses and waved Vatican flags and Jewish, Muslim and Druze clerics came the church to express support, The Catholic Herald reported.

The church is run by the Catholic Benedictine Order and is known for its fifth-century mosaics, including one depicting two fish flanking a basket of loaves.

“The attack on the church is an attack on all those who believe in a civilization of love and coexistence,” said Father Gregory Collins, the head of the Order of Saint Benedict in Israel, to protestors.

In an entrance corridor of the building, believed by Christians to be the site of Jesus’s miracle described in the Bible of multiplying two fish and five loaves to feed 5,000 people, Hebrew graffiti was found.

It read, “The false gods will be eliminated,” The Times of Israel reported saying it is a quote from Jewish liturgy.


Peace Chanukah offered as interfaith celebration in Taos, New Mexico

Bringing together speakers from all faith traditions to reflect on peace in this season, Peace Chanukah is the only interfaith ceremony of its kind in Taos. It has become a favorite holiday gathering for many Taoseños. All are welcome to participate in the event which includes the lighting of Chanukah candles, storytelling and song.

This year, Peace Chanukah takes place on Wednesday (Dec. 17), on the second night of Chanukah for 2014. The program begins at 5:30 p.m. and ends at 7 p.m. There is no cost to attend, and everyone is welcome. Those who are able are encouraged to bring nonperishable food items to the event as part of a collection for The Shared Table and the Taos Coalition to End Homelessness. St. James Church is located at 208 Camino de Santiago.

“The purpose of Peace Chanukah is to bring people from all walks of life, all faith traditions (or none), and all our various racial/ethnic/cultural groups together to sing songs and give prayers for peace and good will,” said organizer Bette Myerson. “Especially at this time of year it’s important to be joined together as one human family. Religion has been the pretext for too many divisions (including wars) over history. We want to reverse that trend.”

Speakers at this year’s gathering include Pastor Steve Wiard (El Pueblito United Methodist Church), Sean Murphy (Zen Buddhist), Mya Coursey (Unitarian Congregation of Taos), Rev. Susan Varon (interfaith minister – Unity of Taos), Fr. Mike Olsen (St James Episcopal Church), Janet Burstein (Hindu), Heyam Khweis (Muslim) and Diana Rico, who will speak on Catholic perspectives on peace and justice.


Does Pope Francis Believe Christians and Muslims Worship the Same God?

1417951816032.cachedDuring a recent visit to the former capital of the Ottoman Empire, the pope labored mightily to bring Islam into dialogue with Christianity. But does he really accept that God is God?
At the famous Blue Mosque during a papal visit to Istanbul, Pope Francis stood beside the grand mufti of Istanbul and prayed for two minutes, bowing his head, closing his eyes. At the end of his prayer, the grand mufti whispered aloud: “May God accept it.”

One can’t help wondering: Did the grand mufti doubt that God would accept a prayer from the head of the Roman Catholic Church? Indeed, does Francis, or any Christian, genuinely accept that God is God, whether his name be Allah or God?

As in previous visits to Islamic countries, the busiest pontiff in recent memory had labored mightily in Turkey to bring Islam into dialogue with Christianity: not an easy thing, although both are Abrahamic religions, in theory accepting the notion that God revealed himself to Abraham and his descendants.

A long-running argument exists over whether Christians and Muslims worship the same God. In my view, they certainly do. The creator—he or she—brought the world into being. The gender business interferes in odd ways, as the Arabic word for God is apparently quite neutral, whereas God is often seen as masculine in the Judaic tradition, the ultimate patriarch, as in Psalm 89: “Thou art my father, my God.” The situation is complicated by Christianity, where Jesus becomes the son of God, though his equal as well, having a place beside the Holy Spirit as part of a Trinity—with equal weight on each foot of the tripod. (To many outside Christianity, this looks a bit like polytheism!)


The adolescent phase of Islam.

273946142Just as Judaism and Christianity went through periods characterized by conquest, so, too, it can be argued that Islam is now in its violent ‘Crusader’ incarnation.

The dizzying pace of global developments in our time makes it difficult to analyze reality from a historic perspective, since events seem to pre-empt all predictions. Still, it’s important to try to see the big picture.

I want to focus on two aspects, the religious-cultural aspect and the demographic-economic one, and suggest a historic context for two phenomena that I believe continue to shape reality. One is the nature and roots of Islamic resistance to the West, embodied in a clear and extreme way by the Islamic State, and the second is the large waves of migration in our time, which are responsible for a process of irreversible and uncontrollable changes in the demography of Europe and the United States, and in how the world looks in general.

The explanation I am suggesting for the two phenomena rests on the natural process theory from the school of Oswald Spengler, Arnold Toynbee and Samuel Huntington, whose common hypothesis was that cultures and religions go through phases like those of a living organism. That is, you can discern stages in their historical development: A childhood phase, characterized by consolidation and self-determination; an adolescent phase, for the most part violent and characterized by conquest and expansion; and in the end, a stage of maturity, characterized by moderation and tolerance.