House of Prayer For All Peoples

***Excerpts taken from Chapter 6 of Rabbi Brad Hirshfield’s book ‘You Don’t Have To Be Wrong For Me To Be Right‘.

“My House will be a house of prayer for all Peoples'” (Isaiah 56:7)

“Isaiah’s house of prayer, on the other hand, is not a place of negotiation and compromise. It’s a place where we would stand shoulder to shoulder and recite all of our different prayers from all of our different religions in all of our different tongues because any God big enough to pray to is big enough to hear every language and form of prayer” (Hirschfield, pg 134)

“In love and beauty we can make room for difference, or at least we seem to know that we should, but we have a harder time applying this expansiveness to tradition and truth” (Hirschfield, pg 136)

“It has been said that the opposite of truth is not a lie but a bigger truth. Truth is not found by falsifying everything else. When we do that, we are trying to make truth small, an irreducible essence. But truth is an additive process. It is bigger than any single space we inhabit” (Hirschfield, pg 139)

“We should cherish our disagreements and differences, our lack of uniformity. The track records of societies that insisted on uniformity, from Mao to Mussolini, had little of which to be proud. Let’s face it, final solutions are not the answer” (Hirschfield, pg 145)

“The more traditionally religious you are, the more deeply modest and radically inclusive you should be. After all, if your tradition truly is the infinite gift of an infinite God, then how could there be only one way to understand it? In fact, the uniformity that we so often fight for as lovers, parents, nations, and religious traditions is the opposite of the infinite unity that inspires us most” (Hirschfield, pg 152)

“I also reflect on the healing that it brought by inviting people to sit week after week before the image of a crucified Christ, the image of someone who would suffer endlessly so that we might not have to…I also sit awed by traditions that have, at different times, fearlessly embraced all manner of human inquiry because they believed that human beings really could know the absolute truth and were free to pursue it anywhere” (Hirschfield, pg 153 – on varying religious traditions)

“But the word integrity has the same root as integrate. When we fight for the integrity of our beliefs, relationships, and communities, we are actually fighting to integrate that which seems alien and threatening. We will have the most integrity when we are integrating the widest range of people and ideas” (Hirschfield, pg 154) 

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13 thoughts on “House of Prayer For All Peoples

  1. I think with the last quotation you should include just a bit of the story of him davening in a mosque. He prayed in a mosque with Muslim men but he did not pray using their prayers, which would have been a farce for him since those were not his words, but instead prayed using Hebrew prayers. His idea on integration isn’t becoming a little of this, a little of that, but is instead about being able to be a part of someone else’s life, being able to participate with them in their life, without becoming less of yourself and who you are, without diminishing them and what is important to them.

    It was quite an interesting picture. I tried to do that at my father’s funeral. To be there without having to mouth words that meant nothing to me. Through the sermon I sat quietly reading Psalms. I’m not as good at all this as the Rabbi, however, but that seemed like the natural way to handle being in an alien situation. I didn’t feel any connection to the other people there, however, like he felt in the mosque.

    This was a question I brought up in another forum that no one would touch. Is it possible to worship God in a setting we find totally offputting? How would we go about doing this? What would be required of us? I will assume Hirschfield would say yes we can and yes we must be able to do this, but I still question.

  2. “Is it possible to worship God in a setting we find totally offputting? How would we go about doing this? What would be required of us?” (Yael)

    I think it is possible also – in the same sense you and Hirschfield are using the idea – seperate faiths but equals nonetheless.

    For example, I have a friend who is a Muslim (fairly devout) and has invited me to the Mosque a few times – and as intrigued as I am by it – I have not went up to this point. However, I woulld have no problem being part of his community as a Christian – and they all as Muslims. It’s more about community and the sense of faith we all want to share.

    That being said, we all do seperate religious gatherings for good reason – to focus on our own varying traditions – and I respect that idea also. I don’t think churches, mosques, and synagogues need to develop into one service – seperate one’s help them to build their own community and faith (and that is good). However, we could use more inter-religious gatherings like seminars or even services – where all faiths participate in the respect of the others.

  3. I don’t think I would go to any kind of interfaith service. It would seem too contrived for my liking. I’m thinking more on the lines of when there is a reason for us to be somewhere, for Rabbi Hirschfield because he was visiting an Imam when it was time for prayers, for me because I had to go to a funeral.

    I also had a friend invite me to go to a mosque with her. I never went however because I don’t think it’s appropriate to go to someone’s place of worship just out of curiosity. I run into people sometimes who would like to visit shul ‘just to see’ but I never invite them. We’re not there to put on a show, you know what I mean? I suppose it’s a fine line. Someone who wants to understand us better or learn more about us doesn’t bother me, but someone who just wants to look at the exotic creatures? No. But other people don’t feel the same. We have visitors fairly often who just sit and watch.

  4. This is a really good book, BTW. Glad you discovered it and wrote about it. I’m adding it to my list of recommendations for Christians who want to learn about Judaism. It’s not so much that he teaches Judaism, per se, it’s just that he presents things from a very Jewish POV. Interesting that it did have all the exact things I said about the death penalty in that other thread.

  5. Yeah, I don’t put a lot of what Hirschfield does exactly say into very many of these posts – just soundbytes more or less – short quotes I can use from his stories and points. He makes a lot of points that you make in your Torah blog – sometimes almost to a tee (ie: Abraham and the death penalty thing).

    I really like the book – I am reading it slowly because it is very exciting for me to read. I want to drag it out and get the most out of it I can. It’s like having a dessert everytime I read a chapter – I am just loving the writing and the perspectives given. That’s why I am only done 6 chapters in like 1 month or so – I want to keep on reading this ‘good book’.

  6. I have no discipline when it comes to eating; I’ve devoured it in a day. I’m a speed reader though and have a hard time stepping out of that mode. If I find a book that is really good, I’ll read it several times, that’s my way of savoring it I suppose.

    My Torah blog is a lot of my own thoughts mixed in with teachings from others. The neat thing to see is that Torah is just as much mine as anyone’s. I can come to the same conclusions as the most learned rabbis, not all the time, probably not with the same ease, but I can still get there. Since Torah has been studied so intensely for so long, I don’t think I ever come up with anything totally unique. Eventually I will find someone somewhere who wrote something similar and I will feel both disappointed, I thought I was being so insightful, and elated, wow, Rabbi so-and-so also saw it this way.

    This is a good book and I can see why you’re enjoying it so much. If you want, when you’re finished I’ll recommend another book written in similar style or even send one to you. I’m always picking up new books and getting rid of others.

  7. I’d appreciate that – however – I like to own the books so I can reference them on any old occasion (then again my memory is a type of library).

  8. No problem. If I sent you a book it would by yours. I have so many books and when my inheritance comes through I intend to expand my library even more. My whole life I’ve been acquiring and giving away books so it’s not like giving you a few books would be some odd thing for me to do. It’s great to think that books which just sit on my shelf can be given a new life with someone else. Anyway, it’s a mitzvah to increase knowledge in the world 8)

    I come from a long line of book lovers. John T would probably consider us idolaters the way we treat our books…..When I run across someone else who cherishes books I’m always happy to share.

    I have a free hour before work so I’m off to study Torah. Slept through the day so missed Rabbi’s class. Just have to study on my own this week.

  9. this book rules! i like the story of the rabbi in the mosque. that’s what a lot of ppl think of pluralists (like myself) that we’ll just become a bland mix of all the religions. that’s not it at all. it’s looking for common connections. for example i studied buddhism in college and still do, actually. If we have time and if we practice our own tradition well enough and deeply enough, we will see that these issues are not real.

    First of all, there are many forms of Buddhism, many ways of understanding Buddhism. If you have one hundred people practicing Buddhism, you may have one hundred forms of Buddhism. The same is true in Christianity. If there are one hundred thousand people practicing Christianity, there may be one hundred thousand ways of understanding Christianity.We don’t want to say that Buddhism is a kind of Christianity and Christianity is a kind of Buddhism. A mango can not be an orange. I cannot accept the fact that a mango is an orange. They are two different things. Vive la difference. But when you look deeply into the mango and into the orange, you see that although they are different they are both fruits. If you analyze the mango and the orange deeply enough, you will see small elements are in both, like the sunshine, the clouds, the sugar, and the acid. If you spend time looking deeply enough, you will discover that the only difference between them lies in the degree, in the emphasis.

    good stuff.

  10. Luke

    Your thinking reminds me of a joke I once heard.

    A bunch of waves in the ocean, doing what waves do, bobbing up and down. When one wave noticed that they were about to crash into the shore. “Oh my God, were all going to die said the wave”, when another looked over and said. “What are you worried about, we’ll just be the ocean.”

    The mango and the orange may appear different but ultimately they are of the same essence, just a different expression of that essence.

  11. ” that we’ll just become a bland mix of all the religions. that’s not it at all. it’s looking for common connections” (Luke)

    I agree – I have much respect for varying faith traditions – as long as they are seeking the bettement of humanity then I have no qualms at all. I also am quite aware all faith traditions have flaws – which ultimately does not flaw the whole thing. I think we can all enjoy our faith in the sphere God created us – and see the beauty of one another’s religion.

    “they are of the same essence, just a different expression of that essence.” (John)

    I tend to agree – they are all religions/faiths that seek God – now they may not all do this the same – but their intentions are very close to one another.

  12. John T,
    I would only ever direct the nicest kind of sarcasm in your general direction….

    This conversation fits in with what I’ve been studying for this weeks parashot, Bamidbar (Numbers 1:1-4:20). There was a census taken in Exodus, but only of the people as a whole. Here in Numbers another census is taken only this time it is a counting according to a person’s tribe. An analysis of the difference between these two census takings is given by Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky:

    “Until it was established that the central motif in Jewish life is the Sanctuary, there was a danger that one’s identification with his own tribe would lead to “nationalism” and factionalism. Once it was established, however, that all the tribes looked to the Tabernacle as their primary unifying force, the establishment of separate tribal identities would be healthy. Then, each tribe would realize that its individual abilities should be developed for the service of Israel’s national goal of Heavenly service. Then, the tribes would be separate only in terms of the unique roles they were to play in realizing the national destiny.” (The Stone Edition Artscroll Chumash p. 727)

    For me this image also fits on a much more ‘universal’ scale and thus is appropriate for this conversation begun by Rabbi Hirschfield.

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