The Words of the Hirschfeld Family

Jerusalem Forum on Interfaith Cooperation Addresses Sacred Texts

Nurit Hirschfeld
December 20, 2012
UPF -- Israel

Jerusalem, Israel -- The second convening of the Jerusalem Forum for Interfaith and Cooperation among Religions took place at the Mishkenot Sha'ananim, a magnificent location overlooking the old city of Jerusalem. A group of 13 scholars and religious leaders representing Judaism, Christianity, and Islam gathered on December 20 for studying sacred texts and conducting a candid discussion.

One of the outcomes of the first meeting of the forum was the decision to regularly study together the holy scriptures and main thoughts of the various religions. Thus, after a short self-introduction we conducted three short sessions: reading texts from Islam, Judaism, and Christianity and learning from them.

Starting with Islam, a short presentation about the five pillars of Islam was given: Muhammad, peace be upon him, was the last prophet who was sent by God. The five pillars are of Islam are the creed, five daily prayers, charity, Ramadan fast, and Haj – pilgrimage to Mecca.

Continuing with Judaism, a paper of several Jewish texts was given to the participants, under the subject of "Viewing Peace in Judaism," which addressed the conflict between the will for peace and the need to follow an absolute truth and lead a life of absolute justice.

Concluding with Christianity, a paper with several Biblical excerpts was circled among the participants to help understand the connection between the role of Christ as a gateway for the people and in correlation to the role of the temple.

Following the presentations by an imam, rabbi, and priest, a vigorous discussion took place. The following points were deliberated:

As in the first meeting of the forum, the issue of the status of women in religion was brought up. The issue was dealt with indirectly, since it was not an official topic of the sessions. Two major views among the participants were expressed: some thought that the status of women in their religion as well as in other religions should be reformed, while the others expressed satisfaction with the way their religion treats woman, claiming that any bad treatment of women is a misuse of the holy scriptures.

To properly address this issue, it was decided to invite for the next meeting the wives of the religious leaders so they could take part in this important discussion.

Regarding forging a path for peace, some participants expressed difficulties within their own religion that create barriers for dialogue and peace. Others saw religion as a natural road for peace and harmony, especially among those stemming from the same Abrahamic faith and believing in the same one God who calls for peace and love among all human beings.

In the first meeting of the forum, Sheik Samir Aasi from Acre touched the hearts of the participants in sharing his strong belief in peace and striving to achieve it even at the cost of opposition among his own people. In this meeting, it was Sheik Halil Elbaz from the Bedouin town Tel-Sheva in the Negev who moved the participants, by sharing with the forum about the haj pilgrimage he made last November to Mecca, and the deep religious experience he had there. The participants were very impressed and thanked him for sharing his religious insights with them.

Several questions were raised. Regarding Islam, would it be possible to give charity also to the needy people from other religions? As for Christianity, could the idea of unity be considered among not only the followers of Jesus but other religions as well? Another question regarded a central sentence from the Jewish prayer that asks God to bring peace upon Israel, disregarding the rest of the world.

Dr. Nurit Hirschfeld, the director of UPF's Jerusalem Office for Interfaith and Cooperation among Religions, concluded the discussion by expressing her wish to continually strive for a deeper level of dialogue among the religions and engage in a process of self-reflection to facilitate that goal.

The warm and pleasant atmosphere felt throughout the meeting made time fly by and brought all participants to join in a formidable lunch, over which the lively discussion continued and new friendships were forged. 

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