Start Hanukkah with wisdom of Rabbi Rudin

In the final decades of the 20th Century, no one did more to build bridges between Christians, Jews and Muslims than Rabbi James Rudin, the interreligious affairs director of the American Jewish Committee. For example, Rudin appears in Sir Gilbert Levine’s new book about improving Catholic-Jewish relations under the reign of Pope John Paul II, a memoir called “The Pope’s Maestro.”

Rabbi Rudin continues to write regularly—years after his retirement from full-time work with the AJC in 2000—and, for that, we all can be thankful this holiday season.

As Hanukkah begins tonight, we can’t think of a better new book to recommend than “Christians & Jews, Faith to Faith: Tragic History, Promising Present, Fragile Future.” Here is the webpage at Jewish Lights Publishing where you can learn more abut Rudin’s book and order a copy, which we recommend for Christians as well as for Jewish readers. Especially if you’re clergy, a teacher, a writer or a leader in any religously diverse community—you need to read this nuts-and-bolts overview of dozens of issues that often separate Jews and Christians. In each case, Rudin writes about how understanding these thorny issues can lead to pathways through those thorns.

Among the many topics he addresses are: Why Paul often is a divisive figure in interfaith dialogue, why it’s a problem to refer to Jewish scriptures as “The Old Testament,” why Jerusalem is such a flash point for three faiths, why the Holocaust often is called the Shoah and why the Shoah is unique. There’s much more in these 14 chapters that can help you avoid needless friction and work your way to stronger, diverse communities.

Given Hanukkah’s central theme of religious liberty—that’s a very appropriate recommendation.

To give you a feel for Rudin’s wisdom, we’ll share a few lines from this new book. These lines appear in Rudin’s final section, “A User’s Guide to Christian-Jewish Relations.” This is an abridged version …

Rabbi Rudin’s 10 commandments for successful dialogue:

1.) Be there. As the great American philosopher Woody Allen once said, showing up is 80 percent of life.

2.) Don’t try to defend the indefensible regarding your own faith. It is important to acknowledge errors and mistakes that members and leaders of your faith community have made. Then move on.

3.) Listen. Frequently, dialogue participants are poor listeners.

4.) Focus. You can’t cover everything in Christian-Jewish relations. Focus on two or three points and develop them firmly.

5.) Avoid preaching Bible texts, history or law. Don’t concentrate solely on historical, scriptural and legal perspectives or rationales; if you do, your audience’s eyes will glaze over as you speak. Remember that theology is not counting “angels on the head of a pin;” it is autobiographical.

6.) The person with the most words usually loses.

7.) Know your audience. A particular presentation on a religious tradition may be inappropriate for one audience, but on the mark for another.

8.) Journalists may sometimes be inadequately informed, but they are usually interested in religious matters. Try to get them to focus on a few points and emphasize context, context, context.

9.) Seek areas of solidarity and mutual respect. Emphasize the “values we share;” don’t cite “what you have done to us.”

10.) Don’t try to change people’s minds; concentrate on enlightenment, explanation and clarification. A Christian-Jewish dialogue is not a contest with winners and losers.

In our view at ReadTheSpirit, this is sage advice. You’ll build stronger bridges—and avoid a lot of unfortunate fireworks—by following Rabbi Rudin’s 10 commandments. Buy the book and you’ll find the entire text explaining those 10 principles—plus nearly 300 more pages of other very helpful advice.

To our Jewish readers and Jewish neighbors around the world:

Happy Hanukkah!

May your lights remind us all of the need to defend religious liberty!

We want our international conversation to continue

Conversation is far better than the dangerous shouting matches we’ve been witnessing in our global culture recently. So, please, email us at [email protected] and tell us what you think of our stories—and, please tell a friend to start reading along with you!

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