Sacks: Abdullah's interfaith offer admirable

UK Chief Rabbi Sacks praises Saudi king's offer to hold dialogue among monotheistic religions.

rabbi jonathan sacks 88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
rabbi jonathan sacks 88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Britain's Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks has welcomed a new proposal from King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia for dialogue among monotheistic religions, including Judaism. "I think it is admirable and seriously to be commended," he told The Jerusalem Post in an interview over the weekend. Sacks said such dialogue was vital and could succeed. "The 21st Century is posing economic, political and environmental questions," he said, "but also a religious question: Can Judaism, Christianity and Islam make room for each other?" The challenge was exceptionally difficult, he said, "but if you can't solve it at the religious level, I doubt we'll be able to solve it at the political level." Sacks cited two precedents that generated optimism. He said he had been personally involved in a three-day effort prior to the 2001 UN World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa, a gathering that proved to be a landmark in anti-Israeli incitement and Holocaust denigration, to redraft the conference's resolutions into language that would be acceptable to all main faiths, and that this redrafting effort was successful. When the rewritten resolutions were nonetheless rejected prior to the conference, Sacks stressed, he resigned, but the success of his committee's work proved what was possible. He also noted that former British prime minister Tony Blair had reached out to religious leaders when trying to heal divisions over Northern Ireland. Blair rightly believed, said Sacks, that "if you don't make [religious leaders] part of the solution, they'll be part of the problem." In the event, he said, there was no doubt these leaders "helped with the Northern Ireland peace deal." Sacks praised Israel's two chief rabbis for their awareness of the importance of "conversations across faiths," and noted that both had been involved in such dialogue. "So if the Saudi proposal looks serious, and at first glance it does," said Sacks, "it can go ahead in the knowledge that past efforts have been successful." Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi Yona Metzger on Tuesday welcomed Abdullah's initiative, saying he gave his blessing "to every initiative that can prevent bloodshed and terror, especially in our area of the world." Abdullah unveiled the idea in a speech late on Monday, and said Saudi Arabia's top clerics had given him the green light to pursue interfaith dialogue with Christians and Jews. "The idea is to ask representatives of all monotheistic religions to sit together with their brothers in faith and sincerity to all religions, as we all believe in the same God," the king told delegates to a seminar on "Culture and the Respect of Religions." "I have noticed that the family system has weakened and that atheism has increased. That is an unacceptable behavior to all religions, to the Koran, the Torah and the Bible," he added. "We ask God to save humanity." It is not clear whether the Saudi proposal is designed to extend to Israeli Jewish leaders. Sacks said he had not been approached, and that it was "too early" for that to have happened.