December 9th: Sheikhs and Rabbis speak about family
The group of Sheikhs and Rabbis met to discuss the theme of family and its challenges in our time. While the group of rabbis continued from previous encounters, the group of sheikhs was mostly new – as one of the sheikhs who was previously participating now took the lead in coordinating the group and brought new people.
The rabbis opened with the description of Adam and Eve in paradise, which indicates the ideal family structure. In the modern society the family struggles, due to seeming contradiction with freedom. Freedom is a religious value – a person has to combine submission to God with freedom. Family values are helpful also to society with values of freedom since one of the most important elements for the free person is his family and success with it.
The sheikhs stressed the important of the family as the nucleus of society and therefore the strong relation between the values of the family and the society. Jews and Muslims share the warmth of the family, unlike many parts of the West in which the emphasis is on business and careers. It is important that Jewish and Muslim religious leaders will unite to cope together with the challenges, and even coordinate logistically.
On a more general note of introduction the sheikhs talked about the great importance they see in the promotion of understanding between Jews and Muslims. The Islamic faith supports every religion, especially "the people of the book". This is documented in the book, unlike the incitement that sometimes comes from politicians and people with other interests. The real Dawa (=mission of teaching) calls to treat everyone equally. It does not support one side against the other but the connection of both of them to God who gives justice to the world. Historically the Muslim sheikhs did not strive for economic or political power and their success was a result of the respect they gained by combining the work of God with social integrity.
The rabbis responded by saying that unfortunately the discourse of Jews and Muslims in the Holy Land is a discourse of fear, in which everybody looses. The challenge of our Interfaith Encounter groups is to transform this discourse to a discourse of mutual trust.
April 25th: Mutual attitude
Rabbi Riskin stressed that the basic attitude of Judaism towards Muslims is as brothers, who share the same DNA. He shared how when Efrat was built it took six years after planning and before they started the actual building as they wanted to make sure they do not take anyone's land. Moreover, even regarding vineyards that were planted during these six years, about which the High Court ruled they should be given to Efrat, – he ruled they should not be uprooted and even sent students of his yeshiva to help with their harvest. He described thirty years of true friendship with the nearby villages – sharing of weddings and funerals and always willing to help each other.
The sheikhs said that their fathers and grandfathers always told them about the good relations with the Jews and always instructed them to live with the Jews as one family. Two of them were decedents of people who saved Jews during the 1929 massacre (one of them by hiding them with his wife and daughters!). One of them shared the story of a commander in the Islamic Jihad who started to study religion and consequently changed his way and joined their group.
The rabbis spoke of how important and pleasant it is to meet each other face to face. When we received the Torah in Sinai we became a nation of visionaries – who dream about the ideal life of a person and of the world, how to live in a world full of contradictions and how to solve problems through faith and not through power.
One of the sheikhs quoted a most interesting interpretation about the roots of terror. He said that in the time of Moses there was an incident in which one tribe killed another tribe. Some of the decedents of the killed people are Muslims who support terror and perceive that Jews are on one side and Muslims are on the other side. These people do not have a wide view, they do not understand religion nor the meaning of God.
This encounter was relatively small so the conversation was more open and touched mainly on issued of leadership and inter-religious relations.
One of the sheikhs talked about the need to the leader, especially the religious leader, to be connected with the people, really interested in listening to them.
One the rabbis responded that people are afraid of peace- both Israelis and Palestinians. Therefore he thinks that rabbis and sheikhs specifically can lead the way to real peace.
A sheikh then said that as religious people we believe that the land and everything in the world belong to God and he gives them to people as he sees best. Therefore they do not hold feelings of anger or revenge.
A state is required to allow Muslims to pray and teach Islam freely. Such a state has no conflict with Islam. This seems to be the situation in Israel.
Another sheikh pointed that all people were created by God and therefore, despite the differences between the religions and views, are all brothers and sisters.
Our religious leaders dialogue group met on Sunday July 7th at the grand Everest Hotel in Beit Jala, overlooking the majestic Hebron Hills. Sitting outside on a comfortable patio, two Muslim Sheiks and a Jewish Rabbi, accompanied by Dr. Yehuda Stolov, a researcher from the University of Chicago, and a Jewish woman from the neighboring community of Har Giloh pondered the many similarities and differences between the Jewish and Muslim faiths.
Initially, the Rabbi began by explaining that the Ten Commandments were purposely given by God on Mount Sinai, and not on Mount Moriah, so that the Jews would understand that the word of God was for everyone and not just them. The Muslim Sheikhs agreed with this, and explained that they too accepted the law of Moses, who they view as a prophet, as well as many of the other Jewish prophets and figures of fame, such as Isaiah, Abraham, Solomon, David, and many others.
It was then agreed upon by both religious leaders that the Torah was divinely given. The Rabbi went on to compare the Jewish Oral Law to the Muslim Shariah, and once more everyone was in cohesive accord.
Perhaps the most significant highlight of Sunday's convivial and friendly meeting, however, was the view shared by both the Sheikhs and the Rabbis that human life is worth more than any Holy place, as God puts more value onto us as living beings than he does onto stone and places. This is why, the Rabbi remarked, the Jewish people are able to consider Tesha B'Av (the commemoration of the destruction of the Jewish temples) as a holiday: because God saw the destruction of a building instead of a people.
We ended just as amicably as we began, and contact information was shared over tea and biscuits. Before we left, somebody remarked that it is a privilege and blessing that we were able to bring each other together to talk and build bonds. In response to this, one of the Sheikhs then added that it was not just us, but God Himself who brought us together.
East of Jerusalem Interfaith Encounter
Second encounter – February 1st 2013
The second encounter we held, unlike the first, in Almog Junction. Since there were delays in receiving the permits we could not hold the encounter in Jerusalem and agreed to hold it in Almog Junction. This was indeed more comfortable for those who live in Jericho but several participants who live in Nablus could not join.
The "official" theme was the holy day in Islam and Judaism – Shabbat for the Jews and Friday for the Muslims. We asked the participants to describe the details of the day, its obligations and commandments as well as the idea behind.
We began with presenting Friday in Islam. There is no prohibition to work on Friday but the day is dedicated to rest, family and prayer. The central prayer takes place at noon and includes prayers and sermons.
We then spoke about the Jewish Shabbat. Shabbat is a day of rest but there is emphasis on avoiding productive work, such as writing, building etc. In the modern time the prohibition also includes switching lights on and riding a car.
This statement that the prohibitions of Shabbat include daily issues as riding a car, spurred wonder among some of the participants. Therefore the conversation continued to flow in this direction – are these actions forbidden in any case? Even when needed for work? These questions led to discussion on the quality of the Divine command – do we need to understand the rational behind it or are there things we do just because God commanded? Answers were varied but we agreed that many of the actions we do because we were commanded to do them and we believe in the one who commanded us.
This discussion about the quality of the commandments led to a conversation about the different ways to interpret the Torah and especially about the fact that the commitment in Judaism is not only to the Torah as it is written but also to its interpretations by the sages along the generations. We agreed to return to this subject in the future for a longer discussion.
The conversation continued and following the question of the relations between the written Torah and its interpretations we started to talk about the way the Jewish Torah is perceived in Islam. Some of the participants were surprised to discover that many Biblical events are mentioned in the Quran and that it explicitly refers to the Jews and their Torah. It was explained that the Quran does not annul the prophets before it – Moses and Jesus – and its aim is to unite these religions. The revelations that preceded Muhammad and their teachings are also holy and important. After a short discussion about these statements and their meaning we understood that Islam accepts the Jewish Torah but not all the interpretations that were given to it during the generations, believing that some of them include some errors. We decided that in one of the coming encounters we will bring a detailed resource page with references of the Quran to the Torah and the Jews.
Encounter on November 5th: Religious and Secular
We met at 6pm at the Austrian Hospice in the Old City of Jerusalem.
We set in a circle of 14 people and started by introducing ourselves to each other. We spoke about the mutual attitudes between religious and secular people in both contexts. At 6:30pm Moatasem started by presenting the issue from the perspective of Islam and then Moshe presented it from the Jewish side. Following the presentations we had a lively conversation about the theme, including many questions about each other's society and answers to them.
Finally we received coffee and cake. We concluded and fare-welled at 8pm.
Encounter on January 21st: Leadership in Religion
The encounter took place at the Austrian Hospice in the Old City of Jerusalem. It started at 5pm – with the Muslim group, the Jewish group and several IEA guests.
The theme of the encounter was leadership in religion. First we held a round of acquaintance and then Moshe started by presenting the theme from a Jewish perspective, until 6pm. The discussion began, questions were asked and then we broke for coffee. Returning from the coffee break Moatasem presented the theme from an Islamic perspective from 6:30pm to 7pm. Again a conversation started and questions were asked and answered. At 8pm we finished the encounter.
This amazingly unique group of Yeshiva students from Siach Yeshiva and Palestinian students from Hebron met again on September 24th.
It was planned to take place in the Austrian Hospice in East Jerusalem but as some of the Palestinian friends did not receive permits we moved it to English Cake Café on Gush Etzion junction. We met at 6pm and were 5 Palestinian friends and 4 Jewish friends.
The theme of the encounter was prayer in both religions. First we introduced ourselves and the Moatasem presented the theme of prayer in Islam. Then people asked some questions and made some comments and then we broke for coffee and cake.
After that Moshe presented the theme from the Jewish perspective. We asked him some questions and after a while we concluded and went home.
On Wednesday, August 29th 2012, we had a great encounter at Ein Walaje, known also as Ein Hinia.
We met at 5pm, seven Palestinians and six Israelis. Everyone was asked to bring with them refreshments and we had a wonderful dinner, which included pizza, majadara, salads, cookies, fruit and more.
We talked about Ramadan and Eid el-Fitr and about the social significance of these Holidays. We also talked about the coming Jewish Holidays – Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and Sukkoth. The conversation was free and flew also to other directions.
Salma, a member of the group who is a tour guide, guided us through a short tour in the area where we saw the spring itself as well as abandoned houses from before 48/67 that used to belong to the Walaje village. The conversation went a bit to politics and history and it was very interesting. The next encounter will probably take place in Jerusalem.
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