Making Dialogue Matter
ffirmative dialogue among people of different
faiths is the gateway to knowing and accepting one
another. Interfaith conversation has the potential
to elevate the richness of Metro Detroit, home to significant
Jewish, Christian and Muslim communities.
But what elicits and furthers such dialogue?
Rabbi Joseph Klein, entangled in an
internal struggle over Muslim imams,
mosques and organizations that legiti-
mize Muslim extremists, thinks the
starting point is mutual understand-
ing, affirmation and appreciation of
ea _ ch other's faith and belief systems.
He's on to something: Because
religious communities differentiate
and define themselves by their beliefs
and values, religion must be the focus
of beginning discussion. At issue
should be how we collectively view the
Tanach, the New Testament and the Koran.
"We should be challenging each other with difficult pas-
sages in these, our foundational texts — pas-
sages that create interfaith barriers:' Rabbi
Klein declared in his Jan. 26 sermon at Temple
Emanu-El in Oak Park.
Rabbi Klein cited references to the Chosen
People in Hebrew Scripture, to Jesus calling the
Jews "children of Satan" in the Christian Bible
and to Koranic passages that curse the Jews "for
the blasphemies they utter."
He urged that Jews, Christians and Muslims
challenge each other and each other's holy books
— and not let go of a passage, belief or principle until each
person in the dialogue not only is sure what the others think
about it, but also is comfortable with those interpretations.
Followers of Judaism, Christianity or Islam only can have con-
fidence in their beliefs, texts and values if they engage in open
and honest dialogue that's cross-pollinating. Such dialogue,
the rabbi said, is the road to achieving interfaith understand-
ing and respect.
Rabbi Klein's deduction makes theoretical sense. But I
don't believe that open and honest dialogue is possible on a
wide enough scale yet to have an impact. Too many Jews fear
inciting retribution for decrying anti.-Jewish or anti-Zionist
sentiment. And too many Muslims won't denounce terrorist
organizations and their theological supporters because they
fear alienating their more-militant peers.
Seeds Of Mistrust
Rabbi Klein astutely described why productive dialogue is
rare: It would create vulnerability because someone at least
as smart (or clever?) would push the others to explain, jus-
tify and satisfactorily interpret the "truths" that usually go
unchallenged within the walls of a religious community.
Therein lies why inter-religious debate too often disin-
tegrates. Like Rabbi Klein says, deep, direct dialogue won't
occur unless each side appreciates and trusts the other, which
seldom happens. "It's far less threatening for clergy to plan
community Thanksgiving celebrations and Martin Luther
King Jr. commemorations — not that there isn't also value in
those programs:' Rabbi Klein said.
Interfaith events are part of the multicultural fabric of
Metro Detroit, but that's also the hurdle — they thrive at
surface level with little else to penetrate the bedrock of our
Last Yom Kippur, Rabbi Klein said that he no longer could
engage in Muslim-Christian-Jewish dialogue or programs
if such exchanges didn't address theological issues driving
Muslim attacks on Jews, Israel and others. He argued that the
"time has come when we must pointedly and purposefully
oppose the political correctness of pretending that this ter-
rorist threat is not from radical, militant Islamists driven by
a dangerous, fundamental theology emanating from the Arab
Middle East in general and [Persian] Iran specifically"
Still At Odds
Four months later, Rabbi Klein maintains his difficult but
principled position. He also has an answer for Muslim lead-
ers who ask what he would like them to say when he seeks
clear acknowledgment of what he calls "mutually authentic
religious systems:' He wants them to embrace this powerful
statement seeking co-religious affirmation:
"We regard the covenant between God and Israel, ascribed
to Moses and interpreted through the ages by Jewish
communities, to be a unique and authentic expression
of faith in God, standing apart from, and equal to, the
unique and authentic expressions of the Christians and
"We acknowledge the sufficiency of Hebrew Scripture
and rabbinic literature as the foundation of Jewish
faith, an expanding foundation that can only be guided
and directed from within the Jewish community.
"We also affirm the value, indeed the necessity, of
engaging each other in interfaith dialogue. Because we
understand and experience our path to God in such different
ways, we may discover insights about finding faith and belief,
and experiencing covenant."
At The Core
Rabbi Klein's perception that Islam promotes a triumphant
theology, a superseding revelation, is scary but not far-
fetched. Islam, he maintains, "identifies itself as the final
expression of God's historical message to humanity and thus
claims for itself the right to pass judgment on how well the
lesser faiths of Judaism and Christianity fulfill their covenants
I support interfaith events that bind us, even if only
minimally. But I cling to the hope that moderate Muslims
en masse will affirm what is true and what is right when it
comes to the divisive Middle East. American Muslims who
are less strident reject Hezbollah's call for Israel's destruction.
But when so few of their leaders have the resolve to condemn
such a call, a pall is cast over the whole Muslim community.
Israel's right to exist, prosper and protect itself is absolute.
Until that's a universal certainty among Muslim leadership, I
join Rabbi Klein in feeling that religious coexistence marked
by integrity and good will remain elusive. I 1
Must interfaith work exist only
I — •
tX amid common values?
Is Islam's triumphant theology
threatening to you?
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February 15. 2007