Russia TLIG Magazine

T R U E L I F E I N G O D 76 My name is Alon Goshen Gottstein, I’m a Rabbi, an academic and an author of more than a dozen books on interfaith relations and collaborative research projects. 20 years ago I founded, and still direct, a global organization called The Elijah Interfaith Institute. Our task has been to deepen understanding, foster friendship and increase unity between religious leaders and communities worldwide. Through study, spiritual sharing and a rich program we have transformed the attitudes and mind sets of thousands of religious leaders and practitioners, developing friendship and trust, including many of the voices you will hear today. I am grateful to Vassula for her ongoing work that is so much in line with our own. And I was deeply moved when she decided to feature the video of friendship made by religious leaders at the opening of this gathering and to recommend that all of you see it and share it further. It is a sign of deep commonality of vision, and for that I give thanks to God. I would like to share my message with you as a kind of commentary on what is already my message, and my life vocation – a message and vocation of friendship across religions. Making friends across religions is actually a novel concept. All religions have and promote the so-called Golden Rule. This is true of literally all religions, East and West, from Islam to Confucius, from Judaism to Buddhism. Let me share one well known example from my tradition. A noted rabbi, around the time of Jesus, Hillel was his name, once was asked to teach the entire Torah to someone who was standing on one leg. He summed it up as follows: “Do not do to others what you would not want done to yourself. That’s the whole Torah, the rest is explication”, he said. This Golden Rule, whether presented in terms of what to do or what not to do, is present in all world religions. But in today’s world we need to go further. We need to find positive meaning in relationships and we need to provide the antidote to hatred, intolerance and violence. This requires a teaching of friendship and developing this as a common message of world religious leaders is an important development, even a small revolution, in terms of the teachings of religions. For the most part, they have emphasized friendship within, not friendship to all. Affirming an active friendship to the religious other is thus an important moment and a sign of the times. It shows how religion and religious leaders can articulate a new and appropriate message, when so many consider they not only have nothing meaningful to say but that they are indeed the source of the problem. Of course, we can’t deny that in the books of many religions you can find texts that are not very open, even hostile, to people of other faiths. When the world’s most important leaders call for friendship, they are in fact affirming a particular way of practicing religion and rejecting another; they are preferring some texts over others, and are either drawing on historic precedents or creating them, over and against other models that have emerged. In this they exercise their leadership to the full. This will allow you to appreciate why as a scholar, and as a leader of leaders and as someone who works within all religious traditions to help them advance to greater unity and harmony, this is a great personal moment for me. Whatever else this moment is, it is also a moment of great and authentic spiritual teaching. And in today’s world, as I have discovered through decades of working with religious leaders, authentic spiritual teaching can, and must, be delivered jointly by teachers of different religions. It is the reality that religions can cultivate friendship and understanding. It is a reality that is already lived by a group of premier world religious leaders, and many, many others. Yet, it’s also a reality that is almost Dr. Alon Goshen-Gottstein Director The Elijah Interfaith Institute How to bridge our divisions and bring peace to the world