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A Culture of Dialogue and Understanding: Shabbat Message by Rabbi Dan Levin
Shabbat Message by Rabbi Dan Levin graphic for Temple Beth El of Boca Raton

There is a famous Indian parable about a group of blind men who happen upon an elephant.

“What is this thing?” they ask each other.

The first holds onto the tail, and says:

“This is a ratty, whippy thing.”

The second holds onto the leg, and says:

“Not true. This thing is more like a tree trunk.”

The third holds onto the trunk and declares: “You both are wrong. This thing is more like a thick snake.”

A 19th century poem by John Godrey Saxe explains:

 And so these men of Indostan

Disputed loud and long,

Each in his own opinion

Exceeding stiff and strong,

Though each was partly in the right

All were in the wrong!

In 1999, psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger discovered that humanity is susceptible to a cognitive bias:  the less people really know, the more confident they are in their beliefs; the more competent people become, the more humility they profess.

A few years ago, a friend of mine from preschool called and asked if I would be willing to participate in a remarkable opportunity for interfaith dialogue.  He introduced me to the “American Religious Town Hall Meeting” – one of the longest-running television shows in history.

For 68 years, the American Religious Town Hall provides a forum for leaders of different religious traditions to dialogue about religious, political, and social issues of our day. Founded by Seventh Day Adventist Bishop A.A. Leiske, the mission of the weekly television broadcast is to foster “a spirit of unity among all religions and encouraging interfaith understanding in an atmosphere of cooperation without compromise.”

Every three months, I join with religious leaders from across the Christian spectrum for two days of dialogue around the issues we face in our communities, in our country, and in our world.  Some of the discussions focus on issues in the political sphere, others focus on societal trends, and some are simply a discussion of a religious text or idea.  The panelists include religious leaders who serve in congregations, academia, and denominational organizations.  And there are efforts to expand the circle of panelists to include other leaders from other religious traditions.

The conversations are rich and complex, and offer a wide range of ideas and perspectives. There is much about which we disagree – religiously, theologically, and politically.

But there is so much more about which we fundamentally agree – mostly that we all have so much to learn from one another and from our different religious traditions.  While each of us is passionate for our religious convictions, we all recognize that none of us holds a monopoly on the truth.

Throughout my life, I have loved the opportunities I have found to explore other religious ideologies and traditions.  It is in dialogue with others who hold profoundly different religious beliefs that I gain a greater appreciation for the truths I hold as a Jew.

This is why I was proud to serve as president of the Greater Boca Raton Religious Leaders association many years ago, and still am proud to participate in the Boca Raton Interfaith Clergy Association.

And it is why I am so grateful for the 34 years of interfaith dialogue and partnership we share with our neighbors at St. Joan of Arc Catholic church.  For so many years, the Doris K. and Merwin K. Grosberg Interfaith weekend brings our congregations together to learn with and from each other, and to explore how our different faith traditions inform our shared religious and moral missions.

I look forward to this weekend’s exploration of our shared love for the Psalms with our guest Msgr. Stephen Bosso of the St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary.

Pope Francis said: “It is neither a culture of confrontation nor a culture of conflict which builds harmony within and between peoples, but rather a culture of encounter and a culture of dialogue; this is the only way to peace.”

May the culture of dialogue we continue to build lead us to peace, not only across 4th  Avenue, but across the country, and around the world.

To watch the American Religious Town Hall, click here

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Dan Levin
Temple Beth El of Boca Raton

“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem…”

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