PHILOSOPHY PATHWAYS ISSN 2043-0728
Issue number 100 14th March 2005
I. Tough Truths for Jews, Christians and Muslims: a platform statement
II. 'Many Israels' Sermon by Rabbi Elizabeth Tikvah Sarah
III. 'Pricked by Racial Hatred' by Michael Levy
A few years ago, on an Easter visit to London with my wife, I had an experience which profoundly affected my attitudes on the question of peace and religious toleration. As a Jew married to a Catholic, I have always been more than ready to preach tolerance. But, as I discovered, my high-minded philosophical views about religion had never been fully put to the test.
Of all the services in the year, the one church service that a Catholic must not miss is Good Friday. I'd expected to spend a pleasant couple of hours in the Spring sunshine while my wife attended to her devotions. Then, as we reached the church door, she said, 'Will you come in with me?'
Good Friday. For Jews, that day has particularly bitter memories. Memories of tales told to me as a young child of mobs inflamed by hatred preached from the pulpit dragging Jews from their homes. School teachers coldly talking about the 'killers of Christ'. Now, it seemed to me that I stood at the mouth of the lion's den.
What did I expect? The service was sombre, moving. There were no words of hatred. Instead, I felt the reverberations of the intense sense of unity of the congregation as they pondered a two thousand year old historical incident which defines their faith. Then the priest delivered a sermon which I shall never forget.
The theme of the sermon was peace and justice. In the Middle East, then as now, all the talk was of 'peace with justice'. But justice demands that the guilty be punished. And who would there be left, the priest asked rhetorically, who did not have some part in the guilt? Yet how can there be peace without justice? The New Testament teaches that peace can only be achieved through forgiveness and reconciliation. That was Christ's message to humanity. We cannot, and should not forget. But we can forgive and beg for forgiveness.
That experience was formative for me. Years later, when I wrote 'The Ethics of Dialogue' and 'Ethical Dialogue and the Limits of Tolerance' (http:---), it was the spirit of that sermon that I tried to recapture. One cannot be fully human and lack a sense of justice. Yet the ethical demand to open up to this particular other, to strive to grasp how things appear from the other's perspective, however painful that may be, is higher than blind justice.
This is the 100th issue of the Philosophy Pathways e-journal. This time, I wanted to do something practical for the cause of peace. E-mail me to let me know what you think. Or, better, write a philosophical reply to one of the pieces published here. Let us continue the dialogue.
I. TOUGH TRUTHS FOR JEWS, CHRISTIANS AND MUSLIMS: A PLATFORM STATEMENT
This platform statement arises from a theological group of Jews, Christians and Muslims, most of whom have been meeting for twelve years. We feel that it is time to make a public statement in order to express our shared concerns. We are convinced of the need to emphasize both our shared belief in God and the shared moral and spiritual values of our three faiths. Moreover, we wish to draw attention to the urgent need for interreligious understanding and cooperation so as to promote a more just, peaceful and ecologically sustainable world.
Given the origins of this platform statement in the dialogue between people from three traditions, it is being published simultaneously in three journals associated with the three traditions. We hope that many readers will respond to its contents.
While rejecting the widespread notion that religion is always and necessarily divisive, we believe that Jews, Christians and Muslims should acknowledge some unwelcome truths:
1. At various times in history relations between the three
communities have been marred by discrimination and
violence, and within each community religion has also been
a source of sectarian strife.
2. In Jewish, Christian and Muslim scriptures and
traditions one can find passages that have often been
interpreted to support exclusive truth claims and a sense
3. In practice, each faith has been notably self-centred
and lacking in self-criticism, claiming for itself a
superior position and a unique authority. Humility has
often been notably lacking, and in its place arrogance and
triumphalism have been all too evident.
There is a real danger now that these unwelcome truths, combined with political injustice, human rights abuses, poverty, hatred, fear, ignorance, globalization, war as an instrument of imperial policy, and the failure to respect international legal or ethical principles, will aggravate conflicts, intolerance, and even anarchy around the world.
Jews, Christians and Muslims must not allow their religion to be abused in this way by exclusivist ideologues. We must make a stand together for peace, understanding, compassion and justice. We must welcome religious diversity and concede that no single religion can claim a monopoly of Truth. We must each put our own house in order, recognizing what we have in common, accepting that our scriptures and histories are interconnected, and acknowledging our interdependence. Each faith has its contribution to make both separately and together: indeed, at this era in history we need each other far more than in the past, and the future of our world demands that we teach to our communities the value and benefits of dialogue, cooperation and interdependence.
Jews, Christians and Muslims can be inspired to change their mind-sets for the better by considering the following welcome truths:
1. We worship and serve the God who created and sustains
the universe, the One God of Abraham, Moses, Jesus and
Muhammad. Behind our differences lies the unity of the One.
2. We share the same general code of ethics, which condemns
murder, theft and adultery, and demands that we secure the
rights of those who have been denied their rights, to care
for those in need, the sick, the suffering, the widow and
the orphan, to welcome the stranger, the outcast and the
persecuted, and to offer shelter and refuge to the homeless
and the dispossessed.
3. Each of us inherits a broad and rich religious tradition
within which many different views can coexist.
We believe that:
1. Religious and cultural diversity should be valued and
celebrated, in the full knowledge that each faith tradition
is unique and invaluable.
2. As human beings with human limitations, we will never be
able to grasp the full meaning of the Truth or comprehend
3. Our respective religious traditions are capable of
exploring the implications of new insights and dilemmas
presented by modem science and technology and that we have
a duty to reinterpret our religion with this aim in mind.
4. Our religious scriptures must not be used in a
simplistic way; they need careful interpretation, bearing
in mind both their historical context and their relevance
to present needs.
5. Our religious traditions can best flourish in just,
pluralistic and democratic societies, where there is
freedom of worship and where the rights of all individuals
6. Missionary work which provokes antagonism and resentment
should be strongly discouraged.
7. God is the true Owner of everything, that we are finite,
and that all that we have is a loan or gift from God; we
therefore have a duty to look after this planet and protect
its natural resources and its variety of interdependent life
forms, for the sake of future generations.
8. The sanctity of all life is defiled by war, terrorism,
genocide, torture, rape, extra-judicial killings, and
detention without trial.
9. Scripture should not be used to justify violence,
oppression, exploitation, military aggression, or claims of
10. That which binds us to God also binds us to one another
as a single human family.
What needs to be done?
1. There is a desperate need for education in Judaism,
Christianity and Islam. Too many are ignorant of the
teachings of their own faith, and know even less about the
other faiths. Our day schools and religious institutions
have a duty to teach not only adherence to our own
traditions but also knowledge of other traditions, placing
special emphasis on the ethical aspects and what they have
2. Through school programmes and the mass media, social
harmony should be promoted by making us more aware of the
contribution to civilization made by other religions,
cultures and civilizations.
3. Jews, Christians and Muslims should work together as
equal partners. Equal respect and theological space should
be accorded to each faith. A just and peaceful world can
only be achieved in partnership.
4. Jewish, Christian and Muslim scholars should be made
more aware of their duty to demonstrate how their sacred
texts and religious traditions are relevant to current
5. Since it is God's will that we should strive to become,
as best we can, the servants of his love and compassion, we
should seek to resolve disputes by means of forgiveness,
empathy and reconciliation, and encourage others to do the
same. We should all be able to answer affirmatively the
question posed by the other: 'Do you know what causes me
6. We should refute exclusivist perversions of Judaism,
Christianity and Islam that glorify war and aggressive
behaviour, and we should condemn those who spread false
stereotypes of the Other.
7. We, as Jews, Christians and Muslims, have a duty to
challenge the misuse of power and to demand that
governments tackle the roots of terrorism, using diplomacy
as a first resort, with respect for human dignity, human
rights and the due process of law. We have a duty to defend
the right to asylum where this is wrongfully withheld, and
to seek to abide by ethical and humanitarian principles
both at home and abroad.
8. We have a duty to truth and reconciliation which demands
of us that we recognize we are all the victims of different
and irreconcilable accounts of current and past public
events, and that only together can we build shared
narratives based on accurate testimony and records.
We can only achieve our vision of a repaired and transformed world by pooling the best of our respective teachings and talents in partnership and shared endeavour. Only full and effective partnership can end conflict and bring peace, with opportunities to ponder together the wonder of creation and the mystery of God.
Rabbi Tony Bayfield, Rabbi Michael Hilton, Rabbi Jonathan Magonet, Rabbi Elizabeth Tikvah Sarah, Rabbi Norman Solomon
Revd Eric Allen, Revd John Bowden, Preb Marcus Braybrooke, Revd Alan Race, Dr Jenny Sankey
Mr Rumman Ahmed, Dr Roger Abdul Wahhab Boase, Imam Abduljalil Sajid, Dr Ataullah Siddiqui
II. 'MANY ISRAELS' SERMON BY RABBI ELIZABETH TIKVAH SARAH
At this time two weeks ago, I was with the fellow-members of a Liberal Judaism/ Rabbis for Human Rights Mission led by LJ Chief Executive, Rabbi Danny Rich, at Congregation Or Chadash in Haifa. We were looking around the building following the Shabbat morning service, which began at 9.30am. After an amazing week that included coming face to face with the most painful realities of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians it was a very refreshing, if slightly surreal experience: A large, beautiful well-equipped synagogue with a staff of twenty-five people, including kindergarten and youth club facilities and a space for under-privileged mothers to come together and receive weekly support.
Rabbi Edgar Nof, an energetic fund-raiser for his congregation that has just celebrated its 40th anniversary, took us on a tour between Bar Mitzvahs - the next one was scheduled to start at noon. As it happens he conducts four individual B'nei Mitzvah services every Shabbat - that's how popular Progressive Judaism has become amongst 'secular' Israelis in recent years. What is more Congregation Or Chadash is not the only progressive synagogue in Haifa: The previous evening, we attended Ohel Avraham, which is connected with the Leo Baeck Education Centre. The Erev Shabbat celebration began at 5.30pm, with a twenty-minute special Shabbat activity on the bima involving dozens of small children - who then left with their parents before the service got underway.
There are so many Israels to visit when you go to Israel. In just under a week, we glimpsed several fragments: progressive Jewish Israel; orthodox Jewish Israel; the Israel of Jewish-Arab co-existence; the Israel of a new Arab-Jewish shared existence; the Israel that occupies the West Bank; the Israel that challenges the harassment of Palestinians; the Israel that works together with Palestinians to reach a peaceful and just settlement; the Israel that pursues justice in a variety of different settings, on behalf of all minority and marginal groups within the society, both Jewish and non-Jewish.
One fragment: In addition to visiting progressive synagogues in Tel Aviv and Haifa, our group of thirteen - that included an Imam from South London - went to the Leo Baeck Education Centre in Haifa and were taken on a little field trip to see a couple of the projects it supports in the city. One of these is a The Clore Neighbourhood Centre in Ein Ha'yam, one of the few areas where Arabs and Jews live in the same neighbourhood. A lovely building refurbished by the Vivien Duffield Foundation, the Centre includes a games room, an Internet Cafe, a dance studio, a television room, a playground and football area. Explaining that the Jewish and Arab residents in the locality have opportunities for meeting together as well as separately, both the Jewish Israeli co-ordinator, a young woman in her thirties, and a younger Muslim social worker, holding her three year old on her knee, talked to us about the various activities that take place at the Centre - in particular, those for young people. Because the Arab youngsters are already fluent in Hebrew as well as Arabic, the organisers are planning to run a programme in street Arabic for Jewish Israeli youngsters, for whom Arabic is only compulsory up to the 7th or 8th grade. While we were at the Centre we met a group of a dozen Arab six year olds who were having an English lesson that involved playing shop.
It wasn't all quite so heart-warming: Waiting around all morning with Palestinian farmers at a dusty check-point in the middle of the village of Baka, divided by the Separation Barrier, while the army deliberated about whether or not to open the gate and let the farmers go through to work their land. In the end - after about three and a half hours - the army refused. Visiting Palestinian areas in East Jerusalem, and seeing where houses had been demolished by the army because the owners did not have the necessary building permits that are virtually impossible to obtain. Spending forty-five minutes waiting for our transport at the check-point outside Ramallah amid the potholes and the dust: Of course, the check-points fulfil an essential security function, but watching the build-up of people and vehicles queuing up to pass through made me aware of the impact of this security measure on the thousands upon thousands of ordinary Palestinians who spend hours every day waiting on either side.
It was depressing seeing it all - and listening to the Director of Rabbis for Human Rights, orthodox Rabbi, Arik Ascherman, who is currently on trial for standing in front of Army bulldozers, relating the many different instances of army harassment that he had witnessed. But then: meeting with Saab Erekat, the Chief Palestinian Negotiator, at his Headquarters in the free atmosphere of the pleasant Palestinian-controlled town of Jericho, and listening to him speak about his unshakable commitment to the peace process; meeting with Yasser Abed Rabbo, the Head of the Palestinian Peace Coalition in the midst of conflict-battered Ramallah, and hearing about the on-going Palestinian effort to achieve an independent Palestinian state by peaceful means: Both men were furious about the way in which the Separation Barrier deviates from the Green Line and cuts into swathes of Palestinian territory. Both men were angry about Ariel Sharon's unilateral, patronising approach and the way he delivers ultimata without entering into negotiation. Both men were frustrated by the reluctance of the Israeli authorities to change some of the 'facts on the ground' to make the life of ordinary Palestinians a little easier - like removing the check-point outside Jericho, which is completely unnecessary. Both men were well aware that in deciding to withdraw from Gaza, Sharon was planning to hold onto as much land in the West Bank as possible. And yet both men remained totally committed to a peaceful solution. As Saab Erekat put it: 'It's a win, win, or it's a lose, lose situation; either: both Israelis and Palestinians have a chance to live, or: both Israelis and Palestinians continue to die.'
Both Saab Erekat and Yasser Abed Rabbo were impressive - but the stature of another Palestinian, who lives in a small village on a hill in the midst of the territories, was even more compelling: Nawaf Suf spent thirteen years in an Israeli jail for his involvement in a Palestinian militant group. When he was released he vowed to pursue the Palestinian cause by peaceful means - despite the fact that his brother, Issa Suf, was shot in the spine by a rubber bullet while looking after older brother's children, and is now paralysed. As we sat on comfortable chairs and sofas in their bright living room, drinking, first, mint tea, and then thick black coffee, listening to Nawaf Suf talk, I watched Issa Suf's impassive face as he sat in his wheel-chair. At the end, one member of our group asked him if he was also committed to peace. He smiled slightly, a small resigned smile, and said simply, 'Yes. I agree with him'. Nawaf Suf finished his comments by telling us that his son - who was only a year and half year's old when his father went to prison - is currently being detained by the Israeli authorities because one of his acquaintances was suspected of planning a terrorist attack.
Courage; tenacity; determination; commitment to humanitarian values - these were the qualities we encountered when we met both Israelis and Palestinians. But what struck me most about being there, meeting people, visiting different places, was that it's actually impossible to speak simply of 'Israelis and Palestinians'. From an external vantage point all you see when you look at Israel is the conflict between these two peoples; when you visit Israel it becomes clear just how diverse Israeli society is - and it's not just a matter of Jewish diversity: One point two million Palestinians live inside Israel - the Palestinians who remained in their villages and towns in 1948. Mostly Muslim, but also Christian, these Palestinian Israelis - who until recently have been called 'Arabs' - have no intention of leaving their homes and going to live in the State of Palestine when it is established. Their attachment is to the place where they live and have lived for generations. What they want is to receive equal treatment as Israeli citizens within Israeli society.
It makes sense. It sounds simple. But, in fact, ensuring full equality for Israel's Palestinian citizens will be far more difficult to achieve than creating a Palestinian state. I hadn't really thought about the issue much - until our whirl-wind tour took us to the Jewish-Arab Center for Peace, established in 1963 at Givat Haviva, the Institute for Advanced Studies of the Kibbutz Artzi Federation, which is situated just a couple of miles from the Green Line, in the narrow strip, south east of Haifa. There we met three people - two Jewish and one Palestinian Israeli - who talked to us about a variety of different projects that bring Palestinian Israelis and Jewish Israelis together, encompassing encounter groups, peace education, teacher training, community leadership programmes, Arabic Studies, a bi-monthly young people's magazine, called 'Crossing Borders' and a twenty-four hour Internet Radio Station, called 'All for Peace' - which you can find by following a link from our synagogue web-site.
It was fascinating, inspirational and challenging. Mohammad Darawshe the main Spokesperson for the Centre, responsible for Public Relations, summed up the challenge: 'We want Israel to be a state for all of its citizens. Of course, Israel must be the Jewish homeland. Every Jew must be able to come here. But once here, we must all be treated as equal citizens with equal rights and responsibilities.' A simple message - but the implications are massive. For some Jews both inside and outside Israel, the binary solution to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, the 'two-state solution', is attractive because it seems to preserve the 'Jewish character' of the State of Israel. But what kind of Jewish state is it, where twenty-per cent of its citizens are non-Jews? In what ways will the concept of the 'Jewish state' have to adapt to encompass the reality of Palestinian Israeli existence? And what about the symbols of the state: the seven-branched Menorah emblem; the flag with the blue Magen David at its centre? Won't new symbols that reflect Palestinian Israeli identity also need to be incorporated? Perhaps one day, the flag might include an olive-tree as well as a six-pointed star? Of course, the answers to these questions lie far in the future - but we should begin to ask them now.
This week's portion of the Torah
This week's portion, the parashah, Vayakhel, opens at Exodus chapter 35, verse 1, with the words: 'Vayakhel Moshe et kol-adat b'ney Yisrael' - 'Then Moses assembled the whole congregation of the Israelites'. Why does the text say 'the whole congregation' and not just, 'the congregation'? Is it because everyone was included: that is, the erev rav, the 'mixed multitude' that came out of Egypt, as well as the descendants of Jacob? - All of whom stood at the foot of Mount Sinai. As we read at verses 5 to 9, Moses challenged 'everyone whose heart' was 'willing' to come forward and offer their gifts for the building of the Tabernacle, the Mishkan. Today, that Mishkan is not a portable tent in the wilderness; it is both myriad, diverse Jewish communities throughout the world and a complex society encompassing Jews and Palestinians rooted in a particular land. When we were travelling with Arik Ascherman on his Rabbis for Human Rights work, he said: 'the real Zionism today involves working for an Israel that is not only physically strong but morally strong because it lives up to the highest Jewish values.' In essence, it takes individuals, wherever they come from, having the opportunity to contribute their gifts to the collective endeavour, to create a healthy community, a healthy society - even a healthy state. Ultimately, what will define the State of Israel as a Jewish state will not be the religious and ethnic identities of its inhabitants, but rather the values it proclaims. As we read in the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel - paragraph 13:
The State of Israel will be open for Jewish immigration and
the Ingathering of Exiles; it will foster the development of
the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will
be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the
prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of
social and political rights to all its inhabitants
irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee
freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and
culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all
religions; and it will be faithful to the Principles of the
Charter of the United Nations (Official Gazette: Number 1;
Tel Aviv, 14.05.48, p.1).
Paragraph 13 of the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel says it all. But, of course, it does not say it all. As Jews we live with complexity and with pain: the on-going complexity of Jewish existence as well as the continuing pain of anti-Semitism; just three days ago, our Sanctuary windows were broken for the fifth time. We live with our fears for the future of Israel. But because we continue to live, we must also continue to hope. As Nawaf Suf, put it to us, holding the arm of Arik Ascherman, 'you cannot live without hope'. During that long-short week, we encountered an inspiring 'coalition of hope'. May we all be part of that coalition. And let us say: Amen.
5th March 2005/ 24th Adar I 5765
(c) Rabbi Elizabeth Tikvah Sarah 2005
Brighton & Hove Progressive Synagogue - Adat Shalom Verei'ut
Web site: http:---
III. 'PRICKED BY RACIAL HATRED' BY MICHAEL LEVY
"If you prick us do we not bleed?"
So sayeth a merchant in Venice, many moons ago.
Thespians have been reciting the words
for hundreds of years and, of course, now
the world is filled with...
many pricks and lots of bleeders.
"If you tickle us do we not laugh?"
Pricked by hatred... bleeders of abomination
embark on laughing sprees,
tickling each others fancy
with intellectually sound, academic learning
that lacks intelligent wisdom.
It matters not, one jot...
for, all along,
humanities creative blood, is staining the global carpet.
"If you poison us do we not die?"
Whilst the laughter and merriment is in full swing,
along comes societies, dogma 'n doctrines,
reflecting, poisoned-minded soothsayers,
to-do-in, all the bleeders and pricks.
Ergo, once everyone has died, of ill-thoughts,
a voice in heaven booms out,
reverberating, around the mortal silence,
"And if you wrong us shall we not revenge?"
Alas; this one question, is all that remains,
for, now that revenge-able-humanity has dissolved into nothingness,
who the heck is left, to do the revenge bit, but God?
More's the point...
who's he gonna' punish,
rain-on, cats and dogs?
(c) Michael Levy 2004