Rabbi Gerry Serotta
Part 1 – 12:20 – 18:30
I feel very much at home in this beautiful space. Thank you for hosting us. I feel Allah`s presence here very strongly and I was delighted to have the opportunity to come out here and visit Imam Bilal and the community here, which has been involved a little bit with the Interfaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington, that I am the executive director of a whole nine months. A group of young people from this community came and sang together in the interfaith concert last November. They sang beautifully in Arabic, English and Hebrew, which was their choice and that was a true model for the folks who were there that a particular community would take the time and the effort to lean a language that was foreign to them and from another faith and culture. I don`t think anybody else did it. We had somebody singing Spanish, but they spoken only their native language. So, I just had to come out.
There are three parts that I wanted to say but Imam Bilal`s mention of the responsibility of teachers and religious leaders in regard to countering extremism and maybe even exaggerating or contributing to extremism is a serious issue. But I am going to tell a little story that`s not serious, although it was told to me by the Grand Mufti of Bosnia, to the whole interfaith conference. He spoke of a Mufti who had a lot of students obviously and he was traveling in his community and he sees one of his strongest students just lying there by the curb drunk and had alcohol, this is a student of the Mufti and he didn`t understand it. So he goes up to his student and said what`s happened to you since you are in a Madrasah and he said those whom God, Allah, instructs they end up like you, but those whom the Imams instruct they end up like me. So we have some responsibilities, those of us who are religious leaders and teachers, to teach our traditions correctly. That’s the, or an, answer to the question is if the religious leaders teach from their texts and rightly interpret those texts, we would not be where we are today. There is tremendous ignorance in the communities from which we come. Jews are ignorant of Judaism, Christians are ignorant of Christianity and Muslims are ignorant of Islam. So the main answer is teaching, teaching and teaching.
Now, I am going to focus on three points. I have three frameworks to present to you mostly from the perspective of my tradition, the Jewish tradition, but since I`ve learned from the Christianity and Islam and now Interfaith Conference is even broader than that, we go from Baha’is to Zoroastrians. I wanted to say something about the sources for pluralism within my tradition and I know that there are parallels in Islam and Christianity, because in one case we share the same text. So I want to talk about sources for pluralism. I want to speak about how we confront challenging text, which appeared to be exclusionary, us versus them. This is something that is more of a problem for us, I discover, in the religions that come from the descendants of Hagar and Sarah, some people call them the Abrahamic traditions but Abraham would not have done much in the way of having followers, the descendants of Hagar and Sarah. We have from time to time, defined ourselves as opposed to the others. We have faith, they are the infidels, we are chosen, they are not chosen, and we are in us versus them paths in some respect and we have to own that and we have to own all sources that are in our traditions, in our texts, in our scriptures, would seem to indicate that it`s us versus them in the world, because we do have other texts that indicate differently. In fact, Judaism, as the oldest of the organized faiths, Abraham is the ancestor for all of us, then we really started at the same time, but in terms of an organized world religion Judaism was first and therefore had something of an advantage, if it chose to, which thank God it had, to view Christianity and Islam as part of the story of what God wanted to do in the world.