Jewish Interfaith Endeavors: Academic Programs (2004)

The following report is part of a series of pieces investigating the Jewish community’s participation in interfaith dialogue.

Because they are grounded in theology and philosophy, interfaith studies have become a popular topic of conversation in colleges and universities. Besides articles in various academic journals, some institutions now have centers and programs solely devoted to the topic. In addition, many seminaries foster interfaith dialogue in hopes of engendering compassion, tolerance, and understanding among those who will later enter education and the clergyClergy are the body of ordained men (and in some cases women) who are authorized to perform the priestly, pastoral, or rabbinical duties of the community—as distinct from the laity whom they serve.. Although such programming generally addresses only Christian-Jewish dialogue, in recent years leaders of the involved organizations have come to the realization that Muslims have just as crucial a voice. Many predict that within the next ten years monotheistic “trilogues” will develop more and more frequently.

The following is a series of summaries of interfaith work performed in academia. This list is not meant to be exhaustive, but merely to provide a sample of the types of action taking place.

Jewish Institutions

Hebrew College in Newton is a non-denominational college in Newton, MA. It offers B.A.’s and M.A.’s in Jewish Studies and Jewish Education, as well as rabbinical ordinationOrdination means consecration to a priestly or monastic life. The term is used in the Buddhist tradition for the rites of becoming a monk (bhikkhu) or nun (bhikkhuni); in the Jewish tradition for the rites of becoming a rabbi; and in the Christian traditi... and a variety of certificate programs. HC offers graduate-level introductions to ChristianityChristianity is the religious tradition of Christians: those who confesses faith in Jesus Christ, follow the path Christ taught, and gather together in the community of the church., IslamIslam in Arabic literally means “submitting” or “submission.” One who submits or surrenders his or her will to God is called a Muslim. While the whole of God’s creation is described as being inherently Muslim, human beings must choose whether to... and religions of the East within its curriculum. In addition, it is located next to the Andover Newton Theological School, and as a result, hosts many interfaith dialogues for its students.

Hebrew Union College is a Reform college with campuses in New York, Cincinnati, Los Angeles, and JerusalemJerusalem, the ancient capital of Israel from the time of King David (c. 1000 BCE), was the ritual and spiritual center of the Jewish people for 1,000 years until the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE. For Jews, Jerusalem is still the geographical.... It offers B.S. degrees, M.A.’s, and cantorial and rabbinicRabbinic Judaism is the Judaism descended from the rabbis, the teachers, who compiled the Mishnah and the Talmud between the second and fifth centuries CE, and all the tradition and learning of Judaism that has issued from them. accreditation. It offers interdisciplinary courses with a number of Christian institutions, including The General Theological Seminary, Union Theological Seminary, St. Joseph’s Catholic Seminary, and St. Vladimir’s OrthodoxIn general, orthodox means having a “correct opinion or outlook” and is a term used by people in many religions who claim authority for traditional views and forms of their religion. Seminary. It also participates in an interseminary dialogue with the above groups which includes the Jewish seminaries Yeshivat Chovevei TorahThe Old Testament is the term Christians often use for the body of writings that comprise the Hebrew Bible which Jews call Tanakh. and the Jewish Theological Seminary as well.

Arguably, the college’s Cincinnati campus engages in the most interfaith work. Its interfaith fellowship program, the largest and oldest of its kind in North America, brings in non-Jewish students to take classes and share co-curricular activities with rabbinical students to build religious understanding. In addition, the Academy for Adult Interfaith Studies offers a wide variety of non-credit courses for people of different faiths and backgrounds. The campus also boasts Michael Cook among its faculty, possibly the only rabbiRabbi means “my master,” an authorized teacher or master of the Torah and the classical Jewish tradition. After the fall of the second Temple in 70 CE and the scattering of the Jewish people in exile, the role of the rabbi became very important in gat... in the U.S. with a Ph.D. in the New TestamentThe New Testament is the collection of a body of writings the early Christian community came to accept as authoritative: the four gospels, the Book of Acts, the letters of Paul, several other letters or epistles, and the Book of Revelation..

Of the 41 fellowships HUC offers its graduate students, eleven of them are intended for non-Jewish students. By studying at a Jewish institution and then going on to teach or serve in the ministryMinister is a general term for a member of the clergy in the Christian church. The term has also come to use in other religious traditions to designate a member of the clergy (as in the Jodo Shinshu tradition and the Nation of Islam)., it is assumed that such students will contribute to interfaith work, although it is not formally required.

The Jewish Theological Seminary is a Conservative seminary based in New York. It offers joint undergraduate degrees with Columbia and Barnard as well as graduate programs in Jewish Studies and Jewish Education. There is also a cantorial and rabbinical school.

JTS has a large number of interfaith programs including a partnership with the non-denominational ProtestantProtestant is a term used for the range of reform movements that broke with the Roman Catholic Church during the period called the Reformation. There are many branches of Protestantism, including the Lutherans, Anabaptists, Anglicans, Methodists, Baptists... Union Theological Seminary. The collaboration allows rabbinical students to take classes there with permission of their dean. In return, Union’s students can come to JTS to learn, creating fresh opportunities for student involvement in interfaith alliances and practices. The goal is to foster a justice-centered spirituality as well as peacemaking efforts and the flourishing of sustainable communities, particularly in New York City.

JTS also has an Institute for Interdenominational Studies, founded in 1938 to bring together Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish clergy and scholars for courses on the various religious traditions. Later renamed the Louis Finkelstein Institute for Religious and Social Studies, a historical perspective of the center can be accessed here, while a current mission statement is accessible here. As mentioned above, JTS is involved with the same interseminary dialoge as HUC

Yeshivat Chovevei Torah was founded in New York in 1999 as an “open” Modern Orthodox rabbinical school. The yeshiva’s goal is to create rabbisRabbi means “my master,” an authorized teacher or master of the Torah and the classical Jewish tradition. After the fall of the second Temple in 70 CE and the scattering of the Jewish people in exile, the role of the rabbi became very important in gat... who are critical thinkers with intellectual integrity and who openly engage the challenges of the modern and post-modern world while living a life of faith and religious commitment. Those involved encourage open discussion, and many students regularly participate in interdenominational and interfaith events, such as the interseminary dialogue mentioned above, though these are not directly organized by the school. Given the usually frosty reception of OrthodoxyIn general, orthodox means having a “correct opinion or outlook” and is a term used by people in many religions who claim authority for traditional views and forms of their religion. to interfaith efforts (see related report), such encouragement is rare. The hope is that students will learn that religious growth comes not through dogmatism but through questioning and struggle.

Christian Institutions

The Jay Phillips Center for Jewish-Christian Learning is a recently formed partnership in Minnesota. In 1996, SaintSaints are human beings whose lives have displayed extraordinary holiness and devotion. As such they become examples for others. Indeed some of the faithful may understand them to be intermediaries and seek their help in time of need. Roman Catholics and ... John’s University and the University of St. Thomas, two Catholic institutions in Minnesota, formed a partnership of their individual programs in Jewish-Christian understanding. In 1969, Jay Phillips founded a Chair in Jewish Studies at Saint John’s University to teach courses in Jewish religious thought to undergraduates and seminarians, host scholars as lecturers at the university, and participate in general campus life. In 1985 RabbiRebbe is the title of the spiritual leader of the Hasidim, the pietist Jewish movement which began in 18th century Poland and continues today, with its honoring of holy teachers and its emphasis on prayer and devotion. Max A. Shapiro became the founding director of the Center for Jewish-Christian Learning at St. Paul’s College (now University) of St. Thomas.

In 1996, under the guidance of Rabbi Shapiro and with the counsel of the founders of these two programs, the two universities partnered to merge these separate entities. In addition to a full schedule of classes at both universities, the center hosts week-long interfaith study workshops and brings scholars-in-residence to Christian and Jewish organizations . It supports significant work in HolocaustHolocaust (from Greek, entire burnt offering) refers in modern times to the Nazi German campaign to exterminate the Jewish people during the 1930s and 1940s with death camps and gas chambers. Six million Jews died in this Holocaust. In Hebrew, the Holocau... education and makes extensive use of the Internet for circulation of its major addresses, and is affiliated with other centers devoted to Jewish-Christian relations, both throughout North America and in Europe. Rabbi Barry D. Cytron is currently the director of the center and occupies the Jay Phillips Chair in Jewish Studies.

The University of Notre Dame recently established an endowed professorship in Jewish Studies to help promote dialogue and scholarly community between Jewish and Christians. In addition, Michael Signer is a Professor of Theology and Medieval Studies. Signer was one of the four drafters of Dabru Emet (see related report), and has been promoting interfaith efforts at the university for the last decade. In February 2004 The Observer, Notre Dame’s newspaper, published an article about his work.

Secular Institutions

The Cambridge Interfaith Programme (CIP) is designed to “sustain and resource engagement between Muslims, Christians and Jews through conversation, study, teaching and research, through involvement with Muslim, Christian and Jewish communities, organisations and initiatives, and through participation in the cultural, scientific, political and economic spheres.” The CIP plans to be connected to similar centers in the US and Middle East and to promote teaching the Abrahamic faiths together an Cambridge and other institutions.

The Center for Christian-Jewish Relations at Boston College is devoted to fostering a multifaceted and mutually enriching relationship between Christians and Jews. It offers conferences, collaborative programs with houses of worship, and a variety of other events to foster Christian-Jewish dialogue, as well as about a dozen courses at the college each year. The center is still in development; currently there are only three staff members. In the future it hopes to expand to study abroad programming and hire two professors of Jewish-Christian studies.

The Children of Abraham Institute (CHAI) is dedicated “to bringing indigenous religious interests back on the map as essential components of peace negotiations between peoples with a history of intense religiosity.” Founded eleven years ago, the group (whose acronym means “life” in HebrewHebrew is the ancient language of the Israelites in which the Bible and most of Jewish liturgy is written.), has led to meetings of scholars in the U.S. and England to examine the rules of interpretation and belief that are common to the scriptural traditions of JudaismJudaism is the worldview, the way of life, and the religious practice of the Jewish people, living in covenant with God and in response to Torah, the laws and ethics which guide the pattern of Jewish life. Jews today interpret their three thousand year ol..., Christianity, and Islam. The effort has resulted in a compilation of overlapping “rules of scriptural reasoning,” which they are currently describing in a series of book publications. The group has recently extended its sphere to religious leaders and academic institutions. Renamed The Society for Scriptural Reasoning in 1996, it now publishes a quarterly electronic journal through the University of Virginia’s electronic text center.