submitted by Rabbi Bob Carroll
The Circle of Light & Hope is one of the 41 ongoing Christian/Jewish/Muslim interfaith encounter groups sponsored by the Interfaith Encounter Association. The group has met monthly for about the last 4 years and also gets together regularly for retreats. Members are Christians and Jews from Jerusalem and its environs, as well as Christians and Muslims from the Hebron area. Meetings generally take place at a location in the Gush Etzion area. Our 11/27 meeting took place at the Everest Hotel, which is very conveniently located between Har Gilo and Beit Jala, and is easily accessible to both Israelis and Palestinians.
Each meeting or retreat is devoted to one particular religious topic; usually the topic is introduced in a short talk by one member of each faith and then the group proceeds to explore the issues presented informally. In the past we have discussed topics such as the Sabbath, the binding of Isaac, lifecycle events, various issues pertaining to religious law, how each faith sees the Other, and what each of us would like to change, if we could, about our own religion.
The topic for this particular meeting was the definition of sin and evil in each religion and how each religion relates to those who it considers to be sinners. We had about 12 members present, and the discussion began with an observation by our Muslim co-chair that there are times when the doctrine of a particular branch of each religion, such as Sufism in Islam and Kabbalistic thinking in Judaism, are more similar to each other than they are to other streams of thought in their own faith. This led to some interchanges about the nature of evil itself – one of our Jewish members pointed out that there are two schools of thought in Judaism, the philosophical mode which tends to see evil as privation (like darkness and light -darkness doesn’t really exist, it is merely the absence of light) and the Kabbalistic view, which tends to see evil as a real cosmic force which can be unleashed by human actions. Other subjects which were discussed included each religion’s view of Satan, the difference between punishment and evil, and ways in which each religion has developed mechanisms to maintain their own beliefs/laws while yet finding ways to not condemn those who are not fully observant. All in all it was a very energetic yet respectful discussion an admittedly very wide-ranging subject, which we all look forward to continuing at our next meeting!