Judaism: Words to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland
Arutz Sheva feels that it is important for Jews all over the world to read and hear this important address, a response to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, following its adoption of the controversial report “The Inheritance of Abraham” challenging the connection between the Jewish People and the Land of Israel. :
His Grace, Lord High Commisioner and Her Grace, the Countess of Wessex, The Moderator of the General Assembly, Commissioners, Delegates, Distinguished guests, Ladies and Gentlemen:.
At the outset, I would like to thank you for the kind invitation extended to me to address the General Assembly in my first year as Chief Rabbi. In accepting this honour, I join this august gathering in a spirit of goodwill and friendship.
Your Graces, I would like to thank you for the outstanding example you set for the nation in so many different areas of dedicated service. Your selfless devotion to the issues you care passionately about: opportunities for young people, working with children and assisting those with disabilities and communication problems is an example to us all. I wish you continued success in all your worthy endeavours.
Today I would like to make a stand and the facts are clear. I would like to speak about friendship, cooperation, mutual respect, harmony and peace.
With regard to the Jewish community of Scotland, the facts are there to be seen. Our community has thrived within a free and open society. We are proud of the contribution that the community in general, and many of its members, in particular, have made to Scottish society. Over the years, we have enjoyed a close and harmonious relationship with the Church of Scotland, much to the benefit of our two great faiths.
I have been delighted to meet and work with the outgoing Moderator, the Very Rev. Lorna Hood and I extend my congratulations to her successor, the Rt. Rev. John Chalmers and look forward to working with him. The Moderator and I are privileged to be amongst the Joint Presidents of the Council of Christians and Jews.
There is, I believe, an urgent need for more meaningful and productive dialogue and cooperation between faiths in Scotland and throughout the United Kingdom. It is essential that Faith Leaders should prioritise dialogue and encourage this from the grassroots up, at all levels of our faith communities. We thrive on genuine friendships, a desire to understand each other, mutual respect and peaceful coexistence. This fabric must be woven over time to ensure that our relationships are strong and robust so that we can be confident that together we can withstand the challenges that come our way.
Jews and Christians have common roots and share a spiritual bond. Our Judeo-Christian heritage is a source of light and inspiration for all of mankind. While we acknowledge genuine differences between our faiths, there is much scope for us, with warmth, sensitivity and honesty, to build on our shared hopes and values.
I know that you join me in an earnest desire to promote religious and social harmony on the basis of the moral and social teachings common to our faith traditions and to strive towards the elimination of religious and racial prejudice, hatred, discrimination and anti-Semitism.
As friends and as partners in striving to preserve religious commitment within our increasingly secular society, there are also areas for concern between us. Unfortunately, last year’s report by the Church & Society Council of the Kirk to the General Assembly put a strain on Jewish-Christian relations in Scotland. We need to confront these issues together and not sweep them under the carpet. We need to ensure that we have a better understanding of each other, a deeper appreciation for each other’s traditions, leading to greater respect and stronger bonds between our faiths. For a real and meaningful relationship we need to internalise how the other views itself. We need to know the facts before we make a stand. For this, sincere and serious dialogue is required. The door of the Jewish Community is always open to you.
Let me share with you, very briefly, part of the Jewish position on this matter. Hopefully this can help frame some of the ongoing dialogue I hope the Kirk will be having with the Jewish community in Scotland and further afield on this matter.
The inextricable link between the Jewish People and the Land of Israel is clear. According to our tradition, the Jewish People’s association with the Land of Israel is as old as time itself. It dates back to the creation of the world.
This link was confirmed by God to Abraham in Genesis Chapter 17, verse 8: “The whole land of Canaan, I give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God.” We share these sacred texts and such an illustrious gathering will of course be familiar – many of you I expect in the original Hebrew – with this and many other texts through which our Bible is infused with the relationship between the Jewish People and the Land of Israel.
The Jewish People’s connection to the Land of Israel is deep and it is eternal. It goes to the very fibre of our being as a faith community and as a nation. It defines who we are. No events in history can shake this. Let there be no mistaking the fact that to be Jewish is to be a lover of Israel and to appreciate the strong and unbreakable bond between the Jewish People and its Land. There is no legitimate theological narrative or theological interpretation that can deny this fundamental and essential link.
Through all the 2000 years of our often bitter exile we have yearned for the Holy Land and longed to return to her. Israel for the Jewish People is not an idea or a place of the heart. It is a physical reality, where the Jewish People lives and breathes.
We pray for dignity, safety and security for all. We pray for peace.
While last year’s report was hurtful and harmful to relations between our faith communities, I am confident that we can overcome these challenges and use this as an opportunity to gain better understanding of each other and to work more closely together. Not only on this issue but on the many issues that unite us.
In respect of matters pertaining to the Middle East, my challenge to you and us, while working together, is: what can we do collectively and separately, that will advance the cause of peace, by building confidence, respect and understanding while avoiding the spread of suspicion, mistrust and fear?
This is exactly what I was exploring last week when I took a delegation of 50 of my Rabbis from the UK to Israel. Our itinerary included a tour of Christian parts of Jerusalem’s Old City and we met with the leaders of the many Christian and Muslim communities, as well as the Druze and Baha’i faiths.
Constructive dialogue with the Church of Scotland, which has included the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities, the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Council of Christians and Jews has been tremendously helpful. Such meetings between our two communities should give us encouragement and we must ensure that this engagement continues. We would like to see them embrace the wider Christian Community in Scotland. And it is precisely when things become difficult that continuing these conversations becomes all the more critical.
We have much to be thankful for. Religious life thrives in Scotland and we must strive together to ensure it continues to do so and that it grows stronger. There is much common ground for us to work on collaboratively in the national interest; issues of concern to Christians, Jews and other faith communities that we can unite around, such as promoting spirituality within a materialistically driven society and teaching selfless compassion at a time of worrying levels of poverty. We appreciate the centrality of the family and the power of the community and we share a passion for caring, giving and volunteering. The list is a long and noble one.
We celebrate the extent to which Scotland is enriched by its faith communities. The Church of Scotland has a critical role in ensuring that this continues and that there is a voice for all faiths in this wonderful country. We, the Jewish community are your partners and we look forward to sharing the path ahead with you. Let us understand, let us empathise, let us learn from each other and let us hear the still small voice – Let us listen, together and walk together.
I congratulate you on your achievements in enabling this great Church to go from strength to strength and I salute you on your success in preserving tradition in an untraditional and uncertain age.
May God be with you.