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N. Hirschfeld: Interfaith Education and the Thought of Sun Myung Moon

 Presentation at a conference on “Religion and Peace in the Middle East: the Significance of Interfaith Cooperation”
Jerusalem, Israel - August 26-28, 2012
Published in UPF's interfaith journal Dialogue & Alliance, Vol. 26, No. 2, Fall 2012
Theme: Religion and Peace in the Middle East

The Middle East is going through a time of change. The spirit of men fighting for their freedom and refusing to accept oppression any more is getting stronger. People are joining the fight – sometimes at the cost of their lives – for their freedom. Sadly, the revolutions of the “Arab spring” are not producing the results that the rebelling people were hoping for.

The winds of the revolution in the Middle East have not passed by Israel. Due to Israel being a democratic country, the revolutionary voices looked and sounded different. Firearms have not been used, and a dying president or prime minister has not been marked as one of the revolutionaries’ targets. However, 1 million Israelis (out of 7.5 million inhabitants) have flooded the streets demanding changes to their regime’s policy. They have expressed a deep despair according their situation, in which law-abiding, hard-working people have found themselves slaves to the system, slaves to the country which charges them high taxes yet gives very little in return, making the middle classes struggle for such basic needs as food, housing, and health services.

The revolutions in the Arab countries and the revolution in Israel look different in terms of external appearance. Yet the internal pain of both revolutions is fundamentally the same: people lost faith in their leaders, people don’t trust their leaders, people feel that their government, which is supposed to protect and look after them has abandoned and misused them.

The voices coming from the Middle East are calling for changes. The spirit of the people feels the need for change, yet the direction of such changes and what system should replace the old rotten one are vague and unclear.

On the world level, the situation is very much the same: we see that the UN, the institution which was established with the vision of bringing world peace, is quite limited in its ability to take care of situations in areas of conflict. There are good, worldwide peace initiatives, yet the world as we see it is far from achieving the goal of worldwide peace.

One of the examples of the UN’s limitations is the Human Rights Council. In theory it is a good idea – to have an international body to make sure that human rights around the world are not being violated. In practice, however, the Human Rights Council ended up having nations like Iran, Saudi Arabia, and North Korea in leadership, nations that are known for their weak adherence to human rights in their own countries. Also, with 40 Muslim nations in the UN, and only one Israel, it is clear that any issue regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and civil rights would not gain a fair and objective discussion.

Rev. Sun Myung Moon, the founder of UPF, made some very interesting observations in regard to the UN’s abilities and limitations and proposed a practical solution. In this paper I would like to focus on Rev. Moon’s suggested solution to this situation. Next, I would like to propose ways to apply his global model for a solution in our Middle East region and on the local level in Israel.

UN: Outlining the Solution

There is a mismatch of the UN’s declared goals and actual accomplishments. Rev. Moon said:

Since it was created as a result of a compromise between America and the Soviet Union during the Cold War, the UN has been handicapped from birth with limits to realizing world peace, which transcends the scope of an individual nation…. I have already submitted a formal proposal for renewal to the UN. It proposes the creation of an interreligious and international peace council within the UN. This council will be the upper house, whereas the current UN—which has become the arena for competition between the member nations—will be the lower house. (July 16, 2012)

Rev. Moon is pointing at a crucial issue: the UN is limited since each country represents its own interests and attends to its particular needs. The ones who can transcend the scope of an individual nation, due to their spiritual sensitivity and their heart of seeking to worship God, are religious leaders.

Living for the Sake of Others

In order to understand better this idea of “transcending the scope of an individual nation,” there is one main value in Rev. Moon’s teachings that needs to be clarified: the value of true love and living for the sake of others:

Then what is true love? Its essence is to give, to live for the sake of others and for the sake of the whole. True love gives, forgets that it has given, and continues to give without ceasing. True love gives joyfully. We find it in the joyful and loving heart of a mother who cradles her baby in her arms and nurses it at her breast. True love is sacrificial love, such as that of a devoted son who finds his greatest satisfaction in dedicating himself with all of his body and mind to helping his parents. When we are bound together in true love, we can be together forever, continually rejoicing in each other’s company. The power of attraction of true love brings all things in the universe to our feet; even God will come to dwell with us. Nothing can compare to the value of true love. It has the power to dissolve the barriers fallen people have created, including national boundaries and the barriers of race and even religion. (Peace Message No. 9)

That means that true love, unselfish love is the basis for peaceful life. If we think about it seriously, we can see that this principle is correct not only on the worldwide level but also on the family level, on the community level, and on the national level. Once we reach the point that everyone is living for the sake of others, we would be living in the kingdom of heaven. If a husband lives for the sake of his wife and the wife lives for the sake of her husband; if each family lives for the sake of other families; if each community lives for the sake of other communities; if each country lives for the sake of other countries, and if each religion would be living for the sake of the other religions, then peace and harmony would no longer be a wishful thought but rather the reality of our daily lives.

In Judaism, this principle of living for sake of others takes the form of advocating the practice of ethical conduct such as Tsdaka (charity) and Gmilut Hasadim (returning grace). Such practices are highly developed within the religious Jewish communities. The idea of extending those values beyond one’s community or religion is revolutionary but not implausible in Jewish thought and moral values.

There are two forms of the Golden Rule. The positive form: One should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself, and the negative form: One should not treat others in ways that one would not like to be treated. The most notable positive form comes from Leviticus, chapter 19: “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”

The negative form is exemplified by Rabbi Hillel, the president of the Sanhedrin who was asked by a student to teach him the Jewish Torah while he, the student, was standing on only one foot (meaning, in a very short time). Hillel’s answer was: “That which you hate being done to you, you shall not do to another person” (Talmud Bavly, Shabat, 31a).

The Interreligious Council as the Spiritual Aspect and the UN as the Substantial Aspect

The Universal Peace Federation is advocating for an interreligious council composed of spiritual or religious leaders, who would represent the spiritual aspect in relation with the existing UN, consisting of political leaders, representing the body. On the individual level it is clear that the mind is more important than the body. For example, a broken leg can be fixed or even removed, but a damaged spirit or soul is much more complicated to cure. Franklin Roosevelt, who was paralyzed in his legs, was elected four times to be the President of the United States. No doubt the situation would have been quite different had he been suffering from mental illness.

In the same way, an interreligious council would have the major internal responsibility, while the existing UN has the secondary responsibility. They both are needed, and both are important.

As Rev. Moon sees it, world peace can be fully accomplished only when the wisdom and efforts of the world’s religious leaders, who represent the internal concerns of the mind and conscience, work cooperatively and respectfully with national leaders who have much practical wisdom and worldly experience about the external reality.

He envisions two chambers working together in mutual respect and cooperation to make great advances in ushering in an era of peace. The wisdom and vision of great religious leaders would substantially supplement the political insight, experience, and skill of the world’s political leaders:

Even at this moment, more and more conflicts are breaking out across the world over disputed borders. As a result, the world is sustaining substantial loss of human life. In addition, the money poured into war-making and peacekeeping runs into the billions of dollars. So many resources and efforts are being wasted. Yet, comprehensive solutions have not been fully achieved with respect to any given conflict. (August 18, 2001)

An Interreligious Peace Council in Israel

Based on what has been said so far, my suggestion is to establish an Interreligious Peace Council in Israel. This council would play the spiritual role and aspect to support the political aspect.

In the Talmud there is a very famous story, the “Oven of Achnai” (Talmud Bavly, Baba-Metsia 59b), which has been discussed a great deal and is the subject of much research and theological discussions.[1]

This story tells about a conflict between two great rabbinic leaders. They both are brilliant and know the Jewish law very well. When they come to disagree, they fight a cruel battle with each other. In spite of their religious knowledge and being committed to the good and to the Jewish laws, they could not resolve the disagreement in peaceful ways.

At the end of this story we read about a woman, Ima Shalom (Mother Peace), who is the sister of one of them and the wife of the other. She is motivated by her love and her will for them both to live. When she is asked, don’t you think one of them is right and one of them is wrong?, she answers that it not for her to judge but it is a matter between those fighting rabbis and God. By her acts, Ima Shalom (Mother Peace) shows that all she cares about is the life of the two fighting men.

We can learn from this story that analytical thought and a deep intellectual level of understanding the scriptures are not enough. In order to lead a community to a life of peace and harmony, there is a need for the “logic of love,” a concept widely promoted by Dr. Hak Ja Han Moon, co-founder of the Women’s Federation for World Peace.

This story is a story about a religious disagreement within Judaism, but conflicts with other religions are in essence the same.

I am quoting further from Rev. Moon’s vision for interreligious dialogue, which I believe if we listen to it from the point of view of our own nation and religion, such ideas will bring not only much inspiration but also practical advice as well which can be implemented by religious leaders:

Conflicts arise for many reasons. But one of the primary factors contributing to their emergence is the deep-rooted disharmony that exists among the world’s religions. Therefore, when we witness the many global tragedies occurring around us, we should recognize how critically important it is that the religions come together, dialogue with one another, and learn to embrace one another. (August 18, 2001)

Although secular authorities rule most societies, religion lies at the heart of most national and cultural identities. In fact, religious faith and devotion have far greater importance in most people’s hearts than do political loyalties.

Therefore, Rev. Moon said that the time has come for religions to renew themselves and manifest true leadership in the world. People of faith should feel responsibility for the plight, suffering, and injustices experienced by the world’s peoples.

One main point he emphasizes is that religious people have not been good examples of practicing love and living for the sake of others, and for this reason they should engage in deep self reflection. He calls for religious people to repent for their preoccupation with individual salvation and narrow denominational interests. Those kinds of practices and attitudes have prevented, in his opinion, religious bodies from giving their utmost to the cause of world salvation:

In particular, God calls upon us leaders, especially religious leaders, in hope that we will stand against the injustices and evils of the world, and bestow His true love upon the world. Hence, all people of faith must become one in heart in order to give full expression, in both words and actions, to God’s passionate desire for humanity’s restoration and peace. (August 18, 2001)

In order for such an interfaith council to be successful and meaningful, we need to develop our interfaith skills to reach to a higher level. So far, interfaith dialogues have been usually focusing on getting to know better one another’s faith; such interfaith dialogues have reached their limitations. They are important as a stage of growth, but after reaching this level, we can and should go beyond it. We should reach unity in heart, we should learn to embrace one another, and more than that we should learn to live for the sake of the other religions.

This vision is practical and realistic. After establishing a strong interfaith council, which would include people from all the religions in Israel, deliberations can focus on serious practical matters such as whether all young people should be drafted into the army. Once this council establishes credibility, through educational programs, publications, conferences, and other activities, it can have a significant influence on the society.

To reach such a high level of dialogue and build a serious and respected council, there is a need to learn deeply about other religions as well as learn how to apply the deep meaning of “uniting in heart” and “living for the sake of others.”

I will conclude with the words of Rev. Moon:

Respected world leaders, we must join hands and hearts and improve our systems and organizations so that the precious wisdom of religion, along with scholars, statesmen, and people of insight and knowledge, can be mobilized to solve the serious and urgent crises of the world. (August 18, 2001)

Nurit Hirschfield is the Director of UPF’s Jerusalem Office for Interfaith and Interreligious Cooperation. A lecturer in rabbinic literature at Achva College, she received a Ph.D. from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.


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Boyarin, Daniel. Intertextuality and the Reading of Midrash. Bloomington, 1990.

Guttmann, Alexander. “The Significance of Miracles for Talmudic Judaism,” HUCA 20 (1947), pp. 363-406.

Goldin, Judah, “On the Account of the Banning of R. Eliezer Ben Hyrqanus: An Analysis and Proposal,” The Journal of the Ancient Near Eastern Society 16-17 (1984 - 1985), pp. 85-97.

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[1] For partial list of the discussion, see the bibliography.