Amidst a changing global climate of normalization between Muslim states and Israel, The Blickle Institute for Interfaith Dialogue officially launched this week with a mission of educating religious students and leaders with an updated attitude of Judaism toward non-Jews, including its approach toward other religions, both in relation to non-Jewish minorities living in the Jewish State and relations at the global level.
An initiative of the Ohr Torah Stone network, the Blickle Institute and a corresponding Beit Midrash of Judaism and Humanity have been developed to “engage leading educational and rabbinic figures from the Jewish religious community to be partners in creating a new paradigm for how Judaism relates to other religions and how the Jewish people relate to the non-Jews in our midst,” according to Rabbi Kenneth Brander, President and Rosh Yeshiva of Ohr Torah Stone.
The Founding Director of the Institute is Rabbi Dr. Yaakov Nagen, a scholar and teacher who has heavily invested much of his career to interfaith dialogue particularly between Jews and Muslims. “With the return to Zion and the establishment of the state of Israel, we must define the halachic status of other religions according to Judaism and outline our responsibilities to the country's non-Jewish minorities. Our goal is to disseminate among our students and fellow community leaders a new approach that focuses on the reality that there is so much more that unites us as peoples of faith than the political and diplomatic divisions that so often cloud that truth,” he said.
With a mission to focus on the education of future leaders – rabbis and educators; women Torah scholars and rabbis-in-training; future emissaries; students in yeshivot and midrashot - the Institute will serve as the first Orthodox Jewish institution that is adopting a systemic approach to interfaith understanding and relations.
“The vision of this Institute is to ensure that all peoples can be better educated about fellow monotheistic religions in a way that can foster better relations between our faiths and thus serve as a source of blessing for Israel and the entire world,” said Mr. Karl Herman Blickle, Chairman of Stuttgarter Lehrhaus Foundation for Interreligious Dialogue.
“The Jewish people has achieved so much on a national level in recent decades, but with that accomplishment comes a sense of responsibility in how we interact with minorities and peoples of other religions,” says Rabbi Brander. “It's time that the religious Jewish community in Israel adopts a code regarding our religious responsibility to not just tolerate the 'other' but to engage and learn from the other, and to share that with our public intellectuals, our leaders and future leaders."
The Institute's rabbinical and educator fellows will meet for monthly round-table meetings on how to promote that vision and specifically how to integrate interfaith studies into the curricula of Orthodox educational institutions.
“Impacting positive interfaith relations is predicated upon ongoing communication between our peoples,” Rabbi Dr. Nagen explains. “When we speak to one another, and most importantly when our younger generation is given the tools to speak to one another, we are able to appreciate that there is so much that we can do together that will further co-existence. These are values that are at the heart of who we are as religious Jews and ones that we are confident this Institute will now make popular in our schools and communities all across the globe.”
Addressing the online launch were Rabbis Brander and Nagen as well as Karl Herman Blickle, Rabbi Dr. David Rosen, International Director of Interreligious Affairs for the American Jewish Committee and Imam Gemal Al-ubra of the El-Noor Mosque of Rahat, who said, “If peace cannot be made through politics, perhaps peace can be brought about through religious discourse. I believe religion can bring hearts together and that we have a common denominator through which we can promote peace.”
The cadre of fellows comprising the Blickle Institute complements Ohr Torah Stone's Beit Midrash for Judaism and Humanity, whose scholars meet weekly to conduct in-depth halachic research into topics relating to Judaism's approach toward non-Jews, particularly in the State of Israel.