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Jaron Engelmayer

Grand Rabbin de Vienne, Autriche

Over 50 years ago, the relationship between Christianity and Judaism was redefined and put on an entirely new basis. With the Second Vatican Council and the edict Nostra Aetate, the gate was opened to a real dialogue between the two religions - an honest exchange at eye level! With the peace meeting of the Community of St. Egidio this form of dialogue finds a particularly successful expression, so the thirty-year anniversary provides a good reason to celebrate! Because within that time resulted from the dialog various friendships, the forces of peace and harmony in the world have been significantly strengthened and it proves impressively that with good will a hopeful way can be gone in the future!

Talking is an important basis for this development, but it can be talked in various ways. There is, for example, the story of a woman who likes to talk much, that's why her husband is hardly ever being heard. The woman becomes sick and the doctor comes to check her. He takes out a thermometer and sticks it into the woman's mouth, for a few minutes it becomes quiet. The husband is completely fascinated and asks the doctor interested: "Tell me, where can I buy such a device?"

However, the form of talking we are talking about is different, it's called a dialogue.

But what actually means a dialogue? What makes talking to a dialogue, how is it defined, what is its purpose?

An interesting source for dialogue is found in the Sayings of the Fathers, 3.3: "When two sit together and talk about words of Torah, so G'd is present, as it says: (Malachi 3:16) 'Than discuss G'dfearing people one with his friend, and G'd turns to them and listens...'" Our focus should be on the not commonly used word "נדברו" - discuss - because usually it should say ""דיברו - they talk to each other. What makes the two words different is the way of talking to each other: You can either listen in order to speak, or you can talk in order to listen. In a conversation, especially when it comes to exchanging information and views, the participants aim maybe to speak to the other, in order to be heard. This is called "ledaber" – to talk to someone. Such talking can be referred to as a bilateral monologue, or a monologue with two participants. Like for example a dialogue may nowadays look like between a father and his growing son, when the father says: "Son, I want to talk to you. The time has come  to learn some important things about the reality of life!" To which the son replies: "O.k., father, what do you want to learn about?"

A true dialogue arises when the participants are interested to listen in order to perceive and to really understand the others views and opinions. While studying Torah, this is the condition for sincere search of understanding and strive for truth: the exchange of two understandings, the fusion of two brains to understand G'ds words properly - only then G'd will turn to the ones studying the Torah. That is why the classic form of studying the Torah is the so called "Chewruta"-learning: Two people learning together, discussing in order to get to a profound understanding of the text.

And how is it with the Christian-Jewish dialogue?

Entering into the Christian-Jewish dialogue arises from the Jewish side from a basic need. To live in Europe during almost 1500 years as a Jewish minority in a Christian majority was not always easy, expressed in a soft way.

The relationship between the Christian and the Jewish society got to a great turning point by the Second Vatican Council and the famous declaration "Nostra Aetate". With the recognition of Judaism by the Catholic Church as a legitimate religion, which has its own way of salvation to G'd, the way was open for a serious and earnest dialogue, replacing from now on the previously customary disputes between Christians and Jews. For the Jewish side by this important step a throughout the Middle Age barely imaginable need becomes reality: to be recognized and respected by the Church, to meet each other theologically at eye level! These requirements are necessary for a real dialogue!

In addition to it, also a sincere interest in Judaism develops lately on the Christian side to discover the roots of Christianity, in order to understand and to define better its own origin!

These developments offer an entirely new, from the Jewish side a long time expected and very welcome initial situation, and put the Christian-Jewish relations on an entirely new basis.

Two things should be specially considerated at the Christian-Jewish dialogue, in order to continue this success story. In addition to similarities between the two religions often the differences become clear – to recognize and to accept them is an important precondition for a real dialogue. Equally important is the recognition of a certain asymmetry: What applies to the one side does not always  apply to the other. For example, Christianity has its roots in Judaism, but not vice versa. This means that Christianity can develop a better self-understanding on the basis of Judaism. This dependence is not necessarily in reverse order: Judaism has a self-understanding, which is not dependent on the Christian perspective. Or another example: Christians can participate at Jewish services, but for Jews is participation in Christian services impossible. A fact which the Community of St. Egidio is very respectful with and found a beautiful way to commit ceremonies despite these restrictions.

Respect for each other, the approval and acceptance of different opinions and views are the conditions not only for a sincere dialogue, but also for a true friendship. The dialogue itself, the desire for exchange and genuine interest in the other, are prerequisites for a true friendship, which grows out of them. This we can also learn from the quote, already mentioned above: "Than discuss G'dfearing people one with his friend... "- out of talking with each other it becomes a friendship!

The Community of St. Egidio goes this way with visionary courage. By the creation of a forum for a real dialogue the conditions for a variety of interfaith friendships were prepared, friendships, which can make a significant contribution to the common harmony and peace. Thank you, St. Egidio!