Jews and Non-Jews: Interfaith Relations

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"Dialogue" is the watchword in defining relations between Jews and peoples of other religions, particularly in North America's environment of religious pluralism. The emphasis on dialogue comes as a result of years of hard work on the part of religious leaders and a growing concern about religious intolerance that has continued to brew and cause turmoil throughout the world.

Leaders from the Catholic Church, for example, take a proactive role in seeking dialogue with Jewish leaders. Since the Vatican II decision of the 1960s formally ending the Catholic belief that Jews were responsible for Jesus' death, Catholic leaders such as Pope John Paul II have attempted to change their relationship with Jewish people. All major archdiocese include specific offices of interreligious affairs, in which a team of priests, nuns, and educators work with members of clergy from the Jewish (and other) faiths. These offices often play a key role in helping to create annual community-wide Holocaust memorial services on Yom Hashoah (Day of Holocaust commemoration).

Jewish leaders, too, are taking an active role in facilitating dialogue with other religious groups. In the aftermath of the September 11th terrorist attacks, many Jewish leaders, along with their Christian peers, acknowledged an ignorance or misunderstanding of the Muslim religion. Chapters of the American Jewish Committee have facilitated Jewish-Muslim dialogues in conjunction with their Islamic peers. Many Jewish religious schools have added a class on Jewish-Muslim relations to their roster of high school courses. Perhaps most moving, however, were the number of synagogues in metropolitan areas who came forward to volunteer their services to walk members of local mosques to their cars after the 9/11 attacks, when anti-Muslim rage was spreading.

These dialogues and attempts at understanding are but rays of hope in the darkness; they do not take away the layers of misunderstanding and distrust that exist between Jews and Muslims in the Middle East and around the world. The same goes with Jewish-Christian dialogue: After two millennia of persecution, the past is not forgotten or abandoned easily. Tensions remain between Jews and Christians, but dialogue has replaced violence as the means to air these differences.

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