Reflecting on a Lecture by Rabbi Amy Eilberg

/ 5 February 2013

The questions that Rabbi Amy Eilberg aimed to cover were why conflict, what contributes to conflict, and how can everyone be a peacemaker. She worked within (and hence discussed at length) interfaith dialogue as the highest order of peace work. In my Theologies of Violence and Nonviolence class we have discussed the different groups that existed at the time of Jesus and through to today. Interfaith dialogue as a peacemaking tool would fit with ending conflicts that these groups have (and in talking about the Israeli Palestinian conflict Rabbi Eilberg touched on the same groups).

The whole first unit of that class has been on scripture, and we’ve seen examples of paradise in the texts. A chunk of this lecture was covering examples of peacemaking commands in the Jewish scripture. “Return evil with good and your enemy will become devoted friend” is one such example that helped shape the title of this lecture: From Enemy to Friend. May we as a church have gone down the path of creating enemies simply because we have lost this vision of paradise?

Rabbi Eilberg also discussed that one interpretation of where separation, and hence conflict, first began in the scriptures was in Genesis when God separated the waters above from the water below. This interpretation is fed by the lack of “And God saw that it was good” after the second day. But if that hadn’t been done then none of the rest of creation could have proceeded. Thus some separation and conflict may be good or even necessary. But arguably the shift from paradise to crucifixion or the separations of Christianity with events such as the Protestant Reformation weren’t beneficial separations. Throughout the lecture Rabbi Eilberg laid the foundations for why conflict is in the scriptures and how the scriptures can help solve conflict. She concluded her lecture with the following description of who a peacemaker is from the Mishnah Avot 4:1:

  • Who is wise? One who learns from every person
  • Who us heroic? One who conquers one's own impulse to evil
  • Who is rich? One who is happy with what one has
  • Who is respected? One who respects all beings

These statements come from the teachings of scripture, and though they are from Jewish teachings the roots of all of them are what we have been uncovering within our exploration of scripture with what has been discussed in the readings we’ve done.

As a conclusion to this reflection let me just call to mind the reality that for the first chunk of time that Catholicism existed there was very little distinction between it and Judaism. Thus the scriptural references and connections that were made in this lecture lend credence to the theses we’ve been discussing related to the paradise notions the church began with. It almost calls into question where Jews would place themselves on the scale of paradise to crucifixion (or in their case conflict). As our church is getting further from these views every year we can use examples such as what Rabbi Amy Eilberg presented as reasoning for returning to this view and trusting religion to hold the answers to our contemporary violence as well as the age-old questions religion is meant to answer.