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(MINNEAPOLIS, November 8) -- Recognizing the importance of interfaith dialogue as a means to advance Mideast peace and to combat anti-Semitism, the leaders
of four Christian denominations will urge their churches to join with Reform synagogues in interfaith dialogue and study.
Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, said the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Presbyterian Church USA, the National
Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA, and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops have agreed to this effort join in to develop interfaith
awareness and understanding. The Union has prepared a seven-session curriculum based on sacred texts to discuss the common aspects and critical differences
of their histories, Israel, and the Mideast conflict.
Yoffie announced the interfaith initiative before 4,500 synagogue leaders gathered here for the Reform Movement's Biennial Convention, which concludes
Sunday. He also said President Bush's campaign to reduce taxes for the wealthy has become a dangerous "eleventh commandment" that is "the last thing this
country needs right now." And he called on the Government of Israel to dismantle illegal outposts and freeze all other settlement activity before a
two-state solution is no longer possible.
Yoffie recalled that that Reform Jews were at the forefront of interreligious dialogue in North America in the 1950s and 60s, but said that "in recent
decades interfaith dialogue has declined precipitously. In many communities, little survives beyond Thanksgiving services and model seders."
He therefore called on the synagogue leaders to invite a neighborhood church to join in studying and discussing a seven-session curriculum that will focus
on Biblical texts and the religious and political questions that surround the State of Israel.
"Your call for more -- and better -- discussion between our communities is a powerful one," wrote Robert Edgar, general secretary of the National Council
of the Churches of Christ in the USA. "This is especially true on issues concerning the Middle East, where we have much to learn from one another."
"The Presbyterian Church (USA) welcomes the new study process now being initiated by Rabbi Eric Yoffie and the Union of American Hebrew Congregations,"
wrote the Rev. Dr. Clifton Kirkpatrick. "As our Theological Understanding of the Relationship Between Christians and Jews (1987) makes clear, the church's
identity is intimately related to the continuing identity of the Jewish people."
Turning to domestic issues, Yoffie criticized the Administration's economic policies that benefit the rich at the expense of working Americans.
"Our government is the first in the history of our country to ask the sons and daughters of working men to risk their lives in war while asking the wealthy
to pay less in taxes," Yoffie said.
"I am not an expert in economics, but I know a danger when I see one. And the danger is that this never-ending campaign to reduce the taxes of the wealthy
has ceased to be an economic matter and has become a crusade, a religious principle, an 11th commandment so sacred that it is more a matter of theology
than public policy."
Yoffie also warned of government excess in fighting terrorism through the curtailment of civil liberties. "If anyone is held by my government on suspicion
of terrorism, I want to know who he is, not only because I am concerned about his rights, but because I am concerned about my own."
"Let's remember that patriotism, first and foremost, is love of constitutional principle," he said.
Yoffie praised President Bush for his support of Israel and asked the Administration to stay involved in finding a way to make a two-state solution a
American Jews cannot and should not dictate what a final peace agreement should look like, Yoffie said, but he cautioned that there will be no final
agreement if settlement growth does not stop, and he called on the Government of Israel to dismantle illegal outposts and freeze all other settlement
Yoffie, who said the Reform Movement has long supported a two-state solution, noted that the number of settlers in the West Bank and Gaza doubled from
115,000 to 230,000 in just one decade. "If settlement growth continues, in a very short time the Jewish and Palestinian populations will be so intertwined
that separation will be impossible," he said. "In fact, it is very nearly too late. With every passing day, a two-state solution becomes more difficult and
a single-state solution more likely." And if that were to occur, very soon the Arabs will become a majority, and this will mean the end of Israel, he said.
Yoffie also urged the Reform Movement's leaders to mount a grassroots campaign to support the renaissance of Judaism in Eastern Europe and the former
Soviet Union and to build synagogues and train rabbis in Israel.