Shinto priests come to Jerusalem, looking for common ground

At Hebrew University, 26 Shinto priests from Japan conduct interfaith dialogue.

March 18, 2010 05:32
2 minute read.
Shinto priests conduct interfaith dialogue at the

shinto priests hebrew universty 311. (photo credit: Mark Rebacz)

Though a polytheistic religion such as Shintoism, and the world’s oldest monotheistic religion – Judaism – seem worlds apart, followers of the two seem to think there is common ground. To that end, 26 Shinto priests from Nagoya, Japan, met last Thursday at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem to conduct an interfaith dialogue with Israeli academics. Among the academics were Prof. Ben-Ami Shilloni and Dr. Nissim Otmazgin, both of the Department of East Asian Studies, who discussed similarities between Jewish and Shinto beliefs.

According to Shilloni, followers of Shintoism, which believes in multiple gods, seek interfaith dialogues in an effort to get past religious barriers that are, in their eyes, the basis for much of the world’s conflicts.

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Shintoism, Japan’s “natural and oldest religion,” is a pacifistic faith that accepts other beliefs. The delegation comes from Nagoya’s Atsuta Shrine, traditionally believed to have been established during the reign of Emperor Keiko (71-130 CE). The 200,000 square meter shrine complex draws more than 9 million visitors a year.

At the meeting, Shilloni read the verse from Isaiah in Japanese, “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”

Shilloni elaborated, “Though this was prophesized by Isaiah 2,600 years ago, Japan has been blessed with peace, while the Jews have yet to be.”

According to Shilloni, the followers of Shintoism have a very positive view of Judaism, and see it as the mother of Western religions, and thus holier than other monotheistic faiths.

Bahij Monsour, head of the Foreign Ministry’s religious department, said this trip was initiated by the Shinto priests, who approached the Israeli ambassador in Tokyo, Nissim Ben-Shitrit. Shinto priests last visited here about 10 years ago, when they met with then-Sephardic Chief Rabbi Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron. The current delegation, here for just five days, did not meet with either chief rabbi. They did, however, visit Yad Vashem.

According to Shilloni, the dialogues aid in portraying Shintoism as a less primitive religion than is believed by most of the monotheistic world, and aim to show the common ground shared by Shintoism and other faiths. Israel also has an interest in interfaith dialogues, as they contribute to Israel’s and Judaism’s image as open and accepting, he said.

“It is much easier for us to conduct interfaith discussions with the Shinto than with Christianity or Islam, since the latter two reject Judaism in favor of their own faiths, while Shintoism accepts Judaism as it is,” Shilloni said last week.

Though the followers of Shinto embrace all faiths, not all faiths embrace them. This, suggests Shilloni, may be the reason priests did not meet with any Christian or Muslim representatives during their visit. While Christianity and Islam classify people as either believers or nonbelievers, the followers of Shintoism have no problem accepting other religions and practices, and one can be a perfect Shintoist while simultaneously serving other gods or participating in other types of worship. Testimony to this, said Shilloni, are the Christian wedding ceremonies most Japanese couples undergo, despite their adherence to Shintoism.

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