What Interfaith Meetings Can Lead To - Opinion

Published date25 May 2023
Publication titleJerusalem Post, The: Web Edition Articles (Israel)
Last week, I was invited to represent the Conference of European Rabbis (CER) in Geneva as a keynote speaker at exactly such a conference, entitled Roots and Responsibility, Jews, Christians, and Our Common Future in Europe

So how do we move from interfaith conferences to interfaith action? One guiding light is the 1964 article by Rabbi Joseph Ber Soloveitchik entitled "Confrontation," in which the Rav urges Jews not to engage in theological dialogue with other faiths, but to seek to conduct the dialogue at eye level as a proud, authentic, independent faith community, granting the dialogue partner space for the same authenticity, pride and independence. The purpose of the interfaith encounter is not to trade theological favors, but to encounter one another and to act together. It goes without saying that ecumenical prayers were not the order of the day.

To some, abstaining from theological dialogue feels unnatural – an unbearable restraint – and indeed, in a 2018 letter to yours truly, the late Pope Benedict XVI expressed his hope that we in the Orthodox camp would agree to engage in joint Bible study and theological dialogue, a request to which I could not consent.

And yet, as we could vividly see during this conference, the depth and meaning of the interfaith relationship can better be measured by the willingness to act than by debating theology. Sure enough, one cannot assemble any significant number of religious leaders or laity without talking about faith and theology, and we indeed explored what the limits of dialogue are. However, once we switched from theory to .action, we discovered how great the need of the hour is, and where our common action can truly make a difference.

One of the foundational values of modern Europe is religious freedom. Though it took centuries to percolate, it was with the Peace of Westphalia that Europe accepted that religious differences should not lead to war and misery. For the first time, governments, through the treaty, removed the ius reformandi. Subjects were no longer expected to follow the religion of their ruler. (Of course, Jews would have to wait another few centuries for their rights to be respected).

However, in recent years, religious freedom has been curtailed time and again, being seen as secondary to other, newer rights. Additionally, Europe generally conceives of religious freedom in terms of freedom of conscience but isn't always aware of the concomitant freedom of practice, which is how countries that...

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