Rabbis Nixed for Party Politics

The Elijah Interfaith Institute's 5-day interfaith conference is themed “The Future of Religious Leadership,” hosted by the Municipality of Haifa.

Hillel Fendel , | updated: 15:00

Religious leaders meet (illustrative)
Religious leaders meet (illustrative)
Israel news photo: elijah-interfaith.org

Under the theme “The Future of Religious Leadership,” the Elijah Interfaith Institute is holding a five-day interfaith conference, hosted by the Municipality of Haifa.

Over 50 religious leaders from around the world are participating, representing Judaism, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam and Hinduism/Sikh. Previous meetings were held in Spain, Taiwan and India. 

In keeping with the event’s theme, the Elijah Institute released results of a survey on the topic of religious leadership.  Conducted in August and September of this year, the poll claims to show how members of different religions view their religious leadership. 

When asked about the appropriateness of the involvement of Jewish leaders in national politics, the highest response indicating that it is appropriate came from Jewish respondents, 59% of whom considered it appropriate. Literature emanating from the conference concluded, “There is room to consider that Jewish leadership is so implicated in politics as to have become identified by it.” 

Politics - No; Land of Israel - Yes
Rabbi She’ar-Yashuv Cohen, Chief Rabbi of Haifa and a participant in the meeting, sees this issue differently. He told Israel National News, "Party politics is not the right venue for rabbinical leaders - but questions regarding the integrity of the Land of Israel and other religious issues that arise on our national agenda are a different story."

Rabbi Cohen emphasized that the purpose of such interfaith meetings is "to reduce hatred. The Holocaust could not have happened without [generations of] hatred for Judaism... But even during such meetings, the uniqueness of each religion must be maintained. Just like the Patriarch Abraham: He was very welcoming to all, but our Sages say that he was on one side and the entire world was on the other side. In this spirit, the meals at the meeting were held separately, as were, of course, the prayers... No missionizing is accepted at meetings of this type, of course, and no discussions of matters of faith."

Straying Afield?
Rabbi Alon Goshen-Gottstein, Executive Director of Elijah Interfaith Institute, summed up, “Jewish leadership seems to be suffering a crisis. When these facts are compared with some of the data relating to other religions, this might suggest one of the causes why Jews seek spiritual inspiration from teachers of other traditions.”  He did not specify how many Jews actually seek spiritual inspiration from teachers of other traditions, nor how many people of other religions do so.

Note: The survey respondents did not include members of the hareidi-religious sector of Judaism.

Some findings:

* Only 65% of Jews believe Jewish leadership is important to their religion, compared to 86% of Christians and 79% of Muslims. 

* Only 34% of Jews say they have a national leader.

* 59% of Jews who strongly identify as religious have a local leader. Among Jews who have a local leader, 84% trust in their leader.

* National and international religious leadership receive only 58% trust among Jews, compared to 90% for Muslims and 74% for Christians.

* Jews have the lowest level of willingness to forgive their leaders for their faults; 71% for local and 61% for national leaders. 

Among those who considered themselves “strongly religious,” 39% of Jews said they had become more so over the past five years, compared with 57-86% in other religions.

The interfaith conference schedule included an opening ceremony on a Lake Kinneret cruise, a plenary session on “The Role and Challenges of Religious Leadership: Local and International Perspectives” at the Bahai Center in Haifa, and an interface between religious leaders and students at the University of Haifa.