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May 10, 200722 Iyar, 5767
Special to The CJN
TORONTO -A retired U.S. Navy chaplain says his experience as a rabbi in the armed forces taught him that focusing on common social issues is the best way to improve relations between Christians and Jews.
“The secret of the chaplain corps was not talking about theology first, not talking about the hardest issues first. Instead, we rolled up our sleeves and talked about shared concerns [first] – [soldiers] in pain, those in fear, those suffering from doubt or loneliness,” Rabbi Arnold Resnicoff told the the 21st annual Neighbourhood Interfaith Dinner, held recently at Yorkminster Park Baptist Church.
“Only after we had built relationships [with each other] did we talk about faith issues. Otherwise, we agreed to disagree on theology and agreed to agree on the needs of humanity.”
Rabbi Resnicoff, now a Washington, D.C., consultant on interreligious affairs and a former special assistant on values and vision to the secretary and chief of staff of the U.S. Air Force, was the keynote speaker at the dinner, which was attended by some 300 clergy and congregants from seven churches and three synagogues in mid-town Toronto.
Participating congregations included Beth Tzedec Congregation, Beth Sholom Synagogue, Temple Sinai, Christ Church Deer Park, the Church of St. Clement, Grace Church on-the-Hill, Holy Rosary Church, St. Ansgar Lutheran Church and
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Timothy Eaton Memorial Church.
Rabbi Resnicoff said it’s possible to be moved by the faith and teachings of others, noting that he was inspired to become a rabbi by a Christian chaplain who served with him in the Vietnam War.
He also recalled that during times of personal turmoil, when he was stationed overseas, he turned to the Christian chaplains for spiritual and emotional support.
“When I had hard times in my life following the death of my brother and the death of my father, I was the only rabbi around. The priests and ministers with whom I worked became my rabbis.”
Rabbi Resnicoff said that Christianity and Judaism have distinctly different theologies, and many miscommunications occur because people think they understand the other faith when in fact they may not.
“It is better to assume we do not [understand the other faith] and to treat Judaism or Christianity as a new, unknown religion and listen to believers in those faiths explain their faith to us.”
Learning about others’ faith through dialogue is a way to prevent conflict and avoid misunderstandings, he said. “We need to talk, to share with each other what words hurt .”
He said Jews and Christians have “conflicting visions of the end of days,” and so he stressed the importance of working together on issues in the here and now, such as poverty and homelessness.
“The more we focus on getting through today – making this a better day – the more we can agree. Therefore, focus on poverty, crime, injustice and discrimination. Work on projects like Habitat for Humanity, which help the homeless.”
Rabbi Resnicoff outlined three pitfalls to avoid in interfaith dialogue, which he calls the “rules of engagement.”
Firstly, he said comparisons between religious groups can’t be a comparison between “our best and their worst.” Secondly, one can never compare “our teachings to their actions.” Thirdly, in a comparison of teachings, don’t compare “our beliefs to their words” because beliefs are learned in context while words can be taken out of context from others’ holy books.
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