Sharing commonalities where they exist

I applaud everyone engaged in an effort to find commonalities between various religious traditions. As we each filter our understanding through the lens of our own experience, we should be cautious about making assumptions based on the ideas of those who are not practicing a particular faith. The descriptive term “Judeo-Christian . . .” should cause us to listen with care to whatever follows this phrase. On the surface, this is a term that signals a common heritage between Jews and Christians. In reality, this is a term not usually used by Jews, but is normally used as an interpretation of Judaism through a Christian perspective. Care is necessary when speaking in the name of both traditions. For example, at a recent interfaith presentation for which I was a panelist, the Christian representative assumed that like all Christians, Jews are looking for ways to avoid being damned to hell in the next life — a false assumption mistakenly believed to be part of the so-called “Judeo-Christian” view because it is part of a Christian belief. Judaism teaches that our focus needs to be in this world, that we make heaven or hell where we are by the choices we make.

Both traditions teach, in their own imagery, metaphor and symbolism, about caring for the human family and the Earth. While there are areas both faith communities share and on which everyone can build, it would seem more credible to hear how Jews interpret their own beliefs than have them filtered through the perspective of any other group and mindset. In so doing, it is possible to find authentic commonalities shared by both traditions, releasing many misconceptions about Judaism. This applies to all religious and spiritual traditions. As responsible spiritual seekers, we need to be careful about our assumptions.