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​Lovell Interfaith Lecture, Winchester Cathedral: From Disputation to Dialogue

Lovell Interfaith Lecture, Winchester Cathedral, September 2012

From Disputation to Dialogue

Alexander Goldberg, Jewish Chaplain of the University of Surrey

winchesterfixI would like to thank Winchester Cathedral, Winchester University and the Lovell family for this opportunity to speak at the annual interfaith lecture. This is a Cathedral that I often visited as a child. Its history and architecture fascinated the schoolboy in me. In some ways my journey engaging with other faiths commenced here. As a young theologian at Manchester University, Canon Andrew White brought me here to meet with Donald Cogan. The former Archbishop was erudite; his knowledge of Hebrew and the Talmud left an impression on me. His message was simple and apropos to tonight: we need to understand each other, learn about each other or risk not truly knowing ourselves.

Tonight, with your permission, I want to use Winchester as a backdrop to some of the questions we have around inter-faith and inter-religious dialogue. The 1905 Jewish Encyclopaedia is fairly positive about the Medieval Jewish community of Winchester claiming that Jews in Winchester were treated better here than in other English cities during the time and this was reflected in the fact that at least one Jew is known to have been allowed to enter a Guild, which were otherwise closed to Jews during this period across Europe, denying them access to most professions and trades. The situation here is relative and some of the history of Winchester is difficult for both Christians and Jews. However, if we do not learn from the lessons of history we do risk repeating it again and again. The short history that lasts from sometime after the Norman conquest until the expulsion of the Jews from England is largely tragic and comes out of misunderstanding, intolerance, bigotry and hatred. As followers of the one G-d, we can only mend this with the attributes given to us when we were created in His image: reason and love

Firstly, let me turn to the title of my talk from ‘Disputation to Dialogue’.

In the days before inter-faith dialogue was popular and members of the Jewish community were invited to Kosher buffets in Churches and Cathedrals and vice versa, the relationship between Christianity and Judaism was fraught with difficulties.

In the early Middle Ages, an invitation by a Bishop or a King to discuss the finer points of religion was not one that was widely welcomed by the Jewish community. It invariable ended up in Jewish communities being penalised after the debate. The goal of such meetings, known as Disputations, was to put on a so-called debate by both the temporal and religious authorities with only ever one possible outcome: to reconfirm Christianity’s centrality whilst reaffirming the replacement theology of St Augustine as laid out in his “Sermon Against the Jews.” His philosophy was largely built on the anti-Judaic writings of Origen, Eusebius and Justin Martyr. However, Augustine’s theology allowed Jews to survive as he believed Jews were kept alive by divine providence to serve, together with their scriptures, as witnesses to the truth of Christianity. Augustine saw though that the Jews existence was justified by the service they rendered to the Christian truth, in attesting through their humiliation, the triumph of the Church over the Synagogue. He saw Jews as accursed and made to wander the earth as a reminder of a people who were blind to the true faith (in not accepting Jesus as a Messiah).

The image of Jews in Medieval Christendom was not neutral and was reinforced by images in Cathedrals and Churches of Jews downtrodden and defeated. The most popular of these images was Ecclesia and Synagoga: two statues of women placed on the front of the Cathedral. Ecclesia or the Church is always portrayed as beautiful, wearing a crown and holding a staff; whilst Synagoga is portrayed as blindfolded, her staff broken and a crown fallen to her feet. Winchester was one such Cathedral that had these pair of statues. These early images were supplemented elsewhere by more vile portrayals of Jews.

Thanks to Cromwell and his iconoclasts the detail on the only remaining statue at Winchester is not clear. Decapitated and armless it is difficult to tell whether the remaining statue is Ecclesia or Synagoga, the two becoming indistinguishable from the other in its current state.

In my local Church the only image of a Jew for centuries was the Jud Sau – Jewish pig, a Jew burning in the flames of hell whilst eating from a pig’s backside. This image was popular all over Europe. In Guildford, it was the only public image of Jews for centuries after the expulsion of Jews from England in 1290 or in Guildford’s case, which has its own explusion date, 1275. It was only a change of philosophy in that Church towards a more puritanical approach which led to all murals being whitewashed and with it this lasting piece of religious hatred. I have no idea of how anti-Judaism without Jews impacts on a psyche of a population but it cannot be positive.

The disputations themselves were loaded and there were only ever three results possible: The Bishops would win and the authorities would then impose penalties on the Jews; the Jews would lose but debated well and penalties were not imposed, which was the best result. The worst result would be for a young and clever Rabbi to take on the Christian theologians with an erudite display and to be seen as winning a set piece debate. This rarely happened but when it did it would spell disaster, as it would be seen as an affront. Nahmanides, a famous Spanish rabbi, was expelled from Spain as a result of his erudite display.

These Disputations were not designed to bring communities closer together but rather to demonstrate separateness. I have been informed on a number of occasions that there may have been a disputation in Winchester though most scholarship affirms that they certainly took place in London during the reign of William II (William Rufus). William who is buried in this Cathedral was disliked by the Church and seemed to be extremely lenient towards his Jewish community. Reading all accounts it was a bit of a chicken and egg situation as to which came first: his decisively uneasy relationship with his Bishops or his philo-semitic tendencies. His quip to Bishops that he would consider converting to Judaism if they lost a Disputation may have been said to wind them up, which it did. However, the William Rufus disputations appear to be different from others in Europe. Jews were not penalised at their end and there seems to have been an attempt to create a genuine form of dialogue. The Abbott of Westminster who writes that he was involved in a Disputation at this time seems to have respect for his adversary.

Others examples of coexistence seem to have been encountered in England during the 12th century, punctuated by ‘blood libel’ (falsely accusing Jews of ritualised murder). This lasted until the reign of Henry II. However, there was coexistence and there are even examples of Jews helping to build abbeys and monasteries. Even in today’s world that seems fairly liberal. The Crusades changed all this and from the coronation of Richard I onwards there was a century of trouble. In 1190 there was a massacre in York. A less serious incident occurred two years later in Winchester following another incident of ‘blood libel’.

As the Crusades progressed letters sent by innocent III to Christian rulers asked them to increase severe measures against Jews. Some English Kings did ignore these pleas at first to their credit but in the main they fell into line and England, like the rest of Europe, it has its own history of Jewish persecution during the period Crusades: special measures including the wearing of yellow hats; wearing of badges; banning of Jews from the Guilds; the murder of individuals and sometimes entire communities. These measures were later repeated by a more secular ideology.

Once referred to as ‘Jerusalem of the Jews’ Winchester’s medieval community is all but forgotten. Only the street named Jewry Street in the town centre gives us any real indication that the former capital of Wessex and England had any Jews living in it. Winchester’s Jewish community probably established itself in the early Norman period and later had an archa, a chest , a repository of deeds, which marked a community where Jews were allowed to reside. The archa was regulated by the Crown and as such all the documents were recorded on a roll so that the King had access to a list of all transactions and assets. Kings at this time claimed to own the Jews and often would impose special taxes on them or have a claim on them in other ways. In my own town of Guildford, we recall the story of Josce, the last Jew of Guildford. Expelled in 1275, this unfortunate man was murdered in 1283 in Plumsted in Kent. Whilst the documents claim he was robbed, he had the then enormous sum of £5 on his person. Modern policing might describe this as a suspected racially motivated attack. Plumsted at the time fell within the lands of the Archbishop of Canterbury who decided to claim the £5 from the deceased. The King was having none of this. It was his Jew, his £5. The fight over this man’s £5 is recorded in history in the Calendar Rolls.

Whilst the Jewish Encyclopedia states that Jews in Winchester were treated better than elsewhere in Europe and England, citing as I said before, that one Jew was even allowed to join a Guild (something unheard of elsewhere) their short time here was both eventful and tragic and unfortunately mirrors some of the worst excesses of persecution occurring in Europe at the time.

In the 1260s, the notorious Jew-hater Simon de Montfort entered Winchester. There were at least three recorded episodes of ‘blood libel’ in Winchester during two centuries. On another occasion the head of the Jewish community was hung outside the synagogue and on yet another a woman named Licorice was murdered during a robbery. She was interesting, a business woman with access to the King, she appears to have broken Medieval glass ceilings. She was successful and a Medieval equivalent of modern-day millionaire.

This brief and tragic history belongs in and a different time and place.

Eventually, the population was expelled, once the King had taxed them repeatedly. Time not only removed their memory but it was not until 1656 that the Jews were allowed to return officially. The Medieval imagery by then whitewashed by the Reformation.
Dialogue was never on the cards and the downward spiral from peaceful coexistence to wild anti-Jewish attacks and false accusations and murder was never far away.

Dialogue is a more modern phenomenon and in many ways replaces Disputation and for some Mission. It assumes equality, openness and respect, a willingness of one religion to listen to and respond to those from another; to the idea that religions should seek common ground and common action sprang from a response to the liberalism, the enlightenment and eventually to countenance the genocide of the Holocaust and the Shoah. In Britain, some Christian theologians have seen it as a replacement of mission whilst Jews see it as a way of promoting good relations and a way to promote Darkei Shalom, to follow a path of peace.

The earlier attempts at Jewish-Christian dialogue seemingly stem from the United States and were an experiment by liberal movements. The late nineteenth century saw liberal Jews and liberal Protestants openly suggest that a new Ethical Monotheism could see the slow merger of the two faiths. In essence, this took place at the fringes of our religion and played down differences in practise, culture, history and theology. It disappeared as a concept altogether with massive democratic and cultural shifts caused by an influx of Jews to America from different parts of the world in the late nineteeth century. A more mainstream approach to dialogue developed. In England, Jews and Christians finally attempted to formalise their dialogue during the Second World War when Archbishop Temple and Chief Rabbi Hertz formed the Council of Christians and Jews. (I am reminded from time to time by the Bishop of Guildford that there was an earlier attempt to create a formal structure for dialogue through an older pre-war body called the London Society of Jews and Christians, which he later went on to co-chair and still exists today). The Shoah and events in Europe along with a dominant liberal mainstream created an immediate need and also a necessary space for such dialogue. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, when asked early on about the Nazi persecution of Jews exclaimed that ‘to expel the Jews from Europe is to expel Jesus from Europe’. The Protestant dialogue with Jews was quickly followed by a new thinking from within the Vatican. Vatican II and Nostra Aetate provide an early roadmap to dialogue and 50 years later this remains the most important statement of any Church towards its relations with the Jews. Part four of nostra aetate speaks of the bond that ties the people of the ‘New Covenant’ (Christians) to Abraham’s stock (Jews). It removes the old-age accusation of deicide and undid centuries of replacement theology stating that even though some Jewish authorities and those who followed them called for Jesus’ death, the blame for this cannot be laid at the door of all those Jews present at that time, nor can the Jews in our time be held as guilty; ‘the Jews should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God’. The Declaration also decries all displays of antisemitism made at any time by anyone.

At the height of European and North American Christian-Jewish dialogue during the 1960s many historical issues were dealt with: historical wrongs, theological differences and a way forward based initially on tolerance but latterly on concepts of respect and mutual understanding.

For me the image of Dr Martin Luther King and Rabbi Joshua Heschel walking arm-in-arm in 1963 during the civil rights march in Washington is a powerful example of what can happen, no, correction what should happen when Jews and Christians work together, it’s when we are at our best…

A group of rabbis eventually made their own response to the various declarations by both the Vatican and Protestant Church movements in the document Debrei Emet – Sayings of Truth.

Later, the dialogue went in different directions which are hard to categorise. Social action and multi-faith dialogue were the main approaches.

In the United States, the parties were content that there was common ground and that this now needed to be developed into common action. The National Council of Christians and Jews was renamed the National Council of Community and Justice and developed into a social action organisation. In some ways this is now being duplicated in the United Kingdom. Lord Sacks, the Chief Rabbi, favours this approach of community relations and calls it ‘side-by-side’: something adopted as Government policy under the last Government. The NCCJ has now all but disappeared and local branches are hubs of social action with multifaith elements.

The second distinct movement to emerge came out of a sense that Jewish-Christian dialogue was too exclusive and that there was need by both communities to respond to the emergence of communities with other faiths as migration into Europe in the 1950s and 1960s brought about encounters with other religions: in particularly Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism and Buddhism. Bilateral dialogue is certainly on the wane in the light of this. Some feel that the post-war Jewish-Christian dialogue achieved its distinct goals of forging together a platform whereby the two faiths can co-exist in peace, that differences were discussed and a way forward formalised and that the model it created should be extended and broadened. The question for the multi-faith dialogue movement is what are the boundaries of this extension? The multi-faith regional forums such as SEEFF (South East of England Faith Forum) in this region or the Faiths Forum for London model themselves on the Interfaith Network and include the nine largest faiths in Britain and include the Bahai faith, Zorastrianism and Jainism alongside the six larger religions mentioned previously.

Other forums see no boundaries and include humanists, pagans and smaller religions and sects. I remain to be convinced that these encounters without any boundaries, can have much meaning beyond the personal and the individual. The Parliament of World Religions includes hundreds of religions. With hundreds of religions attending, the permutations of possible dialogues grow exponentially and real interaction between ideas and communities becomes less and at best is subject to chance encounters. It is more of an individual spiritual encounter in a huge supermarket of ideas. My fear is that it gives way too much to self-indulgent individuals on a spiritual journey and not much to society or community, a concept that I treasure. This experience may fit well with other trends in Western society where institutional religion is abandoned in favour of a set of individual personal values based on culture, reason, humanity, traditions or the latest chart topping song. A dialogue without tramways has little direction. It does not bring communities together but indulges the individual on their spiritual journey. It is not that these dialogues should not happen but rather that they promote an industry from something that most of us experience in our workplace, in the street, on the station platform and at the café every day. More dangerously, a dialogue without boundaries gives credence to cults who perhaps we do not want to share a platform with: for example Children of God accused of child abuse, Temple du Soleil who committed mass suicide or the Branch Davidians who seemingly did both.

Multifaith and more defined dialogue is more useful. In the multifaith activities with nine faiths the encounter becomes increasingly one of identifying commonalities or ensuring faith has a place in society. The purpose of such a dialogue is either to promote local cohesion in diverse communities or to promote interaction between the collective, which describes itself as religion or religion and belief, and the local, national and even international authorities. It is true that religions have much in common and such an approach hopes that the proximity of these values will encourage religions to come together in the name of the same cause such as religious education, chaplaincy provision, hospital provision, emergency planning, volunteerism or housing and planning to name but a few of the issues that I have been involved. The collective wisdom becomes a common platform that is put to use by the common good. In this broadbrush approach it is hoped that both the generic and the specific can be dealt with. For instance: the generic might be the dietary needs in a hospital; the specific is a need for Hallal, Kosher provision, non-lactose diets or other single-faith dietary needs. It seems to be that both smaller religious and less formally organised communities receive a platform for their concerns where they would not otherwise receive it.

My own experience of this having been the founding chair of the Faiths Forum for London was that it put our collective issues on the agenda. It brought together communities, both organisations and individuals, in the pursuit of promoting the common good or working with each other to dissolve barriers. It made authorities such as the Mayor of London and local Boroughs sit up and pay attention to us on a number of regional issues: policing, youth cohesion, housing, migration and welfare and social services. The Mayor worked with us on a Mayor’s Faith Conference and in turn we encouraged many of our institutions to explore ways they could work with similar institutions from different industries. Management consultants Mckinsey supported us. McKinsey-ing the third sector is interesting to watch. Watching people of faith work with them was extraordinary.

Recently, working with the US State Department we launched a programme called 2012 Hours Against Hate which saw communities coming together and during this Olympic year offer volunteer time in a community different from our own. Already we are working on a follow-up project in Glasgow for the 2014 Commonwealth Games where Education Scotland wish to involve 38,000 school pupils. This will combat racism, sectarianism and other forms of discrimination as well as reach out to the nations of the Commonwealth to promote global relations. If we can use social action and common purpose to bring communities together to improve society then this must be lauded.

It is in the last two months that I have seen multifaith work at its most unique with the establishment of a team of Chaplains working several hours a day over eight weeks to deliver Chaplaincy services to the Olympic and Paralympic Games. The goal of the Olympic and Paralympic Chaplains was to bring pastoral care and religious services to athletes, workforce and volunteers. In over 100 Chaplains delivered these services to a diverse public. My own role was mixed: during the Olympics I served as part of a team at the Media Centre in the Olympic Park. Also, I ventured into the park from time to time. For the Paralympics I served in a smaller team at the Athletes Rowing Village. In a conversation with an Anglican colleague I was asked on my first day whether I saw it as my role to service simply the Jewish volunteers, athletes and staff or whether I was there to service the world at large. My answer is both. Judaism is a non-proselytising religion so in terms of providing services and by that I mean Sabbath services or pray or assistance with dietary issues I saw my service as being unique to the Jewish community. However, I believed I was there for all in terms of my pastoral role, in listening to people’s problems, offering them Kosher lollipops or just to be someone to talk to when things are down. In theological terms, this role of the Jewish community has been debated internally for centuries, millenia even. The non-proselytising nature of the Jewish community means it has found a need to decide what its purpose is for as a universal religion. In terms of pure salvation Jews believe non-Jews should keep seven simple Noachide Laws: don’t kill, don’t steal, no sexual immorality, have a justice system, specific law around welfare to animals, do not blaspheme and do not commit idolatry. However, we further believe we have an obligation to serve our community: the wider community: our street, our neighbourhood and our city. We see all humans as being created in the same image. The Talmud goes further and says we should treat a human as a potential world, afterall all humanity is descended from one human (Adam and Eve). It is the same tractate that says to save a life is to save the world entire. It is this mission to serve humanity and as it says in Leviticus ‘do not stand idly by your neighbour’ Leviticus 19:1. Whether someone needs a small favor or their life is in danger, Jewish law requires us to intervene so long as we can do so without putting ourselves at risk. Exodus 23:5 which states: ‘If you see your enemy’s donkey lying down under its burden, and would refrain from raising it, you must nevertheless raise it with him.” Translated into modern terms, if you see someone you greatly dislike stranded by the side of the road, standing next to their broken-down cycle, you need to get out your accident repair kit and help. In other words ‘love our neighbours’. Hillel summarises this maxim best by asking us what we imagine would find hurtful to ourselves and prohibits us from doing this unto others. This includes acts of omission, ie not acting in a kind or favorable way towards others.

Chaplaincy is about helping our neighbour and serving our the wider community where we can.

The role of the multifaith Chaplaincy was to make the time of those at the Olympics better and to offer support. This in turn means that we have trust one another and work across faiths and denominations; to be able to refer when someone wanted a Chaplain from their own faith and help out otherwise. The fact that I was able to place mezzuzah (a Jewish religious scroll) on the faith room door and set the Qibla for those coming for Ramadan prayers was only possible through trust and mutual respect. During this period there is always learning to be done. I was moved by the support of my fellow Chaplains. We experiment and learn in new situations. Sometimes this works and sometime it does not but as long as we supported each other it did not seem to matter.

Being in the media centre we also attracted the attention of reporters and film crews especially in the week before the Games where reporters had little to do. Sometimes the media have a way of trying to capture things in shorthand that do not always make sense. It became quite a trend amongst Japanense and Korean film crews to come and film our little faith room. One Japanese crew wanted to film artefacts: in our little cupboard we had a crucifix, Koran, Torah and Bible. The crew took it upon itself to film these together. The crucifix has a Jesus looking downwards: the final shot the Japanese crew had was all the world’s sacred texts together on the table in many different languages with Jesus looking down on them looking quizzical and puzzled… along with a number of Chaplains.

In another example a film crew wanted to ask someone to pray for them. No one was keen on that so I put on my prayer shawl and tefillin for morning prayer and allowed them to film. They filmed on my left side, right side, from above and below. Our morning prayers tend to be long but after 20 minutes I reached the end and moved. The director interrupted me and said she was really sorry but I had not yet been told to move from my mark!!!

Doing our tour of duty of the 26,000 staff was best done in pairs. Many commented, some laughed but most welcomed us, me and my Anglican colleagues, walking together to check up on their spiritual and pastoral needs.

My main walks in the park however seemed to attract many Jewish visitors usually wanting to know directions to the Kosher sandwiches. On another occasion I acquisitioned a buggy and drove through the park with my yellow luminous chaplain jacket on which attracted lots of attention and many visitors who came on my buggy for a chat including the synchronised swimming costume designers from New York who were delighted to meet a Jewish Chaplain. It was lots of little conversations that made up this Olympic experience.

Multifaith Chaplaincy is a wonderful thing. At its height it saw my colleagues observe Shabbat services (at least one colleague had to explain to congregants that she had been to Sabbath services three weeks in a row). I too observed services in our faith room. Someone told me they found it profound seeing me in the middle of the room politely observing a Catholic mass on one side of me whilst young Muslim workers did their Ramadan prayers.

Likewise, at the University of Surrey we try and to build an inclusive multifaith chaplaincy that we have built up over almost a decade now which recognises both the needs of all and distinctiveness of our religious traditions. Much of the progress made here is in large part due to the current Bishop of Southampton. In Guildford faiths working together is becoming the norm. Recently I was asked to present the Dean of Guildford for an honorary degree. This is perfectly normal in Surrey. In this project we are building a Multifaith Centre. Students and staff at the University designed this centre. I have privately told Government Ministers and University authorities that if they want to get students to understand each other then set up a Multi Faith Centre project. Simply designing this space with distinct spiritual spaces for Jewish, Muslim, Christian and Dharmic religions led to students explaining the need for buildings to face in particular directions, of why some of us need ablution facilities, why we all need different looking kitchens and why some of us need two sinks etc. The creation of this project was the most rewarding time. Muslims explaining ablutions, Jews why they needed a sliding roof for Sukkoth (Festival of Tabernacles), Christians explaining the need for a Sacristy and Sikh explaining why they needed a permanent space for their scriptures, the Guru Granth Sahib.

However, I would not be so quick to dismiss the need of bilateral dialogue. You cannot mend the world with a decade or so of dialogue and hope that the groundwork done during this time will last in perpetuity. Judaism is always going to have a special relationship with the other Abrahamic faiths: Christianity and Islam. The complexities of Jewish-Christian; Jewish-Muslim and Christian-Muslim relations are not something that we can go into detail here. The relationships between the three great Abrahamic faiths need to be worked on both bilaterally and triangularly and we can not ask the third religion to adjudicate issues between the other two. The work of the Council of Christian and Jews, Christian-Muslim Forum and the Three Faiths Forum needs to be welcomed and copied locally and for younger generations. We still need to understand and learn about the other. In recent years it seems that sometimes we have run into trouble not so much due to the particular issues but more to do with the fact we have forgotten how to speak to each, how to dialogue. There are obviously the recent issues widely reported about the previous General Synod but also less recent examples. Even in Winchester, there seems to be some grievances about the way which Jewish heritage and history is preserved. In the 1990s a Medieval cemetery was found here. It seems that many of the bodies were quickly shipped off to Manchester, a nineteenth century city that merged 600 years after these poor souls were buried in the ancient capital. It is true that Jews are particularly sensitive about old cemeteries and leaving bodies where they are and respecting the dead. It is an important aspect of our belief system but that needs to be communicated by us. I realise burials are difficult things but whatever the rights and wrongs of this we need to form a modus operandi, a language of dialogue. In Gloucester, Jewish graves were recently discovered and reburied within the city. Everyone is happy, well at least the Jewish community and Gloucester Council. There seems to be evidence that there were two levels excavated: a nineteenth century level on the site of a known Jewish cemetery and a much lower level. The 30 sets of remain from above are definitely Jewish but even today some of us are convinced 12 Romans may have been exhumated and wrongly identified and reburied as Jews. Oh well, don’t let it be said we never did anything for the Romans…

One of the most important writers on religious dialogue in the 20th century was Martin Buber. In and Thou, Buber introduced his thesis on human existence. Inspired partly by Feuerbach and Kierkegaard, Buber worked upon the premise of existence as encounter. He explained his philosophy using the word pairs of Ich-Du (I-Thou) and Ich-Es (I-It) to categorize the modes of interaction that an individual engages with other individuals, inanimate objects, and all reality. Philosophically, these word pairs express complex ideas about modes of being and particularly how an individual exists and actualizes that existence. Buber argues a person is always engaged with the world in one of these modes.

The generic motif Buber employs to describe the dual modes of being is one of dialogue (Ich-Du) and monologue (Ich-Es).

Common English words used to describe the Ich-Du relationship include encounter, meeting, dialogue, mutuality, and exchange.

One key Ich-Du relationship Buber identified was that which can exist between a human being and G-d and according to Buber this is the only way it is possible to interact with G-d, and that an Ich-Du relationship with anything or anyone connects in some way with this eternal relation to G-d.

An individual has to be open to the idea of such a relationship to create this I-Thou relationship with G-d but not actively pursue it, as pursuing it such a relation creates qualities associated with It-ness, and so would prevent an I-You relation. Buber claims that by being open to the I-Thou, G-d eventually comes to us. When the individual finally returns to the I-It, they act as a pillar of deeper relation and community. In the Ich-Es (I-it) relationship, an individual treats other things, people, etc., as objects to be used and experienced.

Buber argued that human life consists of an oscillation between Ich-Du and Ich-Es, and that in fact Ich-Du experiences are rather few and far between. The process of being in continual dialogue with all is impossible for mortal beings. In diagnosing the various perceived ills of modernity (e.g. isolation, dehumanization, etc.), Buber believed that the expansion of a purely analytic, material view of existence was at heart an advocation of Ich-Es relations.

Cutting to the chase we need to explore the G-dliness within us all, we are all created in the image of G-d. We need to explore the I-thou, to countenance and understand the other.
As an aside, I have seen more openness to encounter in the last few weeks during the Olympics and Paralympics than I have ever seen before as London and the UK experienced a transformation. Perhaps caused by the solidarity of the occasion, people started talking to each other on the tube, on trains and in the street. This sense of solidarity seems to occur at both times of great darkness such as the Blitz and at times of joy such as the Olympics. Let’s hope that those who have been touched by this experience carry it forward beyond the Games and those conversations that blossomed over the Summer can continue at least into the Autumn. A bit more I and Thou on the Underground or the 17.00 train to Winchester cannot be a bad thing.

Learning to speak to each other needs to start locally. We need to respect the dignity of difference to paraphrase a line from the Chief Rabbi. I know today that Winchester Cathedral and Winchester University actively promote religious understanding. It is now up to members of my community and other communities to respond to that. The increased scholarship on Ancient Jewish Winchester with books by Susan Bartlett and Tony Kushner are noteworthy. I encourage all to try and move forward together. In my mind I imagine that old William Rufus might be winking at all us and telling us to have a go: let’s go on a journey… from Disputation to Dialogue.


Alex Goldberg

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