Our concluding study at the Christian Leadership Initiative, sponsored by the American Jewish Committee and Shalom Hartman Institute, has investigated issues of religious freedom in a religiously plural nation. While there is not anti-establishment clause, there clearly is concern for religious freedom in Israel. Courts talk about freedom of religion as well as freedom from religion. In addition, there is a category called “religious feelings,” and this is also protected under Israeli law. This is where great difficulty emerges as this is very hard to determine and to balance against other conflicting interests.
Last evening, I sat for a bit at the Jaffa gate so that I might observe the multi-hued tapestry of humanity on display. Religious attire reveals whether one is Ultra-Orthodox and, in many cases, the geographical place from which one immigrated. Mixed in with the varied Jewish traditions coming through this key entrance into the Old City are Roman Catholics, Armenian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, Protestants, and Evangelicals. Protecting the religious observances of all is the goal of the founding documents of Israel.
Attending lectures and small group havruta (wrestling with key texts) has felt like being in doctoral studies once again. In a sense, this is post-doctoral work as members of the cohort are required to have a Ph.D. The conversations move quickly and, as academics are wont to do, we parse words and concepts carefully. The charism of Jewish identity is this long engagement with the written and oral traditions of the faith.
We begin our journey home this evening, departing from Tel Aviv just after midnight. Our cohort has also found ways to acknowledge our diversity, albeit among Christians. Our liturgical and personal practices of faith vary—from Orthodox to Pentecostal. Intellectual and spiritual hospitality assist as we exchange theological ideas, which are layered with distinctive nuance.
What is the impact of this kind of study? I understand Judaism through the eyes of Jews, not the vitriolic history of Protestantism exemplified by Martin Luther. I read the Hebrew Scripture as well as the New Testament with greater inter-textual understanding. I learn to respect a key aspect of Jewish scholarship: always including and thereby preserving the minority voice. I renew a commitment to the importance of interfaith work. Working for the common good with persons of other ways of faith is a prompting of the Spirit in our day, I believe. Finally, I appreciate even more the Jewish roots of Christian faith and the ultimate hope to live in harmony with our spiritual kinfolk.
Jews and Christians need one another, for we clarify our respective identities as we think together about our heritage. More insight comes for both as we open our lives to one another.
Molly T. Marshall
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