June 6-7: Trip to Tel Aviv and Encounter in Jerusalem
After much planning, and with the help of IEA in securing permits for our Palestinian members, our group finally had our long-anticipated trip to Tel Aviv, followed by an overnight stay and encounter in Jerusalem, on June 6-7. We started in the morning, picking up our Palestinian friends at the Bethlehem checkpoint, and met our two new Tel Aviv members, Mariel and Anna, at Shuk haCarmel (might add that we would have been lost without Mariel’s knowledge of Tel Aviv and her ability to figure out exactly where the4 bus driver had dropped us off.) We walked briefly through the Nachalat Binyamin area and stopped for a leisurely early lunch/coffee on the way to the beach. From there we walked to the Hassan Bek Mosque, and although we weren’t able to tour the inside, it did begin a series of informal conversations we had throughout the day about the history of interreligious cooperation in the Tel Aviv/Yafo area. After that we continued along the beachfront promenade to Jaffa, stopping for a swim (which was especially appreciated by our Palestinian members!) and ended up with a walk through Jaffa and dinner before heading back to Jerusalem. (We had planned to also visit the Arab-Jewish Community Center in Jaffa but it proved to be not possible, time-wise.) We did, however, talk quite a bit about the multifaith history of Jaffa, and pointed out many churches, mosques, and synagogues that we passed.
When we arrived back in Jerusalem we had dinner at the Austrian Hospice and then the formal part of our encounter. We had planned to discuss the issue of creation of the world (including evolution) and cosmology in each faith, and while we did indeed devote much of the meeting to that issue, an interesting thing happened: during the conversation one of our Palestinian members asked if he could briefly change the subject, and asked the Jewish members present (we unfortunately had none of our own Christian members present) and asked what we thought of issues such as martyrdom, and whether we consider someone like Baruch Goldstein to have been a martyr. This came out of the clear blue sky, and in another group, or perhaps if we all hadn’t just spent so much time together, it might have been a question which would have set people on edge, or at least led to potentially difficult topics of conversation, as members of each faith might have expected to seriously disagree with those of the other faiths present. As it happened, we all agreed with no hesitation whatsoever that Goldstein had been a murderer and certainly not a religious martyr, and as the conversation wound down, we found that we all very much shared the view that no one who deliberately attacks innocents is a martyr, or is beloved of God for those actions, or should be admired by believers. All in all – I think this trip, which had 11 of our members take part, really helped in solidifying us as a group, and we all expressed the hope to be able to have many more such trips in the future!
August 4, 2013
In attendance: Gary Cheryl, Gabi and Dan
Bob was away in the US for this meeting, and due to a logistical/communications problem, the meeting didn’t really take place as planned. Because our Muslim friends weren't there and because there was a large gathering inside the Everest, we sat at a table on the patio. During introductions Dan, a first time participant and an Orthodox Christian, recounted that he was missing a family Sabbath dinner to join us. That launched us into a discussion of Christian and Jewish Sabbath observances (along with Dan's request that we not meet on Sunday in the future.) Note from Bob: We have of course acceeded to his request!
Reported by Cheryl, with some additions by Bob
The subject of this meeting was “Adam & Eve in Each Faith.”
The Jewish presentation began with a text from the Talmud which reads as follows:
"Why was only one single man created first? (surely God could easily have created thousands of human beings, or at least a man and woman together.) To teach us that he who destroys a single soul destroys a whole world and that he who saves a single soul saves a whole world; furthermore, so no race or class may claim a nobler ancestry, saying, 'Our father is greater than yours,” since we all descended from Adam and are equally holy. In later Rabbinic thought there is a view which says that this idea is the main principle that underlies the entire Torah – we are commanded to love our neighbors as ourselves, but the reason why our neighbors, and all human beings, have moral claims on us is because they are all God’s Image.
The Islamic presentation began with the idea that the name “Adam” is from adim, meaning “earth” – this is the same in Hebrew, the word for “earth” being “adama.” Similarly, Hawa (in Arabic) and Chava (in Hebrew) both relate to the root that means “life” and is taken to mean that Eve/Hawwa/Chava was the mother of all humanity. In the Koran, both Adam and Hawwa ate of the forbidden fruit, unlike the Torah where it was only Chava. In the Koran, both Adam and Hawwa were forgiven by Allah, therefore there is no doctrine of Original Sin in Islam as there is in Christianity. The Koran 4;1 states as follows: “And God said: ‘O Mankind! Be dutiful to your Lord, Who created you from a single person (Adam) and from Him (Adam) He created his wife (Eve), and from them both He created many men and women.’”
While there are some differences between the stories as told in the Koran and Torah (such as the snake, who is present only in the Torah’s version) it was very clear to all of us that the moral lessons which we are intended to draw from the stories of Adam and Eve/Hawwa/Chava are very much the same.
Topic: Non-Abrahamic faiths in the eyes of Judaism, Christianity, & Islam
Taleb (our Muslim co-chair) began the discussion by saying that Islam sees Judaism and Christianity as “People of the Book” and also stated that there is an aya in Koran which says that the nearest people to Muslims are Jews and Christians, since they say that there is one God. Further, a believer is not allowed to coerce anyone to enter Islam; doing so is a sin. Of course this teaching does not refer to non-Abrahamic faiths, however, one of the last Abassid caliphs rules that a Muslim must respect other faiths as long as they have an unchangeable book at the heart of their faith, with rules and teachings that are not infinitely malleable. A discussion ensued at this point about the status of some non-Abrahamic faiths that worship animals or inanimate objects; it was pointed out by Taleb that such faiths do not really regard the animal or object as a god; rather they consider it as a symbol of God, who is in all things (on the Jewish side, Maimonides also made a very similar point, though it must be stressed that this certainly does not mean that it is permitted for a Jew to worship anything but God, a point which was also echoed by Taleb – Muslims worship God alone.)
At this point we discussed a quote by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, as follows: In Hinduism… “there are many gods. But the theological principles that guide belief and provide a uniformity of moral standards assume that all the deities revered in India and elsewhere are forms of, expressions of, or names for, the One True God.” In light of this, which I think all of us at the discussion believed to be true, it is possible to find a model in which the Abrahamic faiths can consider many if not all non-Abrahamic faiths that exist today to be essentially monotheistic, and in my own personal experience I think this is true for most native religions as well. We also discussed Buddhism, which does not speak in terms of God, but nonetheless falls under the above rubric in that it speaks of perceiving a deeper underlying reality which is fundamentally a Oneness. (None of us present had any real direct experience with Buddhism, but this was our general impression.)