“Today, the divisions are more within religions than between religions”

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We have entered ‘a golden age of inter-religious dialogue’, Rabbi David Shlomo Rosen, the American Jewish Committee’s International Director of Interreligious Affairs, tells Maria José Atienza.

Maria: You defend the role of religious beliefs in the construction of a society of progress and peace. However, there are several voices which argue that religions should refrain from intervening in or influencing the social or political sphere. What do you think about this?

Rabbi Rosen: There is a profound difference between a marriage between religion and politics, and religion playing a constructive role in political life. When religion becomes a partisan political entity or is dependent upon political interests, it often compromises its values and even becomes corrupted as a result. Indeed, terrible things have been done and continue to be done in the name of religion.

However, our religions call on us to live according to clear values and ethics. These we are obliged to pursue for the betterment of society, and politics is an essential vehicle in this regard.

In other words, religion must not become a political entity in itself, but it must be engaged in creative tension with politics.  

Maria: Have proposals for interreligious and social dialogue, such as those you defend, regressed or advanced in recent years?

Rabbi Rosen: Interreligious dialogue and collaboration has advanced in leaps and bounds in recent decades and we may even speak of a golden age of interreligious engagement. However, it is still far from impacting upon the lives of the majority of people.

Photograph courtesy of the Universidad Francisco de Vitoria, from whom Rabbi Rosen received an honorary degree in October.

Maria: How do the internal divisions of the communities themselves, whether religious or social, influence this path of dialogue?

Rabbi Rosen: We may say today that divisions are more within the religions than between the religions. A more open and expansive approach from within our religions is opposed by those who are fearful that they will lose their own authenticity. This is understandable, but we must not capitulate to this approach which in the end actually diminishes the power and message of our religious traditions.

At the same time, we must be careful not to allow interreligious dialogue to reduce our religious identities to the lowest common denominator, but rather engage the other precisely out of the authenticity of our own religious identities.

 Maria: You know Europe and the Middle East in depth. In the case of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, do you believe that a lasting peace agreement will be reached or is it a ‘lost case’? What premises are necessary to promote peace in that area?

Rabbi Rosen: Religious people do not believe in ‘lost cases’. Truly religious people are always hopeful because God’s mercy is unlimited and there are always new possibilities.

I believe that the ‘Abraham Accords’ that Israel signed with the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco, and Sudan, offer a new horizon. Even though the Palestinians feel at present that they have been bypassed by these, I believe that they will also serve to build new bridges precisely between Israelis and Palestinians. 

I believe that peace between the latter now depends upon a regional framework, which in many ways is more possible today than ever before.

Maria: Do you think there is a good relationship between the Catholic community and the Jewish community? 

Rabbi Rosen: I can certainly say that the relationship has never been better. This does not mean that there is not still a lot of work to do. There is still much ignorance and prejudice to overcome.


This is a translated and slightly abridged version of an interview which was first published in the Spanish online magazine www.omnesmag.com. For the original article, see here.


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