AUCKLAND — Sometimes when Dr Deborah Weissman teaches Christian students from Third World nations who are visiting Jerusalem, they ask if the Jewish religion still practises animal sacrifice.
And that’s not a question that bothers her, Dr Weissman, the president of the International Council of Christians and Jews, told an audience at St Chad’s Anglican Church in Meadowbank on May 10.
“If the only Jew you have ever met is the one you read about in Leviticus, it is a logical question. As I say, I like that question, because it gives me an opportunity to discuss changes and developments within Judaism, historically,” Dr Weissman said.
One reason these students know little about the development of Judaism from biblical times is that they come from parts of the world where there are no local Jewish communities.
But with the advent of the Internet, more and more students can learn about developments in Jewish-Christian dialogue, she added.
This phenomenon was one of six points Dr Weissman, the first Jewish woman to be president of the International Council for Christians and Jews (ICCJ) addressed in presenting an agenda for modern Jewish Christian dialogue.
She discussed the rise of anti-Semitism in places like France and Hungary, as well as the challenge of having to live alongside the ethnic and religious “other” in many parts of the world. She also touched on the contribution of “religious voices” in secular states on matters political, economic and social.
Dr Weissman, who has lived in Jerusalem for 40 years, stressed that it is very important that Jews and Christians engage in dialogue with Muslims. Islam is the world’s fastest growing faith and is one of the three great monotheistic faith traditions. It also possesses “some profound spiritual traditions from which we can learn”.
“I believe, having done dialogue with Muslims, that many of them, if not most, are people who seek true peace and understanding.”
But Dr Weissman stressed the importance of maintaining the distinct bilateral dialogue between Jews and Christians. There are many problems specific to these traditions that still need resolving, but there is still much each can learn from the other.
Christianity and Judaism are the only two world religions that share sacred scriptures, so insights can be shared. Christians can get in touch with the roots of their own religion if they understand Judaism better. Judaism has also been influenced by Christianity in past centuries, and it is important for Jewish people to know of this.
Dr Weissman admitted that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has had a negative impact on Jewish-Christian dialogue worldwide. She said she opposed the occupation of Palestinian lands by Israel, but also called for the international demonisation of Israel to cease. Neither should the Palestinian people be demonised.
“It is not a question of angels and devils. There are human beings on both sides.
“What I find unfortunate is so many people in the world, because they support the Palestinians, they think they have to be anti-Israel. There are other people, because they support Israel, they think they have to be anti-Palestinian.
“My own view is that we should be pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian, because we are pro-people and therefore pro-peace.”