Rabbi David Rosen: On the importance of Interfaith Dialogue
I became involved in interfaith relations as a very young Rabbi in Cape Town South Africa, at the height of apartheid. It was very important to me to be seen to be part of the struggle against the iniquitous system and to build bridges of mutual engagement and respect with the other races and communities in South African. One of the few ways one could do so without immediately running foul of the authorities at the time, was through interreligious engagement. So I initiated the establishment of an interreligious (Jewish-Christian-Muslim) forum, out of a concern for social justice. However, as I became involved in this endeavour, I discovered to my surprise how ignorant my interlocutors from the other religions were about my own faith and tradition. But in all honesty, I discovered that I was pretty ignorant about them myself and had many misconceptions about them as well. I realised that not only was it essential to have such engagement to prevent misconceptions and negative prejudice from taking root; but that if I want others to understand me, I needed to understand them. In other words, interfaith dialogue is an essential activity in combatting ignorance and bigotry and promoting a harmonious and peaceful society that our religions aspire for.
Beyond that I discovered with even greater awareness of how much our religious traditions share – above all in terms of ethical values and aspirations. If we are really devoted to those values, then surely we have an obligation to work together with those that share those values, enabling us to be even greater than the sum of our different parts – not least of all in the promotion of peace and the protection of our common home, the planet earth.
But not least of all, interreligious dialogue enables one to encounter the Divine Presence beyond our own religious traditions and experience. That is a great gift that enhances our spiritual lives and often stimulates us to know our own heritages with even greater depth and insight.
It was my privilege to continue this work in my position as Chief Rabbi of Ireland and since returning to Israel in 1985, have been able to do so internationally through my position with the American Jewish Committee and my deep involvement in the global multireligious world. I hope I have contributed in a meaningful way to this sacred endeavour, but there is no doubt in my mind that I have been profoundly enriched by it, and it has been – and continues to be - my great privilege to work in this vineyard.
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Rabbi David Rosen is the former Chief Rabbi of Ireland, and currently serves as the American Jewish Committee's International Director of Interreligious Affairs. He is an international president of Religions for Peace; and serves as the only Jewish representative on the board of directors of the KAICIID Dialogue Centre.