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WCC 11th Assembly, Karlsruhe Report

Rabbi elucidates understanding of interreligious ties

Rabbi David Fox Sandmelchair addresses WCC Assembly.


Rabbi David Fox Sandmel, chair of the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations, greeted the World Council of Churches (WCC) Assembly Sept. 5 on behalf of the consortium of 11 Jewish organizations that engage with other international religious bodies, including the World Council of Churches, the Vatican, the World Evangelical Alliance, the Ecumenical Patriarchate and non-Christian organizations.

He connected the assembly theme on reconciliation that leads to unity to the Hebrew month of Elul, a time of spiritual and moral preparation for the Ten Days of Repentance beginning with the Jewish New Year and concluding with the Day of Atonement.

"Essential to the Jewish understanding of repentance is the imperative of reconciliation. During Elul, we are to examine ourselves, confront our moral failings, confess them before God and ask for forgiveness," the rabbi said.

"We are to seek out whomever we have wronged, make amends and seek their forgiveness," he said. "Indeed, our tradition teaches that reconciliation between people is a prerequisite for forgiveness from God. When we are reconciled with God and with our neighbor, we reunite on both the human and the divine level."

He pointed to the power of reconciliation in what took place between Jews and Christians after the Shoah, the Holocaust, he said.

"The repudiation by Christian theologians and institutions of antisemitism and rejection of the classical Christian teaching of contempt for Jews and Judaism is unprecedented in human history," Rabbi David said.

At its founding in 1948, the WCC called antisemitism "a sin against man and God." Since then, it has repeatedly spoken out against anti-Jewish rhetoric and violence.

"This revolution in Jewish-Christian relations is something to celebrate and should be an inspiration and model for overcoming prejudice and hatred. Many in the Jewish community are sadly unaware of the great progress in Jewish-Christian relations," he said.

Concerned that Jews around the world continue to be the targets of hatred, he said that while people of goodwill can disagree strongly about Israel, some criticism is motivated by antisemitism, and some is not.

"We need to find vocabulary to discuss this sensitive issue to promote, rather than obstruct, dialogue," he said.

Rabbi David sees reconciliation as an ongoing process.

"Despite progress in Jewish-Christian relations, anti-Jewish tropes still emerge in some Christian teaching, often the result of ignorance rather than malice," he suggested. "Correcting embedded biases and becoming sensitized to what hurts and offends takes time, effort and courage to be honest with oneself and others, to build trust."

He is encouraged that IJCIC and WCC leaders "engage in serious, substantial, respectful, productive conversations on sensitive issues, including our deep and abiding attachment to the people and land of Israel and how together we can further the cause of peace in the region."

He hopes understanding will grow.

"According to Genesis, all humanity is one family with a common ancestor. While we differ from one another in many ways, we share the imprint of the divine in our very being," he said.

"In Genesis, God says that each of the elements of creation by itself is good, but only when all the work of creation is complete, including humanity, is it very good," Rabbi David said.

"The human family is one, but strife and injustice abound. Our planet is one, but we fight over it and pollute it," he said. "None of us alone can address the challenges our human family faces. The only answer is to work together in unity for peace, understanding, justice and reconciliation, with our common home and with the Divine so that, in the words of the prophet, all may sit under their vine and under their fig tree, with none to make them afraid."

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