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Interfaith Programs

Montreal Interfaith Forum: Jewish Perspectives on Interfaith

Montreal, Canada - As part of an ongoing effort to build bridges and further the cause of peace among religions, Rabbi Jacob Levy of Congregation Beth Rambam addressed the monthly meeting of the Universal Peace Federation of Montreal on October 17.

In introducing himself, Rabbi Levy mentioned that he became an orphan as a teenager with the loss of both his parents. This caused him to reflect deeply on the meaning of life and death and contributed to his choosing the spiritual path of becoming a rabbi.

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His reflections included a discussion on the human condition where he suggested that sin is not the problem – rather, ignorance is the cause of human troubles, and ignorance leads to extremism.

Jews recently celebrated Rosh Hashanah and the arrival of year 5772. Rabbi Levy suggested that humanity is approaching the “Age of Shabbat,” and among the signs of the “age” is the return of the Jewish people to their ancestral homeland after a 2000-year Diaspora.

The cultural mosaic of Israel, with Jews from all four corners of the earth living in relative harmony and even intermarrying is a good illustration of the potential for all humanity to live together as one family. For example, the Falasha Jews of Africa, a remnant from Biblical times, were rescued and have been integrated into the Israeli culture. The “Age of Shabbat” will lead to a higher level of cooperation among peoples of the world.

Rabbi Levy spoke about the religions of “the Book,” about monotheism, and Abraham. An interesting observation was that Abraham, a Chaldean and not a Jew, witnessed to his faith in God without talking about God. His witness was his daily actions and activities: he always welcomed travellers to his tent, giving them food and hospitality.

In this way, he explained that monotheism is not so much a theological construct as a manifestation of a relationship with God which is acted out horizontally, in thinking of others. The rabbi suggested that Abraham was the first person who could ask God to wait while he took care of his guests. In other words, by making others one with ourselves – by thinking of others – we witness that God is indeed One. Before coming to God in prayer, we must forgive those who hurt us and ask forgiveness of those we have hurt.

The Diaspora enabled Jews to develop their abilities out of necessity; they found a way to survive and prosper when they were denied the usual ways to live. Such people have gathered in Israel, and thus the newly formed country is able to produce many innovations and prosper economically even in difficulty.

Rabbi Levy’s family left Morocco for France when he was young due to persecution. He studied in Israel and remembers going often to Bethlehem, which sadly is not possible now. He then lived in Argentina and in Switzerland, where he became chief Rabbi in the mid 1980s. He left France when new legislation disallowed anyone from wearing visible religious symbols and meant that Jews would not be able to wear the kippah in public. He is very happy to be in Canada, where there is religious freedom.

As a Jewish chaplain in Europe and now in Canada, he sees developing good relationships with chaplains of other faiths such as Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism as an important part of his ministry. He maintains a curiosity and interest in other people and traditions.

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