Interfaith Vision

crowded campingOn Sukkot, it’s customary to read Chapter 14 from the prophet Zechariah.

Have you read it? I mean, really read it?

What do you think of Zechariah’s proposal for interfaith Sukkot camp?

Zechariah saw in Sukkot an opportunity for shared healing after regional war. “The survivors of every nation,” he wrote, “will ascend to Jerusalem year after year, to worship the God beyond all armies, and to celebrate the holiday of Sukkot” (Zechariah 14:16).

Camping together, making music, cooking food, sharing customs and creating new ones at an annual week-long interfaith festival: that was Zechariah’s visionary plan for regional healing. We don’t begin with political dialogue, theological comparison, or even shared stories of hurt and joy. Instead, we simply practice together in joy, one week a year.

Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, z”l picked up on Zechariah’s cue. “A dialogue of theology is mostly futile,” he said. “Theology is the afterthought of a believer. It begins with what we should finish with. How do you get to the primary stuff of belief? You show me your way that works for you, I’ll show you mine, and we can share!” (Deep Ecumenism workshop, 1998)

Of course, learning by mutual “showing” is not really that simple. In fact, it’s pretty easy to see right past what we are shown, because we wear many lenses of preconception over our mind’s eye.

We may generously see every religion as a way of approaching God—as we define God, that is.

Using our best compassionate psychology, we may imagine we know the full catalogue of existential questions that faith answers.

We may speak idealistically of “universal” human themes, while unconsciously limiting the universal by gender, age, race, or nationality.

Too often, we employ what philosopher Paul Ricoeur called a “hermeneutic [interpretive lens] of suspicion.” Because we believe we know what truly drives all religious expression, we are suspicious of superficial differences. We look at differences—and sometimes right through differences—just long enough to confirm our theories.

It is much more difficult to practice what Ricoeur called a “hermeneutic of recollection”—to immerse ourselves in a practice, side by side with believers, and get a feel for what they receive.

Continue reading at Rabbis Without Borders…



  1. I joined a choir, and we sing a _lot_ of Christmas carols. We Jews have nothing that compares to Baby Jesus, as an object of worship (or more properly, as an image of the Un-imaginable One).

    We have God the Father (or God the Boss), the Shehina, various other aspects of the Divine in our tradition. But we never took God the Child seriously, as far as I know.

    It’s been an interesting experience. I don’t think I’ll convert.

    . Charles

    1. Sounds like a delightful musical experience! Singing together would definitely be an aspect of camping together near the Temple, I think. You’re right, we don’t have a birth of God tradition, but there are discussions in Kabbalah of imagining God as a family of beings. – L

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