Sunday, February 07, 2016

World Interfaith Harmony Week 2016

World Interfaith Harmony Week is marked in Edmonton during the first week of February. It was as first proposed at the UN General Assembly on September 23, 2010 by H.M. King Abdullah II of Jordan. This year, the Edmonton Interfaith Centre for Education and Action organized its event on February 5 in City Hall. The theme this year is “Love of God, or love of the good, and love of the neighbour." I, along with EICEA Coordinator Netta Phillet, spoke on the topic from a Jewish perspective. What I said is below, and draws heavily from my talk in September at the Festival of Faiths. At the very bottom is a video of the two of us, so you can get a chance to hear what Netta had to say.


In Judaism, when it comes to how to relate to those who have no faith, our scriptures are relatively silent on the matter. There are verses in the Old Testament that can be interpreted on how we should treat others in general, starting with the story of Adam and Eve, which shows that we are all connected, we all come from the same beginnings, and as thus are all equal. There are also passages in Isaiah and Proverbs that deal with how we treat people. However, these are not specifically Jewish, as other religions follow the Old Testament as well.

One of my favourite, and best known, comments on how we treat each other that has a Jewish basis is from the Talmud (oral law which was later codified in writing). It's the story of Rabbi Hillel - a rabbi who lived around the same time as Jesus. The story goes that a non-Jew came to Rabbi Hillel and said he would convert to Judaism if the rabbi could teach the man the entire Torah in the same time he could stand on one foot. Rabbi Hillel's response: "What is hateful, do not do to your fellow man. That is the whole of the Torah; the rest is commentary." (Talmud Shabbat 31a)

Jewish identity can be multi-faceted, especially in our contemporary world. There are many Jewish people who would not label themselves as religious, but follow some of our customs and traditions out of cultural, rather than religious observance, for example the dietary laws of not eating pork or shellfish, or joining together with family to celebrate the Passover seder. You can even be an atheist and still identify as Jewish in a cultural sense, or as an ethnic identity. My own Jewish spiritual practise leans heavily on the observance of tikkun olam, which means "healing" or "repairing the world". In this way, "loving the good" or "loving the neighbour" is all part and parcel with social justice and striving for a world of peace and understanding between all people.