Join us for an inspiring evening of interfaith study on the eve of Shavuot
Saturday, June 8 at 8:30 PM
Jewish tradition holds that seven weeks after the Exodus from Egypt, on the Festival of Shavuot, the Israelites arrived at the foot of Mt. Sinai and there met God to receive Divine “revelation” and the Torah. The Talmudic rabbis, in Tractate Shabbat, suggest that the Torah was given to the Jewish people on a conditional basis. Playing off the phrase “they encamped at the foot of the mountain,” the sages say that God held the mountain over their collective heads and threatened to drop it on them, turning the site into a graveyard, if they did not accept the Torah. Some interpret this Talmudic passage as asserting the idea that God created the world solely so that Jews could live in it and teach Torah to humanity, a self-aggrandizing attitude that encourages the dark and ugly notion that Jewish souls are somehow qualitatively better and purer than the souls of other human beings.
Opposite that idea lives the nobler assertion that all human beings are children of God, that we all face the same challenges and risks, and that our journey in this world is a common one that we approach from different perspectives. The great champion of that idea was Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel who, in 1953, gave a lecture about the need for interreligious cooperation entitled “No Religion Is an Island.” Heschel said:
Christianity and Islam, far from being accidents of history or purely human phenomena, are part of God’s design for the redemption of all men. Christianity is accorded ultimate significance by acknowledging that “all these matters relative to Jesus of Nazareth and Mohammed… served to clear the way for King Messiah.” The achievements of these religions within history are explicitly affirmed: Through them “the messianic hope, the Torah, and the commandments have become familiar topics among people.” Maimonides acknowledges that “the Christians believe and profess that the Torah is God’s revelation and given to Moses in the form in which it has been preserved.”
Heschel taught that the purpose of interreligious cooperation is “to help one another, to share insight and learning, to cooperate in academic ventures on the highest scholarly level, and to search in the wilderness for well-springs of devotion, for treasures of stillness, for the power of love and care for man.” His compelling vision, and not the one embraced by a handful of self-righteous people that suggests that Jewish souls are superior, is, of course, to be embraced.
We live in times when adherents of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity are at risk. Synagogues, masjids, and churches all suffer from hate-filled persecution and violence. We must affirm that there is strength in unity and mutual respect. When Jews were massacred at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, my Muslim colleagues reached out to me with words of consolation. When a hate-filled bigot murdered 50 Muslims peacefully praying in New Zealand, I joined my friends in the Jumma prayer at the NIA Masjid in Newark to offer comfort by affirming that we are all children of the same God.
In the spirit of nurturing interreligious cooperation, this year’s Shavuot evening of study will be held in partnership with the National Islamic Association Masjid and Morrow Memorial United Methodist Church. Come for refreshments, fellowship and study. Imam Daud Haqq, Pastor Brenda Wheeler Ehlers and I will teach and members of all three congregations will learn together how Biblical stories about Abraham, Sarah and Hagar are understood by Jews, Muslims and Christians. Our theme will be “A Triangle of Love: How Do Jews, Muslims and Christians View the Abrahamic Narratives?”
No religion is an island. Join us on Shavuot to demonstrate that the adherents of all religions can, and must, learn from one another.