José Carp: Interreligious Dialogue

In an op-ed, the President of the Jewish Community of Lisbon (CIL), José Oulman Carp, reflects on the importance of interfaith dialogue.

Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks (Lord) in his book ’Dignity of Difference’ tells us that religion can lead to Peace. But can also with much ardour take us to war. ‘Politicians have power, but religions have influence’.

Rabbi Sacks also tells us: “Faced with grave decisions humanity needs wisdom. Together with religious traditions and the great philosophies we find our richest source of wisdom.Religion taught Men to look beyond their tribe, their City-State and Nation to humanity as one entity. World religions are a global phenomenon”.

Interfaith dialogue existed in the past when Islamic and Jewish communities co-existed in the Old Spanish Kingdoms and Islamic controlled territories of the Iberian Peninsula. They were often neighbours, attended each other’s religious, cultural and social events thus maintaining a permanent interfaith and intercultural exchange. In those territories, Jews spoke Arabic as a first language. Maimonides wrote the major part of his work in Arabic. This lasted until 1492 with the beginning of the Inquisition in the Old Spanish territories and kingdoms of the Iberian Peninsula.

Although King D. Manuel I of Portugal decreed the Edit of Expulsion in 1496, allegedly up to 120.000 Jews fled the Old Spanish territories and crossed the frontier into Portugal. The Expulsion decree was never implemented, as otherwise those fleeing the Inquisition would never have considered Portugal as a safe haven.

There were about 80.000 Jews established in Portugal. Consequently, the total number of Jews increased to 200.000 representing 20% of the population as in the XVI century the total Portuguese population was about one million inhabitants.

The XX century Historian Samuel Huntington tells us that language and religion are the main distinctive factors between people of different cultures. The Western World differentiates itself from other civilizations through its multiplicity of languages. Without language there is no communication and therefore no dialogue.

English is the most spoken and understood language but many still do not speak it. With the increase of the world population in the last 100 years from 2 billion to 8 billion, interfaith and intercultural dialogue seems each time more distant and necessary.

The first spoken global language between dispersed people of the same religion and culture is the ‘Yiddish’ language which exists since the Roman Empire expelled the Jewish population from their homeland of Israel, Judea and Samaria and which they called Palestine.

The Jews which were taken to the Eastern and Central part of the Roman Empire became known as the Ashkenazim.

As the pogroms and persecutions intensified forcing them to flee from one shtetl to another often to another country, the Yiddish language was altered according to local influences, and was finally consolidated as a means of communication and of identity and unity. Yiddish is a fusion language with Germanic, Hebraic, and Slavic elements.

Jews taken to the Iberian Peninsula by the Romans under the Roman Empire were called Sephardic Jews. Sepharad was the old Hebrew name for the Iberian Peninsula. At the time, Spain was made up of a number of separate kingdoms and territories and did not exist as a unified country. Sepharad meant the Iberian Peninsula. Today Sepharad is the Modern Hebrew word for the actual Kingdom of Spain.

With the beginning of the Inquisition in Portugal in 1536 under the Portuguese King D. João III and after the 1492 Inquisition in ‘Spain’, Jews were either forcibly converted, hid or fled. Those who refused conversion, upon summary trials were generally condemned and burned at the stake.

Although leaving the country was forbidden, many fled Portugal. They settled in different countries, the Netherlands, France, Italy, Northern Europe, the Balkans the Mediterranean basin, the Ottoman Empire and Palestine. They took with them an already spoken dialect, Ladino.

Ladino has various names and influences according to where it is spoken. In the Balkans and Turkey it is called Judaeo-Spanish, in Israel Hebrew speakers usually call the language Spanyolit or Ladino. In Morocco they speak Haketia. It was historically spoken by the North African Sephardim. One of the distinctions between Ladino and Haketia is that the latter incorporates Arabic.

Ladino originally an archaic Castellano-Portuguese dialect has undergone various influences and alterations but is still understood by Portuguese and Spanish speaking people.

Voted in Parliament in 2001, Portugal celebrated this year the 20th year of the existence of the Commission for Religious Freedom.

Among the most important principles the Commission supervises:
Freedom of conscience religion and worship.
Principle of equality.
Principle of separation (from the State).
Principle of non-denominational State.
Principle of tolerance.
Right to religious participation.
Ministerial assistance in special situations.
Exemption from work, lessons and examinations for religious reasons.
Religious marriage ceremony.
Religious assets.
Fiscal benefits.

… and many more principles and regulations in view of establishing an equality and freedom of practice for all registered faiths in Portugal.

Focused on the interfaith dialogue the Portuguese government has institutionalized through its Ministry of Migration (Alto Comissariado para as Migrações – ACM) monthly online meetings with the leaders of all registered faiths with the objective of creating a real dialogue.

ACM created a group on WhatsApp whereby each of the above mentioned participants are in contact with each other thus assuring a continued daily interfaith dialogue.

There are regular interfaith programs ‘E D’s criou o Mundo’ (And G’d created the World) on the Portuguese State channel ‘Antena 1’ with the participation of representatives of the three Abrahamic religions.

There are also varied interreligious programs on the Portuguese television state Channel RTP 2 ‘Caminhos’ (Ways) and ‘A fé dos homens’ (The faith of Men).

Rabbi David Rosen at a Sant’Egidio interfaith meeting said, If religion is not part of the solution, it will certainly be part of the problem”.

Interreligious and intercultural dialogue is a proven way of combatting antisemitism, racism, xenophobia, gender and climate issues.

Small communities must learn to integrate through interfaith and intercultural dialogue, without assimilating. It just needs some effort from all of us!

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this Op-Ed which forms part of the News & Views section are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of the EJC.


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