Representatives of the U.S. Bishops and two Orthodox Jewish associations discussed a wide range of ethical and cultural issues at their semi-annual meeting on October 18 at the Orthodox Union (OU) headquarters in New York City.
The challenge of attracting youth to synagogue and church worship topped the list of topics covered at this fall’s consultation, which was co-chaired by Bishop William Murphy of Rockville Centre, New York, and Rabbi Fabian Schonfeld of the Rabbinical Council of America’s Joint Committee on Interreligious Affairs.
A presentation by Rabbi Steven Burg, international director of the youth movement of the Orthodox Union, drew on the lesson of Abraham in the Bible, who pursued his mission from God “with excitement, vigor and passion.”
“Religious observance shouldn’t be a bore or a chore, but a privilege,” Burg said.
Rabbi Joshua Ross, Associate Director of the Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus, spoke about various ways to create small “communities of comfort” in the university setting. Catholic observers noted parallel groups at Newman Centers and Catholic university chaplaincies around the nation.
Bishop Murphy stated that, when it comes to forming teens for congregational and parish life, the challenge is reaching their parents.
“Today’s youngsters preparing for bar mitzvah or confirmation often have parents whose own religious identity has not been well formed because of inadequate instruction,” Bishop Murphy said.
Members were also briefed by Brother David Carroll, CFS, Catholic Near East Welfare Association, on the challenges facing Christian communities in the Middle East. The problem of emigration from the cradle of Christianity has been on the agenda of the Synod on the Middle East taking place this month in Rome.
“Better educated Christians are leaving Egypt, Iraq and Lebanon to seek employment abroad, and for reasons of wanting to escape discrimination,” Carroll noted. “Within the state of Israel, by contrast, the Christian community has actually increased in recent years, numbering between 2 and 3 percent of the total population.”
The consultation also invited one of its members, Rabbi Dr. David Berger of Yeshiva University, New York, to lead a discussion of “The Jewish Contribution to Christianity,” an essay from his new book Persecution, Polemic, and Dialogue: Essays in Jewish-Christian Relations (Academic Study Press, 2010).
He noted that in the last two centuries both liberal Judaism and liberal Christianity have emphasized ethics over law and ritual. In the subsequent conversation, it was pointed out that Catholics and Orthodox Jews recognize, by contrast, that morality is very much tied up with religious belief and worship.
“You can be enlightened in the moral sense—you can be progressive, but always within the context of the [faith] tradition,” Rabbi Schonfeld said.
Co-founded in 1998, by the late Cardinal John O’Connor, the consultation meets to discuss moral and cultural issues that impact Catholic and Jewish life in the nation. Previous meetings have addressed equity in educational opportunities for yeshiva and parochial school families.
Other Catholic members of the dialogue included Father Lawrence Frizzell, Seton Hall University; Father James Loughran, Graymoor Ecumenical Institute; Monsignor Guy Massie, Diocese of Brooklyn; Father James Massa, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops staff; Monsignor Robert Morrisey, Diocese of Rockville Centre.
Jewish members included Professor Lawrence Schiffman of New York University; Howard Beigelman, deputy director of public policy, Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America; Rabbi Basil Herring, executive vice president of the Rabbinical Council of America; Rabbi Yonatan Kaganoff; Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, executive vice president emeritus of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America; Rabbi Joseph Karasick, honorary president of the OU; and Rabbi Eric Greenberg, director of interfaith policy, Anti-Defamation League, who was present as observer.