The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the author’s alone. The author, Rabbi Burton L. Visotzky, is Professor of Midrash and Interreligious Studies at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York and author of the novel A Delightful Compendium of Consolation.
By Rabbi Burton L. Visotzky
Jewish-Muslim engagement in an international context is inevitably more than interreligious dialogue. Muslim representatives, for the most part, do not come from countries that have a separation of mosque and state. Practically speaking, these dialogues are a form of second-tier diplomacy. In the United States, this is made apparent by fact the State Department sponsors Muslim visitors through its Foreign Leadership Visitor Program.
Under the aegis of the State Department, the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS, where I teach) has welcomed imams from Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Imam Shamsi Ali of the 96th Street Mosque in New York has brought the heads of the Indonesian Muslim community to visit JTS. I have been privileged to visit Muslim colleagues in Cairo (2004), in Doha (2005) and Madrid (2008), the latter for the first Saudi Arabian interreligious dialogue, sponsored by King Abdullah and hosted by Spain’s King Juan Carlos.
As a representative of Judaism at these dialogues, I am often called upon to represent and/or defend the state of Israel. It has been my personal practice as a rabbi participating in such international dialogues to contact the Israeli Foreign Ministry either directly or indirectly in advance of my participation, so that I have the opportunity to hear their views on these conferences (which may not have invited any Israeli representatives). This sometimes leads me to feeling conflicted personally, when our views may diverge.