The Conspiracy

Opening up to Interfaith

I have never been opposed to interfaith, but have always found it very fake.  It was never genuine.  It wasn’t a religious Jew and a religious Christian looking to grow from their interactions, but more a “let’s all love each other and forget we have any differences.  I’ll sit through your service if you sit through mine to show each other we aren’t closed-minded.”

pastor_and_rabbi_02That is all well and good for some people, but for me it isn’t.

Then all of a sudden, just three weeks ago I found myself in church on a Sunday morning!  I swear that four weeks ago I knew I would never enter a church during worship.  Ever!  Not because there is anything wrong with churches, but because there is something wrong with a Jew in church.  In addition to knowing that traditional Jewish circles generally prohibit it, I always felt that by attending church I was denying my own belief system, I was being a traitor to my God.  We “share” a God with the Christians, but we approach Him differently.  As a Jew, I viewed the Christian approach as antithetical to my own religion.  Actually, I still do.  But I still ended up in church.  Why?

To start with, I was fortunate to make a new friend who happens to be a religious Christian.  (I must admit that for a while I had my doubts that he was secretly trying to convert me, as had been my experience with other Christians on campus.  But don’t worry, I’ve put those doubts aside.)  Whenever we got together, our conversations always centered largely around religion.  We would discuss the foundations of our respective religions and individual faith, the meaning of observance, different approaches to God, and the like.  I have learned many things from these discussions, but I think that what has been the most valuable to me is how it has made me question my own Jewish practice.  No, it has not made me consider converting to Christianity.  The process of questioning has, in fact, brought me closer to my Judaism.  I started praying daily six years ago, but had lost that practice.  Because of a Christian, I have returned to it.  Despite my continued observance I had become slightly cynical to religious circles.  Because of a Christian, I have regained my appreciation of them.  I had stopped consistent study of Torah.  But because of a Christian, I again give myself a daily dose of it.  My entire outlook on life has become (or rather returned to being) more religious, more optimistic, more happy…thanks to Christian.

But back to the point: why did I end up in a church?

Keeping the Faith

Perhaps because I believe we can learn from other faiths and cultures.  But I would never have gone alone.  So perhaps I went to see my friend in his place of worship, to observe it, to experience it, and to learn what I could for my own spiritual life.  Perhaps I went because I felt comfortable with my friend but wouldn’t have alone.  And perhaps I just went because I didn’t have a good reason not to go.  In any case, I’m glad I went.

And since, after three years of searching, I finally have the most unlike chavruta (religious study partner).  Never would I have imaged in three years ago, but I formed a Bible study group of two Jews and two Christians where we can actively engage with a text and discuss it openly without feeling constrained from questioning or expressing our opinions.  I still don’t buy into wide-scale interfaith activities, but on a personal, friend-to-friend basis, I think a lot can be gained through interfaith friendships rooted in our religious differences but with mutual respect.  I for one have certainly gained a lot.

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4 Older Responses to “Opening up to Interfaith”

  1. David Zarmi
    April 6, 2011 at 5:20 pm #

    Well it being asur is a good reason reason not to go, but let’s put that aside. My problem with interfaith activities is exactly what you said, but I’ll be more narrow-minded. It’s that it’s rarely done by a serious Orthodox Jew, one who is deeply rooted and one who actually knows how J lived his life (assuming he existed and all). And that’s what religious Christians are looking for anyway – they have little respect for Jews once they learn that they largely secular or lukewarm or no longer keep that Old Testament stuff. The saving grace is that the vast majority of American Christians I have met are blissfully unaware that we do not all believe in G-d and are not all a united nation under Him.

    R’ Yitzchol Adlerstein in Los Angeles (of Simon Wiesenthal) is one of the few Orthodox men I know who engage in it regularly (it’s his job title) and his shabat table is a lot of fun. Because while Christians are welcome in schul, Jews really worship everywhere, and the shabat meal is an exemplar of that. I met President Reagan’s last minister there (Presbyterian) along with a slew of Christian and Muslim seminarians and clergy.

    Serious interfaith is fun and you can definitely learn a lot. You can do that it permissible ways, though – by speaking with them, debating with them, and even watching their services on video. For one thing you can learn how to not talk in schul and properly respect a sanctuary. But you need to know yourself and be well-rooted first so that you don’t misrepresent Judaism (it’s fine to say Reform say this, Conservative say this, and traditional Orthodox Judaism said/says this, but make sure you get that traditional Judaism in there so that they understand where we all came from – Christians and Jews alike).

    And Alex, I’m not sure how your friend is done “secretly” desiring to convert you, since it’s one of the few commandments Christians have. Regardless, if he cares about you, he wants to convert you. How could he not? But like me when I meet non-Orthodox brethren and sistren, he may realize that you get more converts with honey than with vinegar. A Methodist seminarian friend of mine once responded when I asked her about why she wasn’t more actively pursuing my conversion that she actually struggled with that tenet of Christianity. So maybe he’s in that group. but if he’s religious, it’s at best a struggle and at worst a strategy. But maybe you’ll get him to become a Noahide instead. Either way, it’s nothing for a well-rooted Jew to worry about – it’s all hevel varik – but you should be aware.

  2. David Zarmi
    April 6, 2011 at 5:24 pm #

    And for an amazing interfaith adventure, you must read Yossi Klein Halevy’s At the Entrance to the Garden of Eden: A Jew’s Search for God with Christians and Muslims in the Holy Land. You will doubtless enjoy it even more than I did because some parts made me uncomfortable when he went a little too far in worshiping with the Christians. Regardless, it rocks.

  3. Harpo Jaeger
    April 6, 2011 at 8:55 pm #

    Yes, David, I’m sure that going into interfaith experiences with the suspicion that everyone is secretly trying to convert you is a great way to learn about other faiths. That attitude might be a good explanation for how out-of-touch you seem to be with what actually goes on in interfaith settings. I personally have learned a great deal about myself and my own religious feelings and practices from interacting and studying with folks of different faiths.

  4. Miriam
    April 7, 2011 at 1:58 pm #

    Great article.I think that interfaith organizations and activities are very important for everyone that is interested in gaining a better understanding of each other beliefs. I self -identify as a Muslim but at the base of that am i a universal being. I’ve studied all of the worlds major religions including Judaism before my conversion to Islam. I think I am a better person for it. I have a better appreciation for all ways
    because of taking Yiddish in college and reading the the the Bhagavad Gita,Torah,the New Testament. We should be searching for knowledge wherever it is. That is one reason why i subscribe and support New Voices.

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