The Jewish community is very actively involved in organisations which seek to promote positive and productive relationships between people of different religious groups. However there have been ideological difficulties to overcome, particularly between the three 'Abrahamic' religions.
“It is a staggering fact that intolerance and ignorance often abound among the otherwise well educated and religiously observant. That is why interfaith dialogue was born. People who studied violent religious history, people who witnessed it, and who lived through its horrors, vowed that no democratic and free society should succumb to it, or foster bigotry and hatred. Understanding other traditions is an essential preventive measure, not, I hope, in a cynical exercise to "know thine enemy", but in order to enjoy the possibilities that friendship brings.
Like a genuine friendship, interfaith dialogue is a living thing, which necessitates, if it does not spontaneously effect changes in the way we view each other and the way we view ourselves. There is no genuine relationship which does not change the people involved. Indeed, there would be absolutely no reason for cultivating relationships at all if they did not transform us in some beneficial way.”
Address given by Dr Rachael Kohn at the launch of the Women's Interfaith Network at NSW Parliament House on 22 March 2001
Both Christianity and Islam are 'daughter religions' of Judaism in the sense that they take the Hebrew Bible and Jewish monotheism as a starting point, and then proceed to proclaim a 'universal' message. However, while Christianity and Islam each seek to convert the whole of humanity to their faith, Judaism does not. Uniquely among monotheistic religions, Judaism is not evangelical, and recognises that each religious tradition has its own valid spiritual insights.
Historically, the concept that any religion is in possession of a universal truth has presented a formidable obstacle to open and friendly discussion of theological issues between the different religious communities. In particular the Jewish experience of living as minority communities in the Christian and Muslim worlds has given rise to a strong resistance to the idea of any theological 'dialogue' between Jewish participants, and Christians and Muslims. As far as the Jewish community is concerned, relations with other religious groups should be based on mutual respect, a genuine shared learning experience, and the understanding which comes from personal co-operation on issues of common concern.
In recent years this has become a genuine possibility. In particular the Christian churches have entered into a process of seeking reconciliation with Judaism, and the Jewish community engages in joint activities with Islamic organisations aimed at promoting understanding.
The National Dialogue of Christians, Muslims and Jews
After the terrorist outrage of 11 September 2001, the leaders of all the major religions made a determined effort to join together publicly to mourn the American loss and to maintain religious harmony.
As part of that effort a meeting took place on 22 April 2002 at the Great Synagogue in Sydney, between leading representatives of the National Council of Churches in Australia, (NCCA) the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils (AFIC) and the Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ), which is the Jewish community's national roof body. The meeting condemned violence and harassment on the basis of religion or race, and undertook to work together in the interests of communal harmony. Further such meetings were scheduled and are now held regularly.
The Women's Interfaith Network
To celebrate the Christian Jubilee year 2000, the Catholic Church convened a Conference of the Bishops' committee for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations in Sydney, and invited representatives of all the major religions to participate. Following private discussions between women who attended the Conference, Josie Lacey, a representative of the Jewish community initiated a Women's Interfaith Network.
The Network aims to bring together women of different faith traditions in order to promote understanding, respect and harmony among followers of different religions; to be a sign of solidarity among committed people; and to encourage other women to initiate other similar groups.
Representatives from Aboriginal, Baha'i, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, Zoroastrian and Quaker communities gathered at NSW Parliament House for the Network's launch to outline their purpose, pray and read from scriptures. The readings reached across all boundaries, spoke of the essential equality between men and women, of love and compassion, unity and diversity and Aboriginal spirituality.
"The world is in turmoil. Wars are being fought in the name of God and religion," said Josie Lacey at the launch. "I believe women have the ability to communicate and to show that religion can unite us. Women are not afraid to communicate, but society as a whole must learn to talk. I think it's the only way to overcome divisions and social destruction in our community," she said. "No one is trying to upstage anyone and no one is trying to convert anyone. Maybe we'll be role models for men."
In April 2005, the Premiers Department hosted a reception for WIN at Government House where 160 women from 9 different Faith Groups celebrated "Paths to Peace through Friendship".
Ministerial Statement from Hansard
“Ms SANDRA NORI (Port Jackson—Minister for Tourism and Sport and Recreation, and Minister for Women) [2.24 p.m.]: I take this opportunity to inform the House of an historic interfaith event to be held at Government House on 14 April. It is the Paths to Peace through Friendship gathering, which has been organised by an interfaith group called the Women's Interfaith Network. In New South Wales the Women's Interfaith Network has representatives from Aboriginal, Baha'i, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, Sikh and Christian communities, and includes women from Anglican, Catholic, Uniting Church, Quaker, Armenian, Greek Orthodox and Coptic backgrounds. The network is convened by Mrs Josie Lacey, a member of the Sydney Jewish community and interfaith adviser of the Federation of Ethnic Communities Council of Australia. This gathering to promote understanding and tolerance is timely, given that we live in a world where peace is constantly threatened by religious conflict and misunderstanding.
The Paths to Peace gathering is expected to be attended by up to 160 women who treasure their own traditions, but who seek understanding, respect and harmony with other religions. The event at Government House will begin, very appropriately, with a welcome to country from members of the world's oldest religion: original Australians. Then there will be a showcase of the rich musical traditions of the various faiths. The group's aim is to encourage mutual understanding and learning about the ideals of various religious groups through personal relationships of co-operation and discussion. I am proud that our State includes these women of faith whose search for mutual understanding and respect is a powerful example in a divided world. I will be honoured to host this important event.”
Since this event, four new regional WIN groups have been established in Sydney suburbs and a new group is being formed in Adelaide. The core WIN group meets monthly in Parliament House. WIN groups meet monthly, listen to each others’ personal spiritual journeys, visit each others’ places of worship, learn about their different beliefs, rites of passage, prayers and holy books, and have now become a well-known and respected advocacy group.
Christian-Jewish discussions in Australia
In the post-war period Christians re-examined the previous anti-Jewish doctrines of the Church. In 1965 Pope Paul VI issued the encyclical Nostra Aetate, commencing with the words "In our time". In acknowledging the spiritual contribution of all the major religions, the Church recognised the validity of the Jewish 'Covenant', rejected the "Christ-killer" accusation, and condemned antisemitism as a sin. The themes of the encyclical were developed in 'Reconciliation Statements' in Australia and elsewhere, and the Catholic statements were followed by similar statements by other Christian Churches.
The Council of Christians and Jews is a voluntary group of Christians and Jews, with branches in NSW and Victoria, who describe themselves as drawn together by their common religious heritage, a desire for understanding and dialogue and to explore their turbulent history of relating to each other. The Victorian Council (Fax 03 9817 3848) produces an excellent journal of philosophical writing on Christian-Jewish issues.
Other meetings take place between participants from the Executive Council of Australian Jewry and the various Churches, including regular in-depth discussions with the Uniting Church.
Muslim-Jewish Relations in Australia
The rebirth of Israel as an independent Jewish State has led to inevitable differences of opinion. However this has not prevented moderate Muslims from seeking good relations with the Jewish and Christian communities.
In Australia a Muslim organisation known as the Affinity Intercultural Foundation (centred on but not limited to the Turkish community) has joined with the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies and the National Council of Churches in arranging a number of joint functions, including a regular annual Abrahamic Conference.
Contact has also been maintained with the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils (AFIC) and its State constituents. The President of Islamic Council of Victoria was invited to address the 2005 Annual Conference of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry in Melbourne, and in 2006 the ECAJ President spoke at an AFIC conference in Sydney.
There have also been discussion between individuals on matters of common interest, such as the provision of Halal and Kosher food, divorce law reform and anti-vilification law.
Interfaith Seder 2007 at Sydney Town Hall
Thank you all, for sharing this occasion with the Jewish Board of Deputies to witness the essence of the Passover, a central Jewish Festival that we remember daily in our prayers.
On behalf of the Board of Deputies, I thank you Lord Mayor for being our patron and co hosting this occasion. Thank you, Community Relations Commission chairman Stepan Kerkysharian, for sponsoring the ‘Understanding Judaism’ booklet which is on your table for all of you to take home with you, and for contributing to this Seder…
Working together for many years we have formed friendships and learned to understand and respect each other's differences, a microcosm of how we would like the world to be. With special people like all of you, I know that together we will continue to make a difference in creating understanding and breaking down barriers for an inclusive society.
In the words of Psalm 133, a Song of Ascents, ofDavid. How good and how pleasant it is for brothers and sisters to dwell together in unity!
This is to say a very sincere and heartfelt 'Thank You!' for the invitation you extended to me to take part in the Interfaith Passover - A Celebration of Freedom! All the faiths, beliefs, cultures coming together in such a spirit of peace and good fellowship, sharing and experiencing in joy… Everyone felt included and there was such an enthusiastic response, that it was just simply wonderful.
Sincerely and lovingly,
Divine Word Mission
Thank you and your community for a very successful, educational, entertaining and enjoyable evening of the Interfaith Passover Celebration… This will go a long way to increasing understanding and mutual respect. Congratulations!
Graeme Lyall AM
President - Amitabha Buddhist Association of New South Wales
President - University Buddhist Education Foundation
A quick note to thank you for the Passover Dinner last night. I found it informative, entertaining, moving, and engaging. I am sure it has done a lot for building better understanding and goodwill among all the participants.
Wishing you blessings at Passover (and Easter).
Peace and Joy,
Fr Patrick J. McInerney
Columban Mission Institute
Many of us were privileged to participate in last night’s Board of Deputies Interfaith Seder service… The many people to whom I spoke at the end of the night sang the praises of the Board. One gentleman from the Muslim community even commented to me that what the night managed to achieve had been an eye-opener for him, and it had inspired him to work towards closer relationships between our two communities. He said he would do it because of the benefit such an association would bring to those of his faith.
The Journey of Promise
The Journey of Promise was organised by a Steering Committee of Muslim, Christian and Jewish representatives and managed by the National Council of Churches in Australia. It brought together a group of thirty young people from the three Abrahamic faiths in an intensive experience of sharing and exploring faith and culture across a broad range of contemporary life in Sydney; and recorded this experience in a video/DVD for wider awareness, discussion and activities elsewhere.
- “This week I made strong connections with both Muslims and Christians, and found out that although we have different beliefs we have so many similarities, and mutual respect is essential if we really want to live in peace and harmony. I feel the Journey of Promise was a beacon of light, playing a small role in preventing the avalanche of distrust and division." Josh (Jewish)
- Bahije ( Muslim) was intrigued by similarities in the culture and traditions of the three Abrahamic faith communities. "The Jewish community, in particular, seems to be so similar to us in some of their traditions," she said.
- “The most important thing about the week was the informal conversations and sharing most evenings, after the planned activities were over, and the last day," she says. "They were really the times of exploring each other’s beliefs and thoughts." Kelly (Christian)
The Youth Encounters Project
This was the brainchild of Journey of Promise graduate, Josh Levin of the Jewish Board of Deputies, and has received wide public acclaim. Youth Encounters bring together Christian, Muslim and Jewish school students in respectful and positive interfaith dialogue. The program has doubled in size since its inception.
The World Conference on Religion for Peace
The World Conference on Religion for Peace (WCRP), which was established in 1970, has been dedicated to promoting cooperation among the world's religions, while maintaining respect for religious differences. Religions for Peace is a global movement, with more than 30 national chapters and members in more than 100 countries. Accredited to the United Nations, Religions for Peace engages in vigorous peace promoting initiatives throughout the world in cooperation with the leadership of the various religious groups, and with development and UN agencies.
In NSW the executive meets monthly, and "Heads of Faith" meet twice a year at Parliament House. Representatives of the Jewish community participate actively.
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© Josie Lacey 2006