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Rosh Ha-Shanah greetings to Jewish partners

"This ‘New Year’ falls at a difficult time, when assumptions that have governed life in significant parts of our world for a generation or more have, during the last year or so, suddenly been called into question", the WCC general secretary rights in a greeting to Jewish partners on the occasion of Rosh Ha-Shanah and the High Holy Days.

20 September 2017

I have great pleasure in sending you my greetings and those of the World Council of Churches for Rosh Ha-Shanah and the High Holy Days. This ‘New Year’ falls at a difficult time, when assumptions that have governed life in significant parts of our world for a generation or more have, during the last year or so, suddenly been called into question. There seems to be a spirit abroad at the moment in which fear of those who we see as different to ourselves or on the fringes of our societies is becoming increasingly prominent and acceptable, indeed is even being written into legislation and the framework of government in some countries. It feels as though we are on a path – perhaps its early stages – but still a path on which we have set off, which might one day, and sooner than we care to realise, lead us to some fairly unpleasant places.

I believe that this is one area where Jews and Christians need to stand together. The tragedies of Jewish history have taught – eventually – Christians much about the dangers of hostility to those whom we regard as ‘other’, and the common scripture of Jews and Christians speaks eloquently, and frequently, about God’s love and protection for the stranger. Indeed God’s insistence on justice for the stranger is written into the very heart of the covenant between God and God’s people. This is an important mutual starting point for conversations that Jews and Christians need to hold together as part of their shared commitment for the ‘repairing of our world’. We may, and perhaps will, disagree about what is right and just in particular instances but I believe that both our faiths teach us that God’s care for the ‘other’ is an imperative which cannot be ignored.

It is particularly appropriate to be reflecting on such questions during this season of the High Holy Days. As I understand it a fundamental theme which runs through Jewish liturgy and spirituality at this time of the year is the affirmation of God’s reign or rule of the whole world.  That underlying premise must impact upon the business of the government of the nations. It is, I believe, our task as Jewish and Christian religious leaders to seek to ensure that it does.

One text in our shared scripture which is especially dear to me are the words of the prophet Micah, “What does the Lord require of you, but to do justice and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6.8). I am quoting here from the NRSV translation. The JPS English translation speaks of ‘goodness’ rather than ‘kindness’ which perhaps strengthens the text even more.  The JPS translation also adds immediately after these words, ‘Then will your name achieve wisdom’ (Micah 6.9). This mention of wisdom, which in both Jewish and Christian thinking is a point where theology and ethics meets pragmatism, is salutary. Quite apart from any ethical considerations we need to affirm that ‘wisdom’ itself requires serious consideration about whether the recent trajectory is a wise way forward for our world.

With good wishes to you for this time of celebration, rest, reflection and new start.

Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit
WCC general secretary