Skip to comments.Archbishop builds bridge for Muslim and Jewish leaders
Posted on 09/08/2006 5:19:01 PM PDT by sionnsar
THE Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has negotiated an historic accord with Judaism and Israel after an unprecedented meeting with the two chief rabbis of Israel at Lambeth Palace, London.
The agreement is expected to result in the Archbishop acting as a peace broker and arranging meetings in London between Israel's two most senior Jewish religious leaders and extremist religious leaders from throughout the Muslim world.
The move will be controversial within the Church of England, in particular the liberal wing, because of its tradition of support for the Palestinian cause. Some in the Church will fear that such a close alliance with Israel's most senior religious figures could compromise the Archbishop's independence in speaking out against its Government.
A senior adviser to Dr Williams said: "There will be people who will question whether the Archbishop will still be able to challenge the Government of Israel. The answer is that he will be a critical friend."
The agreement comes after months of delicate religious diplomacy, brokered by the Chief Rabbi of Great Britain, Sir Jonathan Sacks. Negotiations were almost derailed last year when the Archbishop backed a General Synod vote in effect urging disinvestment from Israel. As a result of the vote, the two Israeli chief rabbis put back their meeting with Dr Williams until yesterday.
The meeting coincided with celebrations by Britain's Jewish communities of the 350th anniversary of their resettlement in Britain after centuries of exile. Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar, who heads Israel's Sephardi community, and Chief Rabbi Yonah Metzger, who heads the Ashkenazi Jews, are both strictly Orthodox and revered throughout Israel. They have never travelled to England together before.
Chief Rabbi Metzger said that the intention was to build a new bridge between Christianity and Judaism that Islam could also walk over. The aim was not to proselytise but to help to bring reconciliation, in particular in the Middle East.
"The main conflicts all over the world come from religious ideas," he said. "Bin Laden wants to destroy our place in the world because you and I do not believe in the Prophet Muhammad."
In a private meeting yesterday, before signing the declaration, he urged Dr Williams to bring extreme Muslim religious leaders to speak to them at Lambeth Palace. He said that the Archbishop had agreed in principle. "We will walk round the gardens and talk to them as we have talked to the Archbishop today. I do not know when it will be."
The rabbis had also asked Dr Williams to intervene to help the Israeli soldiers held hostage by Hezbollah and Hamas. They want Dr Williams to help to free the soldiers, or at least obtain word of their safety.
Chief Rabbi Amar said: "If we devote ourselves to this with all our sincerity and all our resources, this will raise us up on high and raise up our contribution to the world."
The extent to which Lambeth Palace will intervene has yet to be determined. The Church will want to avoid a repeat of the crisis when Terry Waite, envoy for the late Archbishop, Robert Runcie, was taken hostage.
Dr Williams said: "What the Chief Rabbi was talking about primarily was using some of the moral authority of the Church in appealing to hostage takers."
Canon Andrew White, the Anglican vicar in Baghdad, who has played a key role in securing the release of hostages in Iraq, said: "We know who had the soldiers. The Israelis asked for our advice but they refused to take it and started bombing instead."
In spite of more than 40 years of work by the Council of Christians and Jews, the declaration is the first formal agreement of its kind.
The Archbishop and the two Chief Rabbis included a statement recognising that the Church has at times been "complicit" in fostering anti-Semitism. Tomorrow, a parliamentary report into the "rising tide" of anti-Semitism will call for "urgent action" to address it.
Dr Williams said: "We have acknowledged the tensions that shadow the present situation, particularly the ongoing tragic conflicts in the Holy Land. But our hope has rested very firmly on this, that without friendship and mutual confidence, without the ability to speak to one another candidly and lovingly, we shall never be in a position where our relationship can change things and challenge things and move the situation forward."
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