Religious leaders discuss their commonalities

Forty religious leaders from the Muslim, Christian, Druse, Bahai, Ahmadi and Jewish faiths in the North gather for meeting.

Religious leaders at Ma’aleh Gilboa yeshiva 370 (photo credit: Ross Singer)
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.
Forty 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 particular.
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 guests.
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 leaders.
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 ground.
“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 Post 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 initiative.
“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.
During 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.
One 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.
“Religious 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.”