Hartman Theology Conference

I was privileged to participate again this year in the International Theology Conference sponsored and hosted by the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. This annual conference, which brings together Jewish, Christian and Muslim scholars and practitioners from abroad and from Israel, is a very special opportunity for me each year to take a week off from my daily routine to engage in serious interreligious text-study and dialogue.

The method which this conference uses for studying texts is the classical Jewish hevruta (finding a friend to study with) method. However, instead of studying with just one friend, we study with 6 people. In my group, there were 3 Jews (2 from Israel and one from California), two Christians (one from Boston and one from Portugal) and one Muslim (a woman imam from Germany). It was a fabulous group! We had so many engaging and enlightening discussions, not just on the texts presented to us, but on so many related (and unrelated) issues of theology and real life (I, being the practitioner, was the one who usually brought in “real life”).

This year’s theme was “The Good Person”. What does it mean to be a “good person”? Is it just a matter of leading an ethical, righteous, just life? Or is there something inherent about “goodness” which is related to our understanding of God? Does religious Law — Halachaha, Shariya, or the doctrines of the Church Fathers — help us lead an ethical life? Or does it sometimes present serious obstacles? Does “conscience” or “the heart” necessarily trump Law sometimes? These were some of the issues we discussed as we were presented with fascinating collections of Christian, Jewish and Muslim texts on the theme, ranging from the Bible to Rabbinic Thought, to Medieval Theology, to Modern and Contemporary Thought.

There were no simple answers to any of these questions. Rather, it was the deliberation of the issues that was the key to our learning. And I would say that we learned a great deal — both from the texts and from each other, from our agreements and mostly from our disagreements. Often the discussions became very personal, so I would say that we were engaging in dialogue and not just philosophical or theological deliberations.

By the time we arrived at the closing lunch last Thursday on the fifth day of the conference, people were already talking about ideas for a theme for next year. Everyone’s intellectual appetites were wetted and we all look forward to continuing our learning in the years ahead with colleague and friends.

I express my gratitude to the organizers of this annual conference. It recharged my intellectual and spiritual batteries.

Rabbi Ron Kronish

The Possibilities of Peaceful Coexistence in Jerusalem—An Inspirational Encounter

Last Thursday night, I was witness to a rare and beautiful opportunity for encounter and dialogue at the ICCI Education Center in Jerusalem. Fourteen high school students from all over Jerusalem gathered in our center with their parents for the opening of the 11th year of the Face to Face/Faith to Faith program.  Eight Palestinian families—Muslims and Christians—and six Jewish families, religious and secular, joined together to begin an exciting year of dialogue and education.

As I explained to the parents, Face to Face/Faith to Faith is a unique program that combines the methods of Interreligious Dialogue with those of Conflict Transformation for high school students in their 10th and 11th grades of school from 4 regions: South Africa, Northern Ireland, the United States, and Israel/Palestine. We are the Israel/Palestine “home group”.  While most programs in conflict transformation are secular, the Face to Face/Faith to Faith program adds the interreligious dimension which suits our organizational mission because we believe that religions can be a force for peace and reconciliation, rather than for violence or war.

In my remarks to the parents, I talked about an encounter that happened a few years ago in our center. One year, when we invited a group of parents of Face to Face kids for a study evening devoted to themes relating to the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, the facilitator of the first part of the evening’s program asked each person to share a personal miracle from their lives, since it was Hanukkah, the season of miracles. Most people shared medical stories of themselves or of families and friends. But one woman, who was sitting right next to me, said: “The real miracle is that we are sitting in this room together, Israeli Jews and Palestinian Muslims and Christians from all over Jerusalem.”

I felt the same sensation last Thursday night. The dialogue was so fascinating. Some of the parents were visibly moved, almost to tears. It was an inspirational evening of the possibilities of living together in Jerusalem. There was so much openness and curiosity about encountering the other, about learning each family’s personal narrative. It was a hint of what could be in Jerusalem, rather than what is at the moment.

ICCI’s Face to Face/Faith to Faith program is in partnership with Auburn Theological Seminary, based in New York City, and operates under the banner “Peace is Possible”. Indeed, people of different religions and national identities can live together in Jerusalem. It is not a dream. It is possible.