The Limits of Interfaith Dialogue

11188389_10153159575611117_4478034300633810801_n (4)I recently collaborated with David HaKohen Grosser, publisher of Segulat Yisrael, the Italian Torah journal, to examine the halachic and hashkafic parameters of interfaith dialogue and engagement. Our article appears here, posted on Arutz Sheva.

(The above photo depicts an interfaith gathering this past Lag B’Omer at Domus Galilaeae, hosted by the Neocatechumenal Way, an outreach movement within the Roman Catholic Church focusing on the Catholic formation of adults.)

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12 Responses

  1. Raymond says:

    I see very little point in having such interfaith dialogues. Most obvious of all is how wrong it would be to try to reach some middle ground between other religions and our own, as that would be tantamount to trading in Judaism for some new, vague ideological invention that has no record of success and probably no basis in reality. I could perhaps entertain the idea of having such interfaith discussions just as long as there is, from the beginning, a mutual understanding between the groups involved that no reconciliation is possible, but the result would then be that we each stay as we originally were, and so I again question what would be the point of such an exercise? Not to trivialize this discussion or anything, but to use a baseball analogy, it would be like Dodgers and Yankees fans getting together to debate which of their teams is the greatest baseball team in baseball history. What would be the point? Just let Dodgers fans be Dodgers fans, and Yankees fans be Yankee fans, and leave it at that. And let we Jews spend our lives exploring our Judaism, and let gentiles spend their lives exploring their religions, and then when it comes time to meet our Maker after 120 years, we can then find out who was ultimately right.

  2. dr. bill says:

    I too oppose interfaith dialogue whose purpose is to create any change that would modify the precepts of traditional Judaism. However, to strategize how to promote items of common interest has long been not just permitted, but encouraged. My assumption reading about the event is that its focus was what we call kiruv. The Catholics are confronting the problems of “lapsed Catholics” as traditional Jews confront the problems of intermarriage. Finding what works, is important. Just this Shabbat, our shul’s scholar in residence, (a well-known leader of the OU) talked about what works. Surprisingly, it was not only programs invented or implemented in the orthodox community. Was this event, a strategy session on making traditional faith stronger, closer to an interfaith dialogue or an item of common interest? I might ask the participants. They might compare it to rather famous essay of the Rav ztl, which had interdenominational participation.

    I do agree that I would not be caught dead lighting a bonfire together with anyone on Lag ba’Omer; talk about a slippery slope!!

  3. mycroft says:

    The Rav did NOT prohibit theological discussions on issues such as, Tshuva, or Torah Study. The Rav unlike many Rabbis did not take the simplistic view that no theological discussions could be discussed-certainly the Rav permitted academic discussions of faith and social issues. The Rav permitted discussion of social issues where the discussions were based on ethics that are based on Judaism or Christianity. However, the Rav did PROHIBIT discussions of our faith commitments –certainly we couldn’t discuss the Eucharist.
    What is interesting that when the Rav passed away discussions on the Ravs positions did not focus on his over 25 years of the Ravs interpretations of his guidelines which can be gleaned from what he permitted and what he prohibited but rather to a simplistic analysis of social vs theological.

  4. Shades of Gray says:

    “Another rabbi who (attended) said: “I tell you frankly, that I realized something, listening to Kiko. I in my family, in my tradition, I never heard that God loves us “… He said: “Well here, I asked my wife: ‘But you, for example, have you heard from someone in your life, in the synagogue, this word, that God He loves us? ‘” And his wife said to him: “No, I have not ever heard, ever heard!” And the rabbi said: “Me too …”

    This conversation reminds me of speech R. Dovid Orlofsky gave at an Ohr Somayach Yom Iyun in 2004(“Beyond Apples and Honey”), in which he said that it requires at least a month of Elul, due to its difficulty, to focus on the fact that ‘God loves me'(“Ani L’dodi V’dodi Li”).

    R. Orlofsky then related that when he previously gave this talk, someone said, “Rabbi, I went to yeshivah for years; I never, ever heard a rabbi say that. The only one I ever heard who said that ‘God loves you” are Christian Evangelists ministers…”

  5. Bob Miller says:

    Since we have nothing theological to learn from them, and they are resolved not to learn from us, interfaith exercises are either done for show or to simulate affinity.

  6. Reb Yid says:

    Having respectful discussions with, and getting to know, others is a very good thing. It will go a long way towards preventing future misunderstandings, negative stereotyping and many other indignities that have been suffered by the Jewish people over the centuries.

  7. Bob Miller says:

    “Rabbi, I went to yeshivah for years; I never, ever heard a rabbi say that….”

    Was this person totally unfamiliar with the blessing before the Shema, morning and night?

  8. tzippi says:

    Reb Yid, do you think this is the best way to go about it?

  9. Reb Yid says:


    That’s a fair question, but to me it is not a critical issue.

    In my community, the rabbis of the various denominations all get together once a week and learn Torah. Our shuls have joint programs including an Elul program where we all learn from the various clergy in our community. We have friends from a lot of the different synagogues in town (as do many others), and we all eat at each other’s homes and celebrate smachot with each other in the various congregations.

    That to me is far, far more important than theological nitpicking. Some of our attitudes about the “other” are based on ignorance, while others are based on realities that may once have existed but no longer do.

    On this board, there tend to be those who will cite references to some article about the “other” as “proof” without bothering to actually talk to the individual/s in question, or spend Shabbat with them (even if they live in the same community).

    Some people need to point to the mysterious “other” as a strawman/bogeyman to justify their general worldview. Their world could not exist without it.

    Others marvel at the diversity of the world, and indeed view the diversity of the Jewish community as a strength.

  10. yehudi says:

    Sorry, but these rabbis who participate in these interfaith get-togethers are committing a chilul H’. No question about that. This has become a big problem in EY; the Erev Rav are not only allowing these events to take place but are helping them. Thank H’, there are organizations that are working tirelessly against this chilul, but it’s an uphill battle. The Hellenists are back in full force everywhere. A few decades ago, this would not be possible but as we all know, since oslo, anything goes. We pray for Moshiach now!

  11. Steve Brizel says:

    What a perversion of the reasons for celebrating and commemorating Lag BaOmer! One wonders why certain Orthodox organizations and institutions continue to ignore the Trojan horse tunnel like infiltration of YCT and its ideology within their midst and refusal to view the same as beyond the pale of Orthodoxy.

  12. tzippi says:

    Reb Yid, thanks for agreeing, but now I have to ask, why isn’t it a critical issue?

    And I think cross-denominational learning can be phenomenal. I know Jewish educators and rabbanim who have and probably still do learn with rabbis of other denominations. Provided it doesn’t involve endorsing faulty teachings, or grant legitimacy to leaders who don’t deserve it. And it would only be logical that warm relationships might develop. It’s heartening to see chaverim kol Yisrael.

    Now if you’re going to extend this to clergy of other religions, I’m not a rabbi, nor have I played one on TV so I have no idea what the parameters should be. Off the cuff I can think of several people who were/are known to have cordial relationships with local clergy, such as Rabbi Moshe Sherer and yibadel l’chaim Dr. A. J. Twerki. I cannot imagine any of them ever blurring the boundaries such as was described in this article.

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