Dialogue Is Understanding

May 31, 2013
BY Simone Ellin
Rabbi David Rosen discusses interfaith relations for today’s world
Photo Provided Rabbi David Rosen says interfaith dialogue is more crucial than ever.  He will speak at Beth El as part of the Institute for Christian & Jewish Studies 25th anniversary celebration on June 5.

Photo Provided
Rabbi David Rosen says interfaith dialogue is more crucial than ever.
He will speak at Beth El as part of the Institute for Christian & Jewish Studies 25th anniversary celebration on June 5.

Wow! What a resume!
Rabbi David Rosen is international director of interreligious affairs of the American Jewish Committee and its Heilbrunn Institute for International Interreligious Understanding, a past chairman of the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations, a former chief rabbi of Ireland, a papal knight and a Commander of the British Empire.

And now, best of all, as a part of the Institute for Christian & Jewish Studies (ICJS) 25th Anniversary Speaker Series, Rabbi Rosen will visit Beth El Congregation on Wednesday, June 5, to present “From Religious Intolerance to Creative Engagement,” a talk on how to minimize the conflicts that arise as a result of religious pluralism.

Rabbi Rosen spoke with the JT while visiting Israel.

JT: Some say that today is a time of increased religious intolerance  worldwide. Can you talk about that trend?

Rabbi Rosen: I don’t know if that’s completely true. Like any social trend, any statement, it is only partially true. Never in human history has there been more human collaboration, more interfaith and interreligious organizations [and] less isolation. There has never been a time when people have been aware of human dignity, women’s dignity, the dignity of those who are living alternative lifestyles.

What is probably true is that we are more aware of violence and intolerance. Our expectations [for tolerance] have never been higher. To every reaction, there is a counter-reaction. When the world becomes more liberal, there’s a conservative reaction, and when conservative, there’s a liberal reaction. I think the world is a better place than ever before, but it just takes one crazy person to destroy everything. In the age of instant communication, we need to find a way to access the beauty of technology without its threatening aspects. It is the most exciting world ever with the most opportunity, but at the same time, we are more endangered; we are more empowered, yet more insecure.

Where does religion fit in?
If religion is meant to be such a blessing, why is it also such a curse? When there is conflict, religion can be misused. Religion relates to identity. When we feel secure in our identity, we feel expansive to help our neighbor. When we feel insecure, we see our neighbors as potential demons; we demonize others.

What’s your impression of the intolerance within the Jewish community here and in Israel?
I am not an expert on this, but just from what I have observed, the [ultra-Orthodox] used to be a very small segment. Now they are growing and becoming more assertive and confident. I don’t think the basic attitudes have changed.

You were the chief rabbi of Ireland. What’s the Jewish community like there?
You have to remember, I was chief rabbi 30 years ago. Then, it was a vibrant community. But like all small communities, it is dying. It does not have a long-term future. On the other hand, it is the only Diaspora that has given Israel both a chief rabbi and a president. There have also been Jewish mayors in major cities in Ireland. Jewish life is not really determined by numbers.

What are some of the ideas you plan to put forth in your talk at Beth El?
The reality is that interfaith dialogue is more critical than ever before. It is terribly important, but it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. So we also need to utilize modern technology to educate people, to teach people to see the “other” as another person. In addition, common action, coming together to work at a food kitchen or Habitat for Humanity. When we come together with people of other faiths, we build understanding. JT

Rabbi David Rosen will speak at Beth El Congregation, 8100 Park Heights Ave., on Wednesday, June 5, at 7:30 p.m. For additional information, visit icjs.org/ 25th-anniversary/speaker-series.

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