An Interfaith Path to Peace

Rabbi David RosenProper and right engagement with religious institutions and interfaith cooperation is critical, not only for the success of any initiative but also in order to overcome the wounds of the past and promote the common good of the communities, said Rabbi David Rosen in an address to the 66th General Assembly of the United Nations.

Transcript of address at the observance of World Interfaith Harmony Week at the UN General Assembly Hall on February 7, 2012. (Taken from a recording made by the United Nations.)

An Interfaith Path to Peace
Rabbi David Rosen
American Jewish Committee Department for Interreligious Affairs

Blessed be ye who come in the name of the Lord, we bless you from the house of the Lord” – blessings from Jerusalem.

Promoting interfaith harmony and common action is a relatively simple matter in healthy pluralistic societies where differences are respected and even celebrated. It is much harder to advance interfaith harmony and collaboration in contexts of conflict, especially where religion is used and abused to advance one position against another.

This is the case where I am privileged to live, in the holy land and in the city that is holy to Jews, Christians, and Muslims. And yet we boast a plethora of grassroots interfaith activity. The Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel, the local constituent of Religions for Peace, is an umbrella for some 70 organizations and institutions promoting interfaith cooperation between the different religions in the land.

However, I would like to focus on the relatively new and remarkable collaboration between the official Israeli and Palestinian religious leadership, Jews, Christians, and Muslims, and its potential importance for genuine harmony in the Holy Land. While I do not believe that religious leaders in our part of the world are in a position to bring about the necessary political resolution for which most of us hope and dream, they certainly have the capacity either to make the situation all the more intractable or to make it all the more soluble by creating a context of greater mutual respect and resultant harmony.

Moreover, if we don’t want religion to be “part of the problem,” the answer cannot be to ignore it, as political leaders seeking a solution to the conflict have often done in the past. On the contrary, such an approach encourages extremist elements to take centre stage and just weakens the most responsible religious voices. If one does not want religion to be “part of the problem,” then one must empower the religiously responsible voices and ensure that religion is “part of the solution,” advancing a spirit of cooperation and mutual respect.

To this end a remarkable gathering took place in Alexandria in 2002, convened by the then Archbishop of Canterbury and the late Grand Imam of Al Azhar, bringing religious leaders of the main three Abrahamic faiths from the Holy Land together for the first time in history. This led in time to the establishment of the Council of the Religious Institutions of the Holy Land, which my organization, the American Jewish Committee, helped and helps facilitate together with others. This Holy Land Council is part of the MENA regional council of Religions for Peace.

The Holy Land Council is made up of the Ministry of Waqf/Religious Affairs of the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian supreme shari’a court, the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, and the Christian Patriarchates and Bishoprics of the Holy Land. The Council’s three main purposes are:

  • to keep open avenues of communication between the Israeli and Palestinian institutional religious leadership and to “trouble shoot” where necessary;
  • to collaborate in combating all violence, incitement, and disrespect against any one of the religions and their holy places; and
  • last but not least, to support efforts to bring about an end to the conflict, so that two nations and three faith communities can live in peace and harmony and flourish.

In the first respects, the Council has been a modest success. For example, the members have taken strong stands together against attacks on places of worship, on occasions gathering together in solidarity at the site of such deplorable violence. Moreover, the council has sponsored a comprehensive academic review that is currently under way regarding how the different religious communities and their traditions are portrayed in both Palestinian and Israeli textbooks.

However, the Council earnestly hopes that there will be greater interest than there has been so far in availing of its declared desire to help support initiatives to bring an end to the conflict.

As I have already indicated, most of us do not presume that religious leadership alone can bring a resolution to the conflict in our land. However, we are convinced that the right engagement with such religious institutions and interfaith cooperation is critical, not only for the success of any such initiative but also in order to overcome the wounds of the past and promote the common good of the communities that share the Holy Land, so that they all may flourish, prosper, and live in harmony.

The impact of such would go way beyond that particular geography and have truly global ramifications.

The work and goals of the Holy Land Council are of universal relevance. These express the responsibility of all people of faith and religion, and especially those in positions of leadership, to do the utmost to prevent political conflicts from exploiting religion, to strive to ensure that religion is part of the solution and not part of the problem, to advance mutual respect and peace, and to affirm that all people are created in the Divine Image regardless of race, color, creed, or gender – all children of God. Then the ancient Hebrew prophet’s vision of interreligious harmony and pluralism will become a reality:

and they shall beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation will not lift up sword against nation and neither shall they learn war any more. But they shall sit each one under their vine and fig tree and none shall make them afraid, for the Lord of Hosts has spoken. Let all the peoples walk each in the name of its god, and we shall walk in the name of the Lord our God for evermore. (Micah 4:3-5)

Rabbi David Rosen
American Jewish Committee Department for Interreligious Affairs

Rabbi David Rosen is the Director of American Jewish Committee’s Department for Interreligious Affairs and its Heilbrunn Institute for International Interreligious Understanding. From 2005-2009 he led the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations, the broad-based coalition of Jewish organizations representing World Jewry to other religions. Rabbi Rosen is Honorary Advisor on Interfaith Relations to the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, serves on its Commission for Interreligious Dialogue, and represents the Chief Rabbinate on the Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land. He is an International President of Religions for Peace; is Honorary President of the International Council of Christians and Jews; serves on the Executive of the World Council of Religious Leaders; and is a member of the Elijah Institute’s World Board of Religious Leaders. He is a founder of the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel. Rabbi Rosen was a member of the Permanent Bilateral Commission of the State of Israel and the Holy See, the Advisory Committee of the World Congress of Imams and Rabbis, and the World Economic Forum’s C-100 for improving relations between the Muslim and non-Muslim worlds.

Rabbi David Rosen addresss the UN General Assembly on an Interfaith Path to Peace

Rabbi David Rosen is the Director of American Jewish Committee’s Department for Interreligious Affairs and its Heilbrunn Institute for International Interreligious Understanding. From 2005-2009 he led the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations, the broad-based coalition of Jewish organizations representing World Jewry to other religions.

Source: Common Ground for the Common Good

Photo Credit: UN Multimedia