Interfaith Dialogue Troubled Even Before Israel Dispute

For Jews, Christians' Letter to Congress Was Last Straw

By Nathan Guttman

Published October 25, 2012, issue of November 09, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Frustrated by what he saw as hostility toward Israel, Rabbi Eric Greenberg recalled how a few years ago he presented Christian leaders in an interfaith dialogue with a study highlighting historic Jewish ties to the Holy Land.

Rabbi Steve Gutow
courtesy of Jcpa
Rabbi Steve Gutow

Sitting across the table, one of the church leaders replied that, according to the prophets, the Jewish people sinned and lost their right to the land.

“And I thought, after all these years, what have they learned?” said Greenberg, director of interfaith affairs at the Anti-Defamation League, in a recent conversation with the Forward. “It was eye-opening.”

The back-and-forth illustrates the rocky path charted by the interfaith roundtable since it was launched eight years ago. The squabbles erupted into an open split after 15 mainline Protestant Church leaders wrote a letter to Congress on October 5, calling for an investigation into Israel’s use of American military aid.

Jewish organizations abruptly pulled out of an upcoming roundtable annual meeting after hearing about the letter to Congress.

Rabbi Steve Gutow, president and CEO of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, said there is a need for a pause in the dialogue in order to reexamine how both sides can work together in the future.

“It is very difficult now to go into the room and breathe the same air,” said Gutow, one of the leading Jewish participants in the interfaith gatherings. He stressed that in any case there is importance in finding ways to continue interfaith dialogue.

While Jewish leaders expressed outrage at the churches’ decision not to consult with them before turning to Congress on an issue as sensitive as foreign aid to Israel, many of those involved say they aren’t surprised by the breakdown in the roundtable.

“While we remain committed to continuing our dialogue,” the Jewish organizations stated, “the letter represents an escalation in activity that the Jewish participants feel precludes a business-as-usual approach.” Instead of the scheduled roundtable meeting, the Jewish community proposed a high-level consultation with Christian counterparts.

The interfaith roundtable was established in 2004, following the first attempt by members of the Presbyterian Church USA to pass a resolution calling for divestment from Israel. Ever since, the forum “has had its ups and downs,” according to one member.

“What we’re seeing here is nothing really new,” said Rabbi James Rudin, senior inter-religious adviser at the American Jewish Committee and one of the pioneers of Jewish dialogue with mainline Protestants. He said the current falling-out should be seen as yet another flashpoint in a difficult relationship that has been shaped by church leadership’s hostility to Zionism and Israel.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Step into the Iron Dome with Tuvia Tenenbom.
  • What do you think of Wonder Woman's new look?
  • "She said that Ruven Barkan, a Conservative rabbi, came into her classroom, closed the door and turned out the lights. He asked the class of fourth graders to lie on the floor and relax their bodies. Then, he asked them to pray for abused children." Read Paul Berger's compelling story about a #Savannah community in turmoil:
  • “Everything around me turns orange, then a second of silence, then a bomb goes off!" First installment of Walid Abuzaid’s account of the war in #Gaza:
  • Is boredom un-Jewish?
  • Let's face it: there's really only one Katz's Delicatessen.
  • "Dear Diaspora Jews, I’m sorry to break it to you, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t insist that every Jew is intrinsically part of the Israeli state and that Jews are also intrinsically separate from, and therefore not responsible for, the actions of the Israeli state." Do you agree?
  • Are Michelangelo's paintings anti-Semitic? Meet the Jews of the Sistine Chapel: http://jd.fo/i4UDl
  • What does the Israel-Hamas war look like through Haredi eyes?
  • Was Israel really shocked to find there are networks of tunnels under Gaza?
  • “Going to Berlin, I had a sense of something waiting there for me. I was searching for something and felt I could unlock it by walking the streets where my grandfather walked and where my father grew up.”
  • How can 3 contradictory theories of Yiddish co-exist? Share this with Yiddish lovers!
  • "We must answer truthfully: Has a drop of all this bloodshed really helped bring us to a better place?”
  • "There are two roads. We have repeatedly taken the one more traveled, and that has made all the difference." Dahlia Scheindlin looks at the roots of Israel's conflict with Gaza.
  • Shalom, Cooperstown! Cooperstown Jewish mayor Jeff Katz and Jeff Idelson, director of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, work together to oversee induction weekend.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.