Flickr photo by Charmaine Sylvia Photography

Learning from Differences, Rabbi Art Green’s Keynote at Ohalah

By Kimberly Burnham

“Be respectful of differences. Saying—we are all saying the same thing is not helpful.” Speaking at Ohalah, The Association for Rabbis for Jewish Renewal, Art Green quoted a Japanese monk saying, “to say—mine is the only God or the only way is like saying my wife is the only woman.” You can be in a good marriage or a good religion / spiritual tradition while acknowledging that there are other good marriages and traditions. You can’t and don’t need to know all of them from the inside.

In his keynote speech, Rabbi Green explained that “Deep Ecumenism,” the theme of the conference, borrows from ecology. He laid out three things any faith community should remember.

  1. Use non-polluting or non-poisoning language in religious dialogues. We each have a built in meaning making need or a desire to become a unique image of God. In our religious or spiritual traditions we need to respect those unique qualities and differences.
  2. Consider what it means to stand in your tradition. Think more about the question “How am I capable of loving?” than “What do I love?” Not all love is the same. A Christian may read the Psalms in a very different way from a Jew. A Muslim may interpret the love expressed in a Rumi poem in a very different way than other traditions reading of the Psalms. “Not all love is the same but we can learn a lot from each other,” said Green explaining that “all love is on a continuum: the love of God and the love of Eros.” Sometimes we have more in common with someone of another tradition than we do with people of our own tradition. We can respect and learn from each other and our differences.  Even abuse is on that spectrum. We can speak up against distortions of love, while still holding that every human being has a soul that came out of a place of love and did those things out of suffering and distortion, said Green.
  3. Be careful of spiritual imperialism. “Your religious legitimacy is about your relationship to God not your relationship to another religion,” said Green to a packed crowd in Colorado.

Green, who considers himself a Neohassid and a loving cousin of the Jewish Renewal movement said, “We have a struggle going on for the soul of Judaism. Other traditions have a similar struggle. What we teach and say today is terribly important.”



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