Jews, Christians And Muslims Study Together At Hartford Seminary
BY DENISE BUFFA, firstname.lastname@example.org
Call them warriors of hope in a crusade against ignorance. They are fighting for tolerance and trust among Jews, Christians and Muslims in a peaceful way.
Three Conservative Jews, all rabbinical students at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City, have made the pilgrimage to liberal Hartford Seminary, marking the first time the Jewish seminary has allowed its pupils to study at the Christian seminary for credit.
It’s considered precedent-setting.
Along with Jews, Christians and Muslims are also attending the Building Abrahamic Partnerships program this week. The program offers a practical foundation for mutual understanding and cooperation among the three religions. The religious exchange is taking place at Hartford Seminary’s Macdonald Center for the Study of Islam & Christian-Muslim Relations. It’s a place where books like “How To Be A Perfect Stranger” and “The Koran for Idiots” are available.
What makes this different is the formal blessing the Jewish seminary has given the study at the Christian seminary.
“The opportunity for rabbinical students from the Jewish Theological Seminary to study at Hartford Seminary in the multi-faith environment of Christian and Muslim colleagues is a godsend,” said Rabbi Burton L. Visotzky, Appleman Professor of Midrash and Interreligious Studies and director of the Milstein Center for Interreligious Dialogue at JTS.
“We expect this will help create a cadre of Jewish, Christian and Muslim leaders who know one another’s religions. This innovative opportunity will engender a network of like-minded clergy who can work together for a more hopeful future.”
One of the Jewish students, Fran Snyder, an academic, said the pioneering partnership is extremely significant.
“When the institutions have a partnership, that’s when the power gets behind it. Statements are made. Suddenly, there’s a stake; there’s a bigger stake because the institutions and the people behind them formally connect with each other,” she said. “It’s not so easy to back away. There’s an agreement. People want to stick it out and make a success of it.”
Another Jewish student, Jonathan Kremer, who prays he’ll lead a congregation one day, said that without the program, it would have been reasonably easy to go through years of seminary training without speaking with a person of another faith.
“Having the institution encourage opening the doors, opening your eyes, opening your heart, I think is a terrific thing,” Kremer said.
So Jews, Christians and Muslims are spending eight days together, ending Sunday, sharing their thoughts on the other religions and learning the truth about them. They’re attending interesting sessions, including one where they offered “personal confessions about what they need from the other communities to trust them more,” instructor Yehezkel Landau said.
Part of the miracle is being able to speak to others studying their own religions — and hoping to be leaders in their faiths one day.
“To be exposed to people like that is not something I get every day,” said the third Jewish student, Jason Kirschner.
The lessons are invaluable for Kirschner. He wants to be a chaplain, who would work with individuals or families.
“You could use this in a prison; you can use it in the military especially; you can use it in a hospital,” he said. “Just further awareness of other people and their customs, their cultures, of their deepest beliefs, just helps you, hopefully, to be a better chaplain, a better rabbi, a better person, a better Jew.”
Kremer, who is studying to become a rabbi, will be using the lessons he learns in different ways.
He won’t be trying to teach tolerance to his congregation from the pulpit.
“I won’t be running back to them … and getting up on Saturday morning and railing at people that they have to be nice to their Muslim neighbors,” he said.