Website to Bring Sacred Writings Together

013114_mosaic2It’s increasingly easy to access a Jewish text online or read a commentary on a smartphone. But what if you’re curious about what Christian tradition says about a particular Jewish concept? Or what if a Muslim wants to know the biblical source of a verse in the Quran?

Mosaicverse, an online project in development by two area Jews, aims to interconnect texts and commentaries from the Jewish, Christian and Muslim traditions and create social space for users to discuss them.

“Sacred writings didn’t develop in isolation from each other but in conversation with each other,” said Rabbi Doug Heifetz of Oseh Shalom in Laurel, Md., who founded Mosaicverse with Baltimore native George Wielechowski. They want to re-create that conversation “so people can grow in faith and wisdom together.”

The pair’s approach is ecumenical and liberal.

“There’s a dearth of resources for pluralistic scriptural exploration by theme, by character, by keyword,” said Wielechowski, a fifth-year student at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and communications director for the Institute for Christian and Jewish Studies in Baltimore.

Mosaicverse, which has not gone live, has received 13,000 likes on Facebook. Heifetz and Wielechowski are building the technology to run the site and are gathering a team of experts representing the three monotheistic religions. The two spent a year researching open-source texts to which the site can link.

They’re also raising funds from philanthropists and entrepreneurs.

“It takes time to find angels who have a passion for advancing the interreligious community,” said Wielechowski.

Through crowd funding, they’ve raised about $5,000 toward a $12,000 goal. Heifetz said Mosaicverse has a potential market of $67 million, from advertising, affiliate marketing, subscription fees and other revenue streams.

A sample Web page illustrates how a search for a word, phrase, name, event or idea can lead to a discussion with other users. The page shows the results of a search for “Jacob wrestling with the angel” — not a term that the Torah uses, Wielechowski pointed out. “It’s a trope, something that our culture has created in our minds.”

Mosaicverse provides the biblical text, in this case Genesis 32:24-27. Click on a verse, and a page opens that includes related texts from Muslim and Christian sources.

Heifetz and Wielechowski want the site to be approachable to the lay visitor.

“People are intimidated by scripture, so we added a layer of commentary from folks we know who have had uncommon success” writing for lay audiences, including Karen Armstrong, author of A History of God, and former British Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, said Wielechowski.

Finally, the site features a social component: study groups and a “human-powered knowledge base” built by user comments.

013114_mosaicHeifetz said there are advantages to learning about traditions other than one’s own.

“We see our own religious traditions much better by seeing how they’re reflected in other faiths,” he said.

Take the story of the binding of Isaac — Genesis 22:1-19 — in which God calls Abraham to sacrifice his son and the patriarch obeys, an event that has puzzled and disturbed Jews through the ages.

“In the Jewish reading of the story, Abraham seems so painfully obedient,” said Heifetz.

The Quran tells the story too. But in reading the Muslim version, Heifetz pointed out, “our Abraham seems hesitant in comparison. His tension becomes more clear.”

Wielechowski said he would like to see religious texts become more like common property than the sole possession of a single faith.

“The barriers between faiths are conventions, like most barriers we build — barriers between religious and secular and between religious faiths,” he said. “Hopefully there will be a day when it’s just called wisdom.”

dholzel@washingtonjewishweek.com

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