SPIEGEL Interview With Rabbi Yona Metzger: 'My Dream Is to Create a United Religious Nations'
Yona Metzger, the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel, talks to SPIEGEL ONLINE about the Abraham as the father of all three monotheistic religions -- Islam, Christianity and Judaism -- and explains how that connection could be a starting point for a dialogue of peace between them.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Chief Rabbi, Jews refer to Abraham as "Our Father Abraham." How difficult is it for you to accept the fact that Christians and Muslims also call Abraham their father?
Metzger: This is not difficult at all. It fits very well with the Jewish religion. A close look at the word "Abraham" reveals that it is constructed from the words "father of many nations." So, if Muslims associate themselves with Abraham's son Ismael, or Christians associate themselves with Abraham's grandson Esau, or we associate ourselves with his other grandson Jacob, then three great monotheistic religions were born from him.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: What is Abraham's function in the Bible?
Metzger: The great Jewish philosopher Maimonides explained this very impressively. God created various objects in heaven. The sun, for example, or the moon and the stars -- they are all high above us. This was understood to mean that God wanted us to respect them more than the things which were created on Earth. Gradually things went wrong. Instead of praying directly to God, the people turned the objects into targets of their prayers.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: They worshipped idols.
Metzger: When Abraham came, he saw the sun rising, setting and the world turning and he thought, who is causing all these to move? There has to be someone above all these. So he essentially was saying: "You have stopped halfway. There is someone above these objects you worship! So why go to the ministers? Let's go directly to the king." And so he commenced a journey which touched many people. Together with his wife Sarah, he traveled from place to place and developed the philosophy of belief in one God. Slowly but surely many people gathered around him and today most of the population of the world is monotheistic: Christianity, Islam, Judaism ...
Metzger: Perhaps even more. I met with leaders of the Hindu religion, who I was certain were idol worshippers, but their leaders said they also believe in God -- it's just that they believe He has a way through the idols. And some Buddhists say that Buddha is only a worldview, and not a religious belief. We see that most of the world really follows the path of Abraham.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: But one gets the sense that the Jews think that they are the original and Christians and Muslims are only "copies."
Metzger: Well, from the historical perspective it was so. Jesus was a Jew. Subsequently Christianity came into the world and then Islam. These were the steps, historically -- not the other way round. When Jesus was in Jerusalem, he was not familiar with a church or a mass -- that is certain. He knew only one thing: the Holy Temple. After his time, the rest was developed by his disciples.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: But Christians stress that Abraham believed in God before he became circumsized and actually became Jewish.
Metzger: Abraham had no rabbi, no teacher. He was taught the law by his kishkes as we say in Jiddish, "from his own two kidneys." That is to say, he learned by himself and through himself. It is interesting to note that the Torah calls Abraham an Ivri, "a Hebraic."
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Is it important for you whether Abraham was a real historic person? Historians and archeologists have not found any clear proof that Abraham has ever lived.
Metzger: I believe that the Bible represents fully the true history of the world. If historians or archeologists find proofs, we are delighted, but we don't need them.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: When you look at the historical perspective, much blood was spilled in the name of religion. So how can a dialogue be conducted between religions?
Metzger: Look, Abraham specifically is very helpful regarding dialogue -- and I will give you an example. Once I had a meeting with an Iranian leader. He was one of the heads of the Ayatollahs. Initially he did not want to shake my hand, but eventually I turned to him and asked him: "Do you believe that your forefather was Abraham?"
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Ibrahim, as the Muslims call him in Arabic.
Metzger: Yes. Ibrahim. And he answered, "Yes." I said to him that I also believe that my father was Abraham. So I asked him, "Do you believe that our forefather would be pleased today -- up in heaven -- seeing that one son kills himself in order to kill his other son? Which father would delight in such a thing?" He did not have an answer.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: So Abraham could serve as a vehicle for dialogue?
Metzger: Yes. Even if you have a brother who you believe is not a good person and you think that the world needs to be Muslim -- do not kill! If you want, speak, put it on the table and be cultured. Like every father Abraham would expect that his children sit down at the table instead of killing each other.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Can you give another example of dialogue?
Metzger: During a recess, in a conference which took place in Europe, one of the heads of the Muslim Courts in Jordan invited me to a cup of coffee in the lobby of the hotel. We sat for about half an hour. I began telling him about some of my problems; I told him about my family, my children, some issues with rabbis and the chief rabbis that are under me and the responsibilities I have. He told me about his problems. At the end he stood up, shook my hand and told me: "Now, after having told me all of your stories, and after I have told you all of my stories, I cannot hate you."
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Do you believe that religious people are better equipped to bring peace to the world?
Metzger: Definitely. My dream is to create a United Religious Nations -- just as there is the United Nations in New York. The diplomats did not succeed in bringing peace to the world. They need help. And this can come through religious language. Because a Muslim does not respect a person who is secular; he will only have respect if you are religious. This Religious United Nations would also include Hindus and Buddists. We religious people speak the same language.
Interview conducted by SPIEGEL Middle East correspondent Christoph Schult in the chief rabbi's Jerusalem office.
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