Religious leaders at Ma’aleh Gilboa yeshiva 370.
(photo credit: Ross Singer)
An imam, a priest and a rabbi walk into a yeshiva. This is not the beginning of
a joke, but the account of a unique conference held on Wednesday afternoon in
Yeshivat Ma’aleh Gilboa, close to the Galilee region in the North.
religious leaders from the Muslim, Christian, Druse, Bahai, Ahmadi and Jewish
faiths based in the North gathered at the yeshiva to discuss matters of religion
and society, as well as coexistence in Israel in general, and in the Galilee in
During the five-hour event, the rabbis, imams, priests and
assorted religious leaders engaged in joint study sessions dealing with the
issue of the gap between religious study and societal improvement, while the
yeshiva students also had a chance to ask questions of the different clerical
The conference was a joint initiative of the yeshiva and the
Department of Minorities of the Interior Ministry and was also intended to help
establish relations and communications between local religious
Rabbi Yehudah Gilad, one of the two codeans of the yeshiva and a
former MK for Meimad, said that the goal of the conference was to create an
understanding that the different religious communities living in Israel all
descended from the patriarch Abraham and as such, share much common
“Because of this fact, and because we all live in the same
country, it’s important for religious leaders, the students of our yeshiva and
society at large to get to know each other better,” Gilad told The Jerusalem
after the conference.
Asked about the difficulties in engaging with
other faiths and communities given the often conflicting claims of competing
religions, Gilad said that the issue is not relevant to the broader goal of the
“We’re not conducting a conversation to reconcile the
differences between religions, the idea here is to go about making the society
in which we all live better for us all,” he said. “The Rambam [Maimonides] said
that Islam and Christianity are part of the process leading to the final arrival
of the Messiah, because they have spread monotheism around the world and led to
a diminution in paganism, so that they have in fact had a very important
contribution to humanity.”
Gilad added that the different religious
communities in Israel face similar challenges such as how to convey religious
values and inspiration to the next generation, and the struggle against negative
aspects of Western society such as widely accessible pornography on the
Internet, modesty and respect for the institution of the family.
the question and answer session, students from the yeshiva had the opportunity
to pose questions to the different religious leaders, including enquiries about
how to pass on religious traditions to coming generations and questions to the
Druse leaders about their close connection to the Jewish people.
student asked to what extent the different clergymen who participated in the
event actually influenced their respective communities. In response, some of the
Arab leaders said they represent the silent majority of the Arab community, as
opposed to organizations like the Islamic Movement and the Arab MKs who are an
unrepresentative, yet extremely loud group.
In response to a question
about how to convey religious values to the next generation, Father Emile
Shoufani, a peace activist, educator and winner of the UNESCO Prize for Peace
Education, argued that religion needs to be more open to youth and modernity and
asserted that religious establishments and institutions have created a barrier
to these objectives.
Odeh Muhammad Sharif of Haifa, the head of the
Ahmadi Islamic community in Israel, told the Post
that the event was an
important initiative to promote the notion that religious communities can live
together peacefully and harmoniously.
“If we believe in one God and that
he created all mankind in his image, then we need to show concern for everyone,
regardless of their faith. We need to care for their security, their wellbeing,
that they have food to eat and can live in happiness.
differences have been made by man,” he continued, “but if we believe that God is
the sovereign of all creation, who made one sun for us all, and food and water
to share and whom we strive to become close to, then it becomes apparent that
conflict between religions is actually a conflict against God who wants us to
live in peace.”